Text complexity. Text dependent questions. Lexile. Close Reading. All industries go through their buzzwords and phrases. And, right now, “close reading” is certainly a buzzphrase of choice. Certainly, there’s caution in the educational world around new ideas, which sometimes don’t seem that new or seem to come from an outside force. But, I think the best thing that can be done in the face of the new is to get to know the new and compare it to what has always been and what will come to be.
In that interest, I have sought out to learn more about close reading, which to many educators won’t seem like that new of an idea. And, close reading does not as Jess in New Girl teaches us mean getting physically close to the text to better understand the words. One of my first forays into learning about the concept happened this past Thursday when I attended a workshop being offered by the authors, Christopher Lehman and Kate Roberts, of Falling in Love with Close Reading. Some of my fellow bloggers have posted about their work around close reading related to vocabulary walls and teaching students to revisit texts with a purpose. Both cite the Falling in Love with Close Reading text.
This post will not be a comprehensive rewriting of their text, as they have clearly done a superb job of this in their book and their blog-a-thon posts on close reading. And, if you’re interested in the more detailed perspective, I suggest that you read their posts, their books, and engage with the Twitter conversation currently happening under the hashtag #FiLWcloseareading. Rather, in this post, I offer my top 3 takeaways from this workshop. For those unaware of close reading as described by Lehman and Roberts, here’s a quick breakdown. Close Reading is to read through a lens (like “word choice”) in order to find evidence, look at the evidence to see patterns, and construct new understandings from those patterns.
Why Close Read? For me, I don't want things to just happen to me. I want 2b in charge and aware of my actions and ideas. #FILWClosereading
— Mary Moser (@mmoser) April 3, 2014
At the end of the workshop day, the presenters asked us to consider how we would take our knowledge back to our schools and inspire students with the ideas of close reading. It’s so easy to make close reading a procedure that we just do and tell students to do. As if, by merely telling our students to close read, they will all become mini-Sherlocks unfolding the mysteries and layers of the world around them. Here’s the thing. My answer isn’t the right answer because there is no right answer. What is important, though, is to find a reason…or twenty reasons…why close reading is relevant, timely, and necessary for our students. We must turn it into a ritual. Calling close reading a ritual and not a procedure is a small change, but it’s a change of language that these presenters used eloquently to shift the power of close reading to relate to all aspects of our lives.
Number Two: Break the cycle of being needed as a teacher or stepping in with the heavy brain lifting.
I’ve always felt a clash between wanting to be needed by students and wanting to be obsolete to students. In a sense, if I truly do my job well then I should essentially be writing myself out of a job. Kate pointed out during the workshop that common feeling from teachers of frustration and claims of “why aren’t they getting it?” But, if we truly reflect on our practice, how many times in the face of “they just don’t get it” do we step in and direct the students to exactly the words/phrases that we want them to pay attention to in order to make meaning. In the face of large, amorphous ideas coming from students like telling us that One Directions’ “Story of my Life” is about the singer’s life and his story, we have to consider how we aren’t equipping them to analyze a text simply by saying “well, read it again, and this time really pay attention”. Give the students the tool (in this case a lens) and be open to hearing what draws them into the text. They will get there. They will see that “Story of my Life” is a song about a speaker who clearly has trouble committing to a relationship or allowing love and relationships to truly affect him. And, then they will wonder why so many ads are using this song as a positive, uplifting song.
Number Three: Close reading can stop our students from giving us Cable News version of analysis.
Seriously, there are so many times when listening to Kate and Chris speak or reading their text that I wanted to shout out “that’s my teacher philosophy”. The biggest point where I see close reading, as defined by their work, benefiting my students comes from using the text to build an argument. Rather than the opposite, which are my students who have an argument already crafted, despite not having read or researched. Then, they find the evidence to support their original theory. Chris likened this idea to the way cable news networks tell a story, where you can clearly see that the network came up with an angle and then found the sources that would support that angle. We need to do better by our students. Teach them to mine a text for details that will be synthesized into common patterns. Then, only then, build an argument from these patterns.
I will leave you with a my two favorite items from the list of what “close reading can’t be” as offered by the presenters. Close reading can’t be soul crushing for our students. And, close reading can’t be the only reading instruction that we do.
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