So, let's have a heart to heart about close reading, shall we? I feel like this is WAY overdue.
To be clear, close reading is not a glorified worksheet with "close reading" stamped on it. Sadly, I see a lot of this, and it really gets under my skin. Lots of businesses and publishing companies are haphazardly slapping "Close Reading" on resources in the same way that they are slapping "Common Core" onto resources to make a quick buck. Do not be deceived. Just because it says that doesn't make it so...
...But what's the need? We all know students who fit into one of the following categories. There are the "gist-getters" who get an essence of what the text is about. They can give small details or the last details. There are also the "regurgitating readers" who tell you every last detail, but lack focus and or meaning. Close reading helps close gaps on each end. Let's try something to illustrate. Read the passage below, and then answer the questions that follow. Can you find the answer?
The question remains: What is close reading, and how do we get our kiddos to think deeply about text? Simply put, close reading is reading like a detective. It's a careful analysis of clues at the word level, at the phrase level, at the sentence level, and at the section/paragraph level. The reader should begin to see how each unit builds upon another. It's synthesizing information to draw conclusions. It's strategic reading, and this requires students to slow down, read with intention, reread, and reflect. (Craft stick pointers with googly eyes, highlighter strips like E.Z.C. Reader Strips, and drink stirrers are some of my favorite tools for tracking and slowing kids down!)
During a close reading, students should be focusing on text meaning. Text analysis is careful, thorough, and repeated, but each reading is a separate journey for a different purpose. It should increase in complexity each time! At each stage, the students should do the reading, thinking, and interpreting, NOT US! Too much front-loading, too much dialogue, and too much guidance defeats the purpose of doing close reading in the first place! Our students need to be making meaning and grappling with the text in order to do understand the text more fully. When students are engaged in close reading, you will see them:
- responding to text dependent questions
- noticing when their comprehension breaks down
- jumping right into reading without a ton of front-loading
- discussing the text through think-pair-shares
- focusing intently on the text itself
- reading and rereading deliberately and with intention
- reading with a pencil (underlining, highlighting, notetaking, and using symbols)
- using short passages and excerpts from longer texts
Let's break this down into the three readings to take a closer look:
As you can see, each reading clearly DOES build on the other. The following graphic illustrates the hierarchy of text dependent questions from the foundational first reading to the analysis-laden third reading. It's a nice visual way of thinking about it.
Of course, asking text dependent questions necessitates the use of rich texts. The following graphics illustrates the importance of considering text complexity.
Now, here's the thing. I personally and fervently believe that we, as educators, know best. We know our kids better than publishing companies do. Let me explain. We know which stories we are using, in which genre we are examining, for what purpose, etc. We know the cross-curricular connections we are trying to make. We know what our assessments will look like. Honestly, the texts I read with my students fit the exact needs of my students and my curriculum, and it changes year after year with each new crop of kiddos, because they are not robots. They are people with unique and distinct needs. So, how could a commercially created product truly meet all of their needs? In my humble opinion, it can't. I consider myself a Pollyanna of sorts, but honestly, I have to draw the line somewhere, and this is where I draw it. I want to choose texts that overlap with other texts we are reading in Language Arts and the other content areas. I want to choose texts that expand on concepts we are already studying. I want to use texts that use the vocabulary my kids need exposure to. I have yet to find a pre-made package of "close reading" texts and questions that perfectly align with my students' needs, therefore, I don't use them. Would it be easier? Sure. Would it be what's best for my kids? Well, at the risk of sounding horribly judgmental, I don't think it would be. It certainly wouldn't unravel everything we've worked towards, but it wouldn't be a game-changer either. That's why I whole-heartedly suggest self-selecting texts to use with your students and creating your own set of questions based on the skills you are currently working on with your kids. You get a lot more bang for your buck, and YOU can customize the lesson to fit your students perfectly.
Plus, creating your own questions allows more authenticity. I can have my students create actual PRODUCTS instead of just responding to prompts. This emphasizes higher level thinking skills and creativity WAY more than filling in a few lines on a worksheet. Just keeping it real.
This is precisely why (despite the influx of close reading passages), you will not see any in my TpT shop EVER. You can write it in stone. (The close reading resource that is in my shop allows for a more authentic implementation of customizable questions to display on your SMARTboard... and a little additional PD beyond this post.) When I teach close reading, I want it to be authentic and as meaningful for my students as possible, and I believe that taking your students to the next level involves a little prep work on our end as teachers. Simply put...
Clearly, the term "close reading" is in vogue in classrooms around the country. The problem is, because of its popularity, it's being liberally applied to activities like worksheets and basic book reports. I know it's tempting to choose the path of least