Close reading vs. reading from a critical stance: Is there a difference?

A few months ago, I sent an email to several colleagues describing a proposal to begin a conversation to help pre-service and in-service teachers develop the skills of critical analysis and close reading. In response to my email, one of my colleagues suggested that I not use the term close reading because what I was proposing was not close reading but “more like deep comprehension – reading from a critical stance”. My colleague suggested that close reading is a literary device that does not activate background knowledge.

This description baffled me. In my mind there was no difference between close reading and reading from a critical stance. After I read this description I immediately went to Tim Shanahan’s blog post What is close reading?, which I had just read. I reread the blog post (for the third time) “closely” looking for evidence of the similarities and differences between how Shanahan described close reading and my colleague’s description of close reading. What I discovered is that Shanahan’s description strongly supports deep comprehension (reading text three times, each uncovering more about the text (what the text says, how the text works and critical analysis of the text), which ends in a thorough understanding of the text or deep comprehension.

It appears that the difference between close reading and reading from a critical stance is the evolving definition of the terms and how the context defines how the terms are used. At one time the term close reading referred to a technique to analyze literature. This analysis happened in English class and allowed for  discussion of  text structure. It was not used to support the reader’s understanding of the text. In reading class, text was read from a critical stance, where the reader used their knowledge to think deeply about text. With the implementation of the Common Core Standards, the term close reading describes the process of using the technique of analyzing literature to develop a thorough understanding of the text, which will enable the reader to critically evaluate the text.

As I reflect on this conversation, I am wondering if my proposal should have read “…help pre-service and in-service teachers develop the skill of close reading”, leaving out critical analysis since close reading ends in a critical evaluation of text?  How do you define close reading?

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