Balancing Independent Reading with Close Reading


20140514-140859My students reached our class reading goal this year- 3,000 chapter books and 10,000 picture books. It felt good. They read a lot and met many of their personal reading goals. But we just barely squeaked by. They had to read A LOT in May.

Now, as I reflect on my reading units from the past year, I am thinking about the ways I balance reading for volume with opportunities for close reading in my workshop. Both are very important. Too often, however, in my 50 minute middle school English classes, I meet a conundrum- how do I prioritize independent reading and still make time for close reading?

Inspired by the work of Lucy Calkins, Ellin Keene, and Donalyn Miller, I hope to develop lifelong, independent readers. The need for eyes-on-text reading time is invaluable in the reading workshop. Read anything Allington or Cunningham & Stonovich, and you’ll find research that shows that reading success is directly linked to volume of reading. Likewise, students who struggle read significantly less than their peers and may continue to fall behind without interventions that include reading for volume.

In addition, I know that close reading is important for my students. I LOVE rereading Chris Lehman and Kate Robert’s book Falling in Love With Close Reading– if you don’t have a copy, it is a must-have! Their strategy of teaching close reading through the application of lenses is very similar to how Sonja and I have approached helping students interpret text in our book, Teaching Interpretation. Slowing down, reading and rereading a text or passage of text closely through one lens gives students a purpose and helps them examine a text in a way that they might not try on their own. Practicing these reading strategies is essential to helping students further their growth as readers and thinkers.

Within a 50 minute middle school reading workshop, how can I meet both these needs in a better way? I know that I need to prioritize their independent reading time, however, I don’t want to lose time for close reading. How can I shorten the time for close reading but still teach the same skills I have always taught? This is what I’m thinking through this summer. So far, I have this list:

  1. Using read alouds as purposeful mentor reading texts that we can come back to again and again for close reading. This way students are already familiar with the texts- can try on new lenses, look at patterns in new ways, and change their interpretations over time.
  2. Use high-engagement, short texts. Students may be familiar with songs, poems, commercials. May shorten the time since students will already be familiar with the text.
  3. Use a flipped-classroom approach for some close reading strategies.
  4. Consider length of text and type of text. Could use pamphlets from rest stops, stores, coupons, etc.
  5. Live with a close reading text for a week or two? (similar to Georgia Heard’s “Living with a Poem for a Week.”)
  6. Connect with content areas to encourage close reading. Possible places to overlap and share texts?

Please let me know your ideas, too. I am going to keep adding to my list as I read new professional development books this summer.