So what is Close Reading anyway?

With the implementation of the CCSS for ELA, “close reading” has become a popular buzz word in educational circles.  But what exactly is it?  What does it look like?  How do we develop close reading skills in our students?  First, I will begin by saying that I am currently boycotting the term.  It has become so overused, and often misused, that it no longer has meaning.  I prefer careful reading, or reading with intent. The term itself is not as important as the skill – simply put, pay attention to what you are reading!

When we ask students to practice their deep reading skills, there are a few practices we should keep in mind.  Ask students to focus on a short text or passage.  Deep reading requires time and effort, not a realistic goal for long text or novel. The focus of reading and responses should remain on the text itself.  Though we cannot separate the reader’s emotional or experiential responses, the goal is to examine the given text. Passages are selected because they have significant connections to other texts, or if an excerpt, to the text as a whole. Students are encouraged to talk and think about the text, coming to conclusions that are confirmed or refuted by reading and re-reading of the given or additional texts. (reference to read like detectives or interrogate text)

In a literature class, students may be directed to read on different levels such as linguistic (descriptive), semantic (cognitive), structural (analytic), or cultural (interpretive). Students will examine vocabulary, grammar, and literary devices as well as tone and author’s style.  The purpose of this style of reading is not to label elements for the sake of identification, but rather to enhance the understanding and enjoyment of a text by appreciating the work that went into creating it.

In the opening chapter of Notice and Note, Kylene Beers says that “close reading is what the kids do – not what the teacher leads them to do.  So though there are protocols, strategies, and activities teachers can use to support students’ careful reading, what the teacher is doing is NOT evidence that students are reading with intent.  The evidence of a thoughtful read is in the student response. What you should SEE student a doing if they are reading attentively: taking notes or sketching on paper or annotating directly in the text, re-reading the text, maybe jumping ahead or backing up to a previous section of text to help understand a specific section. You may even see a student consult another text or reference to help him or her understand the text. What you should HEAR when a student is reading deeply: questions about the text – from the students not just from teachers; responses to questions that cite specific evidence from the text; exploratory conversations among students.  You should not hear a teacher explaining what they are about to read or what they just read. The teacher will provide focus and guidance, but the students must do the hard work of comprehension.

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