Close Reading: How Many Guiding Questions?
When I search the internet for Close Reading planning tools I wonder how many teachers are actually accessing these resources which are freely available online. I am curious, I think, because I am not sure how helpful educators actually find them. If they do, then wonderful! However when I find myself reviewing a 43 page document chock full of questions to consider in planning for a close reading of a text I become overwhelmed. Does it have to be like this? I don’t really think so. I think teachers, much like their students, benefit from a solid understanding of the whole before they scrutinize the parts.
In Focused Instruction lessons, teachers are expected to make concepts and the connections between related attributes clear and visible with the use of concept maps. We have intentionally chosen five kinds of concept maps that we feel adequately address any relationship students will experience in the course of their education. The rationale for including these maps during the Key Ideas portion of the lesson is twofold.
The first reason is to give students a road map for what soon will be learned. The second reason is to be explicit about the relationships between what a student already knows and what will be the new learning. Oftentimes over the course of a unit a teacher will present the concept overall, then address the related parts and finally wrap up with a synthesis using the completed concept map as a whole. For example, when introducing the concepts of nouns and verbs, the map used could show that both are under the concept of “parts of speech”, or that the words that we use fall into different categories. This is based on the educational research that indicates we learn best whole-part-whole.
When Carin Contreras and I began to unpack Close Reading with an eye for ultimately helping educators implement it in their classrooms, things really took off when we organized our understanding in a cycle map. It is with this concise summary of the relationship between multiple reads for different purposes that we were and are still able to consume additional resources on Close Reading.
Text Dependent questions? Sure, I know how those support close reading. Our concept map shows us. Why and how many times am I reading a text? Easier to decide when I have the whole map in mind and not just vague notions of reading “slowly, deeply and more than once”. Class discussions about what has been read? Again, the map makes it clear how a rich discussion is possible amongst students when the successive rounds of reading, the parts, fit cohesively together to make a whole.
Another reason why concept maps must be included in Focused Instruction lessons is that they allow students to determine the criteria for choosing only relevant information when learning and reading about a concept. Any given concept has an abundance of related information. We use a concept map to identify the most important attributes for our purposes. A second grade class doing research about Salmon know they are only looking for information about its habitat, its food and its babies because the tree map the teacher uses makes that clear. Everything else they can ignore, for now.
The educators using the Close Reading concept map to plan are given the same support. They are still confronted with the overwhelming abundance of resources available to help them implement Close Reading, but they now have criteria for deciding what is most important for the text they have chosen. We will always be faced with choices. Yes, even when new Language Arts curriculum is available. Educators using our Close Reading concept map, however, are able to efficiently identify relevant questions, helpful resources and appropriate performance tasks.
Most planning tools clearly have the goal of helping teachers understand how to implement Close Reading in their classrooms. However the developers seem to forget the fact that educators already have so much to think about and plan for as a result of the Common Core, in addition to the myriad day to day demands of the job. If those who would support teachers would remember that, I doubt we would have any sort of instructional checklist with 32 “guiding questions”. In contrast, our goal at TESS is to keep educators in mind when developing efficient instructional planning tools. The task of implementing the Common Core, including Close Reading, is too big to give time to regularly answering 32 questions about anything.