Moving Toward COMMON Understanding of Close Reading

Effective Implementation of the CC is grounded in common understanding of the anchor standards and key terms. The one term that has generated a lot of discussion is close reading.  From reading and talking with teachers, it appears that the term has many definitions. This over generalization is dangerous because lack of common understanding impacts how teachers teach close reading and how students learn to do close reading.  In one of my earlier post, Close reading vs. reading from a critical stance: Is there a difference? I describe a conversation with a colleague about the definition of close reading. It was this conversation that prompted me to engage in conversation with others about what close reading is and what it looks like in the classroom. In addition to discussions, I have spent a lot of time reading what others have to say about close reading. Interestingly enough, my PLN on Twitter has also taken on the challenge of developing common understanding of close reading. Together we have grappled with what close reading is and what it looks like in the classroom.

 So here is how I have come to understand close reading. Close reading is when the reader moves from literal understanding to abstract understanding. Close reading is when the reader analyzes the text to discern the author’s intended meaning. Text analysis in close reading requires the reader to observe what they notice about the text. What I have discovered is that the commonly known word notice can cause confusion in this definition. By notice, I am referring to the ability to be aware of what catches the reader’s attention.  Usually this is something that is of interest to the reader or something that surprises the reader. It can also be information that is new to the reader. An awareness of these observations helps the reader become aware of the metacognitive thinking the reader engages in, such as connections, visualizing, questioning, inferring, determining importance, and synthesizing. Close reading continues as the reader then looks for patterns across what was noticed. Finding patterns across the observations helps the reader discover the big ideas presented in the text. Discovering big ideas allows the reader to weed out observations that do not contribute to understanding the author’s intended meaning. Beers and Probst in Notice & Note identified “signposts” or patterns that occurred in all books. These “signpost” can be taught to students to support close reading. Beers & Probst also suggest that when students are taught these “signpost” the likelihood of students engaging in metacognitive thinking increases. Finally, as the reader continues to read closely, the reader uses the patterns to draw conclusions about the author’s intended meaning. The reader uses the big ideas to explore the significance of the ideas presented.

 The one thing that I have neglected to mention here is that close reading happens often during a reading of text. It can happen each time something in the text catches the reader’s attention. Something else that I did not mention is that close reading should not be done with everything that is read. Overuse of close reading will become another thing that turns a reader off from becoming a critical reader for life. 

How do you define close reading? How is my definition similar or different from your understanding? Let’s keep the conversation going until we reach a common understanding. A common understanding will only enhance teaching and learning. I’m in, how about you?

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