Top Visible Learning Literacy Strategy: Close Reading
To effectively close read a text, teachers need to effectively shine a spotlight on the most important objective or standard they are unpacking in that text. Far too often, we get swept away in ALL that we can find in a text, and the effect is that students may re-read a passage, they do not realize what they are re-reading for.
One of my favorite resources on the topic of close reading is Reading Reconsidered by Doug Lemov, Colleen Driggs, and Erica Woolway. In this text, the authors strategically unpack the needed questions and thinking strategies to engage readers in metacognitive analysis of texts. What's unique to this text is that their strategies apply to all levels or readers--from elementary to collegiate levels.
To unify our strategies to strengthen reading analysis, I spent two years guiding my English department through the key pieces of their research. Below you will find one of our "cheat sheets" for approaching close reads with our students.
To engage learners in a close read, teachers must model metacognitive techniques and think aloud with their students. Live note-taking and annotating add action and urgency to the thinking, and students can be drawn into the decisions around the text during this process.
Here I share a free, 30 minute OnDemand on Keep Indiana Learning, I model a close read in action by unpacking Shel Silverstein's "Somebody Has To Go Polish the Stars." It's important to note that close reading can be done with any type of text--including graphics--as long as text is complex enough that a focused re-read is required.
Close reading is not the same as re-reading, and we need to understand the distinctions in our classrooms. While re-reading a text is an effective strategy to improve comprehension, close reading is a guided, focused unpacking of deeper meaning within the text. Lemov, Driggs, and Woolway also argue (as do I) that often it's best to toggle between comprehension and analysis questions in a close read.
At the end of the day, teachers need to model and think aloud for their students how to discover the deeper meaning that authors craft into their writing. We should not expect students to eventually age-out of needing close reads. When the difficulty of the text increases, a close read is an effective visible strategy to increase learning.
Some of the best close reads I have observed occur in AP Literature and Language courses, so keep in mind that your students will never hit a magical age or time of the year when they are now solely independent close readers.
They can increase their awareness of what to look for or how to unpack a complex text, but the goal is not wean them off of close reads. The goal is to model techniques that they will instinctively apply (over time) as they face difficult texts independently.