Monday, October 14, 2013

"Just reading words"

Several weeks ago, I was doing a close reading activity with my students. We read, highlighted, questioned, circled and all those other wonderful things that tell teachers that the students have interacted with a text, right... WRONG.

As I walked the room redirecting, and conversing with the students, I stumbled upon a student who had a wonderfully color-coded paper. I got excited  and started asking questions. When he could not answer any of them the following conversation ensued:
- Just tell me, what did you read?
     - Words
- What do you mean words?
     - Yeah, you told us to read, and I read the words.
- What did they say?
     - I don't know, they were just words.
- So why did you highlight this sentence?
      - Because I was looking for the vocabulary words, and this sentence had several of them.

No matter how I tried to coax him, as he very simply had put it, he had "just read words". This started me thinking on how many of our students "just read words", and don't actually do the close reading that they need to achieve true literacy, even when we have worked hard at giving them a purpose, developed maps of knowledge, and read across disciplines. The strategies and skills needed need to help us develop that which Grant Wiggins defines as close reading:
"what “close reading” really means in practice is disciplined re-reading of inherently complex and worthy texts."
So now what do I do? How do I encourage my students to do a reading task with actual disciplined re-reading?

I began by searching high and low for something other than the highlighters that just "pretty up the paper" and annotations that do not mean anything.


I had used it myself, and even wrote a post about it not too long ago. While this works for students that are already adept at annotating on paper, it did very little for my "just reading words" students.


Works for me as a teacher tool, and for my visual learners as they are able to annotate images and create mini concept lessons. The biggest con for me is that it does require a narration.


The hands down winner for now. On this site, you upload a text (document or the web), and create layers of questions to which you can add other media - plus you can align them to Common Core. Students cannot move on in the text unless they type a response to the question. Once they do, they can also see what other students have responded. Both you and them can add notes to their copies, and comment on the answers. Also, blessing in disguise, they cannot go back and edit their original answer so if they just typed -blah- to get to move on, they cannot revise that. What would make it absolutely awesome (hint to developers) would be the ability to input a series vocabulary words that should be in the answer. Yes, it is a forced interaction, but for me, well worth the time.

Have you run across any other tools?

Further reading on close reading: The Critical Thinking Community