Students have always had to read closely in order to understand complex texts, and teachers of English literature in secondary schools and universities have, for many years, employed close or analytic readings to unpack the hidden meaning in challenging literary texts.
However, today much noise and confusion surround the implementation of close reading in schools, as definitions, purposes, and practices abound. Unsurprisingly, many teachers and administrators are confused by the call for close reading in the Common Core State Standards and other standards like them. But they can take heart. Although close reading is figured prominently in the new standards, it is not new and is in fact familiar to most educators.
To help classroom teachers successfully implement close reading embedded in standards-based reading instruction, school administrators and literacy coaches must work together to provide teachers with the necessary understanding, materials, conditions, and support.
“To help students unpack what a text says, teachers can practice showing students how to figure out unfamiliar word meanings, link terms that signal relationships among ideas, and answer text-dependent questions from specific places within a text.”
Build Teachers’ Capacity to Select Texts for Appropriate Use in Close Readings
Not all texts are appropriate for close reading. Some are straightforward, clearly written, and well organized, with content that is explicitly stated and not difficult to understand. These texts are typically not appropriate for close reading.
Other texts that strive to convey complex content are more suitable. These texts often conceal meaning beneath layers of rare words, complex sentence structures, missing connecting terms, atypical paragraph organization, few or missing text features that help signal text structure, mixed or multiple texts structures, and the use of literary devices such as metaphor and flashbacks.
Here are some criteria for determining if texts are worthy of close reading:
- Contain content that is compelling, accurate, and of interest to readers
- Are challenging and don’t give up their meaning easily via skimming, scanning, or casual reading
- Tend to be relatively short in length
- Are selected from a range of genres such as newspaper articles, journals, encyclopedia articles, novels, tall tales, and almanacs
- Represent different text structures and contain a variety of features such as tables of contents, glossaries, indices, headings, as well as different language constructions
Help Teachers and Students Understand the Importance of Repeated Readings
Complex texts require that students unpack layers or levels of meaning. Theoretically grounded reading comprehension instruction recognizes this fact and acknowledges that text comprehension is a multi-leveled process. Consequently, complex texts require repeated readings to peel back multiple layers of meaning. Timothy Shanahan, Professor Emeritus at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the Founding Director of the UIC Center for Literacy, suggests that close readings should address at least three levels of text comprehension:
- What does the text say?
- How does the text work?
- What does the text mean?
Provide Professional Development
Close reading of texts for multiple comprehension purposes requires that students learn to use a set of multiple comprehension strategies that teachers can practice in professional development sessions themselves.
To help students unpack what a text says, teachers can practice showing students how to figure out unfamiliar word meanings, link terms that signal relationships among ideas, and answer text-dependent questions from specific places within a text. They can practice helping students peel back additional layers of text meaning and show them how to use text features like headings, subheadings, captions, glossaries, indices, and metaphorical language, in addition to determining or imposing a structure on the text using graphic organizers. Finally, teachers can practice helping students learn how to monitor their text understanding, retell, discuss, write, and summarize text.
Fisher, D., & Frey, N. (2012). Close reading in elementary schools. The Reading Teacher, 66(3), 179–188.
Kintsch, W. (2013). Revisiting the construction-integration model of text comprehension and its implications for instruction. In D. E. Alvermann, N. J. Unrau, & R. B. Ruddell (Eds.), Theoretical Models and Processes of Reading (6th ed.), 807–839. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
Richards, I. A. (1929). Practical criticism. London: Cambridge University Press.
Shanahan, T. (2013). Phases of close reading. In E. Dobler (Ed.), Authentic reasons for close reading: How to motivate students to take another look. Reading Today, 30(6), 15. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
To learn more on how to implement close reading techniques in your school or district, click below to download the whitepaper, The Habits of Close Reading: Renewing Our Focus on the Essential Skills for Comprehension.DOWNLOAD WHITEPAPER
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