Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Helping Students Read Closely in Authentic Ways

Are your students struggling with deeply comprehending nonfiction texts? Have you heard about ‘close reading’ but aren’t sure what it is? Or have you been turned off by the plethora of professional books and workbooks that seem to teach close reading in overly procedural, basal-like ways?

If this describes you at all, I can’t emphasize enough how much you will enjoy Kylene Beers and Bob Probst’s book “Reading Nonfiction: Notice and Note Stances, Signposts, and Strategies.” Kylene and Bob pull up alongside you, the reader, and provide just enough research, sprinkled with humor and stories from the classroom, to keep you turning the pages and believing that from now on your students will be masters at comprehending nonfiction.

They begin by outlining three questions to teach students to ask themselves as a way to develop a questioning stance every time they read nonfiction:
  1. What surprised you?
  2. What did the author think you already knew?
  3. What changed, challenged, or confirmed what you already knew?
Kylene and Bob then reveal the research they compiled about “signposts” that appear in nonfiction text to help students think about the Big Questions with more specificity. After reading about these five signposts I even find myself reading Time magazine and online articles differently. The five signposts are:

  1. Contrasts and contradictions (e.g. phrases that use key words such as however and on the other hand)
  2. Extreme or absolute language (e.g. words or phrases such as everyone on Earth or totally and always)
  3. Numbers and stats (i.e. Ask yourself – why did the author include these particular numbers?)
  4. Quoted words (i.e. Again, ask yourself – why did the author choose to quote this person?)
  5. Word Gaps (i.e. help students become aware of gaps in their understanding of vocabulary – oftentimes, these gaps are Tier 2 words used in unfamiliar ways such as an electrical charge or waves triggered by an earthquake).
Finally, Kylene and Bob share seven strategies students can use before, during, and after reading to help clear up comprehension confusions. For instance, Syntax Surgery prompts students to draw arrows connecting confusing information such as vague pronouns to the supporting information elsewhere in the article. Another strategy, genre reformulation, encourages students to synthesize information after reading by recreating the information they read into an ABC book or a cause/effect sequence patterned after If You Give a Mouse a Cookie or Brown Bear, Brown Bear.
Overall, this book is one of my absolute favorites, both for the richness of the ideas it contains as well as the comfortable, genuine style in which it is written. Teachers of students 2nd grade through high school should have this book on their nightstand.

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