Stapling Close Reading


Five minutes before I had to go out on bus duty I had sweet, beautiful new teacher in the hallway stop to ask me about close reading, which she was going to try, because she had seen a little bit of it last year.  I’m assuming that was when she was student teaching, because in our district it is determined that we will look at math common core first…because it is so different.  I was intrigued because I have been reading everything I can on reading and writing common core but as far as I knew, most of my teacher friends in the classroom were mainly experimenting around with math and have been so inundated that reading as been remained status quo, for now.  She quickly explained how she would be doing a non-fiction read with her social studies textbook.  I said, “Awesome….so glad that you are trying….”

Later that week I went into her room so that she could watch another teacher do the DRA2 which she was going to administer to her students the next week.  When I was in her room I smiled, a bit sadly, I admit, at her very little bookcase filled with a scant amount of books for her students to borrow for independent reading. Irritation filled me…new teachers need more books and a budget…one of my pet peeves.  As I was looking at the titles ,I did spy one of my favorites that I used when I taught middle school over 16 years ago.  Oh how I loved using this book for powerful beginnings.  You want to know the title… I know all of you do.   But the title is going to remain a secret  because of a few little problems I encountered along the way.

When this first year teacher came back to the room, I asked her if I could demo ‘close reading’ with this very beloved title that I treasured when I taught seventh.  It was easily a hard text for most of these fifth graders.  I had just listened to Franki Sibberson’s pod cast with Christopher Lehman and Kate Roberts.  I was going to plan, using some of their ideas.  Their book will be coming out with Heinemann soon….Falling in Love with Close Reading.  This is just an aside, I know, but I have always been in love with reading closely.  My mom always has said, that I just “think too much”.  My dad always has said, “Can’t you just read and stop looking for the ‘underlying meaning’? I’ve always loved poetry…not writing, but reading from an early age.  Well, I probably should have planned this close read with a lyric or an ancient poem favorite, but I didn’t.  I wanted my old favorite to bring me and the fifth graders happiness.  Yep, I wanted them to fall in love.

So last week I planned, scanned part of the story from Trelease’s Read Aloud Anthology and tried to figure out the Smart Board.  I put the title on the first page along with the words…giving Close Reading a Go, I speak Australian when I’m excited.  I was going to chunk, re-read, re-read, re-read with only part of the text.  When we do ‘close read’, I think it is so important that we ‘don’t kill the text’.  I also think it is important that kids get this internal structure going of re-reading and asking themselves questions after each reading.  I was flipping through the book, because, after all, I hadn’t read it in a very long time…since high school.  What?  you may be asking now….I thought you said that you taught it in middle school.  Nope, I only taught the opening scene in conjunction with teaching ‘leads’ in writing.  So I noticed that there is some infidelity going on in this book.  There are a few swear words too.  Doing further research I noticed that this was on the ‘banned book list’ many, many years ago.

“Yikes….what have I gotten myself into this time?”

Don’t get me wrong, I am not a prude, but I don’t do books with fifth grade kids that have references to affairs,  I have been talking about this for years…know the books that you are using…blah, blah, blah.  There are so many books out there…be choosy and don’t expose our kids to things that you are not ready to talk to them about.

Sigh…this was Thursday.  I talked over with some of my first grade friends.  One of my friends said, choose another book…could, but I didn’t have time and I just couldn’t wait to use this favorite with them, I’m stubborn. Then she said,” just use the book but don’t give the title.” Hmmm, this had possibilities.  So I quickly changed the first page, copied the first page again, now just with, giving Close Reading a Go.  After all, I know I have heard it many times, don’t give background information when you close read…so the back ground information just wouldn’t include the title.  JUSTIFYING.   I hadn’t figured out yet what I would say if they did ask for the title.

Friday morning I pulled off all the cover sheets from the packet.  I copied the new cover sheet and changed it in the presentation.  I began stapling the sheet back on, feeling really pretty guilty.  I finished about ten and ran out of staples.  I put in more staples in my, older than dirt, stapler.  I put it upright and shot the stapler as I always do to make sure it was working again.  My index finger on my left hand was sticking straight up in the air.  I looked at my finger again after I felt the pierce.  Well, I guess this is what I get for trying to be so sneaky, my punishment, my penance.

I went up to talk to the new teacher about why I wasn’t going to mention the title of the book.  I don’t know if she understood my angst, but then she hasn’t the prior knowledge that the rest of my staff does about knowing your books….blah, blah, blah.

You may be wondering about how it went.  Yep, we close read only page one and this predictably  engaged their minds and hearts like I knew it would.  We finished with me reading aloud and them doing T and T (turn and talk) and I left them hanging and begging for more.  You could say, “I stapled it on that day, reading one of my favorite treasures.”

But then came the dreaded question, I felt it coming on like a winter wind.  “What’s the title? I want to read the book”  I looked at the little sweet girl and calmly said, “Oh my middle school teacher friends would be so mad at me if they knew I got you into this book before seventh grade….I think you’ll just have to wait for this one.”

She said, “Well, I’m not sure I like that answer.”  I thought, “I’m not sure I like that answer either.”

About Nanc

lifelong teacher who is semi-retired (does this sound better?) who loves God, family and laughing... who hates social injustice... who wants to write every day... who needs to exercise every day... who blog hops... who wants to live her everyday life led by her savior, Jesus Christ!

8 responses »

  1. What a tale you tell! I’m glad you were able to make it work for your lesson, but such pain internally and externally. I’ve been doing lots of reading on close reading too and it disturbs me when teachers kill the text and joy of reading. My question is what was that title doing in the fifth grade class?

  2. Guilt…dread…yep, I know the feeling, and you are right, we try JUSTIFYING but it comes on “like a winter wind.” And even when we try to get away with justifying, we rarely “like that answer.”:

  3. This might be one of the most powerful teaching memoirs I’ve read in a long time. You build tension throughout the piece and by the end I too was waiting with baited breath! I too am “waiting” for close reading to come to the surface after “we too” wait for everyone to unpack the new math. I too love the idea of reading deeply an looking closely at texts. When you read with wild abandon, you see a lot; yet when you read deeply, you might just fall in love!

  4. You are such a story teller! (My favorite is still the one with the cowboy boots, but this one is pretty darn good). I share many of your feelings about close reading- love and use it in my own life, but don’t want teachers using it to kill books for kids. Dying to know what book you were reading with the kids!

  5. I love this slice for many reasons. I love the build-up of tension and I love when you “felt it coming like the winter wind.” But, what I mostly love is all the decision making that you showcase in this slice. In our Lab Teacher program, we’re always trying to get the host teacher to articulate their decisions…. you show that so beautifully here! I may share this with them, if you don’t mind!

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