How Do You Bring the Leading National Experts on “Close Reading” to Your School?
By Dan Rocchio, Ed. D.
A Step-by-Step Guide for Helping Teachers Implement the Close Reading of Complex Texts
In 2012 I wrote an article for the Suburban IRA Newsletter that highlighted practical strategies for implementing the common core standards at the elementary grade levels. In that article I summarized a model for the “close reading process of complex text” developed by Fisher, Frey and Lapp ( 2012) in a text titled Text Complexity: Raising Rigor in Reading. Additional depth was provided by articles and videos (Principal Leadership, 2012a and 2012 b). But this latest text, Rigorous Reading: 5 Access Points for Comprehending Complex Texts (Fisher & Frey, 2013) brings the work of the authors “up close and personal.” Specifically this book provides numerous videos of elementary and secondary grade level classrooms along with a step-by-step “Professional Learning Guide.” If your school is implementing this critical instructional component of CCSS-ELA, please consider this resource.
The Videos Bring Life to the Text?
The videos provide authentic classroom examples that clarify the five access points for comprehending complex texts laid out in the text. The videos show teachers how to
· model reading strategies and set purposes for reading
· conduct “close reading” and “scaffolded reading” lessons
· conduct collaborative conversations with complex texts
· help students evolve into the independent reading of complex texts
· develop assessments for complex texts
Strengths of the Videos and the Text
The authors have selected videos that follow the model of close reading set out in their earlier text (Fisher, Frey and Lapp, 2012). Close reading involves the deep critical comprehension of short complex passages or short passages within longer texts ( e.g., novels, primary source documents). Fisher and Frey carefully explain when we should use close reading. According to the authors close reading requires one to read with a pencil or annotate the text, reread to clarify confusing parts and finally to write or talk about our deep understanding of the text. The teaching steps include the following:
· the teacher establishes a brief purpose for reading the text but does not provide a summary of the text nor background information that might take away from the student’s struggle to make sense of the text; in some cases brief background information may be necessary for students to be successful with the an initial reading of the text
· students read the text independently and note words they figured out on their own or ideas that confused them; the teacher carefully observes the difficulties students encounter
· the first discussion led by the teacher might include the students sharing what amazed and/or confused them
· using what was learned from the initial discussion, the teacher leads a read aloud and think aloud of the text that models how the teacher figured out main ideas or key vocabulary
· teacher leads another discussion using text dependent questions that focus on the literal, inferential and critical understanding of the text
· teacher asks each student to write about the understandings garnered in the prior discussion
Although all the videos do not follow each of the steps noted above, the best video examples of the model ( i.e., see the companion website www.corwin.com/rigorousreading) are annotated below:
· Video 3.1 is a whole class lesson with 6th graders in a language arts classroom. The outstanding part of this video shows how a teacher coaches her students on the process of finding the main idea in a short passage after she realizes that they didn’t get it during the first reading.
· Video 3. 4 is a whole class lesson with upper elementary language arts students during a unit on inventions. This teacher does an outstanding job in these areas:
o coaching children back into a second and third reading of the text to clarify key ideas
o displaying a clear and efficient system for annotating the text
o developing an authentic, high level formative assessment over several lessons
Why Are These Videos A Better Choice for Professional Development than Other Video Lessons on Close Reading?
Two other popular sources of video lessons for the close reading of complex texts are listed here:
Unfortunately, most of these sample lessons do not include the teacher modeling of reading strategies, or the gradual release of responsibility framework that would eventually help students to read these complex texts independently and proficiently. The sample lessons along with the “Professional Leaning Guide” in the Fisher and Frey( 2013) text are consistent with best practice and the research related to developing independent learners.
What Additional Step Can Schools and Teachers Take to Achieve the Goal of the Fisher and Frey Text?
As you work through the “Professional Learning Guide” it is imperative that you and your colleagues develop and teach close reading lessons within your classrooms. The teaching of these lessons along with appropriate feedback by literacy coaches, and the data analysis of student work samples can eventually lead to the development of model video-recorded lessons that can be shared among teaches in your district. As these lessons are developed and refined it is crucial that teachers identify the context for these lessons. Model lessons can only be used effectively when the developers carefully explain the conditions surrounding the lesson; these would include the key characteristics of the students, the purpose of the lesson in the context of the unit of study, and the social dynamics of the group.
What is the End Goal?
As we work together to tackle the challenges presented by the CCSS-ELA it is important that we keep a sharp focus on the end goal: to help children read, write and talk critically so that they can take part in civil discourse related to key issues (e.g., the development of mental and physical health, a peaceful school, the sustainability of our environment, friendship, equity, preparing oneself for work). Along with parents it is also our responsibility to help children develop the skills, knowledge, and dispositions necessary to work and play as responsible citizens in our democracy. I welcome responses on this blog or please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you wish further information related to this article.
Fisher, D. & Frey, N. (2012a). Text complexity. Principal Leadership. Retrieved July 27, 2012 from
Fisher, D. & Frey, N. (2012b). The perils of preteaching. Retrieved July 27, 2012 from
Fisher, D. Frey, N. & Lapp, D. (2012). Text complexity: Raising rigor in reading.
Newark, Delaware: International Reading Association.
Fisher, D. , & Frey, N. (2013). Rigorous reading: 5 access points for comprehending
complex texts. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Literacy.
National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State
School Officers. (2010a). Common core state standards for English language arts and literacy in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects. Washington, DC: Authors. Retrieved March 14, 2014 from www.corestandards.org/assets/ ELA-Literacy.