Thursday, September 18, 2014

Close Reading.... Have you Heard of It??

It seems as though educators cannot escape the buzz word “close reading”. How many times have you heard coaches, administrators or even fellow colleagues use this term already this year. I too, have to admit that I am a gluten for close reading and often refer to it when I am out in the field. The term has been used so much that it even prompted Dave Stuart Jr. of  “Teach the Core” to comically write an Obituary to Close Reading to only come back a day later and publish a new post, Moving Forward with Close Reading. However, Stuart’s point in killing off close reading, was not to murder the concept, but rather address the important and lingering question surrounding it, what in fact does close reading mean and why are we constantly talking about it?

Reading a text closely has always lived within education. The shift to the 2011 Massachusetts Frameworks (also known as the Common Core State Standards) revitalized the concept and brought the strategy into the forefront of our thinking. Hopefully you are not as geeky as I and carry multiple copies of the frameworks in your car, have them in your work bag and even on the bedside table, but for anyone familiar with the 2011 MA  ELA Frameworks (CCSS),  you will see idea of close reading referred to on the majority of pages. I challenge you to look! In fact turn to the Anchor Standards page and sure enough under Key Ideas and Details. Look what happens to be the first anchor standard listed:

Key Ideas and Details
1.     Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

To belabor the point, college level professors and educators have commented that the lack of extracting the author’s message and attending to details in a text has proven to show their weaknesses as incoming freshmen.  Scholes  and Katz went on to comment on the lack of readiness they see in incoming college freshmen as,

“I think that the new high school graduates I see (and sophomores with no previous lit classes) most lack close reading skills. Often they have generic concepts and occasionally they have some historical knowledge, though perhaps not as much as they should. I find that they are most inclined to substitute what they generally think a text should be saying for what it actually says, and lack a way to explore the intricacies and interests of the words on the page. Sometimes the historical knowledge and generic concepts actually become problems when students use them as tools for making texts say and do what students think they should, generalizing that all novels do X or poems do Y. Usually the result is that they want to read every text as saying something extremely familiar that they might agree with. I see them struggling the most to read the way texts differ from their views, to find what is specific about the language, address, assumptions etc.” (Tamar Katz, pers. com., 17 September 2001)

As educators forge ahead a need exists for students to analyze information from texts. Extracting information means that students need to remove their personal background experience in order to read critically and determine the author’s central message. This thinking comes with a mind shift for educators. As a previous elementary school teacher, early in my career I taught and stressed students to make text to self-connections. I realized this allowed for students to stray from the author’s purpose. Rather, they spent time grasping for any connection they could make with their own life, which pulled them further and further away. In actuality the idea of close reading is to use that text, read it once, twice, as many times as you need to with the goal of strengthening a students overall comprehension.

So how do we do this? What are some good resources? Next week I will explore some books and online tools to help educators tackle this very much living and breathing strategy and concept.

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