Thursday, October 2, 2014

How is reading like a conversation? Establishing big understandings first.

My husband is building his dream garage.  It's huge, has room for a lift, has an upstairs space for storage, and is placed strategically so he has space around it for car storage and parts.  Before we even cleared the first tree, he had a vision of what he wanted the garage to look like, and what he'd be able to accomplish because of how it was built.  When we finally did get to pouring the foundation, it was meticulously set in order to support that vision of the finished building.

This year I'm taking my husband's lead and having a vision of what I want my classroom to look like and accomplish.  It means having that "finished product" in mind, but knowing what pieces need to be put in place in order to make the dream happen are essential as a foundation.

One of those pieces is the comparison of reading to a conversation with the author.

I've adopted this approach after reading (and rereading. . .and rereading) Falling in Love With Close Reading by Christopher Lehman and Kate Roberts. In it, the authors muse:
"We all yearn to be understood.  We want a smile of recognition, a nod of heads in agreement, the feeling of community and connection that being truly understood brings."  What a great connection to misunderstood middle schoolers! And what a great way to bring this idea to reading: "Texts strive to be understood I need much the same way. Authors thoughtfully select details, hoping we, the readers, are listening."

Looking no further than self-as-a-reader, Lehman and Roberts align close reading to a ritual, one that can be seen in action even as you read this post:
1.  Read with a lens -- pull specific details based on the lens
2.  Find a pattern -- look over those details to see which fit together and how
3.  Grow understandings -- use the patterns to see the "big ideas" in the text

Possibly the simplest, yet to me most profound, statement in this book is the suggestion that teachers often have students make a claim and then find details/evidence to support it, when really readers don't work that way.  Readers need to use the details to build the claim.

With these ideas in mind I'm beginning my first unit of study with my 7th and 8th graders.  We are calling these steps our "reading ritual" with the expectation that eventually the steps will be as second nature as our morning get-ready-for-school routines.