Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Close Reading with Primary Children

Close Reading
As a teacher of reading, I work hard to keep my instruction balanced.  It is easy to get caught up in trends and lose the balance our readers need between developing efficient reading skills and strategies, being able to think and talk deeply about books, and growing their love of reading.  There has been much talk around close reading.  I work to keep a thoughtful ear on these educational conversations, but am often concerned these discussions may throw classrooms, teachers, and students out of balance if close reading is not implemented with care.

When the words "read closely" were added to the Common Core standards the buzz about "close reading" began.  I'm still trying to learn more.  It's a bit hard to imagine how these two words which are a small percentage of all the words used in our common core gained such a spotlight.  It wasn't long until I was receiving tweets asking what "close reading" might look like for primary students.  I'll be honest, these conversations for our youngest readers worried me a bit.  Emergent and beginning readers are taking their first steps into books and it seems to me if I don't connect their hearts to books I'll never be able to open their minds.  The hard work of close reading, if not carefully balanced in our reading instruction could easily turn off our more reluctant readers.

Close Reading with Our Youngest Readers
There are those who know and understand much more about close reading than I do, but it seems close reading should look different for a six year old than it does for a sixteen year old.  When I think about close reading for our youngest children, I want to be thoughtful and intentional about the decisions I make.  What do students understand?  What do they need as readers?  What is developmentally appropriate practice for young children taking their first steps into a literate world?

Our work as early literacy teachers is to nurture and grow the talk around books.  I want students to say/think, "I read ____ (part of text) so I _____ (think/wonder)."  I hope to foster curiosity, develop oral language, grow a love of books, and bring joy to these young readers.  These conversations carry across read aloud, shared reading, small group reading opportunities, and into independent reading.  For these reasons, I'm wondering if close reading for our youngest learners might mean:
  • Rereading when you are confused
  • Asking questions when you wonder
  • Stopping in the moments that surprise you
  • Noticing when something touches your heart
A New Lens
With interest, and a head full of questions, I've been fortunate to listen to Chris Lehman speak on different occasions.  Most recently, I have listened to him talk about close reading at the Dublin Literacy Conference (last February) and Ohio's Literacy Connection (on October 3rd).  I've read his work about close reading and have been thinking about it a lot.  After listening to him speak I can envision him with his students, bringing joy to reading as readers look closely at text and see things through a new lens.  You can see from the collection of tweets that his conversations around close reading have been inspiring.

His work, along with the work of others leading the close reading conversation, has had me doing a lot of thinking about our younger readers.  I still have a lot of questions about the developmental appropriateness of this practice, the frequency, the intention, the ownership, and the lens we would consider with our youngest literacy learners.  

Chris Lehman reminds us that close reading should be:
  • highly engaging and joyful
  • lead to student independence
  • part of a balanced diet of reading instruction
  • one method in our toolbox
I appreciated his suggestions for developing emergent habits for close reading.  He reminded us of the importance of supporting our youngest learners in purposeful focus.  For our youngest readers, close reading might be a way to have them look, point, and use information from the text to grow their thinking.  His examples of using this purposeful focus in looking at, not just text but, the world through the eyes of our students might help them to think about their world with a more thoughtful eye.  His examples of using songs, commercials, and favorite items to zoom in on a small part to think about it in a new way were helpful in thinking of how we can look closely and talk about our world together.  

I'm looking forward to the continued conversation across the year with Ohio's Literacy Connection colleagues --- and another day in April with Chris Lehman to hear more about his thinking.  


  1. Cathy,
    Thank you for the thoughtful reading during my breakfast this morning. I was looking forward to this post and your processing about close reading for our youngest readers. You mention a couple of times the importance of a student's heart and books, this is important. I think you have given us good things to think about for what this looks like in a primary classroom.

  2. Thank you for this post. The reminder of heart and books is so important!