Interview: Close Reading Packs

An Interview with Paula Barr

Paula Barr, the iNACOL Blended and Online Learning Teacher of Year in 2015, loves using Raz-Plus Close Reading Packs in her classroom to teach comprehension and collaboration skills. In this interview, she explains her blended learning philosophy, the steps to using Close Reading Packs, and what her students enjoy most about them.

We are a blended learning classroom. That means that my students have access to technology. And I want them to have personal access, and to be interactive with the content. With the then and now, the content that I wanted them to be able to read and also watch some video clips about transportation, communication and everyday items looked like a hundred years ago, and then what they look like now, and how they've changed.

Step one was to make sure I understood my standards clearly on this topic. The second step was to go right to Raz-Plus. And I searched, literally, then and now to see what eBooks or articles are going to be available for me. Using the Close Read set, it's like Raz-Plus read my mind because that group of Close Read articles was exactly the point that matched my standard. And it was the point I was trying to teach. It's really important, too, to remember that when you're teaching in a guided-reading group, it's the short text that has the greatest impact on the student.

I put the students in collaborative groups, and then each group got an article and they were told they were to go through the article. They could annotate, and they were going to write their thinking as they read it the first time.

Even though the articles are divided into a low, a medium and a high with an anchor article, because it's nonfiction and it's two pages, it's still a lot of reading for some. And it still requires them to pay close attention and work together to figure some of the words out and some of the things out. But what something I noticed is, that as they had their little heads together over those articles and they're figuring words out, they really do work together. And there's a camaraderie there as they collaborate together with those articles. And it's like they -- because they've put the work in together and put their heads together, it's like they own that information. And then they have to write how things have changed in the last hundred years, but really focus on the how and the why.

What is it that was happening that made the change occur? So that was pretty big stuff for our seven and an eight-year-old to do. Raz-Plus has so quickly become my number one resource over district-purchased resources right now.

I am most assured that they certainly understood the standard, which was, of course, my number one goal, was that they would leave this unit understanding.

The other thing that happened was, they had the opportunity to write their thinking with the graphic organizers. I want that to be second-nature. Automaticity. Don’t even have to think about it. Just get out a whiteboard, marker, and start making bubbles on a table, and write down your thinking and organize those thoughts to help you with your plan of your research.

Tim said that he liked the facts that were in the article. And Noah said that in this article, the fact that there were actual pictures and not drawings really made it come to life for him. Oh, Gavin said, "I like that I could read the articles in paper and online." That was kind of important, that they're seeing already that the fact that they're short texts that provide photos, you know, they have good text features in them for nonfiction -- all of those they're seeing as well. They like that they can go home and they could talk about those articles with their parents. And they thought that was really cool, too. So it's nice that they have that ability to do that.

Whoever put together the concept of the Close Read articles is a genius, and really understands kids and what teachers need in the classroom. But also, when we talk about having kids be able to access information at multiple levels, that allows me to personalize for my students. It's a lot of fun, I'll tell you.

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