Close Reading: The Heart of the Core

           Lately, I have been fielding questions about the “close read.” Most teachers (and parents) would simply like to know what a close read is, what it isn't, and why the heck the word “read” is officially a noun.


         Some aspects of teaching this way of reading are new, but they will soon be familiar to all of us. Just like the term “close read” itself. I always feel as though I must place those words in quotation marks. Soon, the grammatical alteration will evolve into the commonplace and familiar, but right now it still seems awkward.

        Let's start by taking a look inside a typical classroom. The students are getting ready to read a passage that the teacher has carefully chosen. She knows it will be challenging, but she is confident that if she introduces it by giving students some necessary information, they should do just fine.

       Today we are going to read   title of work. 
          Author    wrote it right after     fill in the circumstances.
       In this passage, the author   explains/argues/informs/tells the story of...
       You should be interested in this because   how this relates to students.
       You will encounter the following vocabulary words   state and define the words.
       While you are reading, look for   the concepts or ideas.

       While we may not use all of these techniques all of the time, we probably use some of them some of the time. We were, in fact, taught that preparing the students in this way would enhance their comprehension of a passage. And while these prereading strategies aren't always terrible, they are not an effective way to prepare students for challenging texts. Therefore, we should not use these techniques when teaching the Common Core "close read."

       Now, we call giving the students a lot of prereading information, "frontloading," and we know it does not help advance students' reading skills. Here are some techniques that we should avoid (sometimes):

Don't (Always...)
Begin by summarizing a text as a means of introduction.
Give students definitions of challenging vocabulary words that they might come across.
 Introduce a purpose for reading, because reading then becomes a “mad hunt” for  answers. Students will end up passing over other information.
Tell students why they should be motivated and interested.
Interrupt the reading by making observations.
           Right now, I realize that I hate the word "don't." So here's a "do" or two (or five): 

Do
Encourage students to read, reread, focus, and go slowly.
Give students the tools necessary to tackle a challenging text.
Tell students to mark up the text, either on the actual text or on post-it notes.
Let the text determine the purpose and the discussion.
Let students' questions, connections, and observations unfold naturally.

        Some teachers will say that teachers should always conduct the second read, and they should read to students. I do not. I believe in a gradual release of responsibility, similar to the method that Fisher and Frey (http://www.fisherandfrey.com/) recommend.

    Step 1Teacher directs/models.   
    Step 2:  Students collaborate.
   
Step 3:  Independent practice.

       Keep in mind that these are just some of the suggestions I've learned about teaching the dreaded infamous “close read.” 
     
     If you have any "best practice" tips, please do share!
     Thanks!

1 comment

  1. Oh good grief! So giving students some background information about why the reading is important isn't a good thing to do? Since when? I read more carefully when I understand why someone wants me to read it. And hard words - I point out that they might come across hard words, and that they should see if they can make sense of them. If not, we'll talk afterwards. Finally, I'm totally with you on not doing a second reading for my students. That makes them better listeners, not better readers.
    No, this is my final comment. Read is a verb.
    Marion
    MentoringintheMiddle

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