How Do We Teach Close Reading?


I’m reading a book that is changing the way I read and the way I talk to kids about their reading.  This happened to me once before–back in 1997 when I first read Mosaic of Thought by Zimmerman and Keene.  If you have read this book, you know what I mean.  In Mosaic of Thought the authors explained that proficient readers use a variety of comprehension strategies to make sense of text and that we can actually teach children to use these strategies as they read.  After I read that book, every time I picked up a text, I found myself being metacognitive about my own thinking/reading strategies.  I began teaching my students to use these strategies and watched them become more interactive with texts, too.

But something has always bugged me.  Sometimes I feel like students use the strategies of connecting, visualizing, synthesizing, determining importance, etc. as an end in itself.  I have often asked myself if I am teaching strategic reading or just isolated strategies that students parrot back. Mosaic of Thought, and books that followed such as Strategies That Work by Harvey and Goudvis and Reading with Meaning by Debbie Miller, helped me transform my reading instruction and teach not just test comprehension.

But now I am reading another book that is taking my comprehension instruction to a whole new level.  This book is called Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading  by Kylen Beers and Robert Probst.  Notice and Note lays out six different “signposts” for students to notice as they read.  Each signpost is designed to show students when in their texts they should stop to think and what they should be thinking about.  Through their research, Beers and Probst found that almost all upper elementary and young adult novels contain these signposts and that even the most struggling readers can be taught to identify them and think about them.

These are the six signposts:

Contrasts and Contradictions: a sharp contrast between what we would expect and what we observe the character doing; behavior that contradicts previous behavior or well-established patterns

Aha Moment: a character’s realization of some that shifts his action or understanding of himself, others, or the world around him

Tough Questions: questions a character raises that reveal his or her inner struggles

Words of the Wiser: the advice or insight a wiser character, who is usually older, offers about life to the main character

Again and Again: events, images, or particular words that recur over a portion of the novel

Memory Moment: a recollection by a character that interrupts the forward progress of the story

Beers and Probst discovered that when readers think about these signposts as they encounter them in the text, they naturally begin to make predictions and connections, to infer and synthesize, to uncover the themes and big ideas.  They don’t say, “I’m predicting that…”; they just naturally predict. In other words, they are reading strategically and thinking as they read instead of “reading on autopilot”.

I was recently in a second grade classroom and saw this anchor chart:

I loved that these second-graders were learning that they aren’t truly reading if they aren’t thinking as they read. Beers and Probst (drawing on the research of Louise Rosenblatt) describe it this way:  “Meaning is created not purely and simply from the words on the page, but from the transaction with those words that takes place in the reader’s mind.”  But how do we teach kids to do this, to really think as they interact with text? I believe that the close reading strategies described in Notice and Note will help us do just that.  This book is a must-have book for every reading teacher of grades 3 and up!

You can read a nice sampling of the book here:  Notice and Note Sample Chapters

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