With Much Gratitude: 3 Tips for Teaching Close Reading

By Heidi Fisher, Dean of Instruction, TEAM Academy, a KIPP School

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Over the past 14 years of my teaching career, “The Bar” for excellent teaching seems to get higher and higher every year. The more I teach, the more I learn that there is so much more out there that I don’t know yet. Over the last couple of years, the introduction of the Common Core intensified this truth exponentially for me. But just before I panicked about how to design and live out a curriculum rigorous enough to meet the demands of the Common Core, I realized that one of my KIPP colleagues had already spent a year researching and experimenting, and that she was willing to share her thousands of hours of work with her KIPP family.

During this holiday season, I want to show my gratitude (one of the seven character strengths we focus on at KIPP) to my colleague Sayuri Stabrowski at KIPP Infinity Middle School. Sayuri has blazed the trail for how we think about the Common Core, and, more specifically, how we teach Close Reading. (Close Reading includes reading short passages of text multiple times to analyze deeper and deeper layers of nuanced meaning intended by the author.)

Sayuri was selected as one of KIPP’s featured teachers for her success as a classroom teacher. As such, she developed a year-long, Common Core-aligned curriculum for eighth grade reading that provides students with daily opportunities to dissect rigorous and engaging texts. Not only is she sharing her unit and year-long plans, but she is also sharing in real-time (via KIPP Share Better Lesson) her daily lesson planning, teaching materials, and assessments. Any KIPP teacher in the country—including TEAM’s eighth grade reading teacher, Manny Algarin, whom I coach—has the opportunity to not only learn from her work, but also to take it and adapt it to meet the needs of his or her own current students.

No matter what grade you teach or where, Sayuri can start to help you, too. Recently on Education Nation, Sayuri modeled several of her Close Reading strategies in a mock lesson. Her video will inspire you to start thinking about teaching Close Reading lessons yourself and will remind you that doing so isn’t as complicated or scary as it seems.

Click to view the video:

Video: The Omnivore's Dilemma: Close Reading of a Non-Fiction Text

Here are three things I have learned from Sayuri, which you can see in action in her video:

  • Choosing rich texts matters. Despite our repeated admonishment that “reading is never boring,” too often the reading passages we place in front of our students actually are dry. The text Sayuri uses for this 5th grade lesson makes even adult readers gasp and chuckle. Close Reading is hard work for kids, but the work can be fun rather than frustrating when we choose engaging texts.  
  • Planning and asking the right kinds of questions allows students to do all of the heavy lifting. The students who participate in Sayuri’s lesson find themselves figuring out how the author crafted his argument without the teacher ever actually telling them. Most of her questions start with “How does the author…”, and require students to use specific lines from the text to support all statements they make.
  • Providing multiple supports students need to experience success. Sayuri discusses several ways that she supports (scaffolds) the lesson before the “Close Reading” happens: she provides an engaging hook to invest students’ hearts and minds in the lesson; she pre-teaches all vocabulary words whose meanings are essential to the text but cannot yet be discerned from context clues; she asks students to read the same section of the text at least twice to get the gist before the Close Reading begins; and she ensures that students figure out what the task/prompt at hand is asking them to do before they try it.
  • Bonus Take-away: A Mad Lib can make for a fun yet rigorous way to measure each student’s understanding at the end of a lesson.

As teachers, we are all seeking ways to innovate and improve our practice in order to impact student achievement meaningfully. I am grateful for all those that have helped us along the way – and specifically today am grateful for Sayuri.

Sayuri, thank you for raising the bar for effective teaching. Our teachers and kids are growing by leaps and bounds because of your work. Thank you.

To learn more, check out the other Common Core Challenge SeriesKIPP teachers – make sure to check out Sayuri’s lesson plans on KIPP Share BetterLesson.