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Brainy Apples: Close Read Linky Party!
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Close Read Linky Party!

Welcome back! So glad you decided to join me for another Close Read linky party! If you haven't read the post from the last party, you can catch up here. I also wrote a post about how to use interactive notebooks to do Close Reading with your students in this post...we all know how popular interactive notebooks have become, and I wanted to be able to integrate these two strategies together. The last post I wrote about Close Reads is about what you do after you decide to give Close Reads a whirl. It's called "So You Decided to Give Close Reads a Try...Now What?" All right, ready to get this party started?

Watch out for that deer!
In my last linky party, I said this one would focus on what to do when your students have that deer in headlights look and they have no clue what to say, or they have a hard time elaborating on their answers.  I had this issue last year when I first started using Close Reads, and I am willing to bet that you will, too. I even found myself wondering if I just needed to give up on Close Reads because my students just weren't able to give me the answers I was looking for, when they did give me any answer at all. It was P.A.I.N.F.U.L! Then I had an aha moment...

Model, model, model!
Everything I do in my classroom, I always model first (part of the gradual release model). That is how students know what I expect. Close Reading is no different. I thought Close Reads would be different because we had been reading for a while, and students knew my expectations, but Close Reading is different than what we had been doing for reading in the past. Once I realized this, it was like the clouds parted and the sun came beaming down on me! Whew! Like I said, I was really close to scrapping Close Reads, but I am SO glad I didn't.

I realized that I needed to SHOW my students how to Close Read, so I began with read alouds. I thought aloud while I was reading what I wanted my students to be thinking in their own little heads. Then after I finished reading, I had a Close Read question waiting to be answered. I let my students take shots at it first, writing down their responses. The responses were OK, but not quite what I wanted. So, when they had finished, I piped in and thought aloud about the question, hoping my thoughts would guide my students to the answer I hoped they would have given in the first place. I know you all do this.....give little clues as to the answer, without giving the answer, guiding students to the answer so they are the ones answering the question (whoa, that was a lot of "answer"s!). If they didn't give me what I was looking for, I would finally say it and explain why. I found that explaining WHY I answered questions in a certain way really helped my students understand the thought process behind answering the Close Read questions.

**Let me say really quickly, because I know some of you who have done Close Reads for a while will say, "You shouldn't have an expectation of what students should answer. The beauty of Close Reads is that students come up with thoughts that you never would have imagined them thinking. You aren't supposed to have a predetermined answer." I totally agree! However, in the beginning, I found it helpful for me to have a predetermined answer because that way I could guide my students to that answer, and it helped me think about HOW I would guide them there. Close Reads have to be thoughtful but also planned out. While I love to fly by the seat of my pants, I also realized that with Close Reading, you want your students to really answer those higher-level questions with deep thinking, so you have to have an idea yourself of what those answers could be so if they become a deer in headlights, you have a path to lead them down to hopefully get them out of the headlights and back into their own heads so they can contribute to the discussion. As students become more proficient at Close Reads, I have to do less guiding, so their answers do become more genuine and I found myself planning less for how I was I going to guide them.

OK, back to modeling. It is hard to walk that fine line between telling students the answer and guiding them to the answer, so here is an example of one Close Reading I did with my 2nd graders. The text excerpt was from the informational book "Pocahontas Powhaten Princess by Dian Shaughnessy (c) 1997, PowerKids Press (in case you want to check out the book yourself). I can't type the excerpt from the book because of copyright laws, but I will tell you how our discussion went that day.

The focus of this lesson was understanding a historical text to describe a cause and effect relationship. The text excerpt described John Smith attempting to capture a Powhaten man during the settlers' first winter in America. The question I asked my students was, "Why did John Smith try to take a Powhaten man captive?" My students immediately wanted to tell me because they were enemies and John Smith wanted to beat the Powhatens in a battle. They weren't thinking at a deeper level. They were seeing the surface of the text. The settlers were starving, and John Smith thought that he could convince the Powhaten to give them food and in turn he would give the Powhaten man back. So I guided my students by asking them what was going on with the settlers (they were starving and dying), and I asked if the Powhatens were suffering, too (no, because they knew how to get food and stay warm in the winter). So I probed their little minds by asking if they were a settler how they might get food (by asking the Powhatens), and what they might do if the Powhatens said no (they would think of things to trade them). And I asked, "What if the Powhatens didn't want what you had to offer them? Then what might you do?" One student said fight them, but another student chimed in and said, "But they are starving, so they don't have enough energy to fight the Powhatens. They would easily lose." After much discussion, a student said maybe John Smith tried to capture the Powhaten man so he would have something the Powhatens would want: a member of their tribe. BINGO! It took about 15 minutes to get here, but I guided, and they discussed, and finally they stumbled across the answer I was looking for! (I totally know I ended that sentence with a preposition, please forgive me!). Many of you are already experts at guiding your students to answers. Close Reading is no different!

**Let me also add that Close Reads should be a social event. Discussions among students should be occurring. Close Reading shouldn't always be an independent activity. You will want to assess your students sometimes, which would mean independent Close Reading, but as your students become masters of Close Reads, THEY will become the guides that help lead other students down the path to the answers instead of YOU being the guide. This is a really beautiful thing!

Silence shouldn't always be painful...
Usually when we think of silence after asking a question, we think, "Uh oh. They don't understand!" But what I have learned through Close Reading, is that if we want our students to think deeply, we have to give them the TIME to think deeply. We don't want our students to blurt out their first thoughts. We want them to think about their thoughts first. See if their thoughts make sense. Can they find evidence in the text to support their thoughts? When I first started doing Close Reads, I found it painful and stressful when silence fell over my classroom. At first my students weren't thinking about the question because it was hard! They wanted me to rescue them. And after a couple of minutes, I would give them a hint...I would guide them a bit. But I never just gave them the answer. Soon they realized that I was not going to save them, and if they wanted to finish the Close Read, THEY would have to save discussing the text, by answering the questions. When my students had this aha moment, they began using that silent time to think about the question, to think about the evidence in the text, to think about how they were going to word their answers. My students realized that I was giving them time to think, and that I was very patient :) I had been observed a couple of times doing a Close Read. The first time was when I first started doing Close Reads. Let me tell you, when silence fell over my students, I was panicking inside! What would my administrator think! My kids had NOTHING to say! This was NOT GOOD! My administrator would think I had not taught my students the tools they needed to answer the question! NOT GOOD AT ALL! I had to fight every instinct in me to NOT bail them out and move on to an easier question that I knew they could answer. I stood in the silent classroom for a couple of minutes, then I gave a hint, and stood in silence even longer. Finally a student piped up with a comment. Then another student found the courage to speak up, too. Yes! Voices were slowly taking over my classroom! Eventually we were in a deep discussion about the text. Yes, I had to help them out, but they rocked it out! The next time I was observed, when silence fell, I didn't panic because I knew that silence can be golden.

Elaboration is key.
Elaboration is something my students struggled with. All to often in the past, they were allowed to give their answer, state where they found it in the text, and move on to the next question. With Close Reading, it isn't about quantity, it's about quality. I would rather us discuss and answer 2 questions and dive deep than answer 10 questions superficially. So how did I get my students to elaborate? I realized that by asking them, "Why do you think that?" or "How do you know that?" were helpful starters. "What did the author/character say or do that led you to that conclusion?" is another favorite of mine is, "What does the author mean when he/she says ______?" I LOVE how and why questions. And another way to help my students learn how to elaborate? Encouraging group discussions of the text. If a student doesn't know how to elaborate, chances are another student does. Listening to peers elaborate can help students learn how to elaborate themselves. I tell my students all the time during writing time that they need to find an author they love, and mimic that author in their own writing. I tell them that elaborating during a Close Read is no different. If they like how a classmate discusses a text, mimic that student. If they like how I discuss a text, mimic me. Elaboration is something that is difficult for some students, but when you make discussions a social event, students learn how to play off one another and you will find some of the most though-provoking discussions can take place in your classroom. If you are concerned that they need to be able to do this independently, I will tell you that they will learn how. With a lot of practice and a lot of time using the gradual release model. As time passes, instead of always having a whole group Close Read discussion, split students into small groups and wander the classroom listening to the small group discussions taking place (but ONLY after you are getting some outstanding whole group discussions!), popping in when needed to help guide them. Then try partner Close Reads, and finally you will get to independent Close Reads. Remember that some students will be ready for independent Close Reading well before other students are. This is OK. When students are ready, let them go independently. Keep the others whole group, small group, or partners.

In Closing...
I hope you are able to gain something from this post about how to get your students past the deer in headlights glazed look, or how to get your students to elaborate on their answers. I would love to hear your thoughts, suggestions, or questions! Is there something you would like me to discuss during my next Close Read linky party? Leave a comment below!

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Thanks for reading!
**Please excuse any typos as I don't have the super power of being perfect :)

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