Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Close Reading

I love close reading. I can pick a book apart, a sentence, even a word. I have theories about my favorite books, both adult classics and contemporary YA. (Really, ask me sometime, and I'll tell you, in great detail, complete with textual evidence, my thoughts on the end of Mockingjay.) I would teach The Great Gatsby every year for the first chapter and the last page alone.

But I really hate that close reading poster that I keep seeing on Pinterest.

You know the one I'm talking about. There are eight steps, four of them reading. Sometimes the teacher reads, sometimes the student reads. There's lots of annotating and, of course, text-dependent questions.

I hate that chart.

Monday we started our first read-aloud of the year, Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock. We'll start A Tale of Two Cities next week, and discuss it on Mondays, but I wanted something lighter to balance how lost they will feel for the first few (many?) weeks with Dickens. Unlike A Tale of Two Cities, they won't have their own copies of Dairy Queen, but I'll still stop as we're reading and ask clarification questions.

Sometimes we'll do more.

For today, I copied a few pages from the second chapter for everyone, and wrote a few questions. They're slightly more difficult than simple comprehension, and ask the students to make some inferences and back them up with quotes. We'll underline and mark the appropriate passages. We'll practice writing some meatier responses.

And we'll move on.

I won't do this activity with every chapter, or even every week with the same book. Sometimes I'll use a picture book (This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen is great for this) and sometimes we'll use a magazine article or part of a reference book. We will never use a random passage unrelated to anything we're studying or reading, though sometimes we will make a piece fit just because of its sheer beauty.

Close reading is a wonderful skill, one that my 8th graders need to practice for high school and college. I use it in my life every single day. I probably close read that status you just posted on Facebook. I definitely close read that Tweet. But beating the same passage to death with 5th graders, rigidly following the steps and spending a week on the same one-page story? Annotating everything all the time?


Currently Reading: Infinityglass by Myra McEntire and Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
Why: Because I love time travel books (Infinityglass) and I love DJ Schwenk (Dairy Queen).

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