Close Reading with MacGuyver

(*Due to the popularity of this post, I’m giving away a free text toolbox. Look here:

Now dawns the Age of Common Core. And with it comes an end to the practice of giving students “just right” texts. To be proficient, students will have to comprehend grade level material, with scaffolding “as needed” at the high end of the range. Hallelujah. I think.
Teaching students how to perform a “close read” of a complex text isn’t easy. Especially since so much  has been watered down for them. But that’s a pet peeve of mine that is fodder for another blog post.
I used to be in love with highlighters for use during a close read.  However, I got tired of saying, “Highlighting everything is the same as highlighting nothing!” So now I introduce the “Text Toolbox.”

This year, I introduced it by telling students about the 80s Renaissance man with the mullet: MacGuyver. I told them that Mac was a special agent with a knack for getting out of trouble by using whatever little odds and ends happened to be nearby. He could be tied up to a totem pole, and he’d find a way to light his belly button lint on fire to burn the ropes he was bound with. This is a good 2 minute clip of Mac at his best:

To MacGuyver, the world was his toolbox, and anything could be achieved with that toolbox. I told students that they need a toolbox also. They need something to help them when they read challenging text. After all, no one would ever expect them to play in a soccer game without cleats, shin-guards,  and a real soccer ball. They would have a huge disadvantage without the necessary equipment.
I encourage students to find their own version of the toolbox symbols, as long as they aren’t too complicated. Then I modeled for them how to annotate during a close read. By showing them the thinking going on in my mind (yes, thinking does occasionally go on there!), they were able to see how the annotations helped me interact with the text. And annotating is the best way to avoid what I call “hypnotic” reading. It’s when you think you’re reading, you look like you’re reading, but you aren’t. If you are annotating, you are actively involved in the text. Active involvement prevents hypnotic reading.
MacGuyver must be pretty old by now. Bomb diffusion skills are no longer required. But I bet he uses his own text toolbox when reading his Medicaid Plan B statement.