Friday, January 24, 2014

A Teacher's Quest for Mastery of Close Reading: A 4th Grade Lesson

Close Reading
Moving Forward with Our Teaching

If our teaching is to be an art, we must draw from all we know, feel, and
believe in order to create something beautiful...It is not the number
of good ideas that turns our work into art but the 

selection, balance and design of those ideas.
Lucy Calkins (1994)

Terri Rodger's students displaying the heart of close reading.

               Limited training and misconceptions surrounding CCSS have resulted in many teachers having had (or having) an incomplete or incorrect understanding of what close reading is and how to teach it.  If you presently teach literacy you most certainly are either working on developing and teaching close reading lessons, or at the very least, you are thinking about it. Hopefully you have taken that first step. 

               By and large we remain a closed-door profession. If there are no administrative mandates for teaching close reading, it remains too easy to push close reading to the back burner and assure ourselves that next year we'll take it on. That simply is not going to cut it. Our oath as educators is rooted in the idea of preparing students to become contributing adults. As teachers, our role is to prepare our students for surviving and thriving in the future--most certainly, a highly complex and changing world. Truthfully, no one has a clue what their world will look like. However, what is crystal-ball-clear is that the future of our students (and our future) depends upon citizens who are able to effectively think and reason.  Close reading provides the opportunity and venue to do just that-- teach students how to think critically. This is truth and undeniably a  "21st Century Must Do."  Since we already are in the 21st Century there is not a moment to lose. This is a matter of urgency. The skills associated with close reading are:
  • read closely citing specific textual evidence (R.1)
  • analyze how ideas develop and interact with one another (R.3)
  • analyze words and phrases for specific word choices and how they shape meaning (R.4)
  • analyze the structure of texts (R.5)
  • analyze how point of view shapes a text (R.6)
  • analyze two or more texts to build knowledge (R.9) 


 Meet Terri Rodger, 4th Grade Teacher
Dennis Earl School in Turlock, CA

It is such a pleasure to feature a dear friend and colleague sharing her most recent close reading lesson with us. I have had the pleasure of knowing and teaching with Terri for more than a decade. Her passion for the profession and her steadfast love and support of ALL her students comes through each and every day as she walks into the classroom. Her name precedes former students conversations about their most favorite teacher EVER. Terri, don't ever doubt your influence and the imprint you have made. You have literally changed lives.

Terri Rodger has been in education for 29 years. She has taught kindergarten, second, third, fourth and fifth grade.  Terri has been active in professional development as an instructor and site coordinator for Reading First Institutes.  She has also been an Instructional Coach, BTSA mentor, and teacher leader.  She holds a Master of Arts degree in Administration and Supervision from California State University Stanislaus. In 2012, she returned to her “true passion” the classroom.  Terri has been married to the “man of her dreams”, her husband Terry, for 36 years. She enjoys reading and traveling.

Terri was so generous with her time and camera. Here is our interview:

 Will you describe how you planned?

At the end of Christmas break a 4th grade colleague and I met to discuss where we were headed next as far as Common Core was concerned.  I had introduced close reading to my class, we had annotated informational text in social studies and science and various pieces of text I had brought in.  My colleague and I looked at the CCS and decided to focus on the following standards:
  • Literacy CCRA.R.1 - Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
  • Literacy CCRA.R.3 - Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.
  • Literacy RL.4.1- Refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.
  • Literacy RL.4.3- Describe in depth a character, setting, or event in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (e.g., a character’s thoughts, words, or actions).
We then began to look at each standard and think about the objectives for each standard. We needed to review what students need in order to master the standard and what it looks like when they do. Our questions were simple:
  1.   How am I going to accomplish this?
  2.   How will I assess?
How did you choose the text? 

We decided to look in our Houghton Mifflin California Edition anthology to see which selections had a character that changed throughout the story.  We were fortunate to find two that we felt would “fit the bill.”  We also liked the fact that the first story “Happy Birthday, Dr. King!” coincided with Dr. King’s birthday and the selection,“The Last Dragon” coincided with Chinese New Year! We selected two stories because we wanted to compare and contrast the characters from each story.  

"Happy Birthday, Dr. King" is about a young boy, Jamal, who is given an assignment to come up with an idea for the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. school assembly.  In addition, he is given a “pink” slip reprimand for fighting on the bus. His grandfather, having endured segregation, provides him with lots of first-hand information.  Jamal’s father also recounts his personal experience of hearing Dr. King preach in his church.  Jamal learns a lesson and comes up with a great idea for a skit.

Have you taught close reading lessons from your basal before?

Absolutely, we started with predictions and added slowly.  A couple of students asked today if they could throw out the old post-it notes from previous stories.  My answer was "No!"  I want them to see what they have done at the end of the year.  We have not read every story in the anthology.  I move around a lot through the text.  The biggest issue of course is my supply of Post-its.  In addition to the ones I receive from the school, I buy large quantities at the $1 store and ask parents to donate. Although my students prefer to use text that they can highlight, etc. They are fine with post-its.
What kinds of decisions were you making while teaching?

I was always thinking "Where do I go next?"  After looking at their predictions I noticed that I needed a mini-lesson/reteach before our next story.  I needed to make decisions on whether “low babies” needed more scaffolding.  At one point I realized I needed a sentence frame or two to help with partner discussion. I had assumed that they did not need one because we are 6 months into the school year.  Some of my students were not fully engaged. I was so disappointed because they said things like "I think the family will have dinner together" when they saw a picture of the family around the table. Our sentence frame has always been:

                       I think ___________ might happen because _______________.

As I monitored partner and class discussions, I also realized that some were getting stuck on unimportant details and not looking at the Big Idea. I included that in our next discussion.

Terri's Teaching Sequence was 8 days

Day 1: Vocabulary, picture walk/predicting

Day 2: First read, annotating for new words, interesting facts, questions, comments, etc.



Day 3: Discussion and Charting of important parts of story, problems, etc.  
Second read, annotating character traits of main character and evidence.

Day 4: Partner and class discussions, charting, more annotating, etc. Students then completed a graphic organizer reflecting character at beginning, middle and end of the story 

Day 5: Reading and Journaling. Third read. Students were given questions to guide them if needed.  We then had discussion and sharing time.

Day 6: Review of Author’s purpose and introduction to Author’s message.  Partner and whole class discussion on what message (lesson, point or idea) was the author trying to convey in the story.  

Day 7 and 8: Introduction to Response to Literature.
We could have gone longer (more days) but I decided to eliminate one graphic organizer and not have them do a final draft of the Response to Literature. I felt we had met our objectives and goals and if I assigned those two items it was like “beating a dead horse.”

What really worked with this lesson?
I taught my students about metacognition in the beginning of the year.  They really did not have a clear understanding. With annotating they are really starting to “think”.  Several of them have commented that by reading several times and annotating, they really think they are becoming better readers.  Charting everything (discussions, thoughts, etc.) really helps discussion and also serves as scaffolding for students.

What would you change? 

I realized that some of my guiding questions during journaling were not at a higher level.  I need to study Webb's Depths of Knowledge (DOK) when planning. DOK questions stems can be linked here.

Did you have a formative assessment? 
Formative assessment happened throughout the 8 days.  A lot of it was looking at what they were annotating on their post-it notes. This showed me what they understood.  Class discussions and calling on non-volunteers also helped me to see if they “got-it.” Spot checking their journal writing was important.

What was the students’ take away in terms of learning? 

Students felt that they were looking closely at the character and realized how important they are to the story.  Many of them commented that they understand the stories so much better (see above)

What was your take away? 
Each of Terri's students were given an "Annotating Text" folder when school started.
It serves as their organizer, scaffold, and catch-all for C.R. materials being currently worked on.

Although, I love Close Reading, there are some areas that I need to work on to strengthen students' learning.
  • Time is a big issue. I noticed that I need to streamline my lessons.
  • I need to reassess how I teach Close reading.  First of all, in the beginning I gave them a chart with all kinds of symbols to use for annotating (see picture above).  There are too many symbols and I have learned that they only need a few common ones. They need to learn what works best for them.
  • I need to continue to “unpack the standards” to see what I need to keep and what I can let  go of.  
  • Our goal was Literacy. RL.4.3 (describe depth of character). We tweaked Literacy.CCRA.R.9 (Analyze two or more texts for themes and topics) in that we chose character analysis. This is a good example about letting things go. Although we felt it was a good lesson, it is not the 4th grade CC standard.   
              Thank you so much for sharing Terri.  I know there is insight to be gained by everyone who reads this week's blog. You were so very generous with your information and pictures. As a result, many teachers will be planning their close reading lessons by thinking closely about selection of text, balance of standards, design of learning activities that tap into those higher levels of cognition, and the actual teaching. For me, our collaboration this week made for a rich and exciting week as we communicated back and forth. It was such a pleasure.

               Parts of Terri's reflection reminded me of the close reading lesson I taught in the fall using Scholastic News where my knock-me-on-the-head insight was KIS. If we want our teaching to be an art as Calkins describes, and we want our students to be able to independently use what we have so carefully orchestrated, we must simplify and streamline the learning sequence. This does not mean removing the rigor. I think a guiding question is How do we maintain rigor within our close reading lessons, yet insure that what we are asking of our students is doable? More on this later in February. For next week we will be discussing how to give effective feedback to our students. Daniel O'Neill returns to share some of his ideas and examples.

               As always, thank you for stopping by and staying for the inspiration. I think we all need to consider comparing the rigor we are providing along side the rigor CCSS is promoting.  Without deep understanding, a text cannot truly come to life. I have provided you with a few tools in the resource section. Very best wishes for a Happy Saturday. 

Additional Resources
Depth of Knowledge:
  1. Video defining and applying Depth of Knowledge (extremely good examples in the application)
  2. Levels of Thinking in Blooms Taxonomy compared to Webb's Depth of Knowledge link here
  3. Descriptors of Levels of Depth of Knowledge for Social Studies link here 
  4. Cognitive Rigor Matrix for reading and writing link here
Texts for Close Reading Lessons:
 Annotations Made Simple:
For consideration of a less cumbersome annotation system link  here

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