Close reading. What is it?

This year, one of our network priorities has been close reading. We believe close reading is an essential component of literacy instruction and a crucial skill for our scholars to develop in today’s world. Close reading demands that students not only understand what a text says, but how it says it, and what it means at the deepest level. Across Hiawatha Academies, we’ve been working to bring our vision to reality this year:

When you walk into any classroom, you will see students engaging with high-quality, complex and relevant texts. They will grapple with making meaning and come to deep understanding, through careful and purposeful rereading of parts of the text, writing, and robust discussion, always citing evidence to support ideas.

By closely reading that vision statement, we can get a better understanding of what close reading looks like in practice.

When you walk into any classroom, you will see…

Close reading is a network-wide priority which means that we care about literacy in all of our classrooms, across disciplines and content areas. The ability to read and comprehend complex text is an essential skill that must be developed and practiced throughout the day.closereading2

…students engaging with…

Close reading is an active process. Students engage as focused, critical readers and thinkers. They jump into texts with purpose, closely examining the words and phrases of the text to discover how they create deep meaning.

…high-quality, complex, and relevant texts.

We believe that text is significant! We strive to read rigorous, complex texts that examine complex ideas that are relevant to our students’ lives. We know that texts can present challenges that can be a barrier to understanding, and commit to intentionally planning to support students in overcoming these.

They will grapple with making meaning and come to deep understanding…

The meaning of text, as opposed to isolated skill development, is the purpose of our close reading lessons. We strive to equip students with flexible strategies that will help them look closely at an author’s language and choices in order to come to deeper understanding and meaning than they might have on a first read. An essential part of this process is asking questions and then seeking answers—grappling.

…through careful and purposeful rereading of parts of the text…

With complex text, a single read through is rarely enough to get to the deeper meaning. Close reading lessons ask students to go back into the text multiple times, with different purposes, each time noticing new evidence and patterns that lead them to a deeper understanding.

…writing and robust discussion…

Meaning making is a collaborative process! We believe in the power of writing and discussion with peers to help students initiate, develop and revise their ideas about the text. We strive for classrooms where students’ voices drive the collaboration and meaning making of the text.

…always citing evidence to support ideas.

Close reading lessons always return to the text. Our students can form their own interpretations and understandings and support their arguments with specific language from the text.

One example from a fourth-grade classroom at Hiawatha. Students were reading A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park, a complex and relevant text, a story of Salva, an eleven-year-old boy experiencing life as a refugee in Sudan in 1985, and Nya, a girl growing up in Sudan in 2008. While reading the chapter that day, the teacher pauses at a critical moment to have students closely read the author’s language to discover deeper meaning:

“It was hard to keep hope alive when there was so little to feed it.”

Students then grappled with the meaning of this sentence by considering the teacher’s questions: What is “it” at the end of the sentence talking about? Is “hope” something that really needs food to stay alive? What does the author really mean when she says “there was so little to feed it?

They first wrote down their initial ideas, then discussed with a partner and as a whole group. Their discussion and collaborative thinking led to deeper understanding of the experience of the characters and the themes of the novel that students continued to develop as they read the rest of the novel.

Close reading is a powerful tool that all students should use to make meaning of the world around them through deep analysis of text and the tools authors use to construct meaning.