Academic journal article Language Arts

Closely Reading "Reading Closely"

Academic journal article Language Arts

Closely Reading "Reading Closely"

Article excerpt

The advent of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS; National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers, 2010) has brought perhaps unprecedented attention to what the Common Core describes as "reading closely." Sadly, current enactments of close reading pedagogy may devalue students' prior knowledge, stifle reading motivation, and restrict opportunities for children to explore texts on their own terms (Eppley, 2015; Newkirk, 2016). Still, we believe that reading closely can be not only productive, but meaningful and engaging, under the right circumstances. Given its potential and the fact that teachers must reckon with a continuing mandate to teach close reading, the salient question may not be whether to teach close reading, but rather how children can be invited to engage in it within the context of a classroom pedagogy that also honors their vibrant voices and perspectives.

Some educators have proposed that text discussions can facilitate deep reading that is also deeply engaged: "Text-based discussion is simply an extended form of close reading" (Billings & Roberts, 2012, p. 71) that allows students to productively probe the meaning of a text they are reading with one another in more engaging and studentdriven ways. While we agree, we also know that children often offer multiple understandings of the text during discussions (Aukerman, 2008). Not all of these understandings will align with one another, and some may seem inconsistent with the text or even factually wrong, so we ask, Should teaching close reading mean pushing students to arrive at a communal (uniform and agreed-upon) close reading during text discussions, or should it mean welcoming a multiplicity of different close readings?

The wording of the CCSS is often taken to mean that texts have single text-inherent meanings, and that the goal of instruction in close reading is to bring children to a convergent understanding of that meaning. Consider this College and Career Readiness Anchor Standard for Reading: "Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it" (National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers, 2010, p. 10). The writers and promoters of the Common Core have elaborated on this idea by claiming that "rigorous text-dependent questions require students to demonstrate that they not only can follow the details of what is explicitly stated but also are able to make valid claims that square with all the evidence in the text" (Coleman & Pimentel, 2012, p. 6). This example, taken from a document designed to help publishers align their materials with the CCSS, suggests reading is a passive process where children "follow" text, that texts "explicitly state" something absent a reader who actively and agentively constructs meaning, and where only student claims that the teacher sees as valid are ultimately of value.

"Creating Questions for Close Analytic Reading Exemplars: A Brief Guide," a widely disseminated document by Student Achievement Partners (2013) suggests that educators develop questions this way: "Determine the key ideas of the text. Create a series of questions structured to bring the reader to an understanding of these." According to these instructions, the child reader is positioned passively, as someone who needs to be brought to the teacher's vision of what key textual ideas are. Indeed, a model videotaped lesson on the same website appears designed to do just that. The teacher poses a series of questions with preferred answers and consistently evaluates the correctness of student responses.

Some conceptualizations of classroom text discussion similarly ask teachers to organize class discussions to ensure that students identify "those ideas or lines of thinking that show promise while sifting out ideas that the community has determined to be nonproductive" (Michaels, O'Connor, & Resnick, 2008, pp. …

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