Close Reading: Additional Resources and Text-dependent Questions

Over the next two weeks, I will be presenting in a PD for both of the high school English departments on close reading.

One of the things I have grown to appreciate about the process is how it leads students to create meaning from the text for themselves without the interpretation being managed by the facilitator of the classroom, thus creating a student-centered experience with the text that supports critical thinking.

One of the major premises of the close reading strategy is that teachers do not front load the text any more than absolutely necessary.  Another is that any information that is given should not be able to be found in the text itself.  This increases the amount of time students spend engaging in the text while in the classroom.  It also allows them the opportunity to “struggle” with the text to discover meaning.  A third premise is that the majority of questions asked of students should require a close analysis of the text itself; furthermore, the questions should eventually push students beyond the text to search for what is implicit.

In preparation for the PD, I have been doing some additional research and have found some worthwhile resources.  One I like is a blog by Timothy Shanahan, a professor at the University of Illinois who specializes in reading.  He provides a thoughtful context for thinking about different types of “text-dependent” questions to meet separate purposes each reading.

He states, “…close reading is an intensive analysis of a text in order to come to terms with what it says, how it says it, and what it means.”

Here is a summary of the process he describes for building questions and exploring the text on different levels:

  1. Reading one: figure out what the “text says;” this is purely comprehension based
  2. Reading two: figuring out how “the text works;” this focuses on what the author was doing to accomplish his or her goals
  3. Reading three: figure out what the text “means;” this focuses on “going deeper” and asking questions about: the value of the author’s perspective, the skill or artfulness with which they delivered the information, and the connections students can build between this new text and others things they have read in the past

Here is a link to a blog post he wrote that provides a summation of the close reading strategy.  This second link is to a Power Point about close reading by the same source.

Harvard’s explanation of the close reading strategy is a little different, but equally as interesting.  It is also very student-directed and seems like a clear way to explain what a student should do when planning an analysis for longer, as well as shorter, pieces.

1.  Reading one: Read the text “with a pencil in hand” and annotate.

2.  Reading two: Look for patterns in the annotations from the first reading, specifically “repetitions, contradictions, similarities” in the text.

3.  Question the patterns noted, specifically, ask why and how.

4.  Reading three: Look back at the text and try to answer the questions generated in step three.

Here is a Close Reading Overview with an explanation of “reading shifts” and additional resources for these shifts.

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