I shared my writing with my students and it was really powerful.
I know what you’re thinking:
Of course it was.
We all know this.
We know that we should write with our students, model for our students, share with our students.
But, I know that we don’t. Or, at least, I know that I don’t.
I have 5 preps. I have 150+ students. I am so far behind in grading, I would lose credit in my own class if I was one of my students.
When my students write, I am circling the room like a trapped bat, trying to simultaneously rescue introductory paragraphs from rhetorical question soft starts, shut down copied theses from Sparknotes, encourage students to find the balance between looking for their playlist and taking the entire class period to create their playlist, squelch the Snapchat selfie parade, and answer “how long does this have to be?” 14,535 times. When my students write, I am too busy desperately trying to do my job to write with them.
In celebration of their union, “Close Reading” and “Critical Reading” will now be addressed as simply “Critical Reading.” Please update your planbook accordingly.
In my first post of this series, I discussed and defined a problem that I see: that my colleagues and I are all using the term “Close Reading,” but we all have a different interpretation of what this means, and what it looks like in our classrooms. What is it that we are actually doing when we say we are doing “Close Reading”—and is it enough? In my second post, I read articles advocating for “Close Reading” and articles criticising it. As I read, I realized quickly that even the experts don’t agree on what “Close Reading” is and what it should look like in the K-12 classroom. In some cases (I’m looking at you, David Coleman), the experts seemed to disagree with even themselves.
Of course, the true issue is not what we call what we are teaching students to do when they are reading; the real issue is what we are teaching students to do when they are reading in our classrooms and in the world.
I truly believe that we must teach students to read closely for evidence, as well as to read critically, for inferences and ideologies—it is as important to read between the lines and to read for what is not being said as it is to read the words on the page. I believe that context and reader response are as important as the artistry of the words (and the claims and supporting evidence). I believe that “Close Reading” is simply not enough—and that “Critical Reading” cannot occur if students are not reading closely. We cannot simply “do Close Reading” if we want to truly teach our students how to read their world.Continue reading Naming the Elephant: An Announcement→
In my first post of this series, I unpacked the problem I saw with the term “Close Reading.” This buzzword seems to have many different interpretations. Everyone I’ve talked with is “doing Close Reading” withour students, but none of us is doing the same thing. I need to get to the bottom of this definition issue, so that I can try to determine what it is that I, personally, am teaching, and what it should be called.
I remember attending Common Core training in 2011 and getting irrationally angry as David Coleman talked down to his audience and then played supreme interpreter of all things text in his modeling of his close reading of “Letter From a Birmingham Jail.” With explicit instruction to avoid teaching pre-reading strategies, giving context or background knowledge, or asking students to make connections, Coleman instead insists we focus on the text and the text alone to glean the author’s meaning. In his more widely watched EngageNY tutorial, Coleman contradicts himself, by asking students to determine what is NOT in the letter, i.e. what the author is pushing back against. This is confusing. How can students infer if they are not supposed to access their own background knowledge? However, a bigger mistake is that he does not seem to be aware of who the audience of classroom instruction is: high school students cannot spend his recommended “6-8 days” being steered to insightful realizations about the text and its meaning by expertly constructed teacher-directed questions; this is “readicide,” as Kelly Gallagher would argue, simultaneously killing the text and the students’ interest in reading. Students need to be actively engaged, using multiple strategies and making connections with the text and with their understanding both of the context of the piece of writing and of their current world. But Coleman insists, “We cannot hear King if we jump too quickly to ‘What do you think?’ . . . It’s so tempting to go beyond the letter, but first we must honor and revere the letter.” Continue reading What Experts Say About the Elephant: What is Close Reading? And why do we do it?→
After months of research and soul-searching, I’ve come to the realization that I can’t use the terminology of “close reading” in my classes any longer. This has been a long journey for me, as I’ve tried to understand what “close reading” is or should be, and I’ve grown to believe that whatever it is, it is simply not enough. Close reading is only one part of an overall set of critical reading skills that we should be teaching and modeling in our classrooms.
I was first introduced to the buzzword “Close Reading” at an ISD workshop back in 2011, as they were rolling out the Common Core for our county. During the workshop, we ELA teachers watched an address to DC public schools on “Close Reading” by David Coleman (architect of the Common Core). I was decidedly irritated. Having already rewritten and aligned my curriculum to the Michigan Benchmarks, and later to the High School Content Expectations, I wasn’t really on board with rewriting everything, again, because of decisions made by yet another educational expert who never spent time in the classroom. And now, I was being told by Mr. Coleman that the author’s context and the reader’s response should not be part of the initial discussion of a text. No longer should I use pre-reading strategies, predictions, or mini-lessons; no longer should I encourage the students to make personal connections with the reading; the meaning in the literature would reveal itself, through the magic of “Close Reading” and my ability to structure my instruction with effective questions, thereby leading the students to the correct interpretation.Continue reading Defining the Elephant in the Room: What, Exactly, is Close Reading?→