Monday, September 2, 2013

Close Reading: Please don't let it be a return to "Read to answer the three questions at the end of the chapter."

This week marks the first of seven weeks of a Blog-a-thon from Christopher Lehman and Kate Roberts as they celebrate the coming publication of their new book from Heinemann, Falling In Love With Close Reading.  You can read their posts on Mondays here and on Thursdays here.  Chris and Kate invite readers to share their own thinking about close reading along the way.

That is what has inspired me to reboot my professional blog and share some of the things I've been concerned about for a while now as it relates to "close reading."  I'm hoping to return to regular posting here as a way to work through my thinking about literacy in general and coaching specifically.  I know that when I sit down and write my way through a topic, I come away with a greater understanding of whatever it was I was wrestling with.

Today it's close reading.

Chris really got my attention when he wrote this today:

"The term “close reading” seems to be experiencing a similar misapplied overuse:
Last spring, I attended a session on close reading at my state's reading association conference.  I was appalled by what I heard.  The presenters were basically saying that the purpose of close reading was to answer "text-dependent questions" and gave many examples of such questions.  Almost all of them were of the type that you would find at the ends of chapter sections in social studies or science books. 

If the whole point of the Common Core State Standards is to make sure students are college- and career- reading, then how does having students answer only these types of questions make them ready?  I can't remember a college professor in either my undergraduate or graduate work telling me to read a chapter and then answer the questions at the end.  Instead, I was asked to tease out what the author was trying to say or to trace a line of thinking across several texts or some such task that required me to think critically and read carefully in order to find the evidence to support my thinking or assertions.  This is the type of close reading I ask my students to do.

Another red-flag for me was the almost complete absence of student-generated questions. In the model described, there seemed to be no room for students to generate and find the answers to their own questions, generated by and answered within the text.  As an adult reader, I am asking and answering my own questions all of the time, and not at the direction of a teacher.  I ask myself questions like "WHAT?!" and "Where did that come from?" when an author surprises me. I ask, "Where can I find out more about XXX?" when an author hooks me on a topic.  I reread passages that make me stop in my tracks and notice the quality of the writing so that I can figure out how to do the same in my own writing.

In my coaching work with teachers, I will be thinking through many issues surrounding close reading as we move closer and closer to the PARCC assessments here in Illinois.  I'll be "close reading" just about every book and article on the topic that I can get my hands on. It will be through that careful reading and consideration that I will be able to refine my own thinking about this topic.  I'm looking forward to the journey.