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Independent Close Reading

I hesitate to criticize a good thing too harshly. We teachers tend all-too-often to abandon something that works for the new latest and greatest educational fad.  This is certainly not my intention in criticizing aspects of the close reading strategy and suggesting revisions.

By way of reminder, close reading is a multi-level strategy to encourage readers to access meaning independently.  Close reading advocates achieve this end by avoiding pre-reading strategies and using text-dependent questions to complete three reading tasks: during the first read, students focus on gleaning key ideas and details. In the second read, students focus on how the author has designed the text (craft and structure). In the third reading, students focus on the integration of knowledge and ideas, such as preparing to use the text in discussion, writing, and comparisons with other texts. Close reading is certainly nothing new and is only one means of helping students become more analytical readers, as I describe in a related article., “Close Reading: Don’t Read Too Closely.”

Close Reading

Close Reading: Don’t Read Too Closely

Since the advent of the Common Core Standards and the concurrent re-popularization of the close reading strategy by the Common Core authors, teachers have been teaching more rigorous, expository text (a good thing). Teachers are training students to dig deeply into text and read for meaning (a great thing). Teachers have abandoned pure reader response, a.k.a. whole language, activities which focus more on what the reader brings to and gets out of the text rather than what the author has to say (a radical paradigm shift). Wahoo!

However, as noted U.C. Berkeley reading researcher, David Pearson, comments about close reading : “We need a mid-course correction, not a pendulum swing… but with BALANCE in mind… (making) sure that it applies to several purposes for reading (and will) encompass literal, interpretive, and critical reading tasks” (Pearson).

Mid-course Corrections: Two Proposals

1. Close reading advocates are wrong about avoiding pre-teaching. Cold reads in-them-of-themselves do not develop independent readers. Teachers do need to pre-teach (the “into step” of reading) and/or have students pre-research the topic (if an expository close reading) or the author, context and/or genre (if a narrative close reading), especially with rigorous reading-level close readings. Having students access prior knowledge and gap-filling with our diverse learners via pre-teaching strategies (Marzano) improves comprehension and does not turn our students into teacher-dependent learners. Indeed, comprehension builds upon comprehension and enables students to independently access text. The reading research of the last sixty years is quite extensive regarding the positive impact of pre-reading strategies.

2. Close reading advocates over-emphasize the value of text-dependent questions. Now, I certainly agree that we don’t want to return to non-dependent text questions, such as “How does this make you feel?” “How does this apply to your life?” How does your life apply to what the author says?” Aargh! My point is that text-dependent questions foster teacher-dependence during the reading process itself. The goal of reading becomes answering the teacher’s questions. Now I’m not saying that we shouldn’t add insight and provoke relevant reader response with some of our teacher questions. However, if we are to create truly independent readers, we need students to develop self-generated question strategies. This interactive talking to the text has a solid research base and is key to improving reading comprehension.

So let’s tweak a good thing (close reading) and make it a better reading strategy that truly helps teachers develop independent readers. Let’s use Independent Close Reading to accomplish that end. Interested in resources to help you do just that? Check out the Close Reading Expository Worksheet FREE resource download HERE and the Close Reading Narrative Worksheet FREE resource download HERE. But first, download your Close Reading Narrative Worksheet below. So many free ready-to-use resources, news, and product discounts available only in the Pennington Publishing Newsletter.

The SCRIP Comprehension Strategies resource includes posters for each of the five comprehension strategies to prompt self-generated questions, SCRIP comprehension bookmarks, and five lessons to teach these strategies.

Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies FREE Resource:

Intervention Program Science of Reading

The Teaching Reading Strategies (Intervention Program) is designed for non-readers or below grade level readers ages eight–adult. This full-year, 55 minutes per day program provides both word recognition and language comprehension instructional resources (Google slides and print). Affordable and evidence-based, the program features the 54 Sam and Friends Phonics Books–decodables for each lesson and designed for older students. The digital and print word recognition activities and decodables are also available as a half-year (or 30 minutes per day) option in The Science of Reading Intervention Program. Both programs include the easy-to-teach, interactive 5 Daily Google Slide Activities.


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