Double Take


We’ve all done it. We are walking down the street and we think we see something and then we snap back to attention to get a better look. Sometimes it’s hilarious. Like a vegetable that reminds us of something else…




Other times it’s disbelief. Is he really wearing what I think he’s wearing? Sometimes it’s just plain surprising. We are compelled to look back and look longer so that our brain can make sense of what we are seeing.

This is what we do when we reread something closely. We read it the first time and then we go back again and again for deeper reads. We do it for many of the same reasons we double take. It’s funny, incredulous, unusual, brilliant, poignant or moving.

So there are a couple of things we need to think about when we take this into the realm of instruction. What are we reading closely? Not every text we read is a contender for close reading. Think Garth and Wayne’s refrain “We’re not worthy!” True dat. I see some colleagues in their quest to fulfill new standards choosing a text–any text–to have the students read multiple times. We must stop to ask ourselves if it’s worthy.

Here are a few literary and informational texts I’ve found worthy because of students’ responses:

Frog and Toad’s “Cookies” story by Arnold Lobel. First and second graders reread this text to gain a better understanding of will power and to make a claim regarding who had stronger will power, Frog or Toad.

Fox by Margaret Wild and Ron Brooks. Fourth graders reread this text to track one of the character’s words and actions over time in the story. We also had a great debate about tone. Was it hopeful or soul-crushing? Students rushed to the text to support their perspective.

Gandhi: A March to the Sea by Alice B. McGinty. Fourth and fifth graders reread this text to figure out what salt represented in the 1930s in India. They supported their answers like “freedom” and “survival” and “power” with evidence from the text.

We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March by Cynthia Levinson. Seventh graders reread this text to study a nonviolent approach to conflict. They were hooked from the opening third grader’s quote, “I want to go to jail.” Who would ever want to go to jail? It took several looks back to begin to understand this complex idea.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma (Young Readers Edition): The Secrets Behind What You Eat by Michael Pollan. I’ve used this with fifth graders up through adults to look at the role our food choices play in our lives. This is an well-written, book-length, argumentative essay. We have to reread to unpack Pollan’s meaning.

The other thing we should consider is how we are reading closely. Recently after I finished a close reading demonstration lesson during professional development, a teacher’s first reaction was, “OK, so we just have kids read something three times. I can have them do that.” No, no, no, no, no. “Purpose,” I said to him. “What was the purpose in each of those readings?” After experiencing it as learners, we reflected back as teachers. It’s not about the number of times or giving kids different prompts or questions to frame up each read. It’s about taking steps as readers to make the meaning more clear the deeper we go.

I loved this quote from Reading Today’s “What’s Hot” issue (September/October 2014) and it has me thinking about how I can increase respect for close reading in my practice:

If the current focus (some of us would call it a mania for) close reading leads to a greater respect for the role text can play as an evidentiary base to support literal, inferential and critical comprehension tasks, then I am all for it. If, on the other hand, close reading gets operationalized as low-level, literal, factual comprehension, it will set back comprehension instruction at least a decade, maybe more.–P. David Pearson

What is worthy of rereading? How do you bring greater respect to comprehension?

2 thoughts on “Double Take

  1. Heather, I’m so glad you posted this as I’ve been doing quite a bit of close reading demo lessons in my school these first couple weeks of the year. I’ve been trying to notice in my own reading when I feel like I want to go back and read more carefully for “evidence”. It happens sometimes when I think I can feel what a character is feeling. Or sometimes when I think I “got” something (made an inference) – like a lightbulb goes off in my head. Or sometimes just when I find the piece aesthetically pleasing and I want to figure out why. I’ve been sharing these reasons with kids (and teachers), and I hope they’ll discover some of their own, too.

  2. Dana, I like the way you worded “aesthetically pleasing and I want to figure out why.” I will borrow that when I work with kids and teachers too.

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