How to Make or Break Close Reading in the Primary Classroom

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A quick google search of “Teacher Blog Close Reading” will yield an abundant harvest of graphic organizers, posters, passages and book recommendations. It’s hard to believe that just a few short years ago, many of us were cautiously dipping a toe in the waters of close reading. Now it seems that Common Core ELA and Close Reading are synonymous. This can be a dangerous over-simplification, especially if teachers aren’t sure why they are re-reading a text multiple times with their students.

That being said, I am often exasperated with the timidity of educators and coaches in bringing close reading into the primary classroom. Just because your earliest memory of annotating text and rereading for meaning was in high school or college does not mean my kiddos aren’t capable of doing just that (with a simpler text, of course).

I’ve found a number of consistencies between the practice of close reading and research-based learning experiences that are known to grow good readers, such as:

  • listening to a fluent reader
  • modeled think-alouds where an expert reader responds to the text
  • exposure to complex text
  • repeated readings of a text
  • text-dependent comprehension questions

In spite of these many advantages to using close reading in the primary classroom, it’s certainly not foolproof. Here are a few common mistakes I’ve learned from or observed:

  1. Please don’t close read entire books. Close reading is definitely about quality over quantity. Would you take your class to visit a museum and expect them to read every plaque on every exhibit? That would be drudgery, and so many asides could cause them to miss the overall message.
  2. Please make sure you have selected a portion of the text that is worth examining. The section that you share with your students can shift their entire perspective of the work. Imagine if you were to section off the Mona Lisa until all that was visible was her hand. Would that develop the same understanding of the picture as if you had chosen her smile?
  3. Please make sure you have jotted down a few elements worth noticing in the text selection. This will focus your instruction and help students understand what to look for in this and other texts. (Which leads me to…)

4. Close reading is NOT just re-reading a text multiple times. Or even going back to a text to find the answers to text dependent questions. While there are certainly benefits to multiple re-readings in building fluency, students should be expected to uncover another layer of meaning in the text with each re-reading. If their capacity to glean more meaning seems to have plateaued, end the lesson by modeling your own thinking and return to the text another day.

Like any aspect of instruction, close reading can become a part of our day where we are simply going through the motions. Consider, though, that like the stretches and strength-building drills of athletes, close reading can grow thoughtful, capable readers. And like a coach that keeps the game in mind, we teachers must consider the end goal of reading instruction: lifelong readers!

How does close reading fit into your classroom? Do your students dread it or eat it up? Leave your comments below.

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