Stickies and Close Reading

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I have read, had, listened to, and led various discussions regarding the process of close reading.  In fact, I’m going to lead a session tomorrow morning on the topic.  To some, close reading can be tedious to teach and have students experience; however, I find it fascinating to watch students go through the process.  When a short text of a paragraph or two, limited to one page, is selected, the effort students put forth to analyze the text can really illustrate the power of words.  With that said, I sometimes get a groan from my students when I announce, quite excitedly, that we are going to engage in a close reading of a text.  So, with my practice of adding movement to my classroom, I have developed several ways to “jazz up” the close read experience by having students get up out of their seats during the process of close reading.  I am including one of the activities I will be highlighting during my training tomorrow. It is a fairly simple activity that students love because they get to analyze the text in more than one way visually in groups and as a whole class.  Plus, the process allows me to listen to the discussions students have to get a better understanding of how various students are understanding more complex texts.

 Close Read Sort and Stick

Each student receives a short stack of sticky notes.  Individually, students read the  selected close read text.  While students are reading, they write key words or  phrases from the text on the sticky notes provided.  When each student has  finished the reading task, students share their answers in groups of four.  Poster papers with four categories are placed around the room:  tone, inferences, figurative language, and theme (relationship to characters, setting, and plot).  Groups discuss the sticky notes written by each member and determine the category for each word.  The sticky notes are then placed on the large posters.  After each group sorts the words, the class discusses the placement of the words and reposition words if needed.

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Battling Through Reluctance

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Ever since grade school, I have been an avid reader.  For me, reading came naturally.  I don’t recall if my parents or my older siblings read to me as a child, but I do remember submersing myself in books in 5th grade.  Most likely, I was reading before then, but my 5th grade teacher really promoted reading.  She had a chart on which every student was listed.  Whenever we read a book, we had a one-on-one conference with her and a sticker was placed on the chart.  It was an extrinsic motivator for me to see my name on the chart with the most stickers.  I read over 100 books that year.  Of course, as with most things, other factors also were at play.  My dad died of cancer early in the school year and books provided me with an escape from reality.  When I opened a book, I became a character and lived in a fantasy world.  I explored canyons, treaded through snow, battled intergalactic forces, and made countless friends.  When not exploring the fictional world of unreality, I sought out books that dealt with kids who were either battling cancer or watching a loved one succumb to the disease.  I grieved with the characters and I healed alongside those who ventured on after loss. 

When Christmas approached, the loss of my father hung heavy in the air.  My fifth grade teacher, along with others members of her church, came to my door one cold night and gave all of us presents.  I received the Chronicle of Narnia series, which I still have today.  While I didn’t realize it at the time, this treasure book set was the perfect gift.  I needed an Azlan figured in my life.  I think, over the course of time, I have had several Azlans.  While tragedy in never easy , it provided me with the opportunity to find a love in reading.  Perhaps I would have found the love anyway, but I am fortunate I found it when I did.  I can’t help but think my teacher knew the power of books stretched beyond the academic benefits.  She gave me a world I desperately needed.

It is difficult for me to see students come to class and say they hate to read.  Wow.  I often don’t know how to respond.  I do my best to bring characters to life in my classroom.  Still, it isn’t always enough.  I talk passionately about plot and themes.  Still, I don’t always reach those seated in their desks.  I supply them with various genres and inspiring stories, both fiction and nonfiction.  Still, my efforts are sometimes rejected. 

It is easy to surrender with my hands held high, waving the white, washed-out flag of despair, but I don’t.  You see, I can’t.  I can’t give up.  Even as I teach the middle school beast, or sputtering sparrow, however one wants to view the adolescent children in the classroom, I trudge on.  At the moment in the educational life when research indicates that the interest in reading wanes, especially if students have not habitually engaged in reading, I have hope.  When students tell me they don’t’ read, or parents reveal their children do not crack open a book, I reply with  “YET”.  It may not happen in my class, but I put on my armor and battle the reading Goliath with all my might.  I am the hero in my world, whether my students, parents, colleagues, district, or community sees it.

I have an impact.  Toward the end of the school year last year, some student from the high school came to visit.  After the customary comments regarding how much they loved class and wondering if the new batch of students were as crazy as they were, two of the students acknowledged they hadn’t read an entire book until they were in my class.  This surprised me. Surely they had read at least one book in elementary school!  When asked why, they responded with comments like the books were actually interesting and they did things in my class they hadn’t done before.  I took pride in the moment.  Experiences like these are my inspiration, which is why reading is my movement.

Can I reach everyone?  No.  I certainly can and will try to engage, welcome, build relationships, and inspire every student I meet.  I am a reading gladiator devoted to reading by and through movement physical, mentally, and spiritually. 

Motivating Readers by Reading Through Movement

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Middle school readers are challenging to motivate.  Those that love to read enjoy reading books in class and diving into rich classroom discussions enthusiastically.  Those that struggle, or claim not to enjoy reading, sit in a fog of denial, selflessness, and bleak daydreams.  This might be a bit extreme, but there seems to be two types of students in the Language Arts classroom:  readers and nonreaders.  Bridging the gap between these two by the time students reach middle school is a demanding process, but it is also a worthwhile process.  When I glance at the students in my classes, I see the dread in the eyes of the reluctant readers when I divulge we are going to be reading a new text.  Perhaps the wall students build to fortify their stance against reading is due to the fear of having to sit for long periods of time; the social embarrassment they face if they fail to understand concepts, words, or plot; or the belief that if they haven’t enjoyed reading by middle school, they will never enjoy it.

Doom.  Do we, as educators, accept that reluctant and struggling readers  will remain in this temperament? I believe we have to do whatever is in our power to help inspire and prepare our students to read.  There are several ways to address these types of readers, but I would like to suggest that breaking up the monotony of “seated” reading can help motivate students due to an active versus a passive environment.

As I have been preparing for the Association for Middle Level Educators Conference in Minneapolis this week, I have selected several activities to help energize and motivate reading activities within the classroom.  I will be presenting a workshop titled, Reading Through Movement.  One of the activities I will showcase is a simple activity involving predetermined partners students need to find at various points in the reading process.  The process was originally presented in a workshop I attended led by Kathy Stevens of the Gurian Institute:

TIC-TOC

This activity can be used as a Before, During or After Reading Strategy.  It can be used as a Before Reading Strategy to activate prior knowledge, as a During Reading Strategy to check for understanding, and it can be used as After Reading Strategy to summarize a text.

One way to use this is to have students find 12, 3, 6, and 9 partners and write them down on the clock template. At various points, the teacher can tell students to find a specific partner to discuss a question or recall various pieces of the plot of the story.  For example, a teacher may instruct that each student needs to find his or her “12” partner to answer a question regarding the conflict presented in the exposition of a short story. This strategy can be used for multiple questions during the reading of a text allowing students to move several times to find one of their partners (question #1 might be answered with the “12” partner, question #2 with the “6” partner, etc).  Students can keep these same partners throughout the duration of the unit or they can change at the introduction of a new lesson.

clock

There are several moments during the reading process that teachers either ask students questions, or they have students discuss in partners or small groups.  This activity allows student to not only answer questions or discuss with their peers, but also to get up and move!