Hello Teachers of Emergent Bilinguals! I finally have the next section of my integrated ELA/ENL Unit Planner ready for you: let’s start planning for Close Reading!
Although NYC schools are finally open this week, teachers, administrators, students, and parents are still understandably confused, frustrated and anxious about the coming year. As principals have been left to rely on themselves for creating staffing and scheduling plans, more and more families have opted to go fully remote.
Whether you are teaching in-person or remotely this year, I want to support you with flexible planning for language and literacy acquisition for our emergent bilinguals. And that means providing you with as much training and resources as I can.
Last month I posted an Integrated ELA/ENL Unit Planner that can be used for both in-person and remote instruction. Using a 6th grade text I am Malala, Young Readers Edition, I showed you how I begin planning a unit that supports oral language for developing the necessary background knowledge and vocabulary for accessing complex text. Part of that planning process involves mapping out content, language, and literacy objectives; identifying major concepts students need to know; targeting vocabulary around those concepts; and planning pre-reading activities.
In the last 20 years, the standards and relentless testing schedule (now on hold) have all but eliminated enough time and practice for English Learners (and all students) to develop enough oral language. Instead, curricula have them jumping straight into analyzing literature and informational text – emphasizing identifying main ideas and details and citing evidence from the text – then writing multi-paragraph responses that teachers have to jump through hoops to get students to produce.
Moving along in our unit planner, let’s remind ourselves what exactly Close Reading is: Spending time on a passage in order to comprehend and analyze meaning.
Ideally, students then demonstrate their understanding and ability to analyze with a written response. To do this, Close Reading requires you to:
1. Choose a passage with sufficient linguistic and literary complexity.
Linguistic complexity means one or a combination of: more complex sentences (an independent clause together with one or more dependent clauses); and/or Tier II and III vocabulary. Teachers, brush up on your knowledge of sentence structure here!
Literary complexity means a passage that is a critical moment in the text in which the author presents an argument, a literary device, a major event or turning point for a character – in short, it’s a moment in the text that requires multiple readings to interpret different layers of meaning, in line with the objectives of the unit/lesson.
Contrast these two passages from Malala:
My mother and the women would gather on our veranda at the back of the house and cook and laugh and talk about new clothes, jewelry, and other ladies in the neighborhood, while my father and the men would sit in the men’s guest room and drink tea and talk politics. Chapter 1 p.16
Living under wraps seemed so unfair – and uncomfortable. From an early age, I told my parents that no matter what other girls did, I would never cover my face like that. My face was my identity. My mother, who is quite devout and traditional, was shocked. Our relatives thought I was very bold. (Some said rude.) But my father said I could do as I wished. “Malala will live as free as a bird,” he told everyone. Chapter 1 pp.17-18
Linguistic complexity: While both passages have complex sentences, Passage 2 has more, and they are varied. Perhaps more importantly, Passage 2 has more elevated vocabulary: unfair, uncomfortable, identity, devout, bold.
Literary complexity: While Passage 1 does describe cultural norms in Malala’s world, Passage 2 describes cultural norms and Malala’s and her parents’ position on them, as well as her father’s support for women’s equality.
In short, Passage 2 has much more to unpack, linguistically and analytically.
- Spend more time on fewer passages.
While Close Reading can be a challenge for any student, it’s especially hard for emergent bilinguals. They’re being asked to not only comprehend, but also analyze a text that’s above their level of current level of language proficiency. Simply put, emergent bilinguals need a lot more time to comprehend the who, what, where, when, why, how of a text before they can practice a specific skill.
But language acquisition is an amazing thing: the more complex linguistic input and models of fluent language you are exposed to, and the more chances you have to practice language, the faster you will acquire it.
So, go ahead and choose complex passages – but spend more time on fewer passages. The book does not have to be analyzed or even read in its entirety for students to benefit from Close Reading. If the student has acquired background knowledge and vocabulary around a book and has not only comprehended the gist but also been able to analyze, then you’ve done your job.
- Don’t simplify, clarify!
I know, easier said then done. However, we cannot dumb down curriculum for English Learners. They simply must be exposed to complex language to advance.
But you will find that the more time you devote to comprehension, the more analysis students will be able to achieve, because comprehension is analysis.
It’s important to remember that summarizing is in the top 3 skills under “Key Ideas and Details” in the standards:
6R2: Determine a theme or central idea of a text and how it is developed by key supporting details over the course of a text; summarize a text (RI&RL)
It’s extremely important for students to be able to summarize – it is not an easy skill, whether it be oral or written. To do so, you must syntactically process all the wh-questions: who, what, where, when, why, how? This is where English learners often get stuck: they haven’t comprehended the main idea and most important details before they are asked to analyze author word choice, or character motivation, or another more abstract analytic skill.
Watch me modeling a Close Read here.
So, let’s talk about planning your unit and your Close Reading:
At the very beginning of a unit, I probably want to spend 2-3 lessons on building background knowledge and vocabulary before I launch into the first Close Read.
As students begin their reading, I’m going to give myself the option of stretching out a Close Reading lesson over 2, maybe even 3 days. A lesson will cover expanding background knowledge and pre-teaching vocabulary for that particular excerpt of the text, then launch into the Close Read(s), and finally assess and extend learning through guided and independent practice. See my Malala Unit page for links to a model unit planner and sample lesson, modeling videos, and downloadable templates.
A longer lesson will be best for emergent bilinguals – it gives them less amount of text to analyze, and more time to do it. It also gives them more continuity with the other parts of the lesson. You could decide to the following:
Mondays: Background Knowledge and Vocabulary pre-teaching;
Tuesdays, Wednesdays: Close Reading & Writing
Thursdays/Fridays: Another lesson or continuation of the first lesson into a continuous one-week lesson that covers multiple passages but targets one specific skill.
If you have lower proficiency students, you can make Mondays and Tuesdays pre-reading days. Wednesday could be devoted to solely comprehension of the text using wh-questions and activities, while Thursday could move onto analysis.
Conversely, students who can read more and faster should. A lesson stretched over a couple of days can have more than one passage. For example, if the skill is analyzing author word choice, the students can tackle three different passages over three days practicing that same skill. You just have to examine the vocabulary carefully, so you target the most critical words from those three passages during the pre-teaching of the vocabulary on Monday.
Whatever you decide, remember successful Close Reading means laying the groundwork of background knowledge and vocabulary pre-reading, and giving students multiple exposures to the text.
For emergent bilinguals, less is more.
In my next post, I will cover demonstrating knowledge of the text through writing!
Post a message below to leave comments or ask me specific questions!
I wish you all the very best for the beginning of the school year. Stay healthy and safe!