Close Reading for Understanding
"I want my students to become literate people, and understanding literature is more than just reading and writing. It's about the desire to read. I want students to love to read and write, and to love to talk about what they're reading. I want them to say, 'Hey, I just read this great book...'."
Dana Robertson teaches fifth grade at the Estabrook Elementary School in Lexington, Massachusetts. Just outside of Boston, the town of Lexington is best known as Paul Revere's destination in his legendary ride and a site of Revolutionary War battles. Today, Lexington draws professors from Boston's colleges and universities, and more than 70 nationalities are represented in the town. Lexington schools also participate in the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunities (METCO), Boston's voluntary busing program.
Mr. Robertson has 25 students, three with special needs and two with learning needs. His students represent a wide range of reading levels, from second to eighth grade. An aide provides one-on-one support for special-needs students, and students with learning needs receive support from the school's special education assistant.
In the featured lesson, Mr. Robertson led a reading workshop. He started with a mini-lesson, pre-teaching any new words and introducing a story, and then allowed time for guided practice and independent reading. The reading workshop ended with the whole class coming together and sharing what they'd learned.
During this lesson, and throughout the year, Mr. Robertson focuses on reading closely for understanding. Before and during reading, Mr. Robertson models questioning techniques to encourage his students to really think about what is going on in a given story or text, engaging students by asking them to make inferences or predictions. One strategy Mr. Robertson uses in a whole-class instructional setting is pausing to "turn and talk." This gives all students a chance to discuss what they're reading and share their thoughts, but without taking a lot of time. As students read independently, Mr. Robertson encourages them to jot down questions or comments on Post-it notes. These thoughts form the basis of class discussions and writing assignments.
Mr. Robertson models the kind of close reading and note-taking he wants his students to do. He even brings in books that he is reading and shows his students the Post-it notes he uses to analyze the text and form questions for discussion.
In the end, Mr. Robertson's students spend a lot of time talking about reading. He notes that parents comment on their children's enthusiasm for reading and discussing what they have read.