“Soil is made of hummus,” my daughter read.
She was reading one of the leveled reading books that her teacher sends home with her weekly. This one had to do with farming.
“Let’s look at that again,” I said, “that word is HUMUS.” I underlined the word with my finger and asked her to say it with me. “Humus is dirt with decaying plant matter mixed in with it.” We said the word together and I extended the definition by asking her to remember last spring when we first planted our seeds for our vegetable garden. “The potting soil we used is humus,” I said.
We went back to the book. I asked her to read the sentence again.
“Soil is made of hummus,” she said, pausing slightly as she got to the word and sounded out each syllable in the word as she read. She looked at me and knew it wasn’t right.
We went down to the syllable level to analyze what she was doing. Note that I didn’t tell my first grade child that I was analyzing her every move, I was simply pulling from a toolbox of improvement opportunities at the authentic moment that one of the tools was needed.
I asked her to show me how she was breaking the word apart, a strategy her teachers had taught her and her classmates to help them figure out new words. Her strategy was rooted in prior knowledge. She showed me with her finger how she separated the word: HUM/ US/
She sees and says the known word “Hum” followed by the known word “Us.” It was apparent that just telling her the correct pronunciation was not going to do the trick. I had to ask her to re-apply the strategy. I asked her to break the word differently, after the “u,” like in human. Thus, her brain would see HU/ MUS/ instead.
She practiced a couple of times and then re-read the line.
“Soil is made of humus.” She punctuated the syllables in humus but got it right. We continued reading.
All of this happened over the course of just a few seconds. I didn’t belabor the actions nor did I repeat the correct pronunciation over and over. I recognized what she was doing and I tweaked her strategy. I didn’t focus on key ideas and details for the sake of making meaning across the entire text. I focused on making meaning of just one word in order to knock down a roadblock so that she could continue to access the rest of the text. When we were done reading, we went back to the page and re-read the sentence again, correctly and without hesitation.
I consider this a mini close reading moment, but at the word level rather than the sentence or paragraph level. The evidence for thinking what she’s thinking lies in the knowledge she gains from using known strategies and growing those strategies when she encounters new words. I asked her questions about her text and she answered them, leading her to comprehend with greater accuracy. She is becoming an independent reader and a roadblock problem solver so that there is continued improvement over time.
While this might not be a perfect match to the Close Reading standards around Key Ideas and Details, I do think it represents a quick analysis appropriate for the grade level. Even at the word level, I’m asking questions about both the text and the strategy.
The key here is that she’s reading and we are navigating both skills and processes while she’s reading. Sometimes the reading is more guiding in nature and represents an improvement zone. Sometimes it’s her reading to me so that I can hear what she’s doing. Sometimes I still read to her when she lets me, not so much anymore because I want her to hear me being a fluent reader but because I still can. I hope that lasts for a little while longer.
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