Amy Stewart is the author of the new book, Little Readers, Big Thinkers: Teaching Close Reading in the Primary Grades. We sat down with Amy, recently, for a discussion about her experience as a teacher and what inspired her to write a book about close reading instruction in the primary grades. If you’re a primary grade teacher or administrator, you might want to read how her book can help teachers show students that reading can be fun and meaningful!
Q: Tell us about yourself, Amy.
A: I am currently a literacy coach in Bensenville, which is a suburb right near O'Hare in Chicago. This is my fourth year working as a literacy coach for grades K–2. Prior to that, I taught kindergarten in the same district for five years. I've also been a third-grade teacher in a small town in Indiana. I am currently finishing my doctorate at Judson University in Elgin, Illinois.
Q: When did you first start thinking about the topic for your new book, Little Readers, Big Thinkers?
A: During my first years as a kindergarten teacher, we started to work through the shifts of the CCSS regarding close reading. My colleagues and I knew that close reading was important, but we were not quite sure how to go about it with our little learners. I started with, “How can we make these seemingly hard kinds of reading activities meaningful for kids in kindergarten, first grade, and second grade?" It stemmed from what our expectations were as teachers and what I know my kids were capable of doing and what experiences would be most meaningful for them.
Q: Why is close reading important to teach in the early grades?
A: It is important to implement these practices in the early years of school so that students are exposed to texts that invite discussion, encourage deep thinking, and spark curiosity. We can't wait until students are in fourth grade, fifth grade to teach them how to think about a text in ways that are applicable to the real world in authentic ways that means something to them. We can start as early as kindergarten, when kids are not yet conventionally reading, but they can do the thinking that goes along with reading. Start getting kids thinking bigger, thinking critically about texts before they move on into the later years of school.
Q: How can close reading transfer into other parts of a student’s learning?
A: Close reading can be used to invite wonder and curiosity in that inquiry learning that is so important for kids to be able to do. They can use close reading as a launching point into something else that they might want to explore on their own or that they're interested in. In the book, there are a couple of different points where I talk about experiences that I've had doing close reading and then the kids’ thinking takes over. It’s built-in time where they get to choose what they want to learn about.
Q: Who would benefit most from this book?
A: This book is for K–2 classroom teachers, even third grade. It is for anyone who either works with early emergent readers, who are just dipping a toe into close reading, or anyone who has done a lot with close reading and are looking for some new ideas. I also think administrators who are looking to be—or already are—instructional leaders in literacy could benefit from reading it and bringing these ideas to their staff to think about close reading in a new light.
Q: How do your students respond to this instruction?
A: The kids love anytime they get to annotate, so we do it in a couple of different ways: When we do it as a whole group, they are so excited to use the highlighter, or the smart board, or whatever tool we're using that day to look for things in the text that we're examining. They love that part. They love it even more when they can do it on their own, during independent reading. I'll give them a wiki stick or highlighter tape, and they make it their own. And then, they come up and say, "Look Mrs. Stewart! Look what I annotated today!" And to hear a kindergartner say the word annotate—and know what it means—it’s a powerful thing. It’s really fun to see how they take something so abstract, and they run with it. I think that's the most exciting part. My students also enjoy being word detectives and learning new vocabulary words. They are especially proud of their word journals, where they keep track of the words we learn throughout the year. There is so much good thinking and learning that can come from close reading experiences.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share about Little Readers, Big Thinkers?
A: Everything that's in there are things that I've done and things that I've tried and things that I've worked with teachers on. I really tried to appeal to the busy life of a teacher. I think that teachers have one of the hardest jobs in the world. I wanted it to be an easy read that they could take a practice here and there and try in their classrooms. I just hope that my voice, as a teacher, and my experience can help someone else.
To preview and buy Amy’s book, go HERE.