A Common Core Approach: Bringing Close Reading to Elementary Age Students

In their article Close Reading in Elementary Schools (2012), Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey explore analytic reading with elementary school teachers and discuss ways to modify meeting the new Common Core Standards through English Language Arts instruction and close reading. Here, they have defined the purposes of close reading and through collaboration with 14 elementary school teachers and 10 secondary teachers, observed and explore ways to modify close reading techniques for elementary students. The development and use of grade-appropriate text-dependent questions, minimal frontloading prior to close reading, and instruction on basic annotation skills, Fisher and Frey offer a framework for successful instruction in close reading for students in lower grades, beginning in Kindergarten. By educating elementary teachers on the meaning of close reading and training them to develop their own skills in teaching it, the authors have provided a guide for bringing close reading to elementary age students.

Fisher and Frey have developed three main purposes for close reading and these apply to any grade level of instruction. The first purpose for deep reading is to allow readers to absorb and digest new information from a text and combine that with knowledge they already possess. By scaffolding new text content with prior experiences and information, students will be able to expand their understanding and make connections. The second purpose for close reading is to help students to develop the skills they need to successfully take on the challenge of complex texts in the future. By helping students develop the stamina needed to dig deeper into a difficult text, to read more slowly and carefully, gives them the necessary tools. Third, students learn to reflect on their own personal experiences and knowledge and bring those elements into their reading. It is critical for students to do this independently and to develop a habit of inquiry and form personal connections to texts they read without being prompted.

The goal of the authors was to determine, through observation and discussion with participating teachers, the purpose of close reading and the best practices for instruction to students. After identifying the key elements, they went on to discuss the process of close reading and looked at the key elements previously identified to see what modifications were needed to bring close reading skills to students in grades K-6. As the primary focus of the discussions was on who the reader would be, the discussions evolved depending on grade level. The use of text-dependent questions is an essential part of close-reading. Fisher and Frey outline in this article the six main types of questions used most effectively with close reading. As a final part of their article, the authors discuss in more detail how annotation skills may be modified to allow even the youngest students to begin to develop skills they can rely on to help them through complex texts.

For any educator looking for ways to modify their classroom approach to close reading and help prepare elementary students for the rigors of complex texts down the road, this article offers practical examples and valuable guidance. These deeper “slow reading” skills are a key component in the Common Core and the authors’ focus is on the evolution of these teaching practices as more experience is gained and outcomes are assessed with elementary age students developing analytic reading skills. I met Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey in October of 2012 and it was a very enlightening experience to work through the process of close reading and see what it feels like to be a part of the process of that type of learning. This article gives the practical tools needed by teachers, designed and vetted by teachers, and in continuous improvement in the hands of teachers. Fisher and Frey are the experts in this subject as we move into the Common Core Standards so if you have not read this article yet, you should check it out!

Fisher, D., and Frey, N. (2012). Close Reading in Elementary Schools. International Reading Association. The Reading Teacher 66: 179-188.

For more on close reading:

Newkirk, T. (2011). The art of slow reading: Six time-honored practices for engagement. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Evaluating Graphic Novels for Use in Elementary Classrooms: Quality in the Content Areas of Math and Science

As the popularity of graphic novels has grown among elementary students over the last few years, the use of this format in classrooms has also spread rapidly. Cartoons, graphics, comics, whatever term you use to describe a graphic novel, the basic idea is the same: visual graphics to tell a story and/or convey information sequentially. But this broad definition does nothing to provide a framework for quality and as more teachers search for ways to incorporate graphic novels into the curriculum, content as well as visual engagement is emerging as an important undefined measure.

In their article from the American Library Association AASL journal School Library Research “Exploring Graphic Novels for Elementary Science and Mathematics,” Sandi Cooper, Suzanne Nesmith and Gretchen Schwarz explore the measures and perceptions of quality by elementary educators and professionals as it pertains to the content of graphic novels used in science and math instruction. The popularity of graphic novels makes them attractive for use in the classroom, along with trade books, but content quality varies. The authors research shows that elementary teachers recognize the vast potential of graphic novels to provide content, but there are also many concerns and questions as to the quality of that content.

 The authors’ research involved assembling a specifically chosen group of educators and administrators who were then asked to review six graphic novels (three with math content and three with science content) and then complete a survey for each book to reflect their perspectives on 1) the use of graphic novels generally in the elementary classroom and 2) the use of content-focused graphic novels in math and science in the elementary classroom. Because no qualitative measure or rubric exists for this sort of evaluation of graphic novels, the authors composed a set of measures for one for use by the participants who consisted of seven elementary classroom teachers and three faculty members of the university’s department of curriculum and instruction. For both types of graphic novels, content accuracy, visibility, and appropriateness were considered. The reader’s involvement in, understanding or and use of content contained in both types of graphic novels was also weighed into the evaluations. Other relevant factors were the discernibility of theories and facts from fiction and fantasy, whether the graphic novel presented positive ethical and cultural values, and whether or not the text promoted a positive attitude toward the content presented.

The results of the research presented in this article show that educators are broadly interested in the medium of graphic novels in spite of personal preferences which may lack enthusiasm. In general, teachers expressed an appreciation of the possible benefits of using graphic novels containing math and science content in elementary classrooms, but also raised concerns and questions.

Check it out!

This is a very good article to consider when looking at the use of graphic novels within the content areas of science and math.

Cooper, S., Nesmith, S. and Schwarz, G. (2011) Exploring Graphic Novels for Elementary Science and Mathematics. School Library Research. American Library Association. 14, 1-17.

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