Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Close Reading: A Rant of Sorts!

Hi, friends!  Since I have been majorly struggling to  keep up with taking pictures and posting about my classroom happenings throughout this pregnancy, I thought I would switch things up and go back to the basics.  I want to start blogging more about theory and practice and research.  Those are the things that make my heart go pitter-pat, and it's what drives my instruction.

So, let's have a heart to heart about close reading, shall we?  I feel like this is WAY overdue.

To be clear, close reading is not a glorified worksheet with "close reading" stamped on it.  Sadly, I see a lot of this, and it really gets under my skin.  Lots of businesses and publishing companies are haphazardly slapping "Close Reading" on resources in the same way that they are slapping "Common Core" onto resources to make a quick buck.  Do not be deceived.  Just because it says that doesn't make it so...

...But what's the need?  We all know students who fit into one of the following categories.  There are the "gist-getters" who get an essence of what the text is about.  They can give small details or the last details.  There are also the "regurgitating readers" who tell you every last detail, but lack focus and or meaning.  Close reading helps close gaps on each end.   Let's try something to illustrate.  Read the passage below, and then answer the questions that follow.  Can you find the answer?

The question remains:  What is close reading, and how do we get our kiddos to think deeply about text?  Simply put, close reading is reading like a detective.  It's a careful analysis of clues at the word level, at the phrase level, at the sentence level, and at the section/paragraph level.  The reader should begin to see how each unit builds upon another.  It's synthesizing information to draw conclusions.  It's strategic reading, and this requires students to slow down, read with intention, reread, and reflect.  (Craft stick pointers with googly eyes, highlighter strips like E.Z.C. Reader Strips, and drink stirrers are some of my favorite tools for tracking and slowing kids down!)

During a close reading, students should be focusing on text meaning.  Text analysis is careful, thorough, and repeated, but each reading is a separate journey for a different purpose.  It should increase in complexity each time!  At each stage, the students should do the reading, thinking, and interpreting, NOT US!  Too much front-loading, too much dialogue, and too much guidance defeats the purpose of doing close reading in the first place!  Our students need to be making meaning and grappling with the text in order to do understand the text more fully.  When students are engaged in close reading, you will see them:

- responding to text dependent questions
- noticing when their comprehension breaks down
- jumping right into reading without a ton of front-loading
- discussing the text through think-pair-shares
- focusing intently on the text itself
- reading and rereading deliberately and with intention
- reading with a pencil (underlining, highlighting, notetaking, and using symbols)
- using short passages and excerpts from longer texts

Let's break this down into the three readings to take a closer look:

As you can see, each reading clearly DOES build on the other. The following graphic illustrates the hierarchy of text dependent questions from the foundational first reading to the analysis-laden third reading.  It's a nice visual way of thinking about it.  

Of course, asking text dependent questions necessitates the use of rich texts.  The following graphics illustrates the importance of considering text complexity. 

Now, here's the thing.  I personally and fervently believe that we, as educators, know best.  We know our kids better than publishing companies do.  Let me explain.  We know which stories we are using, in which genre we are examining, for what purpose, etc.  We know the cross-curricular connections we are trying to make.  We know what our assessments will look like.  Honestly, the texts I read with my students fit the exact needs of my students and my curriculum, and it changes year after year with each new crop of kiddos, because they are not robots.  They are people with unique and distinct needs.  So, how could a commercially created product truly meet all of their needs?  In my humble opinion, it can't.  I consider myself a Pollyanna of sorts, but honestly, I have to draw the line somewhere, and this is where I draw it.  I want to choose texts that overlap with other texts we are reading in Language Arts and the other content areas.  I want to choose texts that expand on concepts we are already studying.  I want to use texts that use the vocabulary my kids need exposure to.  I have yet to find a pre-made package of "close reading" texts and questions that perfectly align with my students' needs, therefore, I don't use them.  Would it be easier?  Sure.  Would it be what's best for my kids?  Well, at the risk of sounding horribly judgmental, I don't think it would be. It certainly wouldn't unravel everything we've worked towards, but it wouldn't be a game-changer either.  That's why I whole-heartedly suggest self-selecting texts to use with your students and creating your own set of questions based on the skills you are currently working on with your kids.  You get a lot more bang for your buck, and YOU can customize the lesson to fit your students perfectly.

Plus, creating your own questions allows more authenticity.  I can have my students create actual PRODUCTS instead of just responding to prompts.  This emphasizes higher level thinking skills and creativity WAY more than filling in a few lines on a worksheet.  Just keeping it real.

This is precisely why (despite the influx of close reading passages), you will not see any in my TpT shop EVER.   You can write it in stone.  (The close reading resource that is in my shop allows for a more authentic implementation of customizable questions to display on your SMARTboard... and a little additional PD beyond this post.)  When I teach close reading, I want it to be authentic and as meaningful for my students as possible, and I believe that taking your students to the next level involves a little prep work on our end as teachers. Simply put...

Clearly, the term "close reading" is in vogue in classrooms around the country.  The problem is, because of its popularity, it's being liberally applied to activities like worksheets and basic book reports.  I know it's tempting to choose the path of least resistance prep time...but I promise you... your students will glean so much more from a carefully crafted lesson by YOU than they will from a pack of worksheets claiming to be "close reading".  Remember: just because a resource claims to be something or has the right words on the cover doesn't mean it's actually research-based.  So, do your research.  Read more about the process.  Dig a little deeper.  Ask yourself, are we rereading for the sake of rereading and answering questions, or does each successive reading actually take us deeper?  Be an informed consumer, go forth, and conquer.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

January Quick Checks!

Hi friends!  I just wanted to share a new resource I created to incorporate some seasonal formative assessments into my classroom routine.  I am going to be creating monthly packs to review and/or assess standards as we progress through the school year.  I am SO excited about how the first pack turned out, and I have already put some of them to good use with my students!  I love that they are eye-catching for the kiddos, but so practical and quick to implement for ME!  These no prep printables can be used for morning work, homework, centers, homework, exit tickets, etc!  I really like the versatility of the ELA January Quick Checks because I am not bound to using them in one rigid, specific way.  I can use them differently with my students from year to year and group to group!  No matter what, they provide a quick snapshot of how my students are progressing on different skills that we are spiraling through without compromising classroom time with long and laborious "worksheets".  That makes my teacher heart happy!  {Please feel free to click through the link above to check out the preview and find out more about the contents of the file!)

In other news, I know I need to be a better blogger.  I am planning on getting into WAY more content and research and theory... but infusing it all with practical ways to implement it in your own classroom.  That's really what I LOVE, and I am going to hold myself responsible for being more present on my blog and sharing more knowledge with all of you this year!  That's my New Years Resolution... aside from being a great mom... and striking a balance between my professional and personal lives!  This is the year!  I can feel it!  I can also feel lots of baby kicks!  We are having a BOY, by the way!  The next two pictures were taken a few weeks ago, but they pretty much sum up where I have been and why I have been absent.  I have definitely started nesting, and it has been a little all-consuming.  :)

This was our gender reveal photo that we shared with family and friends right before Christmas!

Nursery in progress!  This refurbished dresser was marketed as a buffet, but is the perfect changing table!

Here's my most recent bump picture! I am a little behind on this at the moment! Gotta get on that!

Have a wonderful week, friends!  Stay warm-- wherever you are! :) 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

A Little Dash of Prudy and a Whole Lot of Sales!

Hello, hello!  Oh my goodness, long lost friends. Pregnancy brain, as it turns out, is a real thing, not a myth.  Life has been a complete adventure lately, but we are getting to the fun part-- finding out the sweet baby's gender in a few short weeks.  I also am in the process starting our registry which has been equal parts exciting and stressful.  :)   Aside from all of the fun baby preparations and lingering second trimester morning all day sickness, I have been holding down the fort in my classroom and getting ready for the upcoming SDE Ohio Literacy Conference for K-3 Teachers. I also wrapped up my last class and last assignment for my gifted endorsement.  Check!  As much as I love learning and as much as I want to get my doctorate someday, I am so glad I am done with school for a while, and I am so glad I will have a little more free time before our little person arrives this spring! 

So, what have we been up to lately?  I actually have a really ridiculous amount of photos and activities to share, but I am going to just highlight a few tonight.  I will have to pop soon for the other updates.  I have been working non-stop since 7 AM, and my sweet hubs just got back from a football game in Buffalo.  I want to spend some quality time with him before bed, and let's face it, my bed time is pretty much 8:30.  It's 9:30 now, so I am already burning the "midnight oil" right now.  Ha!  Sad, but true. 

We just finished Prudy's Problem last week, and I always love how the Prudy's turn out for this craftivity.  I love having my students draw their own pictures because they are always so cute and so unique.  I love combining problem and solution with a little characterization piece too. #simple

While we were working on Prudy's Problem, the kids chose a problem from a menu on the board, and they came up with a "creative solution" to the problem... just like Prudy did with  "Prudy's Museum of Indescribable Wonderment"! I always enjoy seeing what they come up with.  Here are a few examples:

Just in case you are still in the shopping spirit after a weekend of deals, TpT is hosting a site-wide Cyber-Monday & Tuesday sale.  I know I am going to be using this as an opportunity to snag a few items on my wishlist to make my life just a tad easier.  I will also be putting my entire store on sale for 20% off. Don't forget to use code TPTCYBER at the checkout for additional savings!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Back in the Saddle Again and Brushing Up on Sentences!

Hey, strangers!  It's been a while since I have written here.  You've probably wondered if I've fallen off of the face of the earth...or you may have forgotten that this blog (and blogger) even still existed.  I have been neglectful... and very absent...for a very long time.  The first nine-weeks has come and gone.  I managed to blog, what?  Maybe twice?  Three times?  Wowza.

Well, I am back! I'm back to share where I have been.  No, I have not been hiding under a rock.  No, I did not hibernate...although it felt like it at times.  Mr. Wonderful and I are expecting!  It's super exciting and super exhausting at the same time.  Let me just say this...the first trimester was not kind to me.  At all.  I am one of the "lucky ones" that has dealt with extreme morning sickness and exhaustion every single stinkin' day... except seven...in about 9 weeks...but who's even counting?!  Ha!  I'm still waiting for that magic moment in this second trimester when I will feel like a normally functioning human being again, but in the meantime, I have been trying to hold down the fort in my classroom and give my 59 students the very best of me.  Then I go home, and I crash on the couch by about 7:00...or 8:00 if I am feeling particularly energetic.  Moms of the world, I already have so much more respect for you.  Truly.  You are superheroes. :)

So, with all of that said, not surprisingly, I had to take a deliberate break from social media for a bit.  I just couldn't keep up with my own classroom demands, keep up with this blog and TpT, keep up with my other responsibilities, and still function.  I basically power-off after school, and I've had to be content with that.  Even though I got restless at times, and even though I felt frustrated every now and then, I realized that this is the time to take care of myself... and my little growing bean.  I reminded myself that everything else would still be there after I woke up from my 100 year slumber like Rip Van Winkle.  Luckily, I didn't sleep QUITE that long (although I have been known to sleep for 11-12 hours a night these days which I think is an equally remarkable feat). Luckily, I was right.  This blog is still here...right where I left it.  So, consider this my first attempt to get back into a blogging groove.  It feels good to be back! 

It also feels good to say that I finished a new product that I started in September!  I needed resources to review sentences with my kiddos, and this is SURE to make them SMILE a big TOOTHY grin while they review sentence skills with friends! Brushing Up on Sentences is posted... and it's one of my favorite creations to date!  I can't wait to (hopefully) snap a few action shots this week to share with all of my long-lost blog friends! 

Furthermore, I am happy to share that I am putting this resource on sale for 50% for the first 24 hours!  It will be on sale until Monday, November 3rd at 7:00 PM EST.  I hope that, if you feel this resource would benefit your students, you can also benefit from pennies saved.  :)   If you want to see a better preview of this resource, be sure to check out the preview file in my shop! Have a happy evening!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Foundation Has Been Laid!

Hi, strangers!  I certainly didn't anticipate finally updating about my classroom happenings in October, but I have had QUITE the start to my ninth year of teaching.  It has been interesting, to say the least.  My personal life has seen a lot of ups and downs--the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.  I haven't had the extra time to sit down and blog like I have in the past, so I am going to attempt to play catch-up today.  Hopefully, moving forward, I will be able to share a little more frequently.  Because let's face it---if I just blogged once in a month---it can only go up from here.  Right?!  I say all of this because bloggers are just like non-blogging teachers.  We have the same time-constraints and life events that everyone else has.  And sometimes my blogging life ebbs and flows as a result.  As much as I love sharing my classroom with other teachers, the fact is, my family and my classroom are bigger priorities, and I know that my blog will always be here when I find the time. I'm just hoping I can carve out more time this year now that the foundation has been laid.  (Fingers crossed!)   Let me tell you, I am excited to see what I can accomplish with my 59 scholars this year!  It's going to be epic.

So, where to we begin?!  In my opinion, it all begins with a magic word--- metacognition!  It lays the foundation for so much thinking and reflecting, and I want to create that culture right away.  I always start out the year talking about metacognition, and I always launch the discussion with the "Real Reading Salad" lesson by Tanny MacGregor.  I have blogged about it the past several years HERE and HERE, and this year was no exception.  I LOVE this lesson so much! This year, I used tomato and lettuce templates from my friend Yolanda Arnold from Oceans of First Grade Fun.  (Although she is no longer with us and is greatly missed, her legacy is still living on through her family, friends, students, and my own kiddos too!)  Yolanda shared my love of metacognition, and she knew how much I loved teaching it, so she emailed a file to me with these cute lettuce and tomato templates.  I used them with the lesson for the past two years, and this year, I decided to tape the templates to an anchor chart after the lesson for a long-lasting concrete visual of the reading process.

So far, we have been working on personal narratives in writing.   I like to focus on one genre at a time to really focus on teaching strategies to improve their writing, and fortunately,  many of the strategies do carry over to other genres in one capacity or another.  This year, we have more freedom regarding our instruction, so I am excited to get back into infusing my ELA block with more writing instruction. I am a big Lucy Calkins fan, so I mix some of her mini-lessons in with my own and our Reading Street curriculum to give my kiddos a fuller, more craft-focused, more collaborative approach to writing lessons.  I want them to CARE DEEPLY about what they are writing and how they are presenting the content.  I want them to be artful, thoughtful, and creative, and I want to teach them how to constantly rework and revise and finesse their pieces.  And I want them to persist and build stamina.  Writing is SO important, and too often, it is neglected due to time constraints.  It's such an integral part of literacy instruction though, and really reading and writing are two sides of the same coin.  I want my kids reading and writing responses (both writing to sources and using mentor texts to improve their own writing), and I want my kids writing with an audience or reader in mind.  If they read like a writer, and write like a reader, their skills improve on both sides of the literacy continuum, and that's a win-win situation for sure.  So, I launched our writing instruction with my We Are Authors: Launching Writing Workshop pack, and we took off running.  Already, my students are more passionate about writing, and they are more focused on showing, not telling.  I cannot wait to see how much they grow once it's springtime!

I like to read "Author: A True Story" with my students to help them understand that some of the challenges they encounter as student authors are the same challenges encountered by published authors.  After reading, I have them create a booklet full of their own reflections on their literate lives.  It's always eye-opening, and it serves as a nice survey-esque starting point for me to begin learning about my students' interests, experiences, and feelings about writing.  As you can see below, my students are always on a continuum.  Some kids come to me with a great love of writing, and others want to crumple the paper and throw it across the room.  Fair enough.  I believe that teaching students to write has to be an engaging and organic process, and once my students tap into their own interests as authors, and once I teach them how to approach some of the processes that can trip them up, even the paper crumpling kiddos start to enjoy the self-expression that comes from writing!  I am so pumped to see what my new batch of kiddos (and my old batch of kiddos) are able to do this year!

We have also focused a lot of energy on accountable talk while discussing/implementing what strong speaking and listening skills look and sound like.  I was able to launch a few different activities from my Stop, Collaborate, and Listen pack with my students, and it has been so much fun hearing them debating and discussing ideas.  It was kind of comical listening to their opinions on whether everyone should get a trophy or not.  The responses ranged from, "Yes, because everyone tried their personal best..." to "No, because if you aren't good, then maybe you should keep trying to get better to earn a trophy..." and everything in between.  It was amazing to hear them supporting their claims with evidence in an engaging and thought-provoking format.  They also really enjoyed interviewing one another for a Wonder Workshop too! It was a great way to help them formulate questions on their own and to create a more inquiry-centric classroom!

We also launched our interactive notebooks with my Interactive Notebook 101 resources, and I think it did really help my students to understand the HOW and the WHY.  We are keeping our interactive notebook resources in binders this year and using tabs to divide it into sections.  The introductory piece is at the beginning of the binders in front of the first (comprehension) tab for easy access. I am so happy I added this layer to my instruction this year because I think my students understand why we are doing what we are doing, and they see note-booking as an instructional tool instead of as a quasi-craft, so they approach it with a more serious attitude.  Of course, they enjoy the process too, so that's just the icing on top of the cake!

So, there you have it!  That is my long-overdue recap of just a few activities we've been working on since school started.  It's just a snippet... and we've gone far beyond this by now... but I would be remiss if I didn't share the photos I snapped (even if I am late to the party).  I hope you are enjoying life and finally getting into the groove with your own students!  Hopefully, I will be back soon with more updates.  It's definitely been an interesting season of my life, but I am going to do my best to keep up with my little slice of cyberspace from this point forward.  I feel a rant about the disintegration of authentic close reading brewing... so stay tuned!  It's burbling to the surface, and I am pretty sure I won't be able to contain it for too much longer! Ha!  In the meantime, take care, friends!