Four years ago, as teachers began digging into the Common Core Learning Standards and making sense of the six shifts that underpin them, questions about close reading began bubbling to the surface of nearly every discussion I was included in:
What was it?
How would we teach it?
How would it be assessed?
How would we know if we were doing it correctly?
What would happen if we didn’t?
There were so many questions, but in the midst of this, I remember one very brave teacher raising her hand and starting what was the most powerful conversation about close reading that I’ve been a part of to date.
“I think I know what close reading is, and I just have to say: I miss reading like this,” she said. “It’s been so long since I’ve been able to savor something I’m reading. In fact, I’m not sure I know how anymore.”
“I’m not sure I do either,” someone else courageously admitted, inspiring nods all around. So many teachers sacrifice the reading they long to do for the reading they feel they must do. I’m guilty of this as well, and so I appreciated the unexpected invitation to remember.
I remember the first time I read the first chapter of To Kill a Mockingbird. I was daunted by length of it, catching my breath a little as my teacher placed my assigned copy on the corner of my desk, and I reluctantly wrote my name on the inside cover. I remember rereading those first pages several times, each pass bringing the setting into sharper relief. I’d never been to southern Alabama, but Harper Lee took me there. This was the first time a writer’s words drew me deep into the world she was creating, and getting there was no easy task. Somehow, the struggle made it sweeter. Not because it was hard, but because it was so much more rewarding. We read slower, we reread, and we argued about the conclusions we were drawing. They mattered. Not because we were using evidence to make a claim, but because the claims we were making had everything to do with the people we were becoming and the lives we were living. They were relevant. This was a book that pushed buttons. It was a book that forced us to grow up a bit. It was transformational, and talking with one another and our teacher in these ways was as well.
Somehow, reading in this way helped us know ourselves and one another better.
In my experience, this is how the best conversations about close reading begin. Not with strategies or procedures but with our own stories.
What are yours? How could you use them to define what close reading is and how you might support it best? How could sharing them inspire others to do the same?
I’ll be sharing some others here throughout the next few weeks, gathered from my work with teachers and students over the last several years.