Close Reading: An Interview with Heidi Morgan

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We interviewed Heidi Morgan, a 5th and 6th grade teacher in New Lenox, Illinois on how she incorporates close reading in her classroom.  She is always working on ways to integrate technology into her teaching and her students’ learning.  Heidi is also an adjunct instructor at University of St. Francis, Edmodo Certified Trainer and Ambassador, a Midwest Spotlight Educator at METC 2014, Illinois Computing Educators Educator of the Year Nominee and Finalist, and a Golden Apple Nominee.

SNAP: How do you incorporate close reading into your instruction?

Heidi: Close reading is incorporated into instruction when we have a piece of text that is rich with the skill or literary element we are learning about.

SNAP: How do you choose texts for close reading?

Heidi: Texts are chosen based on length and quality or amount of the skill or literary element we are learning about at that time. Texts have to be rich and engaging to have children reread them

SNAP: Where do you find texts for close reading?

Heidi: I find texts in our reading text book, in novels we are reading, and from online sources such as Newsela and ReadWorks.

SNAP: What kinds of annotation marks do you have students use?

  • √ When you read something that makes you say, “Yeah, I knew that” or “I predicted that” or “I saw that coming.”
  • * When you read something that seems important, vital, key, memorable, or powerful.
  • ? When you have a question, need clarification, or are unsure.
  • ! When you have a question, need clarification, or are unsure.
  • + When you have a connection between the text and your life, the world, or other things you’ve read.

SNAP: How do you assess students’ close reading skills? 

Heidi: I assess the close reading skills based on comprehension of the piece.

SNAP: Do you follow up with a constructed response after a close reading activity? If so, how do you plan the question.

Heidi: I almost always follow up with a construction response after the close reading activity. The question usually asks students to support a claim based on the piece of text. Since students have already deeply analyzed the piece of text through close reading, so their texts are already annotated and ready to help them support their writing.

SNAP: How often do you close read?

Heidi: We usually do at least one close reading activity a week.

SNAP: What are the benefits of close reading?

Heidi: When students close read they comprehend at a deeper level than if they just read the text once. Close reading also helps support student’s writing in response to a claim. The real benefit of close reading is realized when students begin to close read, using annotations, and rereading as needed independent of teacher direction. When students begin to use the close reading strategy on their own they have truly benefited from close reading instruction.

You can follow Heidi on Twitter @heidiamorgan

Close Reading: An Interview with Kathy Sage

We interviewed Kathy Sage, a teacher at Harold S. Winograd K-8 Public School in Greeley, Colorado on how she implements close reading in her classroom. Kathy has over 27 years of experience as a classroom teacher and technology educator. She is the author of a number of handbooks about reading, writing, and technology instruction. Kathy is also the author of Making the Best Use of Blogs, Wikis, Webcasts, and Other Web 2.0 Tools to Enrich Student Learning (Grades K-6).

kathySNAP: How do you incorporate close reading into your instruction?

Kathy: I have been using close reading strategies for the past four years in my core replacement reading group. This group is comprised of students who are above grade level in fluency, phonics decoding, and comprehension. When I first stumbled across the initial close reading methodology, I knew it was a great match. At that time, the only examples I could find were for high school and college-level students. Finding appropriate text, identifying the skill, strategy, or author’s craft to which the text lends itself, and developing the plan for the text is quite time-consuming.

Initially, I was using exemplar text from http://www.corestandards.org/assets/Appendix_B.pdf. These are a collection of text leveled by grades that are excerpts taken from larger articles, poems, fiction, and nonfiction pieces. My students would do the first two reads on their own: 1. Read through to get the gist of the piece, and 2. Read through and highlight any text for which they do not know the meaning and/or pronunciation. The Third Read is usually an inquiry discussion where students try to “guess” the skill, strategy, or author’s craft that is modeled in the piece. As we progress through the various pieces, my students have gotten really good at figuring out what the text demonstrates.

After struggling through a few years of seeking text and developing my own close reading plans, I stumbled upon SnapLearning. My students use SnapLearning in a variety of settings including their after school program and various targeted instruction groups. I like that I can find text that ties in with science and social studies content, so the text supports the content-learning for those areas, too. In addition, the format for highlighting, answering questions, and identifying main ideas, supporting statements, and more, match our state online testing format. The SnapLearning Close Reading Program is a perfect match for my student and me.

SNAP: How do you choose texts for close reading? Where do you find texts for close reading?

Kathy: As I mentioned earlier, I found a source of exemplar text that had been leveled by grade levels. However, now, I use the filter tool in SnapLearning to more closely match text to each child’s abilities and interests. I can sort by Lexile Level, grade level, and fiction or non-fiction. I can assign identified text to an individual student or a group of students. When the students login, they have available the pieces I have pre-selected for their instructional needs.

SNAP: What kinds of annotation marks do you have students use?

Kathy: I have been a “Postit Queen” for years, so I tend to use the annotation strategies that involved using sticky notes. I am a big fan of Laura Randazzo ideas: http://laurarandazzo.com/2014/08/16/close-reading-reinforcement-idea/.

SNAP: How do you assess students’ close reading skills? Do you follow up with a constructed response after a close reading activity? If so, how do you plan the question?

Kathy: I assess students’ close reading skills at least once a week. I can look at the reports from SnapLearning or I can collect a short constructed response to evaluate the students’ level of understanding of the skill, strategy, or author’s craft on which a close reading excerpt focused. The short constructed response is always a question that asks about the text and the identified focus. The students must cite text from the excerpt to support their answers and prove the identified focus’ strength or weakness in the piece.

SNAP: How often do you close read?

Kathy: My students are involved in a close reading activity every day. Sometimes it is a short text I have pulled, sometimes they are excerpts I have pulled and typed up from chapters in the novel we are using for study, and sometimes they are using SnapLearning.co and working through their assigned pieces.

SNAP: What are the benefits of close reading?

Kathy: In my view, the largest benefit of close reading is the inquiry used to analyze the text to find evidence of particular skill, strategy, and especially, author’s craft. This deep interaction with the text strengthens both my students’ understanding of the text and their own writing abilities. My students love close reading, so they are motivated and engaged throughout the lessons as well. I love close reading because not only do my students understand what they read more fully, they then move those skills, strategies, and author’s craft ideas to their own written pieces.

You can follow Kathy on Twitter @kasage.

 

Expert Round Up: 21 Practical Close Reading Tips

Close Reading is a subject that is both old and new at the same time. Educators and reading experts are constantly implementing tips and tricks to get students to pay closer attention to the text they are reading.

We talked to 21 experts who have implemented close reading tactics in their classrooms and asked them the following question:

What is your ONE favorite strategy to get students engaged in close reading?

1) My favorite strategy to get students engaged in close reading is using colored sticky notes. Each color represents a specific part of the close reading experience. The color-coding makes it easy for the students and teacher to keep track of what type of thinking is being done as they read through a text.

April Smith
Teacher
Performing in Fifth Grade

2) Give students a choice about what they read. Letting kids pick texts they find interesting leads to greater student engagement.

Angela Watson
Educational Consultant
The Corner Stone for Teachers

3) One of my favorite close reading strategies is getting kids to find the big “So what?” After reading the entire passage or section to get the gist of the text, reread it, stopping after each paragraph or every few sentences and ask yourself, “So what?” Explicitly teach readers that this “So what?” question implies several other questions such as, “Why did the author include that?”, “Does any part stand out and why?”, “Is this section more or less important than another one?” Breaking down this metacognitive thinking is at the heart of close reading!

Mollie Cura, M.A
Literacy Consultant
www.CuraLiteracyConsulting.com

4) I show them “So You Think You Can Dance”. We read lyrics, listen to song, and then watch the performance. This opens the conversation as reading as a form of creation. As a result, we focus on seeing the details that both help us create ideas and the ones that help others see our ideas clearly.

Matt Shachter
Public Relations Senior Specialist (Former English teacher)
Tri-Rivers Educational Computer Association (TRECA)

5) I used to have my students start with a text-based question and use it to read for meaning. As a group they would take notes and write constructed responses based on what they found. I ran it like a reality show–“Who’s Got The Gist?” They enjoyed the competition when they were in groups, and the ones who didn’t think they could read well for information write well about it found they could. It worked well.

Sheri Rose
Former Language Arts Teacher
Go Teach Go

6) Poetry! I usually started with a teacher read aloud of the poem followed by partner reads and then a close analysis of every sentence for meaning. Then students write their own poems. The Road Not Taken would be perfect for this!

Naomi Shelan
Former Middle School Teacher
Educational Representative at Benchmark

7) My favorite close reading tip is to use song lyrics for close reading.  Looking at that kind of engaging text makes kids willing to go back and look closer and closer for patterns and author intent.

Melanie Holtsman
Reading Coach
Once Upon a Teacher

8) One of my favorite strategies for close reading is getting kids in the habit of looking at everything more closely. For our youngest learners, they most successful close reading strategy is having them observe, describe, analyze and infer pictures and real objects as shared group reading activities with language and thinking scaffolding from the teacher.

Jen Jones
Literacy Specialist
Hello Literacy

9) Mark it up! Take a passage from a difficult piece of writing and circle unknown words, underline main ideas, visualize a descriptive sentence with a drawing next to it! Use your own words to write what you see hear or feel, write all around the white space around a paragraph to interact with the words, cull meaning, and find metaphor. Works great in small groups who share what they find as a group, and then with the class.

Mary Sholtis
Educational Consultant

10) I think offering choice is key for students to engage in any type of reading.

Erin Klein
2nd Grade Teacher
Kleinspiration

11) Our favorite close reading strategy is the “Mindfulness” strategy that appears in our new book, Reading Wellness: Lessons in Independence and Proficiency. The teacher engages in a series of breathing exercises that illustrates how breathing can get deeper and deeper. Then students look at a piece of visual art three times, noticing how their observations deepen with each examination.

Dr. Jan Burkins & Kim Yaris
Educational Consultants

12) I think good questions that allow students to access the text, but lead to deeper thinking are the way to go. I love using “The Boy with Five Fingers” for this, and start the students off with thinking about setting, which leads to a discussion on the narrator, which leads to deeper investigation of the characters, which leads to the students figuring out “what happened”, which leads us back to the setting and theme. I love it when I get to see the “Aha” moment when students put all of the pieces together!

Rachel Wysocki
Teacher Coach

13) My favorite strategy is to model close reading while reading a popular book with the class. When students see the layers of understanding and “secrets” they can uncover in reading, it makes it that much better!

Kelly Tenkely
Educational Consultant
iLearn Technology
iPad Curriculum

14) Model close reading by placing the excerpt of text on a document camera or projecting with a Smartboard, thinking aloud about how you are making sense of the text, and then writing helpful annotations. This is helpful to students who are visual as well as auditory learners.

Sunday Cummins, Ph.D
Literacy Consultant and Author
http://www.sunday-cummins.com/

15) My favorite close reading tip: Have the student’s compose their own assessments for other students. Highly successful.

Dr Bruce Cruicks
Developer and Owner
Readwell Systems

16) I have found with younger students (first and second graders) that the use of highlighters is highly motivational.  Students highlight key details within the text. Often these facts lead to a deeper discussion as we discuss how these key details help to support the main idea.  These facts that we identify within text can also lead to higher level thinking and questioning.  These are important skills as young children learn how to pull details they need from informational text to support their thinking, answer questions, and explore topics more.

Julie Pettersen
Teacher
A First for Everything

17) To get students engaged in close reading, I love explaining the what and the why. My students need to know why I’m having them read a text closely, and then what I’m wanting them to look for (e.g., statements they disagree with, or three keys to al-Baghdadi’s rise to power).

Dave Stuart Jr
Full-time teacher
Teaching the Core

18) My students annotate everything they read – on paper and online. On paper they use sticky notes and employ traditional annotation strategies. Online they use Diigo to transfer those classic pen and paper annotation strategies to the digital space. In addition, I use Padlet Walls to engage entire classes in collaborative close reading activities. For example, we are currently reading To Kill a Mockingbird, and I asked students to identify a central theme and support their selection with textual evidence (direct quote and citation) and analysis. They posted their theme, textual evidence and analysis on a shared Padlet Wall so everyone could benefit from the work done.

Catlin Tucker
English Language Arts Teacher
www.catlintucker.com

19) As we introduce close reading skills in our classrooms, we begin by using high interest passages.  We make sure the topics we choose will grab the attention of our students and make them have interest in digging deeper.

Jill & Cathy
Teachers
TheCurriculum Corner

20) Marking the text is one particularly strong strategy, mainly because it can facilitate so many other close reading strategies like questioning the text, stopping, inferencing, and more. It also helps the reader physically engage–at least one a minor level–with the text, and gives them a record of their thinking-while-reading as well.

Terry Heick
Director
TeachThought.com

21) Give the students an interesting passage based on something that the students can relate to. Initially at least ensure that the difficulty level of the passage is low and then start giving them grade appropriate passages which includes grade appropriate vocabulary. Encourage them to sit in groups and pear assess each other’s work. One easy way to hook them up to the exercise is to give them a passage that they are familiar with, like for example an excerpt from a novel, or a poem, or a non-fictional work that they have read. This way the learners will not only be learning how to use vocabulary and understand word meanings, but also revise syntax, and semantic rules. When you give them an extract from something they have already read as a close gap exercise, then you are also reinforcing what they have understood from their reading of a previous text.

Rodrick Rajive Lal
Senior Educator
The Heritage School, Gurgaon

 

That’s it! 21 practical close reading tips from educators with hands-on experience in the classroom.

We hope these close reading classroom strategies give you some ideas to implement in your own classroom! If you have more ideas or like something you’ve read please tell us in the comments.

Happy Reading!