02 Dec Slice of Life – Close Reading Revisited
“What do you mean helping me?”
“Well, how do you use your notes to help you understand what you are reading? What is your purpose for the notes?”
“Purpose? We are supposed to annotate our reading and I always forget. I now have a system so I will not forget. That is really working.”
“That is great. So tell me about your system. Your system might help me understand your purpose and how you are using them to think about what you are reading.”
“Well, I write a note every 250 words.”
“What do you mean?”
SILENCE. I try again.
“You mean you stop every 250 words and write?”
“How do you know it is 250 words?”
“I count while I read. Once I get to 250 I stop and write.”
Have you ever tried to count while you are reading? Give it a try. It is nearly impossible to monitor for meaning and comprehend what you are reading. It is no wonder this student’s written and oral responses demonstrated limited understanding.
This is just one of many stories we hear from students who report that annotating their reading is not helping them think deeply. We know the importance of taking notes to support our big ideas, but we can’t help but wonder if the systems we are using are too complex for our elementary students. Our notes should help us clarify, summarize or synthesize our thinking. Note taking should push us deeper into the text not distract us from the text. We have been thinking quite a bit about how to make sure annotating and close reading is truly helping our readers.
At NCTE we had the privilege of seeing Nancy Frey present about close reading. We heard her two years ago so we were very interested to hear how her thinking about close reading and annotation has evolved. Here are some highlights that left us feeling relieved and energized:
- It is not enough to have complex texts in the room or to assign complex texts. Students need to be taught how to read these texts and given opportunity to build strength and stamina for complex texts.
- You don’t closely read an entire book.
- If it has a staple in it, it is too long to closely read.
- Close read with a pencil so you can change your thinking.
- Keep annotation simple – codes and colors may be too complicated.
- Purpose of annotation is to slow the reader down in order to deepen comprehension.
- Close reading is about zooming in on a part of a text that is really important to the reader.
- Annotation should be notes you are writing to yourself – questions, ideas, and reactions.
- Progression of text dependent questions:
- -What does text say explicitly?
- -How does the text work (vocabulary, structure and craft)?
- -What does the text mean (implicit)?
- -What does the text inspire me to do? (writing and speaking tasks)
- If it has a staple in it, it is too long to closely read. (THIS ONE IS WORTH REPEATING FOR US)
Right now, we have more questions than answers around note taking and annotating. We know it is a critical tool for our students to use when they are responding to reading. We struggle with helping our students find a way to authentically and purposefully take notes. We do not want them to see it as an assignment. This session gave us the confidence to truly question how and when we are using close reading with our elementary students.
One thing we know for sure is we need to keep talking with our students. We need to be authentically assessing our readers’ comprehension, note taking and response to their reading. We need to hear their feedback on how the process is working for them and make adjustments to help them find a system that works for them. We do not want our students to try to please us by meeting their goals. They need to know that any goal they have should help them be a more engaged, thoughtful reader. If a goal is not working they need to change it.
Peter Johnston calls this a sense of agency (2004, 29). This sense of agency will give our readers the confidence to speak honestly about their process of learning and to view assessment as a tool for their continued growth and learning. We love how the young reader in the beginning of this slice was so honest with us about his process and what was and was not working for him. The culture of this classroom supported him in having a sense of agency and the confidence to admit his process was not helping him as a reader.
How is close reading and annotating working for your readers? We would love to hear your perspective!