Written by Heath Kelley, DMS 5th Grade Teacher
Culminating Tasks for Close Reading
I have found in my implementation of close reading that students eagerly want a platform to discuss and share the new insights they have discovered. The one task that has had the most success for me has been to structure a student-led discussion. This task incorporates many facets of ELA including multiple speaking and listening standards.
During the last two years, Steve Peterson and I have experimented with using a structured protocol for these student-led discussions. We researched fish-bowl discussions, socratic seminars, and other formats before creating a simple, more fifth-grade friendly protocol.
Take a look below at the video Andrew Ellingsen put together of students in my classroom participating in a student-led discussion. The discussion helpers that we use are highlighted in the video.
Here are the basics of how our student-led discussions work...
Students Prepare for Discussion
Students are told ahead of time that the discussion will occur and are asked to select from a list of writing prompts. The writing prompts or “writing to learn prompts” as we call them, ask students to dig deeply into the text to find themes and important choices the author made. Students are asked to explore how the character changed and what the author wanted us to learn. They are encouraged to cite textual evidence to support their ideas. The writing is designed to untangle and organize student thinking so students are prepared for academic discussion.
Students are also encouraged to write down some of their own questions along with participating in additional re-reading and annotation.
On the day of the discussion, we organize the room into an inner and outer circle. We set goals as a group which relate to our discussion helper prompts. Refer here to read more about the creation of these discussion helpers (great work Steve and Andrew). Also, here are some examples of goals. Our most recent goals were to build on ideas like a ping pong match and dwell on one question at a time. After each discussion, we reflect on potential goals for the future. The observers on the outside of the discussion help monitor our progress toward these goals.
The Inner and Outer Circles
The students bring only their annotated text to the inner circle. The questions students had the chance to respond to previously in writing are projected for all to see. We have learned that this elicits better discussion than having students bring their laptops and anything else that might distract them too much from the discussion.
Participants in the inner circle begin by constructing a summary together as a group. This helps the group remember some of the key parts of the story. After the summary, the students begin asking each other questions. Inner circle participants are encouraged to ask a question and wait for others to respond...otherwise we’ve found they will simply answer their own question! The key for students is to build on each other’s ideas, cite evidence, ask for clarification, and summarize important points (see discussion helpers). By dwelling on one question at a time, students are pushed to go further into a text. It is important to note that we have discovered that 6-7 students within the inner circle is about right. I try to rotate halfway through the discussion so that most students get a chance to be part of the inner circle.
Within the outer circle, the observers take notes on highlights of the discussion and how students are progressing toward the class goals. They also write down questions I allow them to ask after the discussion.
Brigit Storhoff, who has also used similar student-led discussions, has used Backchannel Chat within Schoology for observers. This allows for silent discussion outside of the inner circle. There are a number of backchannel websites such as TodaysMeet for discussion within the outer circle.
Toward the end of the discussion, I prompt students within the inner circle to share one takeaway that they learned. Often students point out themes that were discussed within the story and important life lessons the author wanted us to understand.
Next, the observers share highlights of the discussion and how the discussion helpers were used. We discuss whether our goals were met and what goals we may want to have in the future.
If time allows, I have students reflect on their own performance, personal goals, and what new information they learned about the text.
As I read the reflections, the students overwhelmingly explain that they come away with a better understanding of the story. It is encouraging as a teacher to see the students improve each time they discuss the text and understand other viewpoints. I feel like these are skills that they can take with them into many facets of life.
Note: This is the third post in a series which takes a look at the implementation of Close Reading, authored by Heath Kelley.
Click here to revisit parts 1 and 2.
Effective questioning can be powerful and motivating. The right questions promote curiosity, risk-taking, and foster a culture of learning. In close reading, the right sequence of questions can help students go further into a complex text.
Steve Peterson, Andrew Ellingsen and myself got together a few weeks ago to discuss the close reading process. We decided to choose a complex text and write questions with the purpose of discussing the text. We knew that this would help us in understanding the process and creating close readings in our classrooms.
Before writing the questions, we studied the text carefully and attempted to understand it as deeply as possible. Then, we wrote text-based questions that would elicit a rich discussion of the intricacies of the text. One of our goals was to create questions that were textually dependent and would lead us continually back into the text. With students, we would scaffold these questions to begin with the key details of the text and later move into more of the subtle choices, structure and themes of the text.
Here are some of the questions we came up with from the text “Thank You Ma’am” by Langston Hughes. Students may need an additional prompt such as “use evidence to support your thinking” to ensure they are going back into the text. However, we found that the questions below naturally brought us back to the text and contributed to a rich discussion of the characters in the story or the author’s intended themes. It is also important to note that deciding on the right questions to ask helped us sort through what was most meaningful or that struck us as readers. We could foresee students within a close reading process also asking their own questions to prepare for a discussion or other task. Wouldn’t it be great to have students creating their own text-dependent questions?
Thank You Ma’am Text-Based Questions:
In my research of text-dependent questions, I came across this video of a discussion about text-based answers. In the video David Coleman, lead author of the Common Core, and others discuss utilizing questions to dig deeper into a text. They make several important points including the need to step back and not frontload information or “activate prior knowledge”. Instead, they argue for the need to encourage discovery, inquiry based learning in order to study the author’s original purposes. Take a look!
Here is a list of additional resources from achievethecore.org that provide more information on generativing text-based questions.
How about you? Have you used text-dependent questions in your classroom? What have you found to be most helpful?
Note: This is the second post in a five-part series which takes a look at five steps for implementation of Close Reading, authored by Heath Kelley.
Click here to revisit part 1: Why do we want students to read closely?
Why Complex Text?
As a reader myself, I experience various levels of complexity on a daily basis. At certain times I may read a novel that doesn’t require much deep processing, while other times need to slow down to catch the subtle nuances and character connections. This is even true with certain movies. I can watch The Lord of the Rings multiple times because of the depth and layers of meaning involved. Also, some emails contain basic facts and others require some careful thinking. Students should have the same variety of complexity in their experiences as a reader - across all content areas. Giving students these opportunities to wrestle with complex text increases metacognition and forces students to become more strategic thinkers.
Text Complexity in My Own Classroom
Reading complex text isn’t something that happens all the time in my classroom. During independent reading, students are not asked to read complex text. Don’t get me wrong, I want them to be challenged...but not frustrated. When I am teaching a new skill, I don’t use a complex text. Only after students have a working knowledge of the skills and concepts needed, do I add complexity. For example, during a unit in which I was teaching students about finding the theme in a literary text, I used children’s books to help understand the author’s message. Once the students grasped the concept of theme and were able to use it at a lower reading level, I began adding additional complexity.
Measuring Text Complexity
In the book Text Complexity: Raising Rigor in Reading, Fisher, Frey, and Lapp explain that teachers have traditionally thought of text complexity by focusing solely on Lexile, DRA, or Fountas and Pinnell charts. However, these readability formulas can miss certain demands on the reader. For example, a teacher would not assign John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath (Lexile 680) to middle school students. According to the Lexile system, this book would be less complex than Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Lexile 950). The Lexile system focuses mostly on word length or frequency, sentence length, and text cohesion As you can see, there is a definite need for teachers to consider other factors.
The CCSS includes the following three categories to measure text complexity:
In my own classroom, I do not usually complete an analysis document. It was helpful for me to complete the analysis a few times so I could become familiar with the various demands to consider. Now, I can be cognizant of these factors when selecting a close reading text.
Tips for Choosing a Close Reading Text
Finding a close reading text is considered by many to be the most challenging phase of preparation for close reading. It can take some time to find the right text. Appendix B of the CCSS has a list of text exemplars at each grade level. I have personally compiled different anthologies such as this one to select texts. There are many great texts available to use online. Here are a few websites that I've found helpful when searching for a close reading text:
How about you? How do you select complex text? What resources have you used to find complex texts for close reading?
Sources: (both available through Keystone AEA)
A Close Look at Close Reading by Lapp, Moss, Grant, and Johnson
Text Complexity: Raising the Rigor in Reading by Fisher, Frey, and Lapp
Note: This is the first post in a series which takes a look at implementation of Close Reading, authored by Heath Kelley
Close reading has been a buzzword since the Common Core standards initiative was enacted. So what exactly is it? Depending on who you ask, you may get a slightly different answer. I would like to share with you what I have learned about what it really means and why it’s a worthy goal for DMS.
Where did the term “close reading” come from?
Dave Stuart Jr. in his article, “Moving Forward with Close Reading” explains that close reading stems from ELA college and career readiness anchor standard 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.
An added dimension is the standards’ emphasis on using complex text (see Appendix A). This combination requires that students develop skills to re-read and be able to break down layers of a text.
Christopher Leyman in his blog post “What #CloseReading Isn’t (Or At Least Shouldn’t Be)” gives a definition of close reading to be the following:
Close reading is when a reader independently stops at moments in a text (or media or life) to reread and observe the choices an author has made. He or she reflects on those observations to reach for new understandings that can color the way the rest of the book is read (or song heard or life lived) and thought about.
Close reading is about slowing students down to “smell the roses” and gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for life. This can happen in any content area. Students can closely read artwork, historical artifacts, an experiment, a math task, or the lyrics of a song. It is important to note that not every text is worthy of close reading. The text should have layers of meaning and complexity that require multiple readings.
Training Students to Go Beneath the Surface
Closely reading a text is not a new instructional practice. In an article published in the January 2013 issue of Principal Leadership, Fisher and Frey contend that teachers have closely studied complex text for many years. However, teachers have traditionally asked questions that have focused students attention away from what the text actually means, questions that can be answered without the need for close examination. Teachers have also moved on past a text quickly without re-reading. Thus, students miss the depth that is hidden within the text.
On their own, students do not yet have the habits of mind to break down the text and get to these deeper layers. Students must slow down and wrestle with the meaning of text through annotation, rereading, and text-dependent processing tasks.
By setting students up for inquiry and designing tasks that train them to think carefully about the text, they will be in a position to grow - both as a reader and as a person.
What about you? What have you learned about what it means to closely read? In your own life, what texts have you read closely? What did you gain from the experience?
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