Saturday, April 5, 2014

What Text Are You Using for Close Reading?

With Close Reading 

          Today's blog features a lesson taught this past Thursday by Kelly Villalobos, 2nd grade teacher at Wakefield School in Turlock, California. Despite the fact that I live in North Central Arkansas, Kelly and I regularly communicate back and forth on matters of teaching.

           Last night Kelly posted her latest teaching endeavor with close reading on her own blog. She made it so easy to visualize the lesson and her students' behavior from her descriptive reflection. You really need to click over and read her story. Going into the lesson she and I both felt the text might be too easy for her students. 

          Kelly observed the students successfully completing each of the steps she asked them to do. She had taken the passage and opted to combine many of the tasks in one lesson versus spreading them out over a week as the unit had suggested.
         I typed the text into the readability analyzer. Here are the results on the story Rain from the gorgeous TPT unit Non-Fiction Passages by Jessica Tobin

Readability Formula
Flesch-Kincaid Grade level                    4.9 Grade Level
Automated Readability Index*                4.8 Grade Level
SMOG Index                                             5.3 Grade Level

Additional Interesting information 
Word Count                                              101 words
Sentence Count                                            8 sentences
Words per Sentence                               12.6 words

Based on this information the text's readability level was not too easy for her 2nd graders.

*Automated Readability Index can be found at

Now What?

          My original thought that the students were successful with this text because it was written at an easier grade level was completely wrong.  I was intrigued with trying to figure out why Kelly's students had been successful--certainly not to take away from her amazing teaching abilities :) I began by looking at the vocabulary since Kelly had said the students struggled with the word "frequent" that showed up in the first sentence. There may have only been 101 words in this passage but there was a huge opportunity to learn (or stumble over) eleven Tier 2 & Tier 3 words:
frequent, occurrence, liquid, droplets precipitation, occurs, gauge, measure, excessive, amount, and inconvenient. 

Next step.

I decided to redo the readability and rewrote the text to replace the more difficult eleven Tier 2 & Tier 3 words with easier words in order to see what kind of effect that would have on the readability. Here are the results:

Readability Formula
Flesch-Kincaid Grade level                    2.1 Grade Level
Automated Readability Index*                1.9 Grade Level
SMOG Index                                             2.7 Grade Level

So basically, if Kelly's 2nd Grade students knew most of these larger words they should have little problem reading the text. But I would certainly not classify this as an EASY read for them.

What else was going on that made this successful for the students? I went back and looked at Kelly's reading sequence:

1.  Cold Read- students are prompted to annotate text
2.  Teacher reads passage to students- students continued to annotate (presumably guided)
3.  Teacher and students read the passage together - Teacher paused after each sentence to
     question class on annotations
4.  In small teams of 4, students answered questions.
     They had to locate the answer within the text
     They had to write it in a complete sentence

     (Kelly's comments on Step 4)
      "This worked out FAR better than I expected. The kids all did their part and they held each other accountable. Phrases I heard were "but WHERE did you find that in the text?", "does that really answer the question?", "we have to add the telling part of the sentence, not just the doing part", and my personal favorite, "That is YOUR opinion. What did the text say? That is what Ms.V wants!"  This simple little activity was a great team opportunity for discussion."

5.  To prepare for the writing component Kelly gave students the prompt to help focus their thinking "If rain never fell from the sky..." Students had one minute to list ideas.
6.  Students shared their ideas with their team. This was sort of a Give One, Get One activity as students could revise their list.
7.  Students wrote to the prompt.

     (Kelly's comments on Step 7)
      "Then came the independent writing. No one groaned and they were all eager to respond. Why? I think it was because they had so much time to discuss and reflect as a class and with their groups.  Everyone had the background information necessary for the assignment. As far as content goes, all the students did well with that part of the summary."

          As I began writing today's blog I thought Kelly had used an easy text for her close reading lesson and that was the reason her students were successful. From the readability scores, although not an exact science as evidenced by the variability in scores, the text was certainly not easy. 

         According to Kelly,  gauge, occurrence, and frequent were the three words that were new. Gauge was defined in the text. She helped the students with frequent and occurrence.
          So what were the factors that resulted in this being a strong learning experience? What can we take away to help us with our close reading lessons. In my opinion, I think the students did not struggle with the close reading assignment because the amount of text involved in the lesson could be easily managed.

            Students had background knowledge with the subject matter. Two months earlier they                  had studied weather.

           The passage was a mini-bite portion of 101 words. Stamina was not an issue. 

            Because the text was relatively short, there was time for three complete readings.

           The students were able to connect and to interact with the text in a small group.

           The students were able to process the information through writing.

           Kelly's 2nd grade students felt empowered to answer the questions using evidence from the text and to write to a prompt combining their own knowledge with what they learned from the text. Kelly realizes this was a perfect bite-size passage to use at the beginning of the year when laying the foundation for what is expected since the lesson allowed the rehearsal of annotation skills and close reading procedures.  

          I started writing today's blog with a completely different idea of where I was headed. I was thrown a curve when the readability for the close reading text was much higher than we thought. What I really like about having been wrong is that I was forced to look more closely at Kelly's lesson and try to isolate the elements that came together and made this a successful learning experience for both Kelly and her students (and me, too). I was reminded how carefully we need to match the material we are using with our students and consider the lesson's purpose. Kelly did a great job in selecting the passage and supporting her students. Once again, Kelly, thank you, for always being so agreeable to share your classroom experiences. You are one of the most agreeable people I know :)


My most successful blogs in terms of weekly visitors have been those on Close Reading. It seems like close reading has captured many teachers' hearts including my own. Link back to the three blogs that have appealed to readers the most this past year.

Back in the early fall, Kelly graciously and fearlessly stepped up to the plate to share details of her first close reading lesson (ever). Link here.

Ed Ewing, an elementary principal, stepped into one of his teacher's 5th grade classroom and taught a 2-day close reading lesson and then reflected on the learning process--for both himself and the students. Link here

Terri Rodgers, a 4th grade teacher, who taught and reflected on her close reading lesson and offered up many wonderful pictures documenting each step of the process. Link here

       Before closing I wanted to share another FREE resource that you may or may not know about. Or if you are like me, you have forgotten about the treasures this site holds.  Lately, I have been using ReadWorks.Org for passages and other quality information. Check out the new K-5 Close Reading passages.

          As always, I want to thank you for stopping by. I really appreciate you spending any time with me considering how little you have left after working all week. Hope its a great week and especially a very Happy Saturday.