Closely Reading as Professional Learners: The Pendulum is Out and the Pyramid is In!

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We have not been able to stop “closely reading” Kate’s blog post on the five corners of the text. We have never before found ourselves wanting to hug our computer more than we did as we read this piece.   It is so important we get this message out there –not only for our students, for ourselves.   As professionals who are in the business of learning, we think a lot about staying open to new ideas and research in teaching and learning, but also having foundational beliefs about teaching and learning.  We think this “fifth corner” – our experience and knowledge – is what we need to be lifelong engaged learners.

As we collaborate with teachers around the new CCSS and discuss this concept of close reading, we always begin with their beliefs and schema for teaching reading.  Piaget’s theory of learning through assimilation and accommodation explains how we can stick to what we know to be true and yet learn new information that challenges our current understandings.  New research pushes us to analyze not only what we think is important, but why we think it is important as we construct new knowledge and incorporate it into our practice.   If learners think they can only use the four corners of a text to make meaning of a text then how can we grow our thinking and change?   All learners need to be aware of his/her past experience and understanding of a topic in order to truly comprehend what they are reading.

We often hear about the “educational pendulum” and we believe that the best way to stop the swinging is the “fifth corner.”   We believe that Debbie Miller did a great service to our profession when she went public and reassured everyone that the work we have been doing for the past decade is essential work and critical to the new CCSS.   “Comprehension strategies are more important now than ever (with the Common Core). I said this earlier and I say it again—they are the essential tools that children need to actively engage with content, construct meaning, and grow their understanding of big ideas in the world.  They help children get smarter about big, important topics that are relevant to them and help them become powerful and thoughtful human beings.” (Miller, 2013)  This allowed us to honor and use our knowledge about teaching reading comprehension as a lens through which to begin to understand the new CCSS.

Kate Roberts, in her post, stated: “To ignore that angle (the fifth corner), to not help our students understand, as Louise Rosenblatt argued, that every reading of a text is a transaction between the text and the reader’s unique point of view, flattens our reading, removes the depth, and erroneously teaches that there is an objective, authorial meaning that you will always be able to discern from the text.”  We need to remember this for ourselves as well.  There are so many books, articles, blog posts and presentations on close reading that we all need to remember to ground ourselves in what we know so that we can construct an understanding.  If we try to take an “authorial meaning” from each text we read we will get lost in the process and find ourselves in purposeless, meaningless instruction.

This is the image we are going to have in our minds as we read, attend and present about close reading and the CCSS.  The pendulum is out and the pyramid is in!!  We need to be engaged as professionals to “learn and innovate”.   Teaching is an art and a science.  It is only in the hands of a thoughtful, knowledgeable teacher that these ideas become effective instruction.  The fifth corner allows us to bring all of our knowledge and experience to the professional texts we are reading so that we can teach in meaningful, purposeful ways.

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