Close Reading

We’ve been working on close reading lately in Rm. 202.

I know–before this past summer I wouldn’t have known what that was, either.  If you haven’t heard about Common Core yet either, it’s another thing that is on the forefront of every educator’s mind right now, too.  And while reading closely isn’t a new thing, necessarily, the importance of it is perhaps emphasized now, more than ever.

I found a great post about close reading when I was doing some research on it the other day.   I was looking for directions for exactly how to present to my 5th graders.  What I love about this one, is that the way it was described had pieces that I knew my readers would already be familiar with because of the S.H.A.D.O. strategies we had learned earlier this year in Reader’s Workshop.

I love how Dr. Douglas Fisher describes it in a recent video:

A close reading is a careful and purposeful reading. Well actually, it’s rereading. It’s a careful and purposeful rereading of a text. It’s an encounter with the text where students really focus on what the author had to say, what the author’s purpose was, what the words mean, and what the structure of the text tells us.

So I made this chart to help my friends remember what to do:

IMG621So like I said, it’s not really anything new (at least not to me and probably not to you, because we’ve been reading for a while now), but to my 5th graders, it does equal something new in how deeply they are expected to look at text.

While I’d love to say that I’ve always taught students to read and reread and reread again, I’d be lying if I did.  Yes, we talk about rereading as a fix-up strategy for monitoring comprehension, I’ve never emphasized it as something that good readers do on a regular basis.  And I know I’ve never talked about it this in-depth.  It’s never before been an expectation for how my readers will dig into a text to really get at the what and why, the “meat” of a text.  And it’s never had a name.

I think the big thing I’m trying to get at, really, is that I haven’t ever emphasized it this specifically with my students.  I haven’t asked them to pay such close attention to when they’re rereading and how they’re rereading.  Reading and rereading have now become one.  Now the expectation is that they will always reread, more than twice, as a means of better understanding the text at hand. The big idea of reading now, forever and always, will be to dig deep into a text, to really get to know it well, like a good friend.  Regardless of what that text is, I want them to make it their friend–knowing it so well and closely that I could ask them anything and they’d be able to tell me more.  And yes, ideally, I’d like them to want to do it because they desire to be a better reader, not because their teacher said so.

And so that brings up an interesting conversation we had today during Reader’s Workshop.  We were reviewing some questions we’d answered on a monthly benchmark assessment from the other day; we’d practice closely reading on the text and so were expected to have really understood what it was trying to say.  As we discussed our answers and gave evidence from the text to support our thinking, I could tell that most had done a reasonably good job of getting the main idea of the text; most of our answers were correct also.  As we were moving on, and most of us had agreed that reading more closely had helped, a question was raised:  But do we always have to do a close reading?  I don’t really want to.  It takes too long.

AHHHHH!! Just when I thought I had them, there it was.  A friend who needed convincing.   And what I loved was that many other students jumped in to answer the question for me.  That’s key, I think, actually–often times things mean so much more when they come from peers rather than adults.

What came next, though, instead of a real answer was another question, and this came from me.  It was related to purpose: So yes, you should do a close reading every time you encounter a new text, but why?  Why should you want to?

Their answers were interesting and got me thinking about how we define reading.  Many of their answers were related to “getting good grades” or getting the “right answer.”  So I kept digging: Ok, well let’s back up.  What is reading?  How do you read?

Again, answers were all over the place, none of which really getting at the main purpose: Reading is making meaning.  It’s understanding what the words on the page mean, and how they work together to help you understand the message of the author.  And as a reader, you should want to understand.  You should not be happy with not “getting it.”

At the very least, this conversation today got me thinking about how I proceed.  And how I start next time.  Perhaps we should have talked about close reading way earlier than now; had I named this strategy in August and set it as the expectation from Day 1, it wouldn’t be so scary now.  But I’m also intrigued by what we’re teaching our readers (and writers and scientists, etc.) about why we do what we do.  Somewhere they’ve still gotten the idea that they’re supposed to do something for the grade, the right answer, or because their teacher told them they were supposed to do it.  That their motivation should be something extrinsic, not just the mere enjoyment and satisfaction of learning something, understanding what an author is trying to say to them.  I hope to begin to grow a group of readers (learners, really) who know that they have a toolbox of strategies that they can use–that they should know how to use and when–and that use them at their discretion to solve problems, to understand and to learn.

But alas, this is not something I’m going to change today.  Or tomorrow, even.  But I can start.  I’m hoping that I have started this already with my “forever and always” thinking we talk about so often.  This fits into that beautifully: I want them to learn to closely read a text so that they will “forever and always” be able to understand any text they encounter, not just to get the answers right on their monthly Edison benchmark assessments in 5th grade.   I just have to keep pushing to convince them that this matters.

So I have a question or two (or four) for you:

1.  How have you presented close reading with your students? I’d love to hear what you’d add, or suggestions you have.

2. How would you define reading?

3. What reasons do you give for why we should want to understand text we read?

4. What other thoughts do you have?