Close Reading: Not for Every Text

“Prepare for the tsunami!  Prepare for the earthquake!  Prepare . . . .”

“DANGER!  Will Robinson!”

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Tweet from Michigan Reading Association (March 9, 2013):  “Close reading takes place 2 or 3 times a week. Not all day every day. –Doug Fisher #MRA13″

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Highly skilled teachers are constantly talking with students who are reading books to see if the students are applying the skills that they have been taught. Nothing new there.  Solid core instruction (checking for understanding/application)!

Is there a list of skills that need to be taught?  Well, it depends . . .

  • What skills does the student already have executive control over/with?
  • What skill does the student need for the next genre or text in any content area?
  • How do you know what the student knows?  Or doesn’t know?

There is no “curricula of close reading text” that all students can or should be comprehending. One goal of the Common Core is that students will be “College and Career Ready.”  Specific ranges and genres of text expectations are included in RL.10 and RI.10 and exemplars are also listed in Appendix B. (Nor should there be a curricula of close reading text!)

We do not want students to have a view that  reading is only something that is done “at school.”   “Assigning complex text”  should not be a standard event if the student has not had skilled, scaffolded instruction that will allow him/her to construct the meaning of the text.  Constructing the meaning may involve a bit of a struggle.  It also may allow for multiple understandings to co-exist especially when backed with textual evidence!

I was reminded today that there are many views of “close reading” available because this idea has been around since 1929.  But the feeding frenzy in the publishing world now has a “close reading” for every page of every story in some primary basal texts.  Really?  Why? (refer back to the bulleted questions above)  Is every piece of text “complex enough” to require close reading?  If the answer is no, heed the warning that began this blog.  Ask questions when you are quizzed about how often you are modeling “close reading.”

Need more information?

In 2010, Newkirk said,  “Not all texts demand this level of attention but some texts do!” He added, “We never really ‘comprehend’ these anchoring passages – we’re never done with them; we never consume them.  Like sacred texts, they are inexhaustible, continuing to move us, support us, and even surprise us” (p. 11).

Doug Fisher reminds us often that “Reader Response Theory” is a part of Rosenblatt’s (1978) work.  “The formal elements of the work – style and structure, rhythmic flow – function only as a part of the total literary experience”(p.7).  An individual’s interpretation may change over time. Doug uses the example of The Jungle Book when discussing close reading in his book titled Text Complexity. A child might believe the theme is loyalty and friendship while an adult could see an anti-colonialist message (p.107).

There is always a balance.  .  . A time to learn a new skill.  .  . A time to practice a skill.  But remember the caution from the last blog post.  The “reader response” needs to be based on the text.  Yes, it can include “connections” that are based on the text.  The response should NOT exclude the text and result in “rewrite the ending to include an outcome you would prefer” (Fisher, p. 107).

Choose your close reading text carefully.  Consider your student data.  Consider your knowledge of your students.  Consider your knowledge of the curricula.  Consider the next steps to independent application . . . and your students will be on the road to being College and Career Ready!

How do you know when you need to plan a  “close reading”? Please share your ideas in a comment!

Newkirk,T. (2010) The case for slow reading. Educational Leadership, 67(6), 6-11.

Fisher, D., Frey, N., & Lapp, D.(2012). Text complexity: Raising rigor in reading. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

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  1. […] Close Reading: Not for Every Text (February 28, 2013 post) […]

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