Close reading…our initial steps

As identified in the first blog post, reading is a big deal for us at The Wellington Academy. We are on a huge reading drive and most of this year (year 1) has been focused on sharing our love for reading in the hope that we can foster a greater love for reading amongst our students. At the start of the year, both reading ages and reading quiz uptakes were low and we have seen a huge increase in the number of quizzes our students take, which has been my area of focus.

Now we have our students reading more, it is time to focus on supporting them with their reading. This blog post will outline the first strategy we have begun to put in place: Close reading.

This stems from potentially the most exciting book on reading to be released for some time: ‘Reading Reconsidered’ by Doug Lemov and, more specifically, Chapter 2 entitled ‘Close Reading.’

Doug Lemov defines close reading as reading which uncovers layers of meaning and, therefore, leads to deep comprehension.

In developing this definition, he argues that close reading is important because it helps ‘defend’ against gist readings as it fosters a more methodical approach in which students break down complex texts so that they can begin to understand how a sequence of specific words/sentences/paragraphs are formed to create meaning. An integral part of this process is enabling students to have the ability to re-read a text and respond to Text Dependent Questions, sometimes using a creative response to develop and show a full appreciation of a text. Lemov argues that TDQs cannot be answered without a firm knowledge of the text itself as it requires attentive reading.

Keen to develop our students’ ability in close reading, I decided to focus on wider reading home works (non-fiction) in year 10. I was conscious that students weren’t reading widely and didn’t have the contextual knowledge to support and enhance their reading of certain literary texts. At the time we were reading ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ by Robert Louis Stevenson and so to support this I began to think about some of the context I felt our students needed to know in order to enhance their reading of the text. The first area I wanted to focus on was their understanding of Victorian London. I completed some research and collated some articles I found on the internet.

I then went back to Lemov. His writing on TDQs had captured my interest. Developing our questioning has been an area of focus for the department and, therefore, I felt that this chapter from Reading Reconsidered would really help to not only strengthen the quality of questions being asked when creating these homeworks but also support our students in developing their ability to read texts closely.

In Chapter 2 of ‘Reading Reconsidered’ Lemov identifies twelve different question types which are listed below:

Doug Lemov – Question types close reading

  1.  Paraphrasing
  2. Referent questions – ask what a word refers to
  3. Denotation questions – asks the meaning of a specific word or phrase
  4. Explanation questions – asks what a word or phrase means in this setting.
  1. Key line questions – asks about the connotation or denotation of a key line or sentence
  2. Sentence structure questions – asks how the syntax of a sentence affects meaning.
  3. Summary questions – asks students to distill the elements of a block of text and reduce it to scope to its most important ideas.
  4. Finite evidence questions – ask students to track evidence comprehensively through a text
  5. Connotation questions – asks about the implied meaning of words based on their associations and how this affects meaning or tone.
  6. Figurative / literal meaning questions – asks students to clarify figurative meaning
  7. Pattern questions – asks about a pattern in structure, syntax or sound and how that affects meanings
  8. A paragraph function question – asks students about the role of paragraphs in a text or how paragraphs build on one another.

Using this summary as a guide, we began to construct a range of questions on the non-fiction texts we had chosen to develop our students’ contextual awareness. The range of questions were definitely enhanced which, in turn, seemed to be supporting our students in reading the texts more closely.

Here is an example of one of our Wider Reading homeworks:

And the complete booklet here: Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde Wk1 Wider Reading – Victorian London

After trialling this with year 10 we decided that this would be a format we would adopt for KS3 library lessons. We have decided that we want to ensure library lessons are focused on developing our students’ reading of non-fiction with a focus again on enhancing students’ contextual understanding of the literature texts they are going to teach. One of the first units we are doing in year 8 is Frankenstein. Using the Lemov question structures, our amazing literacy co-ordinator, Martin Gardner, has put together library books which are focused on developing students’ close reading but will also support the work students are doing in class as well as offer Homework tasks.

Here are a couple of pages exemplifying what he has done.  (These pics are dreadful so will try to take some better ones tomorrow so do download the booklet instead!)

And the complete booklet below: Frankenstein booklet

And our Dickens booklet Charles Dickens booklet

I would love to know what you think!

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