April Classroom Tip by Jean McCormack
The Common Core Standards has given educators a new term and task; close reading. It is included among the 32 Common Core Literacy anchor Reading standards (R.CCR.1) which states:
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.
Across content areas, close reading of text shares some basic tenets. The reader relies mainly on the text itself and less on background knowledge to gain understanding. Little if any pre-teaching occurs prior to reading the text. This practice allows students to engage more fully with what the text offers. The learning occurs through the transaction with the text. Using a variety of reading methods (independent, choral, partner) to read a chosen text multiple times is a hallmark of the close reading process. In doing so, teachers are provided the opportunity to listen to students read. If fluency issues occur, the teacher is made aware. The goal of close reading is deep understanding. Comprehension is greatly influenced by reading proficiency. Students of varied abilities can be paired, with ample opportunity for all students to partner with each other. This technique of meeting the text on its own without any previous familiarity gives students more equality as learners. An analogy can be drawn to a panel of jurors. Twelve jurors are selected, each with different backgrounds. However, they are all equal as they sit in the jury box and hear the facts of the case. No background knowledge is necessary. They are simply required to engage with the material presented to them.
To complete that transaction with the text, students need to measure their comprehension. Teachers are asked to generate text dependent questions that require students to analyze the minute details within the text. Creating probing questions that depend on a deep understanding of the text requires time and expertise. Simple recall of key facts does not suffice. Close reading results in the reader being able to critically analyze information, synthesize meaning, draw conclusions and form inferences based on text details. This careful investigation of the text enables the reader to speak and write effectively about what he has read. A sign of true learning is the ease with which the learner demonstrates his knowledge. When close reading is performed well, the learner feels expert on what he has read and is more willing to share his knowledge enthusiastically.
Close reading techniques have not been routinely included in teacher training programs. Many teachers are at a loss for how to begin. It’s important to carefully consider the text and the Appendices in the Common Core Standards can provide guidance. One major goal is to give all students the opportunity to engage in close reading of complex text. The spotlight is on close reading because it’s been discovered that overall, the complexity level of middle and high school texts has decreased while college level text complexity has increased. Students need instruction and experimentation with close reading techniques using a model of gradual release. As educators, we must remember that we are teaching future adults. Students build skills incrementally with each year in school. Strong foundational skills reduce the burden of transitioning to higher education.