A Few Ways of Thinking About Close Reading

close reading button

Work and insights being shared each Friday by Chris Lehmann and Kate Roberts around the concept of Close Reading (as they get ready to release a new book on the subject) has me, well, reading their posts closely. They are inviting other bloggers to write about their own views around the concept, and while I have done my own inquiry and even led some professional development work around Close Reading, I am still struggling at times to bring those strategies into my sixth grade classroom.

I appreciated Kate’s post the other day about the “five corners” of close reading, as she critiqued the notion of the Common Core writers about the “four corners” of the text (found in the Common Core companion Publishers Criteria) – meaning that understanding should be cold and not influenced by past experiences. This element of cold reading of text — of reading the text for what it is in relative isolation – has come under a lot of criticism from teachers who regularly use student background knowledge to activate understanding. Kate argues that we all bring our experiences to our reading and we should value that.

Kate writes:

“Flat, ‘four corners’ close reading will not be enough for our students – it will not fuel their engagement to learn and innovate, it will not develop their critical thinking, it will not even at the end of the day help students to achieve higher marks on ever evolving test questions.  Only by holding what we are reading in the text against the “fifth corner” of what we know and have experienced can we create truly close, engaged readers.” – from http://kateandmaggie.com/2013/09/05/the-five-corners-of-the-text-close-reading-and-personal-experience/

Chris explored the concept of the term of “close reading” and explored what it is not in his blog post. I appreciated the examples and the references he shared out around the terminology and then found myself shaking my head in agreement with his own ideas.

Chris wrote:

“… we believe that close reading is not simply a way to analyze texts. It is a way to study the things that we love more carefully and appreciate their subtleties more fully. Close reading can be applied to texts, but we also can look to songs, video games, television shows, art and even our daily lives. ” — from http://christopherlehman.wordpress.com/2013/09/02/blog-a-thon-post-1-what-closereading-isnt-or-at-least-shouldnt-be/

Simply put, I like to think of close reading as paying attention to the text. And yes, while I often read for enjoyment and don’t even wonder about the writer’s intent, or use of syntax or style, there are times when I do step back and think: now what the heck is really going on here? Close reading provides the kind of frame to look at writing and other texts in a meaningful, constructive way so that the reader has agency in the compact between writer and reader. It can be critical thinking at its best.

So why do I struggle with it in the classroom?

As I consider this way of thinking, I realize that I do teach my students a lot of these skills, but it feels scattered right now and not at all an organized system of thinking. And, to be frank, teaching explicit close reading skills has the potential to suck all of the fun out of reading a text. That worries me. What I need to do is use more of the shorter texts for close reading so that those skills can be developed for tackling longer texts. I am working towards that right now, and learning more about close reading from others has been helpful.

I am appreciating the sharing of other bloggers, too. For example, Collete Bennett does a great job of examining Hemingway’s famous Six Word Story through the lens of the Five Corners. Kim Corbridge notes that using picture books is a great way to foster close reading skills, and that is certainly true for any grade level. And Mindi Rench’s points about “textbook questions” now being re-labeled as close reading activities hit home with me as I see everything from publishing companies being printed with the “Common Core aligned” sticker.

We need to resist that move by publishers — that close reading is a strategy for standardized testing — and keep our eye on the real rationale — that close reading provides a scaffold of critical thinking for young readers. The terminology might be new, but I suspect many of us have been doing this kind of reading analysis for years. We just didn’t call it close reading.

Peace (in the read),


I Gif You the Bird

One of the assignments for #ds106 is to create an animated GIF of a scene from a favorite movie that captures the essence of the movie or a scene from the movie. Or something like that. I had trouble thinking of a movie, but I have been wanting to return to a favorite movie that Clint Eastwood produced about jazz giant Charlie Parker after seeing some of the rave reviews of Forest Whitaker for The Butler (Whitaker broke out in Bird, I think.) As a saxophonist, I was always in awe of Parker and Bird showcases not just the talent but the destructive streak, too.

I am no expert in animated GIF files and used a Mac program from the App Store called Gif Animator. You can move either video clips or single photos into it, and it will create animated GIFs. I’ve used it for a series of single photos before, but this is the first time using it for video. I am not sure I like it all that much. I downloaded a clip (with Download Helper add-on) from YouTube of Bird in the midst of playing a solo, which is where he was most powerful. Then, I dumped the clip (after converting it from flash to .mov with the Leawo video converter app, which costs a lot more now than when I bought it a few years ago) into Gif Animator. The first time, my clip was way too long, so I went into iMovie and edited it down. The clip was again way too long, and so on the third try, I reduced it down even further.

The result, though, is a GIF that is dark (literally and not just the dark soul of Parker) and in slow motion, for some dang ereason, so I suspect I need to tinker with the app settings some more. And I don’t have the patience for it right now. So I am Gif-ing you the Bird.


Peace (in the gif),



Angles of Possibilities: Nurturing Disruption and Breaking Assumptions

Over at the #ds106 Headless Course, there were a couple of videos shared to start the headless adventure. One of them is this wonderful look at creativity and how to begin to break free of assumptions we have about everyday things. In our Making Learning Connected MOOC, we called this “hacking.” Here, Kelli Anderson calls it “disruption.” You might call it “modding: the world. Whatever the term, the idea is to not take for granted the use and function of things around us. Instead, break free of those assumptions and make something new. Re-envision the world.

In my classroom, I try to do this by helping my sixth graders shift from passive users of media and technology into the role of active creators of content. We do hacking activity, make video games, and engage in the world. But even at that young age, they are starting to fall into familiar roles, with assumptions about how things should happen just because that is the way they have always happened. It can be difficult to help them see the world from another angle — the angle of possibilities.

I’ll also note that the students who naturally do this – who see everything from that angle of possibilities — are often labeled “quirky” and “strange” and are all too often undervalued. If recent history has taught us anything, it is that this group of students will be the ones who will change the world in ways we don’t yet know.

I invite you to join the Vialogues of this video. (Vialogues allows you to post comments on videos, with time markers, so that your comments gets linked with a specific time in the video. It’s a neat way to have a conversation about a video.) The more, the merrier, and I would love to know what you think about Kelli Anderson’s presentation and her examples (check out the newspaper one … pretty nifty hack.)


Peace (in the conversation),

Starting the School Year: We’re All Comics Now

Class of 2014
This is one of my opening day traditions with my homeroom class and it is a lot of fun. I have my students on the first day of school get up into our Bitstrips for Schools webcomic site to create avatars of themselves (first, we have a discussion about avatars and identity — a topic we will return to later on). Not only do I get this great webcomic version of my classroom, but I get to move around the room, talk one-on-one with students, watch who is a collaborator and who might need a little help, and who are my technology assistants.

I also have them work on the first activity in our Bitstrips, which is creating a “pro card” of themselves. This is an easy entry into making comics, since it is a template activity. I purposely did not give them specific instructions. I wanted to see what they would do with it. Most just used the template. But a few others (my future hackers?) began to modify the template a bit, making changes to the font and where their character was on the card, and more.

Here are a few:

Peace (in the comic world),

The Headless DS106 Begins

I am hoping to take part in the DS106 Headless Course that has just gotten underway, although I didn’t realize it had already gotten underway. So, we’ll see how it goes. DS106 is a site designed to get participants learning more about digital storytelling and using it for creative ventures. I am more in tune with the Daily Create — a daily prompt for creative work — but I am intrigued by how a “headless” (ie, leaderless) course develops and is run.

As far as I can tell, the first tasks were around getting a blog up and running. Check.

And the second task was telling a “key chain” story — using your keys as a way to tell something about yourself. I ended up using Vine to tell a six second story and to be frank, it wasn’t much of a story. So, I uploaded the video into YouTube and added a few annotations. Here’s what I ended up with:

I am curious to see what other folks will do with DS106 and how it might inform my own understanding of digital storytelling across mediums, and how that work might inform my teaching practice. I suspect keeping up might be a challenge but the nature of open courses is that you come and go as you need, and have time for. I need to give myself permission to miss assignments and jump in where it makes sense. (Shades of our Making Learning Connected MOOC.)

Here is the link for the DS106 Headless Course Weekly Announcements, if you want to come along, too. (please, do)

Peace (in the place with no heads),

The Start of the Year Video Game

Our weekly writing prompt over at the iAnthology had us thinking recently of telling the story of teaching via game theory. I went in another direction and created this video game to share over there, and here.

Peace (in the game),

An Odd Sight: A Frog at the Door

Frog on door
We had some rain yesterday and when I looked out the front door, there on the window … was a frog. I caught my own reflection taking an image of the frog. It came out odd, but oddly right in tune with seeing a frog stuck to the door.
Peace (in the sharing)