Frequently Asked Questions

HILL Online

When do I get a course completion certificate / How do I earn PDPs for my online training?

Once you have completed all the units, taken all the quizzes, and submitted all course work, we will be notified. You will then be issued an official completion certificate with PDP credit hours noted. Please allow 1-2 business days for this to be sent to you.

These are the PDPs you will earn for completion of our current online trainings:

  • Close Reading for the Common Core: 10 PDPs
  • Self-Regulated Strategy Development: 12 PDPs
Are any of the HILL’s online courses available for graduate credit?

At present, only the graduate level intensive Close Reading course we offer through our partner, Commonwealth Learning Online Institute is available for graduate credit. They partner with multiple institutions so pricing and dates for the online training may vary. Please see their website for details: http://www.commlearnonline.com/facilitated-online-courses/close-reading/

How long will I have access to the course and materials?

If you have purchased an online training, you will have access to our course materials via this website for at minimum as long as we offer the course. Generally speaking, we highly recommend that you download all materials at the beginning of the courses where the course packets are located for easy reference.

How do I order an online course for a group of teachers?

In order to track and confirm individual progress for the awarding of PDPs, the course must be tied to a user account for each teacher. The teachers can individually signup and purchase the course on our website, or you may contact us directly to make arrangements if you need to use a purchase order. Please be aware that when you purchase a self-paced online training, you are paying for access and the responsibility for taking and completing the course is on the user. Hence, we normally require payment before access to the course can be granted. For more details or to discuss your individual case, please do get in touch!

If I do not pass a quiz, can I retake it?

If you feel you need to retake a quiz, please contact us to let us know as soon as possible. We can roll back your course progress to just before the quiz so you can take it again. However, it is not a thing to do lightly. If you have progressed past that section and completed other units and quizzes this will also remove that activity from your account and you will have to take them again.

Are the online courses available at certain times or are they self-paced?

Our online courses are completely self-paced. If 2AM is the best time for you to learn, then you are free to take it then!

The one exception is the graduate level intensive Close Reading course we offer through our partner, Commonwealth Learning Online Institute. They partner with institutions so there are more restrictions. Please see their website for details: http://www.commlearnonline.com/facilitated-online-courses/close-reading/

How do I access the online trainings I’ve purchased?

When you purchase an online training, you should receive an email confirmation. In this confirmation there will be a link to the My Courses section of the website that you now have access to as a student.

To access your courses, either click that link (http://hillforliteracy.org/my-courses/) or login to the HILL website which should automatically take you to your course dashboard. You can return to the dashboard at anytime by clicking on the My Courses link on the blue bar at the very top of the page.

Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD) Online Course

What assessment should I use to benchmark the students before I take the course?

You will be taught a pre-assessment as part of the course, so you don’t need to assess your students prior to taking the course. The pre-assessment you use will depend on the genre you choose to teach.

Does the course get simpler in the final stages?

Yes it does! We know some of you have struggled to get through the early stages. It’s a lot of material, but we want you to know that after Stage 3, the going gets easier and as you work through the stages, it begins to come together more. Implementation is an important part of the process that will help solidify your understanding of the material. So, keep going and hopefully you’ll get results as quickly as those who’ve already reached the end of the course! If you do find you have specific questions or points of confusion, please do not hesitate to contact us directly at info@hillforliteracy.org.

Are we expected to implement these strategies while we take the course or after we’ve completed it?

No, complete the course first, then keep the online course and materials handy to help guide you in implementation. The plan is take the course, build your lesson plans as you go, practice, and be ready to implement after completion. Your lesson plans and the online materials will guide your implementation with students.

How long will it take me to go through the entire course?

Approximately 10-12 hours.

Do we need to download every document in each Stage as we take the lessons?

Some downloads are needed for activities as you take the course and will be indicated as such. The others can be downloaded at any time. Please note that all downloads are available at the end of each stage and will remain online for you to access after the course is complete. This gives you the option of downloading while you go, or later when preparing for course delivery.

Close Reading Online Course

What is the best format for teaching Close Reading: whole class or small group?

We would want to think about Close Reading instruction with regard to other types of instruction we provide in our classroom: general, on-level instruction for all students (Tier 1) and then differentiated and/or individuated support or supplementation (Tiers 2/3). Provide whole class instruction introducing and modeling the concepts, routines and processes that all students need to know. Then follow up in small group to extend and support the learning. One key point to remember is not to simplify the questions for students who are having difficulty. Since questions serve as key scaffolds to understanding and processing the text, these must remain. However, it is perfectly acceptable to simplify the language of the question. See Module 6: The Role of Talk, and Module 7: Scaffolds and Supports for methods to support, differentiate and extend student learning within a whole class lesson, or a small group lesson.

What do scaffolds look like in different grades? Are there examples?

Multiple examples of scaffolds at different grade levels are addressed in our Close Reading Online Course in Module 6: The Role of Talk, and Module 7: Scaffolds and Supports.

If students get off track, what kind of questioning will refocus them?

The best method we have found for managing this with students is to ask students to clarify their responses with questions such as:

  • What makes you say that?
  • What evidence can you use to support that?
  • How do you know?
  • Where did you find that in the text?

This type of open-ended questioning accomplishes two goals. First, it helps students to redirect their attention to the text and realize that the text is central to their response. Second, it helps the teacher to understand where the student(s) is/are getting tripped up. Once the teacher is able to determine the student’s misstep, it is easier for the teacher to draw the student back to the question, help them focus on what the question is asking, help the student to focus in on important words in the text, etc.

With very limited time and a tight schedule, how can I take the extra time needed to teach close reading in all subject areas?

Time is always limited and fitting everything in is a challenge! We recommend that you “start small.” Do not try to teach Close Reading in all subjects, with all texts, all at once! Start with one routine, and a small section of text. Remember to keep the general focus in mind as you go back to the Standards Ladder graphic in Module 2, Unit 1: ELA Standards Ladder. To check yourself easily on this, ask yourself the following question: Am I having my students make an inference from sufficiently complex text, and using evidence to support their inference? If so, the lesson can be as short as you need. Keep using these short lessons to build students’ stamina and enabling them to develop facility in doing a part or parts of the routine independently.

Are there examples of Close Reading practices used inside a classroom with real-life students?

Yes, there are multiple examples of the facilitator engaging students in close reading lessons and experiences. These examples include Kindergarten, First Grade, and Third Grade students. There are whole class and small group examples in both urban and suburban settings. One lesson is in a class of English Language Learners. The lesson examples are meant to be practical examples of how strategies discussed look with real life students. The hope is that these examples will be generalizable or at least serve as the opportunity to watch a teacher employ such strategies. One interesting feature of the strategies is that the facilitator critiques her instruction at various points throughout the lessons, so she not only models the lessons, but models a self-assessment as a reflective practitioner. The viewer should note that she models such lessons as a “guest teacher,” meaning she does not work with the students pictured on a regular and distributed basis.

You will mostly find these videos in the second half of our Close Reading Online Course. Each example is titled with Modeling as the first word of the label.

Should students who lack certain reading strategies (ex: summarizing, making connections etc.) become more proficient in these basic strategies before working on close reading?

In our opinion, not necessarily. The difficulty of any comprehension task relies on many factors, including, but not limited to, the level of text complexity: qualitative factors, quantitative factors, the readers before you, and the task that you wish to have them complete.

While there is strong research behind explicitly teaching reading strategies, the strategies are best used in conjunction with one another, such as in Palinscar and Brown’s Reciprocal Teaching (1984) practice that combines questioning, predicting, summarizing, and clarifying all within one text at one time. One can read more about it here. While Close Reading practices do not explicitly point to strategy instruction, strategy instruction can form a strong base from which readers can work. However, we recommend against withholding Close Reading practices from students who have not mastered basic strategies. Almost all children can make inferences from text with the proper level of support and scaffolding, and, as shared in Module 4, this is the primary strategy that is used when approaching a text with a Close Reading activity.

What is the length of text used for Close Reading?

There is a short answer and a long answer to this question (no pun intended!)

The short answer is that the best way to do a close read is to choose a shorter, dense portion of text. This may be a poem, a section of an informational article, a paragraph of a speech, or a page or two of a novel. Using lengthy pieces of text is discouraged because the main goal of a Close Reading practice is to have students focus on the words in the text, for a specific purpose. This will be difficult for students to do if they have to “search and find” the right text to focus on. Maintaining the focus of close reading activities is only possible when students are not given the additional task of having to search through a lengthy text to find the word, phrase, sentence or paragraph of focus.

The long answer is: it depends upon many factors. As you know, the development of lesson materials and plans is a recursive process that is informed by many elements including your curriculum, your school’s expectations around curricular implementation, the needs, abilities, and interests of your students, and your skill and comfort levels with Close Reading as well as the intrinsic value you see in the practices. You may need to answer the questions below for yourself as you plan:

Are the texts required by my curriculum sufficiently complex?

One way to gauge this would be to compare such texts to Appendix B of the Common Core State Standards: Text Exemplars and Sample Performance Tasks. You may find this resource at the following link:  http://www.corestandards.org/assets/Appendix_B.pdf. Here you will find texts organized by type within grade level complexity bands.

If we want to attempt to determine whether our texts are sufficiently complex, we would need to understand that the determination of text complexity includes three factors:

  1. Quantitative measures of text complexity (Lexile)
  2. Qualitative dimensions of text complexity (meaning, structure, language usage, and knowledge demands)
  3. Reader and task considerations (student knowledge, motivation and interests)

The first element, Lexile, is easiest to establish as it is a measure of word frequency and sentence length. You may enter the name of the text (or the text itself) here to find the lexile level of the texts in question. This will give you a numeric value that you can compare to the established “stretch lexile bands” in order to determine whether the text are sufficiently complex for your grade level complexity band. You may read about grade level text complexity bands here.

A second element to gauge would be the qualitative aspects of the text in question. You may do this analysis yourself, but understand that this is a subjective evaluation best done in collaboration with other professionals. Included here and here are two resources for determining the complexity of the qualitative aspects of the texts. Use one for informational text analysis and the other for literary text analysis.

The third and final factor to define text complexity is hardest to measure, as it will really depend upon the students before you, and their background knowledge, motivations and interests. There is not an easy formula for this, unfortunately, but it is the most creative aspect of the decision around how complex the text is.

How much time will I plan to spend with the text in question?

The answer to this question may be informed by the text type, or the length of the text. The most important premise here would be to evaluate the qualitative features of the text in order to establish:

  1. Are there any key themes or main ideas you would want the student to understand? Follow this up with establishing which short chunks of text may be used by students to examine these themes/ideas.
  2. Are there any specific vocabulary words that we would like students to examine through these texts? These may be words/terms that are best taught through having students use them within the context of the passage. Follow this up by establishing which chunks of text may be used for working with and applying these vocabulary words.
  3. Are there any syntactical or structural elements to the piece that you would want students to focus on? These may relate to the way punctuation and phrasing are used to support key themes or how the textual/pictorial layout support core ideas. Follow this up, again, by establishing which sections or parts of the text will be used.

Once you have established your areas of focus, you can decide how much time you want to use to cover these, of if there are non-essential areas that you will eliminate. Whatever you decide, you will have a clearer picture of the amount of text you will be using for Close Reading.

Making these decisions does not rule out the feasibility of using the complete text for purposes other than Close Reading, as there is much value for our students in reading a text to completion. This helps students to build endurance, experience the flow from one section to the next, and ultimately, to become literate individuals who can decide for themselves what to focus on.

How do you handle close reading with students who decode but have a difficult time with comprehension?

Begin by experimenting with having the student(s) make “text”-based inferences. Reference Module 4, Unit 2: Inferences and Assumptions as a starting point. You may begin your inferencing instruction with a picture as your “text.” Then, as students become more competent and confident, begin to introduce written language. See Module 7: Scaffolds and Supports for reference. Finally, it may be wise to have students use the Inferencing Picture Graphic Organizer (in the TDQs Resources section) to make their thinking visible.

What is the basic instructional plan when teaching close reading?

The following explanation is embedded in the content of Module 8, Unit 1: Lesson Planning.

Here is the suggested list of steps to follow with any text. The ideal way to start would be to select a short, meaty text. If it is a longer piece, select not more than 2-3 paragraphs or stanzas.

The steps are flexible and could all occur over the course of a single lesson, or could be spread out over several days. There is also no formula for the number of text-dependent questions you write. The most important thing is that there is a lesson arc: TDQ’s must set the stage for answering the culminating question.

  • Step 1: Have students “Get the Gist”
  • Step 2: 1-2 Text-Dependent Questions (TDQ’s) modeled
  • Step 3: 1-2 TDQ’s- shared
  • Step 4: 1-2 TDQ’s- independent
  • Step 5: Culminating Question/Assess Understanding/Write

It is highly recommended that before engaging in the development of an instructional plan, participants have a clear sense of the content in Modules 1-7.

How do I get reluctant students or those with difficulty expressing themselves in small group to participate?

One of the best ways to address this is through Module 6: The Role of Talk, Units 1-4. When students “Turn and Talk,” or “Think-Pair-Share,” they have the opportunity to practice their responses with a partner before being given the option to share out to the full class. The many benefits of partner talk are discussed in these sections.

How does the teacher take her/his students from understanding what close reading is and its routines to understanding the processes and using the strategies independently?

As teachers, this is an essential question regarding any challenging routine or practice in our classrooms. Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to this question. The best practice we know of is called the gradual release of responsibility model (Pearson and Gallagher, 1983).  This helps support students as they gradually work towards independence in a skill or strategy. In this resource, Dr. Douglas Fisher cites his research and explains the model for literacy. He explains, “The gradual release of responsibility model of instruction has been documented as an effective approach for improving literacy achievement (Fisher & Frey, 2007), reading comprehension (Lloyd, 2004),and literacy outcomes for English language learners (Kong & Pearson, 2003).”

How long should a close reading lesson last?

A Close Reading lesson can occur in one larger chunk of time, or in several distributed sessions over a longer period of time. The main question we should ask ourselves while planning is: How long will/can my students be engaged in this process? The main issue to take into account is the amount of thinking and “work” this will be for the students. If students are disengaged, then the close reading session is too long. See our Close Reading Online Course, Module 6: The Role of Talk, for multiple routines and tools help keep students engaged during a Close Reading lesson.

What are some examples of good close reading routines?

If your instructional focus is to help students summarize or create a main idea statement, use Get the Gist described in Module 6, Unit 6: Procedure for Getting the Gist. If you want your students to learn a turn and talk routine for Close Reading, use the Turn and Talk checklists for “behavior” and “rigor” as guidelines starting in Module 6, Unit 2: Turn and Talk. If you would like your students to practice answering Text-Dependent Questions, try the Gradual Release of Responsibility routine described here. If you would like students to simply engage in inference-making with either a picture or text, review Module 4, Unit 2: Inferences and Assumptions, and have students use the inferencing picture in the Resources at the end of the module. You may also see a 4th grade classroom model of the inferencing process with an informational text here.

How would I start implementing Close Reading in my classroom?

There is not one right way to begin implementing Close Reading in your classroom. What you do depends upon your materials, students, and level of confidence. The best recommendation would be to, first, take the course to completion. Once you have the big picture, you are equipped with the knowledge to make multiple strategic decisions regarding what will work best in your classroom. The best advice in beginning this practice is to “start small.” Use a short text that you are comfortable with, and limit yourself to a short time frame. This course has many options for routines and approaches, but your best bet for a reasonable instructional routine with your chosen text is twofold:

  1. Familiarize yourself with the “Get the Gist” routine in Module 6, Unit 6: Procedure for Getting the Gist. A modeling video follows. You will use this routine to help students engage with the text and get the big idea about what they are reading.
  2. Select or write 1 text-dependent question for the focus text. Modules 4 and 5 address the topic of Text-Dependent Questioning in its entirety. However, it would be wise to carefully review Module 5, Unit 4: Writing Text-Dependent Questions, in conjunction with reviewing the Guide to Creating Text-Dependent Questions.

After these two steps, evaluate whether students were 1. engaged, and 2. accurate in their responses. If yes, congratulations! Add another question next time, or extend the lesson over two sessions. The objective will be to familiarize students with the processes and routines and help them gradually move toward independence with the content.

If not, discuss what occurred with a valued colleague and see if you can troubleshoot. Was the text too long? The routine too new? The question too hard? Did students have too much time? Too little time? Perhaps your discussion will help you gain some insight into next steps.

What elements of the text can Close Reading address?

There are three main types of Close Reading questions, otherwise known as Text-Dependent Questions. These are:

  1. Questions that assess themes and central ideas
  2. Questions that assess knowledge of vocabulary
  3. Questions that assess syntax and structure

You may learn more about these in our online course, Module 4, Unit 3, Types of Text Dependent Questions.

How is Close Reading a practice that all students can benefit from?

Teachers often struggle to implement close reading across all of the grades especially in the younger grades. All students, even our youngest, English Language Learners, and students with disabilities can do close reading. It may be beneficial to review the units in Module 7: Scaffolds and Supports in order to determine how to make the practice of Close Reading most relevant to your students.

Is the expectation that students close read every text?

Not every text is worthy of a close read. It is only texts that are sufficiently complex that lend themselves to a close reading activity. Refer to the “Text Complexity” in the resources section in order to determine how complex a text might be for a particular group of students.

How Can I Help My Community?

We don’t take the challenge of teaching kids to read lightly: according the 2013 NAEP results, 66% of 4th graders fail to read at grade level each year and we know that we can help them. How? Working with leadership-oriented principals and superintendents, and supported by the highest-quality literacy professionals in the nation, HILL for Literacy helps schools transform into efficient, systemic platforms for literacy excellence. Contact us to find out how we can help your school or district today, or click below to learn more about how you can support our programs in your community!