Magazine article District Administration

Building the Habits of Close Reading to Support Comprehension: Fostering Close Reading of Texts Is Crucial to Developing Students' Knowledge and Skills

Magazine article District Administration

Building the Habits of Close Reading to Support Comprehension: Fostering Close Reading of Texts Is Crucial to Developing Students' Knowledge and Skills

Article excerpt

A District Administration Web Seminar Digest * Originally presented on April 1, 2015

Close reading is a popular term today in elementary literacy classrooms and a requirement in the Common Core ELA standards in order to ensure students are college- and career-ready. It enables students to Independently comprehend increasingly challenging texts. Students need to develop the habits of mind and the skills necessary to unpack the deep, embedded meanings found in complex, challenging texts on their own. In this web seminar, an expert in the field of literacy instruction discussed key strategies to foster close reading that supports comprehension in any district.

Reutzel: When I first started hearing about close reading, I thought about the old tale by Hans Christian Andersen, "The Emperor's New Clothes," in which a couple of swindlers promise to provide a vain emperor with a new suit of clothing, and the emperor wears his nonexistent new clothes in a public procession. All those around him pretend that he has nice new clothes, except for one child who is truthful and calls out that he isn't wearing anything at all.

The reason I think about that story is that if you examine the concept of close reading, you'll see that there's nothing new here. Whether it goes by the name of close reading, or strategic reading, or careful reading, the concept has been around for a long time. What this means for most teachers is helping students develop the ability to use a collection of comprehension strategies to talk and think about texts at deeper and deeper levels of meaning and understanding.

Students have always read closely in order to understand complex texts. This isn't anything new. 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. But today, so much of the noise and confusion surrounding the implementation of close reading in schools concerns its definition, purposes and practices, which are practically being manufactured by the minute. So it wouldn't be surprising that some teachers and administrators are confused.

Defining close reading

First off, close reading involves the use of a collection of evidence-based comprehension strategies embedded in teacher-guided discussions, carefully planned around several repeated readings of a text in order to increase students' comprehension. Close reading can be defined simply, in my mind, as repeated readings of a text coupled with discussions to increase comprehension.

Educators also need to understand what close reading is not. Close reading may be misinterpreted as focusing on magnifying the importance of smaller and more literal elements of text with each read--similar to using a microscope to examine something that is too small to be seen with the naked eye. Many scholars are fearful that with each subsequent close reading of a text, teachers may begin to focus in on less important information and become more literal about what's in the text, which is absolutely not what should be happening.

Close reading implies an ordered process that proceeds from understanding the smallest or most literal ideas in text first--in other words, getting what's in the text (words, phrases, sentence meanings); then moving on to understanding larger ideas (paragraphs and sections); then helping students understand how text ideas get organized, selected and connected (such things as coherence, structure of text and craft); then moving on to integrating what has been learned from the text with the reader's background in order to make an interpretation of what the text means to them personally, as well as what it should mean to all of us collectively.

We want kids to read closely to determine what the text says explicitly. We want them to be able to make logical inferences from their interactions with the texts at local and global levels. …

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