At the risk of beating a dead horse, I’ll admit: I agree with those who suggest that close reading isn’t a strategy, and I’m grateful to them for sustaining this particular conversation, even as some are beginning to grow weary with it. It’s an important one.
If we fail to understand and honor the intention behind the call for close reading, we’ll likely fail to accomplish what is most critical: distinguishing readers who are strategic from those who merely apply strategies. It’s this distinction that enables us to provide a level of support that’s just right.
This is complex work that can begin with an awareness of varied strategies. Helping students read strategically requires tremendous assessment dexterity as well, though. When teachers read with and beside their students, talk with them about their reading practices, and observe them in process, powerful and often–unpredictable–discoveries are made. Our awareness of research-based practices and aligned assessment tools can help us notice trends and patterns, but more and more often, I’m finding that they can also restrict our vision. In my own work with teachers, we’ve found that simply paying attention and documenting what we see and hear helps us recognize entry points for intervention that may have otherwise remained unnoticed.
For example, I’ve observed that some readers are able to skim meaning from the surface of a text and draw reasonable if not obvious conclusions from it, but they struggle to access its deeper layers. This is where the richness lies. When we wrestle with ambiguity, consider stories and arguments from different perspectives, and notice how authors structure their work with careful intention, reading becomes a far more rewarding experience, and this is the entire point of close reading. When I invite a classroom full of kids to dive deep into texts and notice what’s interesting or important about them, they often suit up for the adventure and make a great splash. However, it’s not uncommon for me to find some of them bobbing along the surface long after their peers have broken through it and begun their descent. Unaware of the strategies that might help them dive deeper, they shift into a survival float and gain little to no satisfaction from the experience. Reading like this is an endurance test. In cases like these, strategy instruction isn’t just helpful–it’s critical. Strategies can help certain readers sink into a text purposefully, allowing them to discover the magic that lies far beneath its surface. I’ve found Chris Lehman and Kate Roberts’s book Falling in Love with Close Reading: Lessons for Analyzing Texts and Life particularly useful for readers like these, not simply because it’s chock full of great strategies, but because the approaches they share function much like habits. They’re predictable, powerful, and easily established.
These are the routines that enable readers to consider depth of the water they’re treading and dive…strategically….and independently.
Tomorrow, I’ll say more about what I’ve noticed as I spent a year implementing these strategies in classrooms. I’m interested to know more about how others made use of Lehman and Roberts’s recommendations and approaches as well. If this is you, please leave me a comment or drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m eager to hear more about what you’ve noticed and how you’ve responded to the readers you serve.