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.”