I mentioned in some earlier posts that this summer I did a workshop with Pooja Patel on integrating close reading strategies with writing from sources. One of the great things about doing presentations like this is the amount of research one does beforehand (especially when one has the opportunity to just say “I want to learn more about this. I’l do a presentation). I had dabbled in close reading, the way you do in a middle school English class, but mostly in large group settings, but hadn’t really approached it in a systematic way. In order to prep for the presentation, I delved further into the book Close Reading of Informational Texts by Sunday Cummins and into the article from Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, Close Reading as an Intervention for Struggling Middle School Students by Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey. Before reading these texts, I didn’t really see how close reading could benefit everyone. I had focused on it as a strategy for general education classes, rather than one that could have significant benefits for ELLs and students with LD. Now that I’m implementing it, my struggling readers have really taken to the strategy, and are beginning to synthesize what they read.
I started the year by slowly and intentionally introducing and then integrating the strategies that Dr. Cummins discusses in her book: accessing and applying prior knowledge of text structure and content vocabulary, setting a purpose for reading, self-monitoring for meaning, determining importance, and synthesizing. I’ve just introduced students to determining importance, and we’re working our way toward some explicit instruction in synthesis. We’re working on reading through our first short texts integrating these skills now. I thought they would be more resistant to repeated readings, but they have been enjoying reading about unusual animals and keep getting more out of the text each time they read.
Close Reading Skill: Questioning
After the quick overview of synthesis Dr. Cummins recommends, I began by teaching questioning as a way to support students’ self-monitoring skills. I decided to deviate from her sequence for a number of reasons, but most importantly, because self-monitoring was a skill that came up over and over again in my students’ IILPs (like IEPs, but for International Schools), and I noticed from my initial assessments that students experienced difficulty differentiating between explicit and implicit questions. After an introduction to QAR and a great deal of guided practice with asking, classifying and answering questions, students were beginning to use questioning to help them monitor their own comprehension. A few even transferred (!) the strategy to classes outside of learning support.
Close Reading Skill: Previewing
We used the strategy TELL (Cummins, 2013) to help students tap into their knowledge of text structure and to help set a purpose for reading. Both skills were taught explicitly in separate lessons. I’ve used previewing strategies before and have spent time with struggling students teaching text structures, but teaching it with the goal of close reading in mind opened up the strategies in ways I hadn’t considered. Students aren’t just using text features and structures as a guide to help them build schema and organize facts from the informational text, they’re actually starting to have conversations about why authors would choose specific text features or formats. For example, in a text by Nic Bishop that we read, they pointed out that it seemed like a journal because there were dates in the subheadings. As we read, they even asked a really insightful question: “Why does the author use I instead of writing it like a ‘normal book’?” After some discussion they decided that the author wanted to let us know that he had really experienced these things, and that maybe he had wanted to draw the reader in and make him or her more curious about animals.
Students are also better able to set purposes for reading after previewing, which helps them to decide what is important. They made their predication about what the text would be about individually and then we discussed the different predications and came up with one that worked for all of us (see below). Using this, we were able to set a purpose for reading as a group.
Close Reading Strategy: Determining Importance
Our most recent lesson focused on determining importance. I love Dr. Cummins’ introductory lesson about separating the “pasta” words from the “water” words. It actually worked quite well with my students. Using our purpose as a jumping off point, I modeled how to pick out the important information (see above). Today, students worked on finding it independently and we shared our annotations on the interactive whiteboard and made our first try at composing a summary. Again, I found it really interesting the things that showed up in their summaries. We’ve worked on summarizing before, but this is the first time that they’ve written in response to a text that contains more synthesis than summary. Their description of the glass frog was peppered with statements like “We wonder how it eats moths and flies if it is only the size of a bean,” and “We think it developed this adaptation to hide from predators.” Granted, this was a scaffolded, guided task, but I’m seeing changes in the way they look at texts.
Have you used close reading with your classes? What advice would you have for next steps?