Crying While Close Reading

Sunday, May 24, 2015


Unit Planning
Common Core Standards
Reading and Writing Workshop
Balanced Literacy
Book Clubs
Standards Based Grading
Technology Integration
Close Reading...

   Over the last few years, I have done a variety of district PDs on various topics, most of them literacy in some way or another.  Every topic offers its own challenges, and that is certainly true of close reading.  To be honest, there seems to be many definitions of close reading out there.  Not a new term, there has been much interpretation on the topic over the years and they all seem to be in the spotlight in the last year or so with the Common Core Standards.  What I have come to do in my PD sessions is to make a hybrid version, based on a bunch of them.  +Christopher Lehman, Kate Roberts, Douglas Fisher, Sunday Cummins, Lester Laminack, Timothy Shanahan and more have shared their vision. Basically, what I have chosen to communicate to others is that we should embrace the HABITS that create close reading situations, and focus on transferring those habits to our students.  Why?  

I believe that when students read independently and create their own meaning and emotion around a text, that in that moment they are actually close reading.  

     In my district, that is often heard expressed in this manner:

     For the majority of my career, I was in 2nd grade, and they did not read Charlotte's Web.  I tried it as a read aloud once, and I started crying during one of the chapters and I had to pass the book to my co-teacher.  It happened again, at a different part of the story, when I got to read a section of it to a third grade class as a literacy coach.  There is just something about that book that causes me to well up with tears every single time I read it.  I like to call that close reading.  Clearly, I read with habits that allow me to create my own meaning and emotional response to text.  

      The reason I share my thought about kids crying over Charlotte's Web is not because I want kids to cry.  That would be mean.  No, I just want them to apply to strategies of close reading to books independently, so that they love books as much as I do.  I still clearly remember the time I burst into tears while reading A Separate Peace.  I was in a bowling alley at the time, probably around the age of 10.  Devastation, on a few levels.  I remember feeling both happiness and great sadness when I read the final pages of Harry Potter.  I remember struggling through the closing quote of Snowflakes Fall while reading to my own children at bedtime on the anniversary of Sandy Hook.  I will never be able to read Thank You, Mr. Falker to a class of my own students again.  

     I love books, and somehow those books became a part of me.  I want the same for my students.

                                                                       Sniff sniff sniff.

     Ginny Burdett, somewhere over the course of the year, heard my thoughts about crying during Charlotte's Web.  Imagine my surprise when she sent this picture to me from during her Readers' Workshop time.  The room was silent, and all of a sudden she heard the quiet sobs.  When she went over, she found her student crying at this page of Love that Dog by Sharon Creech.

(Truth be told, I just teared up reading that page.  Wow.  I get it.)


     I can't tell you how much this moment meant to me, and I wasn't even there. Ginny is a first year teacher, who clearly has a strong relationship with her students and has established a reading community in her room.  Her student happens to be someone who has struggled as a reader, and has received intervention support for many years.  This is the year that she has learned to create her own meaning while reading.  The students in that room learned that is is natural to have emotions while reading, and that mindset can really help them become life long readers.

     Later in the day, I saw their class going down the hallway.  I saw the 4th grade, and pulled her out of the line and into an empty classroom.   I asked her if we could take a picture together, because I heard she had a great moment as a reader and that I wanted to remember that with her.  She said, "Of course!"  Once we took the picture, I asked her where they were going.  Her response?  

"We are going to library!  I can't wait to see if they have Hate that Cat!"

     Watch out, world.  We have a life long reader on our hands!

     Long story short, close reading should not be something that we do to a text that makes students feel like reading is work.  We want close reading to feel like a natural part of what readers do.  It's not to turn in, or to annotate a certain assigned number of ideas.  It's to open our hearts to books.

     If you share that vision, please check out Christopher Lehman and Kate Robert's Falling in Love with Close Reading to guide the creation of your own vision for your students.

     Thanks, +Virginia Burdett, for sharing your love of reading with your class, and for sharing this special moment with me to share.  

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