Tagged Close Reading

How “Gritty” are You? Student Growth and Possible Correlation to Grit

Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Angela Lee Duckworth’s TedTalk, The Key to Success?  Grit

After reading the extremely informative article “True Grit: The Best Indicator of Student Success” on the Edutopia website, I became interested in the study of grit and its correlation to student growth.  There are many helpful resources in the post including diagnostic tools for measuring grit (using the grit scale) and growth versus fixed mindset (using an online quiz).

Growth versus fixed mindset, or one’s belief that growth of talent and intelligence is either fixed or capable of growing, can be a contributing factor to students’ desire to persevere despite obstacles.   According to the research of Carol Dweck, this intrinsic factor (and the external forces, such as feedback, that may affect it) could contribute to the achievement and growth of students.

Here are additional articles and resources related to grit, growth mindset, and types of feedback that encourage achievement:

  • “What if the Key to Success is Failure?”–  From The New York Times, this article summarizes the role that grit plays in students’ success.  In the article, Angela Duckworth, a psychologist, summarizes, “The problem, I think, is not only the schools but also the students themselves…  Here’s why: learning is hard. True, learning is fun, exhilarating and gratifying — but it is also often daunting, exhausting and sometimes discouraging. . . . To help chronically low-performing but intelligent students, educators and parents must first recognize that character is at least as important as intellect.”
  • “The Talent Myth”– From The New Yorker, the article summarizes the “myths” that incapacitate businesses when it comes to recruiting the “right” people for jobs based upon talent alone.  
  • “How Not to Talk to your Kids: The Inverse Power of Praise”– From New York, this article explains that feedback which emphasizes “intelligence” and “talent” (for example, “you are such a good writer” or “you are so smart”) can actually hinder students desire and ability to accomplish difficult tasks.  
  • “Why do Some People Learn Faster”– From Wired, this article summarizes the research on growth mindset conducted by Carol Dweck and others.  It states that learning from mistakes is a prime component of one’s ability to grow, stating, “Education is the wisdom wrung from failure.”  Note: This source is written by Jonah Lehrer, who is a journalist of disrepute.  However, the research in the article can be cross-referenced in other sources and is useful.
  • Mindset Works– Based on the research of Carol Dweck, this website provides resources for teachers interested in implementing growth mindset education and practices in the classroom.  You have to register for an account, but from the website, articles, resources and a TedTalk about growth mindset can be accessed.

My goals in working with teachers are the following:

  • Explore the correlation between grit, growth mindset and SGP as measured by STAR
  • Educate students on grit and growth mindset and provide opportunities for personal reflection
  • Provide resources for teachers interested in implementing best practices regarding grit and growth mindset, ultimately improving student growth and achievement

To meet these goals, I would like to implement the following process:

  1. Use diagnostic tools (the grit scale and online growth mindset quiz mentioned above) to measure students’ current level of mindset and grit
  2. Educate students on these measures using both close reading of non-fiction texts (Reading Informational Texts CCS) and evaluating of speeches (Speaking and Listening CCS)
  3. Provide opportunities for students to reflect on the new information through writing and discussion
  4. Continue to work with teachers on implementing best practices for increasing student grit and growth

I have begun working with Tim Starkey using this process, and I will be posting the resources and follow-up information from our work together soon.  My hope is to expand the scope of my collaboration and work with all willing teachers in the two high schools.

Close Reading and “Gist” Statements: What’s Important Here?

Giving the “gist” of complicated matters is not always easy.

I worked with Jillian Walters this week to do a close reading on an article about Treacher Collins Syndrome to provide a context for students to better understand the character of Auggie in the book Wonder which students are reading for their English classes.  The article dealt with scientific information about the disease including its symptoms, causes and treatments, and the first stage of the reading consisted of the “gist” statement.

To begin, we had students highlight the “important things” in the text before working in pairs to write a statement together.

One of the things we noted as students were working was the variety of highlighting methods.  While some students highlighted almost everything, others only had a few things underlined.  Then, as they worked in pairs, we also noticed there was some variety in the information included in the one sentence statements.  Here are examples they created:


This lead to a conversation with students about how to choose what is important from the text.  Walters asked students to share how they decided what to highlight and made this list on the board.


We also discussed text features that might have led students to recognize important elements (such as titles and bulleted lists).

Students then came and wrote their “gist” sentences on the board.  The end goal in doing this was to look at the commonalities and differences.  In the other classes, we used these to build a common “gist statement” together based on evidence in some of the text features.

This entire process and the reading took about thirty minutes.  We had yet to even begin the vocabulary and question readings.

This brings me to a point about close reading: it takes time.  However, the long-term benefits in thinking are worth it.  Students learn comprehension skills, determine how to make meaning from complicated texts, examine vocabulary in context and answer worthwhile questions.

Here are the resources used in the lesson:

Close Reading: Additional Resources and Text-dependent Questions

Over the next two weeks, I will be presenting in a PD for both of the high school English departments on close reading.

One of the things I have grown to appreciate about the process is how it leads students to create meaning from the text for themselves without the interpretation being managed by the facilitator of the classroom, thus creating a student-centered experience with the text that supports critical thinking.

One of the major premises of the close reading strategy is that teachers do not front load the text any more than absolutely necessary.  Another is that any information that is given should not be able to be found in the text itself.  This increases the amount of time students spend engaging in the text while in the classroom.  It also allows them the opportunity to “struggle” with the text to discover meaning.  A third premise is that the majority of questions asked of students should require a close analysis of the text itself; furthermore, the questions should eventually push students beyond the text to search for what is implicit.

In preparation for the PD, I have been doing some additional research and have found some worthwhile resources.  One I like is a blog by Timothy Shanahan, a professor at the University of Illinois who specializes in reading.  He provides a thoughtful context for thinking about different types of “text-dependent” questions to meet separate purposes each reading.

He states, “…close reading is an intensive analysis of a text in order to come to terms with what it says, how it says it, and what it means.”

Here is a summary of the process he describes for building questions and exploring the text on different levels:

  1. Reading one: figure out what the “text says;” this is purely comprehension based
  2. Reading two: figuring out how “the text works;” this focuses on what the author was doing to accomplish his or her goals
  3. Reading three: figure out what the text “means;” this focuses on “going deeper” and asking questions about: the value of the author’s perspective, the skill or artfulness with which they delivered the information, and the connections students can build between this new text and others things they have read in the past

Here is a link to a blog post he wrote that provides a summation of the close reading strategy.  This second link is to a Power Point about close reading by the same source.

Harvard’s explanation of the close reading strategy is a little different, but equally as interesting.  It is also very student-directed and seems like a clear way to explain what a student should do when planning an analysis for longer, as well as shorter, pieces.

1.  Reading one: Read the text “with a pencil in hand” and annotate.

2.  Reading two: Look for patterns in the annotations from the first reading, specifically “repetitions, contradictions, similarities” in the text.

3.  Question the patterns noted, specifically, ask why and how.

4.  Reading three: Look back at the text and try to answer the questions generated in step three.

Here is a Close Reading Overview with an explanation of “reading shifts” and additional resources for these shifts.

Close Reading in Practice

This is from the cover of the resource suggested to me by Ben Baptiste.

This is from the cover of the resource suggested to me by Ben Baptiste.

Ben Baptiste practiced close reading with his students this week and invited me into his classroom.  It was a good experience for us both to become more familiar with the process, and I am looking forward to trying it again next week with Jillian Walters.

A couple of things he and I determined through the experience were that it seemed important for the reading to be fairly short given the number of readings and that peer sharing lead to better responses.

Here is a general outline for the close reading strategy with some variations he and I discussed and/or tried in the classroom:

1.    First reading aloud together while underlining sentences deemed important by students

2.  Pair students to collaborate on a single, one-sentence “gist” statement before sharing answers aloud as a class

3.  Second reading silently while students circle unknown words and write down what they guess the word might mean based on the context

4.  All students write the words they did not know on the white board; if a student sees the words they had are already written, they put a check mark next to them

5.  High frequency words are discussed as a class, and students share guesses as to what each might mean while the teacher prompts them for context clues along the way (Ex: what in the sentence made you think the meaning was…?)

6.  Third Reading students answer text-dependent questions in pairs or individually and share out answers.  This could also be split into an additional fourth reading following the same process as the third.  If split up this way, maybe the first set of questions would be lower-level comprehension questions and the second set might be higher level analytical or inference questions. 

Inference and other types of higher level thinking questions were a strength of Ben’s.  In particular, he asked a great question about the effect of the author’s use of the “dash” in the article which sparked an interesting conversation about punctuation for effect in writing between the two of us.

He also mentioned a resource while I was visiting that prompted the text-dependent question and seemed very well aligned with our current literacy/close reading push.  It is called The Art of Slow Reading, and he assigns it to his AP students.  I also found a Washington Post article by the author called “Reading is not a Race: The Virtues of the Slow Reading Movement.”

Here is the handout Ben used for his close reading: Close Reading activity – Facebook Friends article (Henig)

Extended Looking: Using Images to Build Theme Statements

I worked with Kristina Claytor and Allie Sberna this week using a strategy learned/modified from the Pages program at the Wexner Center.  This learning activity is one I have utilized many times, and it was a pleasure to work with two patient, flexible and talented teachers trying it out with a new group of students who are learning to “look deeper” and explore thematic connections.

The “product” of the strategy is the creation of a single sentence theme statement that is supported by multiple pieces of evidence from an image students have studied.  Here is the image from which students gathered information.

Garden of Selves

This image is from Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison. Here is a link to the original image online.

Here are the learning targets provided to students:

  • I can look carefully and  critically.
  • I can contribute meaningful ideas to a collaborative conversation.
  • I can write a theme statement that reflects a deep understanding of a theme.

I usually introduce themes to students as topics (or “big ideas” if you prefer) plus an opinion about that topic.  Here are some of the “big ideas” or topics students were able to come up with using this strategy:


We explained a theme is one of these big ideas/topics above, plus what they think an author/artist is saying about this topic (his/her opinion).

Example: Topic (Creativity) + Opinion (can require seeing/doing what others may not yet understand).

So a theme statement might be: Creativity can require seeing and doing what others may not yet understand.

Students might support this theme statement with evidence from the text by saying that, “The man represents creativity because he is the only one ‘seeing’ what is in the distance, so he is the only one willing to escape the box.  The others remain curled in the containers because they don’t believe in or have knowledge of this new understanding.”

This is a very difficult concept for students; it takes practice.  They may have to look back at and revise the theme statements after the teacher collects them and gives feedback.  However, this is also an essential skill for literary response.

The following is a handout I have given to teachers to explain the activity step by step.  I have also attached the instructions as a downloadable document at the bottom of the post.

Extended Looking Activity: Learning Goals  

This lesson is a scaffolding tool to help students understand theme in literary works.  The learning goal is to have students be able to write a “thesis statement” for what they think the piece means; they must base it on evidence they have gathered from the piece itself.


Extended Looking Instructions

  1. Look and observe the art – you can move around, get closer etc. Write down observations and questions about it (5 min.)
  2. Discuss the visual image.  What is happening in the photo?  Here you are noting details and making observations, no talk of meaning yet (5 min)
  3. Make connections to and ask questions about the art in writing. What are your thoughts about the piece, what does it make you think of, does it remind you of anything etc.  (5 min.)
  4. Discuss the connections students found in the piece and continue to have students use the evidence they have gathered to support their perspective ( 5 min.)
  5. Introduce and model a theme statement for students.  Have students write a “theme statement” for what they think the piece of art means and support it with evidence from the art itself (10 min.)
  6. Tell them the name and a little about the artist. (I do this the next day and build suspense!)  Does this change your perspective on the piece?  Are you glad you know?  (They usually are not.)


  • Before step five, have students write short form poetry about the art or a piece of narrative
  • Talk about the process of how the art was created and use it to model students own work in writing after the activity

Connections to help students make:

  • Literature and art are very similar and we can talk about them the same way and go through the same process of analysis with them
  • An artist or writer has an intent, but viewer/reader also bring their own experience to the table to create “meaning”
  • This activity shows how argument is developed because students needed to use support for their ideas

This activity was modified from the 2011-2012 PAGES summer workshop for teacher-partners at the Wexner Center, and photography used to conduct the activity was created by Robert and Shana ParkHarrison from The Architect’s Brother collection.

Here is the printable resource Extended Viewing Activity 2

“Zoom In” Strategy Part I: Observations and Building a Hypothesis

I worked with Laura Laborde in her classroom using a strategy with the following learning targets:

  • I can observe closely and critically.
  • I can form a flexible hypothesis.
  • I can ask meaningful questions.

These targets are similar to, and could be used as scaffolding for, close reading.  In addition, the activity addresses speaking and listening skills.  Laura and I worked with images instead of text, but I think this same technique is transferable to text.  We also started with the 3-2-1 strategy, and students used the word “looking” to explore thinking about that concept.

There are still a few bugs to work out with this strategy (we only tried it twice), so if other teachers try it, I would love to hear variations!

We used a piece of art from The Great Depression because Laura is introducing Of Mice and Men right now to students, and the image reinforces how individuals were disempowered (like Lenny, Crooks, Curley’s wife and others) during The Great Depression.

The strategy is as follows:

1.  Show a piece of an image. 

Crop One jpeg
2.  Ask students to write down what they observe
3.  Discuss what students wrote down
4.  Have students write a hypothesis/interpretation for what the image might be and ask a question about the image, specifically, something they “wonder” about
5.  Share and discuss
6.  Show a second piece of the image 

Crop 2 jpeg
7.  Repeat step two and three (observation-share)
8.  Ask them to revisit the original hypothesis and revise it evaluating how thinking has changed and come up with another thing they are “wondering” now
9.  Share and discuss
10.  Show a third piece of the image and repeat the process, but this time, maybe ask students to deepen the thinking about the hypothesis focusing on not just what the image is, but also on what it means.  You can begin to talk about themes in this way

Crop 3 jpeg
11.  Cont. showing parts of the image and repeated the process until it is totally revealed to students
Have a final reflective conversation about how students thinking changed and why it was important to form a hypothesis but also be flexible throughout the process

Crop 4 jpeg

This is ALMOST the full image. Click on the link to the complete Power Point to see the whole thing.

12.  After this process, students were brought back to the 3-2-1 strategy as part of the reflection.  I am going to talk more about this in the second post about the “Zoom In” strategy which Laura implemented on her own.

Here is a Power Point with the images used for this activity:  Zoom In, Great Depression Activity

This activity was modified from Making Thinking Visible.