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A Closer Look at Close Reading: What Really Matters

Falling in Love with Close ReadingBy Lynne R. Dorfman

    Kate Roberts, Maggie B. Roberts, and Chris Lehman engaged a rather large audience in their interactive workshop session about close reading texts and close reading lives at the 103rd Annual NCTE Convention in Boston. They gave us some practical advice and helped us define close reading in terms of what it should not be and what it could be.

Close reading should NOT be:

  1. a chore for kids to finish.
  2. so complicated that students always need to be told exactly how to do it.
  3. a course of study solely determined by outside sources.

Close reading could and should be:

  1. a source of energy, engagement, and joy.
  2. a way for students to become more independent as readers and thinkers.
  3. designed in response to the strengths and needs of our students.

          I was impressed by their words. They were speaking about owning the process, being totally engaged by focusing on the task and choosing a lens to look through as a reader. For example, “Today I am going to read this article and pay attention to the structure – how the author effectively organizes his thoughts.”  They spoke about the importance of deciding how you, as a reader, are going to approach a text.  I thought about Cris Tovani’s article on “The Power of Purposeful Reading” and how essential it becomes for the reader to set his own purpose for reading if none has been assigned.  Kate, Maggie, and Chris suggested that we teach our students how to look for patterns such as problem/solution or cause/effect and then look at the smaller categories as well.

      One thing that stuck with me: Decide whether or not you are going to do a close read.  I found this sentiment particularly refreshing and enlightening. Sometimes, in our rush to implement new ideas and practices, we misinterpret what the experts are saying. Or we try to apply a strategy to everything we do every time we do it. Close reading is responsive – not just part of the daily routine. Give a close read when it can be important to deepen the understanding of the work that the child needs to do. The three distinguished speakers told us to look for trends: Do my students need a challenge?  Are they not paying attention and just zooming through their reading?  Are they missing opportunities for the grand work that Ralph Peterson has spoken about – in other words, could we go closer here….dig deeper?

      Finally, they caution us to remember that an initiative is never the curriculum. Even the curriculum itself is truly not the curriculum. Our kids are the true curriculum. With close reading, we decide if our students need it and when they need it.  We build engagement around enjoyment and ask them to look closely at the things they care most deeply about – in school and outside of school.  If you’d like to learn more, read Falling in Love with Close Reading: Lessons for Analyzing Texts—and Life by Chris Lehman and Kate Roberts.

Lynne R. Dorfman profileLynne Dorfman is a co-director for PAWLP. Her new book, co-authored with Diane Dougherty, is Grammar Matters: Lessons, Tips, & Conversations Using Mentor Texts, K-6 (September 2014)

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