Teachers for Teachers | Slice of Life – Close Reading Revisited
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Slice of Life – Close Reading Revisited

11454297503_e27946e4ff_h“You have lots of notes on your reading. How are they helping you as a reader?”

“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:
  1.  -What does text say explicitly?
  2. -How does the text work (vocabulary, structure and craft)?
  3. -What does the text mean (implicit)?
  4. -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!

  • Avatar
    Aileen Hower
    Posted at 11:13h, 02 December Reply

    Thank you for grounding your comments in what works specifically for students and in what students need!

    • Clare and Tammy
      Clare and Tammy
      Posted at 00:17h, 03 December Reply

      Listening to them is our only hope in this high-stakes environment we have created! Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us.

  • Avatar
    Posted at 15:32h, 02 December Reply

    If the note taking has no meaning for the note taker, it really is useless. If a goal is not working we need to change the goal – how true.

    • Clare and Tammy
      Clare and Tammy
      Posted at 00:18h, 03 December Reply

      We need to remember the importance of professional judgement in our classrooms. Too many teachers are second guessing themselves and this is not helpful. Thank you for joining us today.

  • Avatar
    Dana Murphy
    Posted at 16:23h, 02 December Reply

    I see annotating being “assigned” in a lot of classrooms, and I’m not sure kids know exactly why they’re doing it, or how it would help them understand. I know when I annotate, it is to slow down my reading & thinking, to remember, and to make connections across ideas. I don’t annotate everything. I am eager to see how your thinking around annotation and close reading develops.

    That poor kid who was counting the words! Oh vey.

    • Clare and Tammy
      Clare and Tammy
      Posted at 00:20h, 03 December Reply

      I know – right?! How humbling!?? We will keep sharing our thinking — we need to really focus this conversation on our youngest readers. This has to be more purposeful and constructivist. We all need to keep this conversation going!

  • Avatar
    Posted at 17:02h, 02 December Reply

    I am sighing and gnashing my teeth as I read this – your advice is spot on, let’s hope there will be follow through.

    • Clare and Tammy
      Clare and Tammy
      Posted at 00:21h, 03 December Reply

      I could not believe what I was hearing…. we need to have the courage to question, reflect and make decisions that make sense for our students. Thanks for your response.

  • Avatar
    Posted at 20:42h, 02 December Reply

    Holy smokes! Every 250 words. Yikes! That child is definitely not monitoring for comprehension!

    Thanks for sharing those bullet points and mentioning the one about the staple twice!

    • Clare and Tammy
      Clare and Tammy
      Posted at 00:22h, 03 December Reply

      We have been telling everyone we see about the one about the staple!!!! We have to make sure this makes sense!! Thanks for bringing a smile to my face with your comment — laughing always helps!

  • Avatar
    Melanie Meehan (@MelanieMeehan1)
    Posted at 21:40h, 02 December Reply

    If it has a staple in it, it is too long to closely read. (THIS ONE IS WORTH REPEATING FOR US) For me, too!!! Love this line!!! Students are so compliant, it’s frightening. “I’m supposed to annotate every 250 words. That’s what I will do.” I just had a conversation today with a teacher about summaries and what the purpose of summaries really is. It’s amazing to me how far away from the purpose we will stray in order to do whatever is said that we should do. Great post. Thank you.

    • Clare and Tammy
      Clare and Tammy
      Posted at 00:23h, 03 December Reply

      Compliance is something we are thinking a lot about lately –for teachers and students. It is really being confused with engagemet right now. We need authentic conversations to make sure we are teaching and learning in purposeful, meaningful ways. Thanks for joining us today.

  • Avatar
    Posted at 00:32h, 03 December Reply

    Poor kiddo who took some teacher’s comments to heart. He may have been told to annotate after every page. And then someone else may have wondered about “the every page” if there were only two or three sentences on the page. I can hear the teacher (in exasperation) saying, “OK, every 250 words!” so now the child is counting.

    Comedy of Errors

    But so very sad as literal interpretations of our off hand comments can be very scary. “The question ‘What did you hear me say?’ can help when double checking understanding but I do think it goes to traps similar to coaching traps . . . A flip, off the cuff answer or one with sarcasm is never a good response and usually leads to bigger problems!

    Wow! Can’t wait to hear MORE!

  • Avatar
    Posted at 02:26h, 03 December Reply

    “If it has a staple in it, it is too long to closely read.” Shout that one out again and again. The idea of reading something closely and close reading. Hmm. This is something I think about every day it is a bit of an obsession. Largely because what we have asked students to do in NOT metacognitive. It is formulaic. They don’t have reason beyond that’s what I’ve been told to do.

    I’m also finding there are times when we do certain types of thinking and ways we read closely. The beginning of a book is entirely different than the end. I think if we ask our students to think about why they feel the need to jot or why we stop them in read aloud to think, talk or jot perhaps we will find some ownership in the process. Something beyond because you told me to!
    Love your thinking. Love when you make me think!

  • Avatar
    Posted at 04:14h, 03 December Reply

    Tammy and Clare,
    Thank you for this. This is an important conversation to have with our students and with each other. In October I saved a tweet that quoted Kathy Collins as saying when you are reading “pay attention when your heart skips a beat” and a tweet by Bridget Aleem that said, “notice when the little voice inside you says ‘wait a minute’.” I’m wondering if this isn’t where our conversation begins with our youngest readers. I want them to notice when their heart skips a beat, when they are confused, when they are surprised, when they have a question. These are the times we slow down to think a little more deeply about the text.

    There are a lot of questions to consider. I look forward to hearing more of your thinking.


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