If we untangle the term “Close Reading” from the unfamiliar title and the tie-in with the contentious Common Core Standards, we see that the strategies are not new and also are very useful, even essential, to critical thinking and learning.
Here are 7 helpful strategies to use across the curriculum:
1. Language, Narrative, Syntax, & Context as decor.
Make sure students are familiar with the steps of close reading by displaying them prominently and practicing them frequently.
Students may not remember the word “syntax” later, but may remember practicing how to notice when a story repeats important words over and over, or that it begins with one tone and finishes with another.
2. Model the steps over and over and over and over.
It is essential that students hear their instructor verbally walk through the steps of close reading frequently and with consistency.
This is a lifelong skill, and students must become fluent in it!
3. Understand, then share.
Make sure students have read and reread the text multiple times and have interacted with it thoroughly before they discuss it together.
Working together is great way to expand knowledge, assuming that they already have a base-level of understanding. Make sure groups and partner activities are not breeding grounds for misinformation and confusion.
4. Use a wide variety of texts to practice this skill.
Students, even in a literature class, should practice close reading of informational and technical text, as well as funny poems, sports articles, Dr. Seuss books and more. Every student should practice reading something they are interested in, as well as something outside of their comfort zone.
Here’s a great video example of older students doing a close reading of “Oh, the places you’ll go”.
5. Show the value.
Sources are concluding that “fake news” sources played a role in the results of our most recent election.
One study recently looked at student ability to determine the credibility of sources and found the results not just dismaying, but “shocking“.
Even outside of politics, it is easy to show students how much “language sense” is important for their lives. There is no billboard, internet ad or blog post that is going to be without bias or require no analysis.
6. Practice “errorless learning”— meaning perfectly-scaffolded learning.
In Applied Behavioral Analysis, the instructor aims to make sure that the learner is working at the exact level they are ready for. Can they perform at 80% or better at the current level? If not, the level is adjusted or additional assistance is given.
In close reading, we are teaching how to interact with a text that may be easy, may be hard, may require more than 80% of one’s attention at a time. Start students with the level they are ready for, and incrementally show them how to tackle something more substantial.
With something as essential and as foundational as close reading, students need to feel successful and capable at this strategy.
Carefully select the texts for interest and appropriate reading level so that dread is not step one of the analysis.
Being able to function and interact with a text that is at least 20% above their comfort level is foundational for future success as a learner. Those early trials of close learning where new words are circled and difficult concepts are explored are critical.
7. Embrace it.
Close reading is how we function as critical thinkers in an information age.
Close reading is how we determine which articles online are reputable and which are highly biased.
Close reading is how we assemble our Swedish furniture, understand technical wording in contracts or explore human connection in poetry.
Don’t send your students into the world without eyes for critical and close reading! What are your favorite strategies?