May 23, 2015

More Than Sparkly

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Hello again, readers!  After two weeks of curating our previous posts and putting them together in ways that allow people to access similar topics easily, we are excited to get back to our regular blogging! :)

As we were busy creating digests of our posts, we heard from one of our readers, Patti Austin, a second grade teacher from Islip, New York on the topic of close reading.

She shared that, “ I remember thinking when I first learned about close read…give me a break 4 or 5 days on the same passage, they’ll hate that.  Boy was I wrong!!”

In her very excited email, Patti went on to tell us that she introduced close reading to students by placing her diamond engagement ring under the document camera.  As she did this she asked the students what they saw. Other than saying it was “sparkly,” they didn’t have much to say. As Patti began to ask questions, such as, “What do you see on the sides?” and “What shapes do you see?” close reading became more concrete for her second graders. The questions allowed her to say, “Look how much more we SAW and learned about this ring because we took the time to look carefully!” Of course, she and students wondered what would happen if they read books in the same way.

Next, Patti and her students tackled the informational text Give Me a Sign, Helen Keller.  While she didn’t share the questions and lenses that they used to investigate this text, she did say that each student had a copy of the passage and “each day we reread it looking for answers and information and evidence.  Well, they LOVED it! They want to do more! I think it made them feel smart!”

Patti’s story brings into focus two important ideas:
1. If we are to give young children access to big concepts like “close reading,” we will need to make it concrete for them, just as Patti did when she placed her engagement ring under the document camera.  We will need to help them to see the value of looking again and again and again.

2. The idea that reading again and again makes children feel smart is important. For so many children, reading is an exercise in futility. They read with the expectation that they should understand and when they don’t, it makes them feel bad about themselves, or worse, dumb,  which makes them shut down, start to avoid reading, or proclaim that “reading is boring!”  Repeatedly going back to a text models the messy process of making meaning. It helps children see that there’s lots that we don’t get when we read something the first time. It shows children how the work of meaning making is hard yet gratifying. By casting reading in this light, we position children to embrace the hard work required to understand deeply.

Patti’s story made us wonder what other people have discovered as they’ve worked to read text closely. What lessons have you taught to make the concept of close reading accessible to students?


  1. Angela Stockman says:

    This made me smile. Yes…I have a few….dozen. Happy to share anytime. It would be an honor. I’ve learned much from both of you.

  2. I so appreciate stories like these, and they validate my experiences over the last two years as well. I am a service provider to school districts in western New York, and I’ve collaborated with teachers through nearly fifty lesson studies over the last two years that focus on close reading. Each and every time, teachers reveal that they underestimated what learners were capable of during the debrief. And each and every time, kids reflect increased levels of confidence and pride as they are walking out the door. They can do this, and more importantly, they need to. In my experience, it is helping them feel competent. It’s empowering them.

    • Jan Burkins & Kim Yaris says:

      Hi Angela! It feels like the Common Core’s focus on close reading has taught us that we’ve been missing an important piece as we’ve been hyper-focused on teaching students skills and strategies to strengthen their reading process. There really is something to “the art of reading slow” (shout out to Tom Newkirk!)

      We’re wondering if you have a particular lesson or experience that might resonate with teachers. If you do, let us know because we’d love to share it!

  3. Thanks for sharing this great example of how to make close reading sensible for younger kids!
    Keep examples like these coming!

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