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Close Reading Narrative Worksheet

Close Reading? A helpful, time-tested reading strategy, which was brought back to life in 2009 with the advent of the Common Core State Standards and the evangelical zeal of Common Core lead authors of the English-language Arts Standards, David Coleman and Susan Pimental. For those still getting re-acquainted with close reading, this definition should suffice from noted U.C. Berkeley reading-rearcher David Pearson (now a constructive critic of how the close reading strategy is currently being implemented) and co-author Margaret Gallagher:

Close Reading of text involves an investigation of a short piece of text, with multiple readings done over multiple instructional lessons. Through text-based questions and discussion, students are guided to deeply analyze and appreciate various aspects of the text, such as key vocabulary and how its meaning is shaped by context; attention to form, tone, imagery and/or rhetorical devices; the significance of word choice and syntax; and the discovery of different levels of meaning as passages are read multiple times. The teacher’s goal in the use of Close Reading is to gradually release responsibility to students—moving from an environment where the teacher models for students the strategies to one where students employ the strategies on their own when they read independently

P. David Pearson and Margaret C. Gallagher, “The Instruction of Reading Comprehension,” Contemporary Educational Psychology 8, no. 3 (July 1983) 317-344.

Specifically, the first and last C.C.S.S. Reading Anchor Standards address the importance of close reading:

1. Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions
drawn from the text.

10. Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently

As Pearson now notes, “We need a mid-course correction with close reading.”

CLOSE Reading Narrative Template

CLOSE Reading Narrative Worksheet

My criticism of the how a good reading strategy (close reading) needs revision is three-fold:

  1. Pre-reading strategies and pre-teaching are frowned upon in the new permutation of close reading. With our diverse student population, beginning a cold read or rigorous text borders on educational malpractice. Reading comprehension builds upon reading comprehension. The into reading step has a solid research base and can be teacher-led or student-researched. Now I’m not advocating a return to the counter-productive “Give students the Cliff’s Notes version of the reading prior to the first read” practice of the 1980s. We do want to promote Reading Anchor Standard 10 and its focus on developing reader independence.
  2. I do applaud the focus on text-dependent questions to analyze expository and narrative text (Who wants to return to the beyond reading focus of constructing one’s own meaning from the author’s words?); however, in addition to some teacher or publisher questions, we need to return to the emphasis of interactive reading based upon reader (self)-generated question strategies. We need to bring back talking to the text to improve reading comprehension and to develop independence. Even the best teacher-generated questions lead students to a skim to find the answers approach to reading.
  3. Again, I’m thrilled that the Common Core has renewed our focus on expository text. But, narrative has a place, too. And short selections of novels, as well as short stories, can serve as rigorous close readings. Close readings are not confined to articles. At the end of this article, I provide a FREE resource download of a Close Reading Narrative Worksheet.

Will These Mid-course Corrections Be Adopted?

Revision tends to take more time than wholesale change. Whether teachers will gradually buy into some of these mid-course corrections remains to be seen. We teachers can be an impatient bunch, and we often jump onto the bandwagon of new and improved education approaches which are neither new nor improved.

Most teachers have been in professional development settings in which the speaker advocated the necessity of gradual course changes. The speaker may even have trotted out the example of how long it takes an aircraft carrier (or a cruise ship) to turn around in the middle of the ocean. I looked up this metaphor and found an interesting response from naval seaman assigned to the carrier, George W. Bush.  This quote bears reading closely. He responds to the question of how long it takes a carrier to make a 180 degree turn (emphasis mine):

Few people will notice 1 degree per second which is easy to do at 30 kts, so 180 degrees would take about 3 minutes and operations could continue. This is a very realistic answer as the carrier must counter sea currents which may need 1 degree/sec of rudder. If nothing is loose on deck, MUCH more agressive [sic]turns can be taken as the deck will tilt 30 degrees into the turn. Anything not tied down will roll off into the ocean, i.e. equipment, airplanes, people, etc, and no planes could land or take off with such a turn in progress. These turns are done on first sea trials to prove that the rudder can handle the stress of a tight turn at max speed. Here I would estimate a full U turn (180 degrees) in well under 60 seconds, probably 30 seconds, but you’d want to hold onto something.

Now that we’ve finished our first close read, most of us found the main ideas and key details and were able to answer the BIG question: How long does it take an aircraft carrier to turn around? 

Let’s do our second close read, looking for craft and structure…

The naval seaman crafts his answer beginning with the usual and moving to the extraordinary. He moves from the impersonal “Few” in the first sentence to the personal “you’d” in the last. He uses two cause and effect structures: the first being the slow turn and its results; the second being the fast turn and its results.

Let’s do our third close read and mark up the text with marginal annotations, preparing to apply, discuss, and properly cite the information…

KEY RESULTS OF FAST TURN “Anything not tied down 1. will roll off into the ocean, i.e. equipment, airplanes, people, etc, and 1. no planes could land or take off with such a turn in progress” (Jones).

My take regarding the mid-course corrections of the close reading strategy is that a slow turn will produce greater long-term effects than a fast turn and will produce fewer casualties. We’ve made some significant progress in improving reading instruction during the last decade. Far fewer elementary and secondary teachers are solely teaching novels. Less class time is now devoted to unguided, free choice independent reading. More time is now spent on expository reading and research. Less whole language strategies, a.k.a. reader response, which focus on filtering and applying the ideas of text through the lense of personal reader experiences, are being taught, such as with dialectical journals. I’d hate to see close reading change into a passing fad (as it has before in the 1960s).

Teachers do need to pre-teach (the “into step” of reading) and/or have students pre-research the topic (if an expository close reading) or the author, context and/or genre (if a narrative close reading), especially with rigorous reading-level close readings. Having students access prior knowledge and gap-filling with our diverse learners via pre-teaching strategies (Marzano) improves comprehension and does not turn our students into teacher-dependent learners. Indeed, comprehension builds upon comprehension and enables students to independently access text. The reading research of the last sixty years is quite extensive regarding the positive impact of pre-reading strategies.

Close Reading

Close Reading: Don’t Read Too Closely

Check out my SCRIP comprehension strategies HERE, which prompt self-generated questions. This FREE resource download includes posters for each of the five comprehension strategies, SCRIP comprehension bookmarks, and five lessons to teach these strategies. Also, get the Close Reading Expository Worksheet FREE resource download HERE. But first, download your Close Reading Narrative Worksheet below. So many free ready-to-use resources, news, and product discounts available only in the Pennington Publishing Newsletter.

Get the Close Reading Narrative Worksheet FREE Resource:

Intervention Program Science of Reading

The Teaching Reading Strategies (Intervention Program) is designed for non-readers or below grade level readers ages eight–adult. This full-year, 55 minutes per day program provides both word recognition and language comprehension instructional resources (Google slides and print). Affordable and evidence-based, the program features the 54 Sam and Friends Phonics Books–decodables for each lesson and designed for older students. The digital and print word recognition activities and decodables are also available as a half-year (or 30 minutes per day) option in The Science of Reading Intervention Program. Both programs include the easy-to-teach, interactive 5 Daily Google Slide Activities.

PREVIEW TEACHING READING STRATEGIES and THE SCIENCE OF READING INTERVENTION PROGRAM RESOURCES HERE

Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary, Study Skills , , , , , , , ,

Close Reading Expository Worksheet

CLOSE Reading Expository Template

CLOSE Reading Expository Worksheet

At the end of this article, I provide a Close Reading Expository Worksheet for you to freely download and use with the next close reading of an expository article, document, selection from a textbook, etc. You will see a few revisions to what many publishers are selling as the close reading strategy. Even a good thing can use a little tweak here or there.

As of this writing, close reading is the primary reading strategy I now see used in schools across America. Having taught for awhile as an elementary reading specialist, middle school, high school, and community college ELA teacher, I’ve seen quite a few new and improved instructional reading strategies come and go. Close reading is an old reading strategy which was re-popularized with the adoption of the Common Core State Standards back in 2009. Among other reforms, the authors argued for a move to more rigorous expository texts and less narrative texts in both elementary and secondary classrooms. The authors championed the close reading strategy as a means to help students access the meaning of text as independent readers. Additionally, the authors stressed the need for text-dependent questions to improve reading comprehension.

As is often the case when we teachers throw out the old and take on the new, we wind up impulsively replacing what has a solid research-base and worked for students with a brand new shiny wrapped package may or may not have a solid research-base and may or may not work for students.

My take is that close reading does have the solid research-base and can work for our students. However, instead of a this or that mentality, we do need to hang onto some of the old research-based strategies. What we need a mid-course correction with the close reading strategy. I’m not alone in this assessment. Noted reading researchers David Pearson (who coined the term mid-course correction for close reading), Isabel Beck, Tim Shanahan, and others such as Grant Wiggins (Understanding by Design) agree that close reading is helpful, but needs fixin’. The Close Reading Expository Worksheet which follows keeps everything good about the close reading strategy while revising what is not so good.

Now mid-course corrections can be tough to pull-off in education. I think back to the early 2000 at the heyday of the differentiated instruction (DI) movement-think conferences with 20,000 attendees, best-selling books, rock star authors, etc. As a reading specialist, I bought into so much of the DI mission, especially teaching according to individual needs. However, so much of the DI focus on multiple intelligences, learning styles, etc. was simply philosophical and certainly not research-based. I tried to re-define DI for my own teaching and books and nudge DI adherents toward assessment-based individualized instruction, keeping the wheat and discarding the chaff. Not much success with my efforts, I’m afraid to say.

Whether teachers will adopt the necessary tweaks to the close reading strategy which will prevent it from becoming just another passing fad, only time will tell. Download the Close Reading Expository Worksheet to see if this mid-course correction makes sense to you and your students.

What Needs to Change

In a related article I provide details about two necessary revisions to the close reading strategy: 1. Eliminating the prohibition on pre-reading strategies which close reading purists claim stifles reader independence. 2. Reducing the dependence on teacher-constructed, text-dependent questions to help students dig deeply into the text.

A New and Improved Close Reading Strategy (The Close Reading Expository Worksheet)

Let’s keep the three separate readings used in the close reading strategy: 1. Key Ideas and Details 2. Craft and Structure and 3. Integration of Knowledge and Ideas. Let’s keep the Think-Pair-Share, Small Group Share, and Whole Group Discussion. Let’s keep the focus on text-dependent (not unhelpful beyond-the-text personal application) questions. Let’s keep on identifying the BIG IDEA before the first read.

In addition to these strategies, let’s go back to using pre-reading activities and pre-teaching (Marzano) to improve comprehension. No educator should believe that a tabular raza (empty slate) reader is preferable to an informed reader. Comprehension builds from comprehension.  Building prior knowledge can be teacher or student-driven. A brief lecture on the subject or student research before the first reading can make all the difference in comprehension. This revision to close reading is especially important with our diverse student populations.

Let’s go back to encouraging students to develop their own text-dependent questions as they read. The reading-research actually indicates that reader self-generated questions produces greater comprehension than teacher (or publisher)-generated questions. Download my SCRIP Comprehension Strategies with posters, bookmarks, and five introductory lessons at the end of this article.

Let’s go back to a balance between reading both expository and narrative reading genre. Close readings can be highly effective in texts other than articles.

So let’s revise a good thing make it close reading a better reading strategy to develop independent readers. Interested in resources to help you do just that? Check out  the Close Reading Narrative Worksheet FREE resource download HERE. But first, download your Close Reading Narrative Worksheet below. So many free ready-to-use resources, news, and product discounts available only in the Pennington Publishing Newsletter. But first let’s download the Close Reading Expository Worksheet.

Get the Close Reading Expository Worksheet FREE Resource:

Intervention Program Science of Reading

The Teaching Reading Strategies (Intervention Program) is designed for non-readers or below grade level readers ages eight–adult. This full-year, 55 minutes per day program provides both word recognition and language comprehension instructional resources (Google slides and print). Affordable and evidence-based, the program features the 54 Sam and Friends Phonics Books–decodables for each lesson and designed for older students. The digital and print word recognition activities and decodables are also available as a half-year (or 30 minutes per day) option in The Science of Reading Intervention Program. Both programs include the easy-to-teach, interactive 5 Daily Google Slide Activities.

PREVIEW TEACHING READING STRATEGIES and THE SCIENCE OF READING INTERVENTION PROGRAM RESOURCES HERE

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Independent Close Reading

I hesitate to criticize a good thing too harshly. We teachers tend all-too-often to abandon something that works for the new latest and greatest educational fad.  This is certainly not my intention in criticizing aspects of the close reading strategy and suggesting revisions.

By way of reminder, close reading is a multi-level strategy to encourage readers to access meaning independently.  Close reading advocates achieve this end by avoiding pre-reading strategies and using text-dependent questions to complete three reading tasks: during the first read, students focus on gleaning key ideas and details. In the second read, students focus on how the author has designed the text (craft and structure). In the third reading, students focus on the integration of knowledge and ideas, such as preparing to use the text in discussion, writing, and comparisons with other texts. Close reading is certainly nothing new and is only one means of helping students become more analytical readers, as I describe in a related article., “Close Reading: Don’t Read Too Closely.”

Close Reading

Close Reading: Don’t Read Too Closely

Since the advent of the Common Core Standards and the concurrent re-popularization of the close reading strategy by the Common Core authors, teachers have been teaching more rigorous, expository text (a good thing). Teachers are training students to dig deeply into text and read for meaning (a great thing). Teachers have abandoned pure reader response, a.k.a. whole language, activities which focus more on what the reader brings to and gets out of the text rather than what the author has to say (a radical paradigm shift). Wahoo!

However, as noted U.C. Berkeley reading researcher, David Pearson, comments about close reading : “We need a mid-course correction, not a pendulum swing… but with BALANCE in mind… (making) sure that it applies to several purposes for reading (and will) encompass literal, interpretive, and critical reading tasks” (Pearson).

Mid-course Corrections: Two Proposals

1. Close reading advocates are wrong about avoiding pre-teaching. Cold reads in-them-of-themselves do not develop independent readers. Teachers do need to pre-teach (the “into step” of reading) and/or have students pre-research the topic (if an expository close reading) or the author, context and/or genre (if a narrative close reading), especially with rigorous reading-level close readings. Having students access prior knowledge and gap-filling with our diverse learners via pre-teaching strategies (Marzano) improves comprehension and does not turn our students into teacher-dependent learners. Indeed, comprehension builds upon comprehension and enables students to independently access text. The reading research of the last sixty years is quite extensive regarding the positive impact of pre-reading strategies.

2. Close reading advocates over-emphasize the value of text-dependent questions. Now, I certainly agree that we don’t want to return to non-dependent text questions, such as “How does this make you feel?” “How does this apply to your life?” How does your life apply to what the author says?” Aargh! My point is that text-dependent questions foster teacher-dependence during the reading process itself. The goal of reading becomes answering the teacher’s questions. Now I’m not saying that we shouldn’t add insight and provoke relevant reader response with some of our teacher questions. However, if we are to create truly independent readers, we need students to develop self-generated question strategies. This interactive talking to the text has a solid research base and is key to improving reading comprehension.

So let’s tweak a good thing (close reading) and make it a better reading strategy that truly helps teachers develop independent readers. Let’s use Independent Close Reading to accomplish that end. Interested in resources to help you do just that? Check out the Close Reading Expository Worksheet FREE resource download HERE and the Close Reading Narrative Worksheet FREE resource download HERE. But first, download your Close Reading Narrative Worksheet below. So many free ready-to-use resources, news, and product discounts available only in the Pennington Publishing Newsletter.

The SCRIP Comprehension Strategies resource includes posters for each of the five comprehension strategies to prompt self-generated questions, SCRIP comprehension bookmarks, and five lessons to teach these strategies.

Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies FREE Resource:

Intervention Program Science of Reading

The Teaching Reading Strategies (Intervention Program) is designed for non-readers or below grade level readers ages eight–adult. This full-year, 55 minutes per day program provides both word recognition and language comprehension instructional resources (Google slides and print). Affordable and evidence-based, the program features the 54 Sam and Friends Phonics Books–decodables for each lesson and designed for older students. The digital and print word recognition activities and decodables are also available as a half-year (or 30 minutes per day) option in The Science of Reading Intervention Program. Both programs include the easy-to-teach, interactive 5 Daily Google Slide Activities.

PREVIEW TEACHING READING STRATEGIES and THE SCIENCE OF READING INTERVENTION PROGRAM RESOURCES HERE

Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary , , , , , , , ,

How to Practice Reading Comprehension

Don't Teach Reading Comprehension: Practice It!

Don’t Teach Reading Comprehension

Well, I stirred up somewhat of a ruckus with my companion article titled “Don’t Teach Reading Comprehension” and I think I understand why. Admittedly, the hook is designed to do exactly what we teachers teach our students: Grab the readers’ attention and make them want to read more.” Back in high school, my fellow journalist, Kraig King, somehow was able to get this story headline approved by Mr. Devlin, our school newspaper teacher: “Drugs Are Great” with the first sentence following with “that’s what my friend Joe kept telling me.” Every student read that article.

In my previous article I provided evidence that the reading community of practitioners (we teachers and reading specialists) and academics (reading researchers) really don’t have a consensus as to what exactly is reading comprehension. The instructional implications seem clear to me: We shouldn’t assess or pretend to teach what we don’t know.

I also cautioned that teachers face enormous pressure to adopt a particular definition of reading comprehension from administrators and publishers of assessments and curricula. I’ll say it again, “We have to be crap detectors” in our business of teaching students.

Since “everyone and their mother” (horrible grammar) has their own definition of reading comprehension, I developed my own: We sort of know it when we see it, but we all don’t agree on exactly what it is and how to get it. 

The “when we see it” part of my working definition for reading comprehension offers some practical advice for helping students practice their reading comprehension. Most of us can spot a good reader when we see one. And, fortunately, most teachers are pretty good readers. So let’s remind ourselves about what good readers do.

Here the reading research provides helpful insight. Although causal connections (This teaching practice will effect this learning effect) can rarely be established, we do have a body of statistically significant reading research indicating positive correlations between certain learning practices and reading comprehension… admittedly we beg the question as to just what reading comprehension is; however, this is beside the point for our working definition). For example, oral reading fluency has a statistically significant correlation with reading comprehension; the practice and result share a high correlation (Fuchs, Fuchs, Hosp, and Jenkins).

We may not know exactly “how to get it,” but Johnny has high fluency scores and everyone knows he’s a good reader, so one way to practice reading comprehension would be… let’s be like Johnny. The following is certainly not an exhaustive list of what good readers like Johnny do, but each has research studies supporting statistically significant correlations between the description or practice and reading comprehension. I’ll add on links to that research later. Please comment with relevant links and additional suggestions and I’ll add onto the list. Or, even better yet, challenge my assumptions.

Practice Doing What Good Readers Do

Practice Reading Comprehension

Students Practicing Reading Comprehension

  • Good readers are fluent in all senses of the word, both orally and silently.
  • Good readers understand why they are reading something and tend to read toward a specific purpose.
  • Good readers are smart. Sad, but true. We educators wish that every student had the aptitude or capability to be brilliant, but nature gets in the way. In one way or another, reading is a thinking activity and good thinkers have the opportunity to be good readers. Maybe someday we will understand the brain enough to even the playing field, but we are still a long way from that day.
  • Good readers bring plenty of prior knowledge to the table through experience, content learning, practice, study skills. Good for them, but not for all our students. Nurture gets in the way. Fortunately, we have some of the tools needed to somewhat level the playing field, but it takes a lot of work.
  • Good readers have a good understanding of English idioms. English-language learners do have challenges here. Let’s be honest.
  • Good readers read for meaning and monitor their own comprehension.
  • Good readers dialogue with the text and see the reading experience as interactive between reader and author and others. They question the text.
  • Good readers have high vocabularies, especially Tier 1 and Tier 2 words.
  • Good readers know how to find resources to help them understand difficult text.
  • Good readers are flexible: Good readers vary reading speed, re-read what they don’t understand, know when to skim and not to skim.
  • Good readers know what’s important and what’s not.
  • Good readers know they need to infer meaning from the text and draw conclusions.
  • Good readers relate one part of the text to others.
  • Good readers understand text structure.
  • Good readers understand the craft of writing.
  • Good readers understand how genre affects story development.
  • Good readers do a better job of answering recall and inferential reading selection questions.
  • Good readers read narrative differently than expository text.

Teaching Practices to Practice Reading Comprehension

I’ll keep the explanations in this list short and let the links broaden any topics or ideas you may wish to explore. Several of the lists include ready-to-use resources to help your students practice reading comprehension. I suggest teachers use this list as a sort of a “I do that (pat on the back affirmation),” “I used to do that (reminder that you should use that practice again),” and “I want to think about doing that or do that instead of what I’m doing” self-analysis.

1. Think-Alouds: Good readers (both teachers and students) can share how they understand and interpret text in light of their own personal and academic experiences, text-based strategies, self-questioning, and monitoring for understanding. Click HERE for suggestions as to how to use this technique. Think-Alouds will help your students understand what reading is, for example connecting parts of text, and what reading isn’t, for example, word calling.

2. Close Readings: If you haven’t heard of close readings, you’ve been asleep at the wheel. If you read my article, Close Reading: Don’t Read Too Closely, you may wind up with a different take on this trendy reading strategy, but it is still useful to help students practice reading comprehension and it works well in conjunction with think-alouds and external, text dependent questions.

3. External Questions: Any search of Common Core reading standards will bring up text dependent questions, the favorite subject of the Common Core authors, after the need for text complexity. The time-tested QAR Reading Strategy helps students practice comprehension through recognizing and applying the types of text-dependent questions publishers, teachers, and good readers ask themselves about text.

4. Internal Questions: Reading research indicates that self-generated reader questioning improves reading comprehension as much or even more than publisher or teacher questions. My article, How to Improve Reading Comprehension with Self-Questioning, provides a helpful overview and summary of the research. Also, I’ve developed a useful set of five internal questions which prompt active engagement with both narrative and expository text. These SCRIP Comprehension Strategies (includes posters, five worksheets, and SCRIP Bookmarks) are memorable and effective. Plus, they provide a language of instruction for literary discussions.

5. Student Monitoring of Text: Teaching students to self-monitor their reading comprehension is wonderful practice. Read my article, Interactive Reading-Making a Movie in Your Head, for a nice explanation of how to read interactively. Follow up with a think-aloud and have students pair share their own think-alouds. Now that’s reading comprehension practice!

6. Literary Discussions: When we build upon (and sometimes revise) prior knowledge with relevant content and life experience, we better comprehend text. Modeling and practicing thinking skills via Socratic Seminars, literacy circles, cooperative groups, and the like help students practice reading comprehension, which is truly a listening and speaking skill. Check out How to Lead Effective Group Discussions to fine tune your discussion experience. Also check out my Critical Thinking Openers.

7. Pre-teach and Re-teach: Read the king of these reading comprehension practices (Marzano). We have to level the playing field by making text accessible to all students. By the way, why not show the movie first before reading the novel upon which it is based? Just an idea, but an effective one. Give students the keys to effective reading comprehension practice; don’t withhold them.

8. Fluency Practice: Students need both oral and silent fluency practice. Check out these articles: How and Why to Teach Fluency, Differentiated Fluency Practice, and Reading Fluency Homework. My Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program provides modeled oral reading fluency practice at three separate speeds. The expository animal fluency passages are tiered in terms of reading level: the first two paragraphs of each article at grade 3, the next two paragraphs at grade 5, and the last two at grade 7. Each article has word counts and corresponding timing sheets.

9. Syllabication Practice: The original and new editions Rewards (Archer) programs stretch decoding to the multi-syllabic academic vocabulary that we want students to practice to improve reading comprehension. My own Syllable Transformers (a nice article with lesson downloads) activity is essential practice for students at all reading levels. You’ll also want to check out these great reference lists: Syllable Rules with Examples and Accent Rules with Examples.

10. Vocabulary Practice with the Common Core Language Standards: The best section of the Common Core State Standards, and perhaps the only set of Standards that has produced universal praise and no criticism is found in the Language Strand: Standards 4, 5, and 6. Every teacher and reading researcher agrees that a growing and targeted vocabulary is a prerequisite and concurrent necessity to improving reading comprehension. The Common Core State Standards Appendix A  argument by Isabel Beck and Margaret McKeown that teachers should focus on Tier 2 words academic words has wide acceptance as does the teaching of Greek and Latin word parts. Check out this resource: How to Teach Prefixes, Roots, and Suffixes.

Furthermore, teachers should check out the research-based Academic Word List used in my Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits. Following are nice ready-to-teach samples as to how to teach these Standards: Four Grade 4 Vocabulary Worksheets, Flashcards, and Unit Test with AnswersFour Grade 5 Vocabulary Worksheets, Flashcards, and Unit Test with AnswersFour Grade 6 Vocabulary Worksheets, Flashcards, and Unit Test with AnswersFour Grade 7 Vocabulary Worksheets, Flashcards, and Unit Test with Answers, and Four Grade 8 Vocabulary Worksheets, Flashcards, and Unit Test with Answers.

11. Independent Reading for Vocabulary Acquisition and Content Knowledge:  The best homework? Independent reading with accountability: not for reading comprehension practice, per se, but for vocabulary acquisition and content knowledge. Read a set of articles HERE regarding how to set up an effective independent reading program with accountability and how to help students select books at the optimal word recognition levels. No, you do not need Lexiles, nor Accelerated Reader. Teach your students how to maximize vocabulary acquisition by using the FP’S BAG SALE Context Clues Strategies lesson, including two practice worksheets with answers.

12. Read a Variety of Genre: True, the Common Core State Standards have renewed our focus on non-narrative genre, but the Standards do not outlaw short stories, poetry, and novels. Check our this particularly helpful resource: How to Read Textbooks with PQ RAR.

13. Write About Reading: A good writing program is excellent reading comprehension practice. See Twelve Tips to Teach the Reading-Writing Connection.

14. Fill in the Gaps: Help students practice reading comprehension by ensuring that they have the necessary tools to do so. We know that good readers have phonemic awareness and they can apply the alphabetic code through their knowledge of how sounds connect to spellings. In other words, good readers tend to have their phonics mastered, irrespective of how they got there; they can decode. That’s simply not up for debate anymore.  We also know that good readers tend to have the “other side of the coin” mastered as well, that is they can encode (spell) the sound-spellings.

“75% of children who were poor readers in the 3rd grade remained poor readers in the 9th grade and could not read well when they became adults.” – Joseph Torgeson from Catch Them Before They Fall

Check out these FREE diagnostic reading and spelling assessments to determine exactly which gaps to fill. These assessments pinpoint specific, teachable areas that students have not yet mastered, but need to. These are comprehensive assessments, not random samples indicating a generic “problem area.” For example, the Vowel Sound Phonics Assessment will indicate that Raphael has not mastered the Long a, ai_. For example, the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment does not indicate a problem with syllable juncture as a qualitative spelling inventory might; instead, the test would indicate that Frances does not understand the consonant-le spelling patterns.

Why not get each of these assessments plus all of the instructional resources to teach to these assessments?

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesDesigned to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use–a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instruction. The program provides multiple-choice diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files), phonemic awareness activities, blending and syllabication activitiesphonics workshops with formative assessments, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable eBooks (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each book introduces focus sight words and phonics sound-spellings aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Plus, each book has a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns, five higher-level comprehension questions, and an easy-to-use running record. Your students will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

Or why not get both programs as a discounted BUNDLE? Everything teachers need to teach an assessment-based reading intervention program for struggling readers is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, tiered response to intervention programs, ESL, ELL, ELD, and special education students. Simple directions, YouTube training videos, and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program.

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Don’t Teach Reading Comprehension

Don't Teach Reading Comprehension: Practice It!

Don’t Teach Reading Comprehension

Okay, I’ll admit it; the article title is a bit of an attention grabber. However, as an MA reading specialist and author of plenty of reading programs over the years, I do believe that the title does point to some helpful advice. And I don’t believe I’m splitting hairs or making a distinction without a difference (pick your figure of speech) by advising “Don’t Teach Reading Comprehension” here while alternatively advocating “How to Practice Reading Comprehension” in my companion article. Teaching is different than practicing.

Let’s Be Honest About Teaching Reading Comprehension

Years ago I served as an elementary reading specialist, training teachers in our district-adopted reading program. I had plenty of diagnostic and instructional tools in my toolbox, ready to hand out to teachers to improve the quality of reading instruction for their classes and individual students. Fresh from my masters program, I knew stuff that the teachers did not and I felt pretty good about the level of my expertise.

At a grade level team meeting, veteran teachers were asking me about the results of their San Diego Quick Assessments, how to teach the r, l, w controlled vowels, and my take on schema theory. I was on a roll. Next, teachers tossed out their progress monitoring assessments and I suggested how to improve the fluency of Raphael, how to teach the Heart Words to Marci, and how to get Huong to practice his common Greek and Latin prefixes. Teachers were nodding their heads in a approval, and I was just about to step down from my throne and dismiss my subjects when a brand new teacher asked the question about Alberto: Even though Alberto has mastered all of his high frequency words, mastered hi Heart Words, passed the phonics tests, and has the second highest fluency rate in the class, why can’t he tell me about what he has read or answer any simple questions about the reading?

The question stopped me dead in my tracks. I faked the answer pretty well, suggesting something along the lines of confusion with his primary language (Spanish) and English, auditory problems, dietary issues, and perhaps some degree of cognitive impairment. But her follow-up question was devastating: “How can I teach reading comprehension to him?” I had no answer. We never covered that in my MA reading specialist program. I muttered something about the issue being complicated and said I’d get back to her. I never did.

Since those early years as an elementary reading specialist, I’ve also served as both a middle and high school reading intervention teacher and a reading instructor at a community college. After a few years under my belt, I’ve learned to be more like that new teacher. I ask harder questions and I’m not satisfied with simplistic or speculative answers. Today my answer to her question would be, “We don’t know how to teach reading comprehension, so don’t teach it.” However, that answer does require some explanation. First, let’s take a look at why we can’t teach reading comprehension; next, the instructional implications; and lastly in my companion article, how to help students practice reading comprehension.

Why We Can’t Teach Reading Comprehension

In the short-lived 1969-1970 television show, Then Came Bronson, a middle-aged man in a business hat pulls his family station wagon alongside the lead character, Bronson, who is riding a

Then Cam Bronson

“Wherever I wind up, I guess”

motorcycle.

The car driver asks, “Taking a trip?”

Bronson shakes his head and answers, “Yeah.”

 “Where to?”

 “I don’t know… Wherever I wind up, I guess.”

 “Man, I wish I was you…”

“Really, well hang in there.”

Great dialogue… We all want to be about the journey with no cares about the destination, but this attitude is simply not acceptable when applied to the subject of reading comprehension. We need to know where we are going before we figure out how to get there. So, just what is reading comprehension and how do we get there?

What is Reading Comprehension? We Don’t All Agree

I googled “reading comprehension definition” and found these top results from practitioners:

“Simply put, reading comprehension is the act of understanding what you are reading” (K12 Reader).

“Comprehension is the understanding and interpretation of what is read… For many years, reading instruction was based on a concept of reading as the application of a set of isolated skills such as identifying words, finding main ideas, identifying cause and effect relationships, comparing and contrasting and sequencing. Comprehension was viewed as the mastery of these skills.” (Reading Rockets).

“I’ve noticed that many books about reading, and specifically about comprehension for that matter, don’t even define what comprehension is. Perhaps it’s assumed that we all know what it is; or maybe comprehension is a slippery term that we have trouble grasping, or comprehending, if you will!” Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary offers this definition: ‘capacity of the mind to perceive and understand.’ Reading comprehension, then, would be the capacity to perceive and understand the meanings communicated by texts. Simple, huh? Clear. Now we comprehend comprehension! (Jeff Wilhelm, Scholastic).

Next, I googled “reading comprehension scholarly definition” and found a wide variety of results from the academics:

“We define reading comprehension as the process of simultaneously extracting and constructing meaning through interaction and involvement with written language. We use the words extracting and constructing to emphasize both the importance and the insufficiency of the text as a determinant of reading comprehension” (Greenleaf, Murphy, Schoenbach).

“Reading comprehension is the construction of the meaning of a written or spoken communication through a reciprocal, holistic interchange of ideas between the interpreter and the message.
. . . The presumption here is that meaning resides in the intentional problem-solving, thinking processes of the interpreter, . . . that the content of the meaning is influenced by that
person’s prior knowledge and experience” (Harris and Hodges).

“From a cognitive or psycholinguistic perspective, comprehension is viewed as a process of constructing meaning in transaction with texts” (Goodman, 1996; Smith, 2004).¹

“(Reading comprehension is) a combination of decoding and oral comprehension skills” (Hoover & Gough, 1990).²

“From a post-structuralist or socio-cultural perspective, there is no meaning that simply resides in a text until a reader with the requisite knowledge and skills constructs the meaning with the signs on a page (McCormick, 1995; O’Neill,1993).³

1,2,3 from Rethinking Reading Comprehension: Definitions, Instructional Practices, and Assessment (Serafini).

One observation: I can’t tell you how many times I read the equivalent of “After years of… there is a growing consensus that…” for diametrically opposed summaries of the reading research.

I read the experts in cognitive science. Professor Daniel Willingham from the University of Virginia is quoted in the Washington Post:

Can reading comprehension be taught? In this blog post, I’ll suggest that the most straightforward answer is “no.” Reading comprehension strategies (1) don’t boost comprehension per se; (2) do indirectly help comprehension but; (3) don’t need to be practiced.

Finally, I went to the Common Core State Standards to see how the authors weighed in on reading comprehension. The Common Core Standards divides its Reading Standards into Reading Foundational Skills, Reading Literature, and Reading Informational Text. Its Appendix A focuses on text complexity, but offers no working definition of reading comprehension. The closest we get to a definition is “the ability to perform literacy tasks.”

Instructional Implications

At this point we are, at best, left with this working definition of reading comprehension: We sort of know it when we see it, but we all don’t agree on exactly what it is and how to get it. 

Now, that’s not the worst thing in the world. It does provide some helpful hints about the limitations of reading assessments and instructional strategies. At the minimum, this working definition

"Don't Follow Leaders"

(From Don’t Look Back produced by Leacock-Pennebaker (1965); Pennebaker Films)

informs our “crap detectors” and keeps us questioning authority. “Don’t follow leaders; watch your parking meters” (Dylan).

We Can’t and Shouldn’t Assess Reading Comprehension

Assessments are designed to measure stuff. If we can’t agree on what we are testing, reading comprehension assessments may actually lead us into teaching to the results of the test, rather than helping students improve comprehension. Reading comprehension tests become self-fulfilling prophesies. Additionally, publishers love comprehension assessments that test concrete skills: Think test prep materials, skill workbooks, etc.

Teachers should rightfully be cautious about making instructional decisions from the results of the Common Core Standards-based PAARC and Smarter Balanced tests. These high stakes tests drive instructional decisions which often counter reading research and teacher judgment. The pressure to make these achievement tests the arbiters of what reading comprehension is and is not is increasingly difficult for teachers to challenge. Furthermore, each of the criterion-referenced and normed assessments purporting to measure reading comprehension have their own biases: the Kaufman Test of Educational Achievement, Second Edition (KTEA-II), Wechsler Individual Achievement Test, Third Edition (WIAT-III), Woodcock-Johnson III Tests of Achievement (WJ III ACH), The Gray Oral Reading Tests, Fifth Edition (GORT-5), Test of Reading Comprehension, Fourth Edition (TORC-4), Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (ITBS) Gates-MacGinitie Reading Tests Terra Nova Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills (CTBS) Stanford Achievement Test, etc.

As a reading specialist for quite a few years, I also recommend not using informal reading inventories to measure comprehension. I am a huge advocate for teacher-based reading assessments, but not with comprehension. If we can’t test it (and we can’t), we can’t teach it. Make sure to avoid making reading assessments “walk on all fours.” I can’t tell you how many teachers I’ve known who use the Slosson, San Diego Quick, or the Read Naturally Brief Oral Screener and predictors of reading grade level. Wrong. And for goodness sake, avoid using the Accelerated Reader STAR test for the same misguided purpose.

The results of the above tests give us nothing to reliably inform our reading instruction. Be suspect of aggregated results which purport to provide useful instructional information. And labels can lead to silly instructional decisions, for example, tracking all far below basic readers into remedial reading classes. As if each low-performing reader had the same reading issues. Sigh.

What Doesn’t Improve Reading Comprehension

Time to step on a few toes. We may not be able to define exactly what reading comprehension is and we may not know how to assess or directly teach reading comprehension, but by any of the working definitions, assessment results, and reading research detailed in the National Reading Panel Report most of us would agree that the following practices do not improve reading comprehension.

1. Free Voluntary Reading (Sustained Silent Reading)

According to noted reading researcher, Doctor Timothy Shanahan in his August 13, 2017 article:

NRP did conclude that there was no convincing evidence that giving kids free reading time during the school day improved achievement — or did so very much. There has been a lot of work on that since NRP but with pretty much the same findings: either no benefits to that practice or really small benefits (a .05 effect size — which is tiny). Today, NRP would likely conclude that practice is not beneficial rather than that there is insufficient data. But that’s arguable, of course.

Remember that this is regarding reading comprehension, not vocabulary acquisition.

2. Teaching according to learning styles and multiple intelligences. Click HERE for the a complete debunking of these misguided approaches.

3. Visual (graphophonic) reading strategies. Over-reliance on letter shapes, pictures, and context clues to practice reading comprehension is, indeed, a “psycholinguistic guessing game” (Goodman) and the results of the whole language movement of the 1980s and 1990s strongly suggest that whatever reading comprehension is, it isn’t something that ignores the alphabetic code.

4. Leveling books for guided reading by “comprehension grade level” (whatever that means). Also, use Lexiles only as flexible guidelines for independent reading or for selecting class novels.

5. Reading ability groups by reading comprehension levels. Whatever reading comprehension is, it’s not a skill which can be taught to a flexible ability group, such as a group of students who don’t know their basic sight words.

6. Reading strategy worksheets. It’s not that worksheets don’t have a place… they do, but teaching main idea, inferencing, drawing conclusions, visualizing, and text

Should We Teach Reading Strategies?

Don’t Teach Reading Strategies???

structure are important tools for skillful readers to acquire, but passing out skill worksheets on each and excessive practice does not teach reading comprehension. Read this article, “Should We Teach Reading Strategies?” for more reasons.

7. Reading techniques, such as close reading, the QAR strategy, reciprocal teaching, and even the KWL may be helpful, but in them of themselves they don’t teach reading comprehension and even too much of a good thing can be counterproductive.

So, if you agree with my advice: Don’t Teach Reading Comprehension, you may be interested in the specifics on How to Practice Reading Comprehension. The article goes into detail about practicing reading comprehension that way good readers do and has a wealth of article and ready-to-teach FREE resources and lessons. How about a great FREEBIE now? Here you go…

Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies FREE Resource:


Intervention Program Science of Reading

The Teaching Reading Strategies (Intervention Program) is designed for non-readers or below grade level readers ages eight–adult. This full-year, 55 minutes per day program provides both word recognition and language comprehension instructional resources (Google slides and print). Affordable and evidence-based, the program features the 54 Sam and Friends Phonics Books–decodables for each lesson and designed for older students. The digital and print word recognition activities and decodables are also available as a half-year (or 30 minutes per day) option in The Science of Reading Intervention Program. Both programs include the easy-to-teach, interactive 5 Daily Google Slide Activities.

PREVIEW TEACHING READING STRATEGIES and THE SCIENCE OF READING INTERVENTION PROGRAM RESOURCES HERE

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Close Reading: Don’t Read Too Closely

Before my reading specialist colleagues and fellow English-language arts teachers jump down my throat, I do want to mention a few things at the outset:

  • I think close reading has its place in both elementary and secondary classrooms.
  • I’m still a fan of the Common Core Anchor Standards for Reading, as the document describes… not necessarily as some publishers and pundits have interpreted or applied these Standards.
  • I’ve been teaching for a quite awhile in both the reading and English fields (elementary reading specialist, middle school and high school ELA teacher, and community college reading professor), so I’ve seen a few of the “educational cycles” regarding both teaching reading and literary analysis. Solomon was right: “There is nothing new under the sun.”
  • Disclaimer: I am a teacher publisher and sell a terrific reading intervention program. Think biases.
Close Reading

Close Reading: Don’t Read Too Closely

But the problem that I have is that…

Some educators are making close reading and text dependent questions their only means of teaching reading comprehension and literary analysis. Over the last decade, close reading has just gotten “too big for its britches.”

A few definitions…

Although somewhat a false dichotomy because they really are two sides of the same coin, most educators use reading comprehension to mean “learning to read” and literary analysis to mean “reading to learn.” The former is seen as the stuff of elementary school and latter is practiced in secondary and post secondary.

In a nutshell, close reading means reading to uncover layers of meaning that lead to deep comprehension.  The strategy, despite permutations, utilizes text dependent questioning to complete three reading tasks: In the first read, students focus on the most important textual elements (key ideas and details). During the second read, students focus on how the text works (craft and structure). For the third reading, students focus on what the text means to the reader and how it connects to other experiences (integration of knowledge and ideas).

Historical Perspective

I do feel a bit of historical context may help explain where the close reading strategy came from and why we shouldn’t go overboard by using this strategy as our primary means of teaching reading comprehension and literary analysis.

Reader Response Theory

 

The reader response theorists emphasized the interaction of the reader and the text. Perhaps the greatest contributor to this field would be Louise Rosenblatt with her transactional reader-response theory, developed through many influential works beginning in the 1930s until her death in 2005.

Rosenblatt argued that a reader’s life and literary experiences and emotions influence the meaning derived from the text. The meaning of a text is shaped by what the reader brings to the text, what the author writes, and the context in which it is read. Thus, what the text says is both subjective and objective. Some in the reader response camp would go so far as to argue that text only has meaning when involving the reader.

The New Criticism Movement

 

In contrast to reader response advocates, the New Critics of the late 1960s, such as I. A. Richards, argued that a literary work should be read as is and apart from the outside influence of the reader and the historical, sociological, and psychological influences of a given text. Those in the New Criticism movement argued that the task of the reader is to discover the objective meaning of the text (what the text says in-it-of-itself) in its own context. The New Critics first coined the term close reading to describe this process of text dependent literary analysis. Those in this camp would believe that to properly understand the meaning of a text, readers need to put aside their own perspectives and biases. Some would go so far as to suggest that the author’s intended meaning should not be considered; only what the text says itself should be discussed and analyzed.

Many reading and English teachers leaned upon the instructional strategies of popular philosopher and educator, Mortimer Adler, to apply the tenets of New Criticism to focus on the meaning of the text itself.

Text Complexity

Mortimer Adler

 

Pre-dating the New Critics, Mortimer Adler (along with co-author  Charles Van Doren) popularized the essential techniques of what later became known as close reading with his influential How to Read a Book: The classic guide to Intelligent Reading in 1940. Check out an interesting discussion between Adler and Van Doren HERE

Adler, especially, was concerned about the populace’s preference for easy-reading literature instead of the more challenging classics. Adler advocated reading the Great Books, especially those which inculcated the ideas of Western Civilization. As I write, I’m looking at my set of Harvard Classics on the bookshelves.

Adler developed the rudiments of the close reading strategy to help readers tackle the textual complexity of these challenging books. His belief that everyone could understand any literary work, given the right instructional tools, was highly influential in the 1950s and 1960s. Many educators in private and some public schools developed Great Books programs to implement Adler’s ideals.

Like Adler, the authors of the Common Core State Standards believed that students were not being exposed to complex texts. The authors relied heavily on the 2006 ACT report, Reading Between the Lines, to argue that K–12 reading texts had been “dumb-downed” over the last 50 years and that teachers need to increase the levels of text complexity to better prepare students for college and careers, which will demand better readers. In Appendix A the authors summarize the relevant reading research:

Jeanne Chall and her colleagues (Chall, Conard, & Harris, 1977) found a thirteen year decrease from 1963 to 1975 in the difficulty of grade 1, grade 6, and (especially) grade 11 texts. Extending the period to 1991, Hayes, Wolfer, and Wolfe (1996) found precipitous declines (relative to the period from 1946 to 1962) in average sentence length and vocabulary level in reading textbooks for a variety of grades… Carrying the research closer to the present day, Gary L. Williamson (2006) found a 350L (Lexile) gap between the difficulty of end-of-high school and college texts—a gap equivalent to 1.5 standard deviations and more than the Lexile difference between grade 4 and grade 8 texts on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

Unlike Adler, the Common Core authors did not advocate a return to the Great Books to increase text complexity. Instead, they legislated a move to informational/expository texts, such as technical documents, non-fiction novels, and articles. However, the authors adopted and expanded upon Adler’s close reading strategies to access these complex texts.

Text Dependency

One hallmark of close reading is its dependence upon the text to inform the reader. Two of the primary Common Core authors, David Coleman and Susan Pimentel, have argued against the reader-centered approach to reading comprehension, in which what the reader brought to the reading (prior knowledge) and what the reader took out of the reading (in light of the reader’s own experience and needs) were primary emphases.  Instead, in Appendix A of the Common Core State Standards these authors have championed the idea that to develop reading comprehension and understanding of complex texts, the questions which teachers use to prompt student engagement with the text need to be text dependent, not reader dependent.

Classroom Application

Close reading in one good reading strategy to promote reading comprehension and discuss the author’s ideas and information. However, there are pitfalls to avoid.

1. As Alex Reid says, “Arguing ‘against close reading’ … is not an argument to say that we should stop paying close attention to texts.” In fact, other reading strategies are just as effective as the close reading strategy. Check out “How to Teach Reading Comprehension” for ideas.

2. The close reading technique necessitates reading brief passages, documents, short articles, etc. The breadth of longer text and the author’s flow of ideas, development of theme and character, etc. are not possible. Yes, teachers need to move away from exclusively teaching novels, but reading longer text produces stamina and joy. Too much close reading does not foster a love for reading.

3. Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. Any instructional time is reductive, so don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Some advice from Timothy Shanahan, reading researcher at the University of Illinois at Chicago:

Of course, not every text deserves a close read. Sometimes it’s okay to be interested only in the story—considerations of craft and structure and deeper implications are beside the point. And classroom reads don’t always have to emphasize close reading; the key is to incorporate close reading into your instruction, not use it exclusively. No one knows how many teacher-led close reads would be a good idea, but don’t overdo it; one or two close reads every couple of weeks (some taking place over multiple days) seems like the right dosage.

4. Close reading tends to produce teacher-dependence, rather than equipping students to become skillful independent readers. True that close reading and accompanying text dependent questions can teach students the tools to unlock the meaning of complex text; however, the value of independent reading at accessible independent levels of word recognition produces the same results by exposing students to the vast array of ideas, text genre, and vocabulary development. See this collection of articles advocating the value of independent reading, especially as homework HERE.

Additionally, teachers need to help students monitor their own reading with self-generated questions. The five SCRIP Comprehension Strategies reading comprehension strategies work for both narrative and expository text and provide a language of instruction for literary analysis and discussion: Summarize, Connect, Re-think, Interpret, and Predict.

5. Publishers and school district personnel have produced ready-to-use close readings, many of which only focus on factual or literal text dependent questions. Teachers need to ignore these or supplement with pre-reading and reader-response activities, and add on higher order inferential and application questions. David Pearson, Professor Emeritus at U.C. Berkeley has concerns about the Common Core authors’ narrow and restrictive views about text dependent questions. Pearson fears that “We will operationally define text dependent (questions) as literal, factual questions, forgetting that LOTS of other questions/tasks are also text-reliant.” For example, comparison and contrast questions both use the text and go beyond the text.

6. Teachers do need to pre-teach (the “into” of reading), even with close reading. Accessing prior knowledge and gap-filling are still essential vehicles to promote the reader’s understanding of complex text. The role of the reader still has a place in understanding text. Reading remains a two-way street. Yes, we teachers may have gone overboard with reader response in the past. The KWL (Already Know, Want to Know, What I Learned) reading strategy and its variations come into mind. Because the first two components are reader-centered, there are significant limitations. Students don’t know what they don’t know and they similarly don’t know what they Want to know. Or, they may Want to know what is inconsequential, trivial, or not available in the reading or available resources. More HERE.

Grant Wiggins, educator and author of the influential Understanding by Design, argues for a balanced approach in close reading in his article, Authentic Education:

As I noted in my previous post, this does not mean, however, that we should ignore or try to bypass the reader’s responses, prior knowledge, or interests. On the contrary, reading cannot help but involve an inter-mingling of our experience and what the author says and perhaps means. But it does not follow from this fact that instruction should give equal weight to personal reactions to a text when the goal is close reading. On the contrary: we must constantly be alert to how and where our own prejudices (literally, pre-judging) may be interfering with meaning-making of the text.

7. Re-define the term close reading to mean a variety of strategies that readers use to look closely at text. As noted reading researchers, Isabel Beck and Margaret McKeown, state: “Our view of deeper understanding of text, which we have coined as ‘grist,’ is akin to close reading. Our definition of close reading is keen attention to fine details of language for the purpose of appreciating authors’ craft toward figuring out how broader-level meanings are developed.”

I’ll leave U.C. Berkeley reading researcher, David Pearson, with these last words about close reading and text dependent questioning: “We need a mid-course correction, not a pendulum swing… but with BALANCE in mind… (making) sure that it applies to several purposes for reading (and will) encompass literal, interpretive, and critical reading tasks.”

Get the Close Reading Narrative Worksheet FREE Resource:

Intervention Program Science of Reading

The Teaching Reading Strategies (Intervention Program) is designed for non-readers or below grade level readers ages eight–adult. This full-year, 55 minutes per day program provides both word recognition and language comprehension instructional resources (Google slides and print). Affordable and evidence-based, the program features the 54 Sam and Friends Phonics Books–decodables for each lesson and designed for older students. The digital and print word recognition activities and decodables are also available as a half-year (or 30 minutes per day) option in The Science of Reading Intervention Program. Both programs include the easy-to-teach, interactive 5 Daily Google Slide Activities.

PREVIEW TEACHING READING STRATEGIES and THE SCIENCE OF READING INTERVENTION PROGRAM RESOURCES HERE

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How to Grade Literary Discussions

Graded Literary Discussions

How to Grade Literary Discussions

The longer I teach, the more I become a capitalist in my ELA classroom. Although I would love to have students participate in rich literary discussions out of their love for reading and passion for truth, it’s a rare student who speaks up out of such pure motives. Over the years, I admit it. I have succumbed to incentives and with good results. Life is compromise.

Students need to know that their participation in class discussion is an important part of their overall grade. Otherwise, many will avoid participation or perceive the group discussion as being of minimal importance. In the school setting, rewards such as grades, extra credit, treats, stickers, privileges are all weapons which the creative teacher can employ to motivate class participation in discussions. Short term, explicit rewards tend to work better than long term ones.

Here is how I organize a graded literary discussion. I select a student to record the points that classmates will earn. The recorder writes tally marks for positive discussion contributions on my class seating chart. The recorder gets two points for this task, but he or she gives up the opportunity to participate in the discussion. I have no problems finding student recorders for this task.  Having a student recorder frees me up to lead the discussion without worrying about properly crediting responses. After a correct student response, I signal the recorder with my index finger and the recorder places a tally mark next to the name of the student. If the response is particularly insightful or directly responds to the response of another student, I may signal two fingers, for two tally marks. The latter must, of course, be accompanied by a resonating class “oooh!”

A good feature of this graded discussion technique is that it tracks student responses. During class discussion, I can survey the tally marks to determine who is failing to contribute or who is contributing excessively. I let students know that I will call on them, whether they raise their hands or not. I can also ensure that I am “calling on” male and female, ethnic sub-groups, etc. fairly. For the next graded class discussion, I have the recorder use a different color pen to differentiate the separate discussion grades.

Students perceive graded discussions as being fair and objective. Try announcing that the class will have a graded literary discussions the next day and students might just “cheat” by reading the assigned text and anticipating/preparing for your questions at home. What a shame! Of course, you could provide your discussion questions in advance and level them according to Costa’s Levels of Questioning, Depth of Knowledge, or Bloom’s Taxonomy, but the students might wind up teaching themselves. What a shame!

But, how can a teacher design a group discussion and lead the discussion to help students help themselves learn? Check out How to Lead Effective Group Discussions.

*****

Intervention Program Science of Reading

The Science of Reading Intervention Program

Pennington Publishing provides two reading intervention program options for ages eight–adult. The Teaching Reading Strategies (Intervention Program) is a full-year, 55 minutes per day program which includes both word recognition and language comprehension instructional resources (Google slides and print). The word recognition components feature the easy-to-teach, interactive 5 Daily Google Slide Activities: 1. Phonemic Awareness and Morphology 2. Blending, Segmenting, and Spelling 3. Sounds and Spelling Independent Practice 4. Heart Words Independent Practice 5. The Sam and Friends Phonics Books–decodables 1ith comprehension and word fluency practice for older readers. The program also includes sound boxes and personal sound walls for weekly review.  The language comprehension components feature comprehensive vocabulary, reading fluency, reading comprehension, spelling, writing and syntax, syllabication, reading strategies, and game card lessons, worksheets, and activities. Word Recognition × Language Comprehension = Skillful Reading: The Simple View of Reading and the National Reading Panel Big 5.

If you only have time for a half-year (or 30 minutes per day) program, the The Science of Reading Intervention Program features the 5 Daily Google Slide Activities, plus the sound boxes and personal word walls for an effective word recognition program.

PREVIEW TEACHING READING STRATEGIES and THE SCIENCE OF READING INTERVENTION PROGRAM RESOURCES HERE for detailed product description and sample lessons.

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How to Take Notes

Note-taking

How to Take Notes

Taking effective notes can certainly improve comprehension of the information presented in class or found in textbooks. Note-taking can also help organize for test study. However, many students have never learned how to take notes effectively. Indeed, many teachers seem to think that note-taking is a skill learned only by osmosis, and not by direct instruction. A few effective note-taking strategies will help remedy this misconception and enable teachers to teach how to take notes to their students.

Notes are summaries of the main ideas and key details that the teacher wants you to understand and remember. Effective note-taking organizes these summaries so that they can easily be reviewed and practiced. Here are a few key ingredients to effective note-taking:

1. Listen to or read the complete thought. Don’t write something down until you understand it.

2. Learn the signals that your teacher and textbook use to stress main ideas and key details. Some of these signals may be the following:

  • repeating key points
  • raising the voice to emphasize key points
  • spelling key terms
  • speaking slowly
  • writing key points down
  • using phrases such as “key to” “most importantly” “main idea” “in conclusion”
  • using transition words such as “first” “next” “finally”

3. Don’t write down everything that the teacher or textbook says. Be selective. If you already know it, don’t write it down.

4. Use your own “shorthand” symbols and abbreviations. Think text messaging!

5. Ask questions about main ideas and key details that you don’t understand.

6. Use a note-taking organizational pattern that fits with the information being presented. A one-size-fits-all note-taking format is not the best approach. Use different formats for different organizational patterns and purposes.

Note-taking Formats

All note-taking formats order information summaries into main ideas, major details, and support details. Each format has advantages and disadvantages depending upon its application and organizational pattern. It is important to know how to use all three of the formats and when each is appropriate. The four most common note-taking formats include formal outline, webbing, Cornell Notes, and margin notes (annotations).

Formal Outline Notes use Roman numerals for main ideas, capital letters for major details, Arabic numerals (1,2,3) for minor details, and even lower case letters for examples. This style of note-taking is well-organized for test study and works well with linear organizational patterns such as chronological, cause-effect, and reasons-for presentations. This style does not fit spatial organizational patterns such as comparison-contrast, relational hierarchies, or recursive (cyclical) patterns.

Webbing is a note-taking style that uses labeled geometric shapes to show relationships between main ideas, major details, and minor details. Usually, the main idea begins the webbing process as a geometric shape in the middle of the notepaper and webs off into different directions for different ideas. Different ideas in outlying webs can be connected to other webs to show relationships. This style of note-taking is not conducive to study because it is messy. However, it does show spatial relationships such as comparison-contrast, relational hierarchies, or recursive (cyclical) patterns that the Formal Outline method can not. Webbing is a wonderful form of brainstorming for essays and narratives.

Cornell Notes is a linear note-taking style that avoids some of the hierarchical organization of the Formal Outline method. It does not use the symbols, but relies on categorization to organize main ideas and supporting details. The notepaper is divided into two columns. The left side serves to list main ideas or ask questions. The right side provides the support details or answers to the questions posed. At the bottom of the notepaper is a horizontal row reserved for personal comments, questions, and analysis.

Margin Notes (also known as annotations or highlighting) have now made their way down into K-12 education from the universities. Thanks to the Common Core State Standards authors’ re-discovery of the Close Reading Method and the re-focus on expository text, most teachers are reducing the amount of short story and novel reading and substituting articles from online sources. Coupled with a renewed interest in Reading Response Theory, teachers are helping students engage and interact with expository text by practicing marginal annotations. This two-way dialogue between reader and author builds comprehension and prepares the student for class discussion. Check out the author’s article, “How Margin Notes are Better than the Yellow Highlighter,” for a nicely-argued rationale for written annotations and suggestions for simple margin symbols. Note: Mark Pennington, the author of this article, has his master’s degree as a reading specialist.

For more practical teaching strategy tips and free teaching resources, please visit penningtonpublishing.com.

The author’s Essential Study Skills is the study skill curriculum that teaches what students need to know to succeed and thrive in schoolOften, the reason why

Essential Study Skills Program

Essential Study Skills

students fail to achieve their academic potential is not because of laziness or lack of effort, but because they have never learned the basic study skills necessary for success.

The 56 lessons in Essential Study Skills will teach your students to “work smarter, not harder.” Students who master these skills will spend less time, and accomplish more during homework and study time. Their test study will be more productive and they will get better grades. Reading comprehension and vocabulary will improve. Their writing will make more sense and essays will be easier to plan and complete. They will memorize better and forget less. Their schoolwork will seem easier and will be much more enjoyable. Lastly, students will feel better about themselves as learners and will be more motivated to succeed. Essential Study Skills is the ideal curriculum for study skill, life skill, Advocacy/Advisory, Opportunity Program classes. The easy-to-follow lesson format of 1. Personal Assessment 2. Study Skill Tips and 3. Reflection is ideal for self-guided learning and practice. Contact the publisher for affordable site licenses.

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