The Art and Science of Close Reading in the Classroom

At first glance, the Common Core standards for reading education don’t seem all that different from what teachers have been doing for decades. Unlike math and science, both of which saw major shake-ups in instruction strategies, could reading have survived the Common Core unscathed?

Not quite. The Common Core has rules about utilizing close reading strategies in the classroom to build independent and capable readers. In truth, close reading isn’t all that different from how most teachers help kids gain reading and comprehension skills, but if you are new to close reading, you would do well to learn more about the science (and art) behind this helpful education technique.

The Art: What Close Reading Looks Like

Close reading helps readers develop practical familiarity with a text, which results in enhanced abilities of observation and interpretation. The textual analysis required by close reading helps readers understand and accept what the text says, how the text says it and what the text ultimately means.

That’s all well and good — but what does close reading actually look like in the classroom?

Close reading consists of removing crutches that students can use to avoid working directly with the text. In the past, teachers would often try to make reading simpler for students by including pictures or images, brief summaries or bullet points that explain the main points of the text. In the long run, these aids prevent students from developing both the reading skills and the critical thinking skills that they need to be strong, successful readers. To bring close reading into the classroom, you need to eliminate this type of assistance and alter your reading lessons to push students to learn greater competency. Through close reading, students should understand not just what a text says but also what it means and how the author accomplished their goals.

Some things you can do to facilitate close reading include:

  • Creating or using short texts that can be read and reread for different purposes, so students can gain understanding from different angles.
  • Avoiding frontloading information with summaries or pre-teaching, so students are forced to do perform greater comprehension and analysis.
  • Focusing on the reader’s experience with the text, so teachers don’t impose their own opinions and prevent students from thinking critically.

At first, its’s likely that students will be unaccustomed to expending so much energy to decipher a text, and they could resist your efforts, hoping to regain the crutches they used to read previously. If you find yourself falling back on your old ways, you can use tools like Learning A-Z Close Reading to equip yourself with the right materials for this new standard.

As always, you should strive to make reading lessons feel as little like work as possible. You can focus on creating conversation around the text, which helps to engage students who enjoy speaking in class. Additionally, you can diversify the subject of the texts to ensure students with different interests feel compelled to read and interact.

The Science: Why Close Reading Works

The creators of Common Core did not mandate close reading for no reason; close reading strategies have been shown to have great efficacy in creating stronger, more able readers. In addition to forcing students to come into direct contact with the text — which gives them more experience performing the acts of reading and comprehending — there are two pinpointed reasons for why close reading works:

Close reading gives readers a purpose. Each time a student delves into a text, they have a particular goal — perhaps to discern the plot or decipher the author’s technique. This means readers can direct their efforts in searching the text for specific information and gain knowledge and comprehension more efficiently. Plus, practicing different reading purposes helps students develop different methods of reading, which they can employ in different circumstances as needed.

Close reading helps readers build a better brain map. Neuroscience experts believe the human brain creates and stores knowledge in a system of ideas and meanings that are interrelated and connected. However, nearly all knowledge is tied to the ability to read because reading is a central part of gaining new information. By mastering the foundational ideas and abilities of knowledge acquisition, i.e. literacy, students will be more adept at retaining and accessing knowledge from other subjects.

Even before the Common Core, close reading was an exceptional strategy to employ in the classroom; now, it is mandatory that teachers employ close reading as a dominant driver of literacy. The sooner you adopt close reading lessons, the sooner you can help your students succeed.

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