Close Reading with Tim McGraw

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Day 26 of #BTBC14
What kinds of music do you enjoy most?

     I have previously blogged about Justin Timberlake here.  I definitely enjoy his music.  He should make this post, too.  :)

***Disclaimer:  Many of you know that I am a literacy nerd, and post pictures with or tweets from literacy gurus.  Well, my passions in life do not limit themselves to literacy.  I am also a huge Tim McGraw fan.
Here comes Tim McGraw!  (He is blurry because I was jumping up and down.) 

     Since I have had children, I have learned that it is not really about my favorites anymore.  The kids always seems to have songs they want to hear in the car, and my husband is always playing his music around the house.  Basically, that's ok with me, because I really do like most types of music.  The one that is definitely mine, though, is Tim McGraw.  My friend, Jaime, and I go to see him in concert every time he comes to Chicago.  We have gone to Indiana and Wisconsin along the way, too. It has been our "thing" that I really embrace now that we both have little kids.  We have seen him 14 times now (15 if you count the book signing we went to).  Last year he walked into the concert through the audience, and I actually got to touch his hand!  It was glorious.


     So, how does this tie to literacy?  Two ways!  First, we went to his book signing a few years back at the Borders in Chicago.  I guess officially he is an author, an actor and a musician!  He started with co-authoring a book about his music career, and then went on to co-write children's books about being a dad.  I like his autobiography, especially since mine is autographed, but I also really enjoy reading his picture books to my kids.  They are filled with themes of adventure, and family, and love.

Pages from My Little Girl (McGraw and Douglas, 2008)

     My daughter was given My Little Girl as a gift.  I was giddy that it was written by Tim McGraw,  of course.  But, I have written a few posts this year about close reading life, and this book definitely is a metaphor for that!  It starts out with the promise of having a spectacular day with dad.  "A better than chocolate ice cream with sprinkles" kind of day!  The main character, Katie, dresses up in everything that she own to prepare for that spectacular day.  (Everyone with a preschool girl relates to that).  The book then shows a dad and daughter, doing everyday things together.  They go to the store, look at clouds, swing on the tire swim, etc.  Just a regular day, that turned out to be a "spectacular, nothing-in-particular day" because they were together.  Now isn't that close reading life at it's best?

     The second way that he can tie to literacy is through his song lyrics.  Many of his songs are just meant to be fun, or are about love, so those wouldn't necessarily apply to the classroom.  A few have some deeper meaning and would be great to use with older students.  But, since I work with teachers, I think that some would be great to close read as a staff PD.  Take, for example, Blank Sheet of Paper.

"Blank Sheet of Paper"

I'm just a blank sheet of paper
This fool's about to write you a letter
To tell you that he's sorry
For the way he did you wrong
To ask for your forgiveness
For leavin you alone

He's been lookin down at me
It seems like forever
He takes the top on and off his pen
It's like he can't decide
What he wants to say
If he'd just tell the truth
I'd be on my way

But he just stares at me
And I just stare at him
He don't know where to start
To say he doesn't want it to end
Now its one hour later
And I'm still a blank sheet of paper

The sunlight is comin through the curtains
He's almost asleep pen in hand
There's a tear in his eye
That refuses to fall
If it would land on me
That would say it all

But he just stares at me
And I just stare at him
He don't know where to start
To say he doesn't want it to end
Now it's four hours later
And I'm still a blank sheet of paper

Oh but he just stares at me
And I just stare at him
He don't know where to start
To say he wants you back again
One broken heart later
And I'm still a blank sheet of paper

     Let's walk up the Common Core standards with this one.  At first read, it's about a guy who won't write a letter to his ex-girlfriend.  It is about asking forgiveness.  The guy would be described as sad, perhaps, or stubborn because he refuses to write the letter.  Hours pass, but the paper remains blank.  It then says "there's a tear in his eye that refuses to fall."  Is that because he is stubborn?  Or because he won't take ownership of his mistakes?  Or, perhaps, because he wants her back but he know she is better off without him?  It says the tear would say it all, and yet he refuses to let them fall.  Is this about him asking her to forgive him, or him trying to forgive himself and failing?  "One broken heart later" is how the song ends, but who is the broken hearted one?  It seems that he is pretty heart broken, as evidenced by his staring at the paper, his inability (or perhaps reluctance) to share his emotions, and the fact that he remained at the table for hours unable to change the blank sheet of paper.  But shouldn't there be two broken hearts here?  "One broken heart later" could imply she is really better off without him.  Is this song really about the sacrifices we make for the ones we love?  Or is it about pride, and how our pride gets in the way of our happiness at times?  The song being written from the point of view of the blank sheet of paper, instead of the guy, gives us some perspectives that we would not have had otherwise.  It is really taking a step outside of the character's shoes, but is still leaving the perspective of the woman missing.  

     I just used Standards 1, 2, 3, 4, and 6 to interpret the lyrics of the song.  I just wish there was someone else sitting here to have a discussion about it! 

     Who would have thought that Tim McGraw could help me close read?  Actually, it isn't a far stretch to make.  Close reading, according to Christopher Lehman in Falling in Love with Close Reading, is when: 

"a reader independently stops at moments in a text (or media or life) to reread and observe the choices an author has made.  He or she reflects on those observations to reach for new understanding that can color the way the rest of the book is read (or song heard or life lived) and thought about."

     Perhaps the secret to close reading is just that...  Giving our students the tools to stop and reflect and find new understandings on the texts (written, media, or life) that matter most to them.  We need to give them the tools they need to do that, but we have to allow them to apply them independently.  Close reading doesn't have to be something that we force our students to do.  It can be something that helps them stay on the path of being life long readers, because readers who create their own meaning continue to read.  (Even if they don't want to close read Tim McGraw lyrics.  That's ok.  I'll just continue to do that in the car when his songs come on the radio!)


  1. Leah,
    Love, love, love your post!

    So I want to know . . . When did Tim write this song? What was going on in his life then? Is this based on a personal story or ......?

    Songs make some of our best close reads especially when we are searching for deeper meaning as your quote from Chris and Kate's book clearly says. How do we make our lives better because of what we know?

    Love your summertime thinking!

    1. Fran,
      Thanks so much for your comment and your retweet! You always have such good things to say.

      "How do we make our lives better because of what we know?" Could you imagine the possibilities if all teachers felt that was the purpose of close reading? Powerful.

  2. Love, love, love how you tie close reading into stuff. Btw I have never heard a song from this guy.

  3. I love your post, probably because you are so passionate about it. :)