One of my teacher rituals that I began early in my career was penciling out a plan for how to accomplish everything that I needed to do in a coming year. Time flies with a 180-day calendar, and even more so with 90-ish days in high school block scheduling. How do we negotiate taking our time with reading when there’s so much to tackle when working with students? What do we do when we have to keep erasing and reworking plans because time slips away?
I’d like to discuss how to focus on the work of reading closely and deeply instead of surface-level experiences with texts, which can sometimes be so tempting when the rush of the year is on. This post is also a personal note for the permission I need to give myself (and my students) to linger in passages, asking questions and doing the intentional work of reading and responding with detail and critical analysis.
Connecting Reading to Craft
The work of authors is careful and labored and goes through many revisions. This kind of textual work can be appreciated through a lingering approach, and it’s a strong teacher move to pause and talk through a peer reader’s thinking as a model. While I can offer my approach in thinking aloud as a teacher, sometimes taking a few additional moments to invite students to share their visualizing and sense-making resonates more deeply for their peers in the room. As a recent example of this, I’m preparing once more to introduce early American literature to a group of high school students. We’ll be focusing on an intentional reading of one excerpt from a so that time can be made for the more essential readings of the course (including novels).
In the early days of the Common Core movement, which arrived in my district fully in 2012, focusing on the text itself was emphasized, with little or no attention to reader experiences. This idea of close reading often meant that students were asked to read the same passage more than once. While I regard this approach, I don’t think that careful and thoughtful reading is the act of rereading everything in a passage. Instead, readers can note moments to return to in order to build comprehension.
Close, intentional attention to the author/creator’s work on the page can lead to thinking about the detailed work that can be done in a student’s composing. In the time of AI, these types of personal attention and details enrich student responses and highlight the author’s humanity on the page—ultimately writing about humans communicating with one another and helping young readers to know that they aren’t alone in their thoughts and experiences. The act of reading carefully and slowly is an opportunity for a deep dive rather than a surface skim, with focus on word choices and images that authors choose to use (noting motifs).
Taking our time means we’re learning about craft and even grammatical construction for a variety of literary effects—a reading-rich approach that outweighs workbook pages about parts of speech any day in terms of both engagement and relevance.
Embracing the Reread
What does a student gain from rereading a book? I’m overjoyed when a student wants to read a book the first time through, much less more than once. While I encourage students to read widely, I also appreciate reading deeply. When a student in my third year of middle school teaching asked to read A Christmas Carol again, I could’ve said no and insisted that they expand to another Dickens tale or a similar holiday fable.
Instead, I recognized that the return journey might produce something new, including stronger comprehension. Rereading also leads to greater fluency, which is an area of literacy development I am deeply invested in for older readers. Moreover, recognizing aspects of how a text works demonstrates critical thinking that can be further supported with questions about how a text can be changed or reworked for greater effect.
When prompted by the student, the act of rereading facilitates the close and layered engagement with texts that I’m after. Rereading is also a necessary interaction for all texts, but particularly for taking in all of the elements of a multimodal/visual text that a comic, graphic novel, or picture book has to offer.
Less Can Be More, But So Can More
This isn’t a baby and bathwater approach. My goal is not to abandon a list of reads for a semester or yearlong class, but to suggest that it’s sometimes OK to reread, dig in, and take our time (with intention). I’m thinking of students who are building comprehension and might need the practice of rereading a single page or section once or twice to monitor their understanding, as well as students who are building fluency and might reread an entire book more than once. Normalizing rereading to build understanding, especially when encountering a very complex content area text or unfamiliar genre, is welcoming work for readers who may not be confident in their skills.
While I teach in 90-minute blocks, reading times can be adjusted for 20-minute reading periods daily or a few times per week. This focus on reading time can be a flexible approach that includes class-wide reads, independent reading choices, or small group reading.
In fact, Cunningham and Stanovich’s seminal research shows that reading volume does matter. Instead of kicking one approach to the side, I suggest capturing readers by closely engaging with materials, while also noting that there are times in reading instruction to read widely, and times to pause and linger.
Both ways of reading are welcome, and I want to foster classrooms where multiple ways of engaging with many texts are practiced. Finally, I highly recommend Jacqueline Woodson’s TED Talk on reading slowly to inspire thinking about how taking time on a page matters. The idea of slow reading is certainly not new to me, and Tom Newkirk has made this case well in academic research. Finding aspects of writing that we love to notice closely and appreciate repeatedly is part of the joy of reading—why not practice that, whenever possible, in the classroom?