I have been working on a seminar presentation for my latest class. The topic is close reading. I have done a little bit of reading on the topic and it just makes sense that teachers would use this idea for teaching children to read deeply and express their thoughts both verbally and in writing about the different types of texts they encounter during their matriculation through each grade level. Although the idea of close reading has primarily been done in secondary education, it can be and has been adapted for use with elementary school classrooms. I will spend the rest of my time writing what I have learned about close reading.
What is Close Reading?
According to Fisher & Frey (2012) close reading is an instructional routine in which students critically examine a text, especially through repeated readings. It is basically a way for readers to take a deeper look at what they are reading. The idea is that they discover a deeper meaning of the text with each repeated read. Close reading is not a new concept. It began in the mid twentieth century. It is not a stand-alone routine it is meant to be embedded in your literacy practices. (I.e. interactive read-alouds and shared readings, teacher modeling and think-alouds, guided reading with leveled texts)
What are Features of a Close Reading?
In order to effectively implement a close reading there are some key features that you need to have. Those key features are short passages, complex text, limited frontloading, repeated readings, text dependent questions, and annotation. Each of these features are an important part of an effective close reading. There are some modifications that need to be made to make close reading effective for elementary school setting and I will discuss them further as necessary.
For close reading to be effective, students need to have a condensed version of a text to work with. This text can come from a longer piece of text or can be a stand-alone reading. The idea is that they take a close reading of a text that is anywhere from one paragraph to no more than 3 or 4 (that is also depending upon the grade and reading levels of your students). Students should be able to spend time reading and rereading the text without stamina being a problem. The amount of text is also determined by the age and grade level of your students.
The text that are chosen for close reading seem to be more difficult for students—at the instructional level of most of the class. An adaptation for elementary classrooms would be for that text to be at the independent level of most students and that text would first be read as a shared reading with the teacher and the students to help with the complexity of the text for the students who might have a lower reading level. The same text teachers might choose as a good read-aloud; the ones with the rich vocabulary, a true story structure, complex plot and your informational text are good for close reading.
Frontloading is basically, setting up the text. Teachers, especially elementary teachers do this before reading to get students reading to read the text they are giving. With close reading, secondary teachers just allow students to read through the text and then have an initial discussion which leads to the set up for the second and third readings of the text. For elementary students, there can be some limited frontloading. Frontloading may be necessary when students need to know the meaning of words and phrases to understand and follow the flow of the reading. Multiple meaning words may have students confused if they know one meaning of the word but not the one related to the meaning in the text they are reading.
Burkins & Yaris, (2016) say that repeated readings are rereading for the purpose of recognizing details and nuances of text that may go unnoticed during a cursory first read so that new understandings and insights may reveal themselves. This is more than just rereading for the sake of increasing stamina and building fluency although that is also accomplished here. With close reading, each repeated reading has a specific purpose and children are reading again to look for something specific they may not have seen with the first and subsequent readings of the text.
Text Dependent Questions
To address text dependent questions, we use the QAR: Question-Answer Relationship (Raphael & Au, 2005) strategy. This strategy uses four different types of questions to direct student thinking starting with:
Secondary and college students have been taught to “take notes” while reading. They may circle, underline, or highlight words and/or phrases in the text that stand out to them as important. They also make notes in the margins or with graphic organizers. Elementary aged students can be taught to annotate text as early as kindergarten. It would start as a shared or interactive experience. One suggestion was to use wiki sticks to underline key ideas in shared text read from big books. As students get older they learn to do that themselves in their own text and then move to using pencils, colored pencils, highlighters, or crayons to underline text. Eventually students will be underlining and circling key ideas that have been modeled for them. With a gradual release of responsibility happens by 4th and 5th grade.
What is the close reading process?
Close reading is repeated reading with each repeated reading getting more specific with the types of questions being asked. The repeated readings can happen over a few days or at separate time in one day (if the passage lends itself to that). The initial reading for elementary students can be a shared reading and a basic introduction of the text, remembering not to do too much setting up of the text or at the secondary level the students begin the initial reading of the text with minimal frontloading of the text by the teacher. The next reading is done after a specific purpose for reading – in the form of a question– is posed. Finally, another set up with a specific questions to begin a final reading of the text. As students are reading, they are making notes either on a separate document or on directly on the text to help them focus on the purpose for that reading.
Close reading helps give students the skills necessary to synthesize new information with information already in their schema. It helps build habits that good readers need to be able to engage with a complex piece of text. The key features of a close reading lend themselves to a deeper understanding of text. Students learn to read for specific purposes while practicing the reading skills all good readers have. Close reading is not a standalone reading practice. It goes along with several instructional practices. Starting in kindergarten, students can begin using and practicing reading for specific purposes and begin to understand that some texts need to be read and reread to be totally comprehended.
Thank you for reading...
Fisher & Frey (2012). Close reading in elementary schools. The Reading Teacher.
66179-188 DOI: 10.1002/TRTR.01117
Raphael, T.E., & Au, K.H. (2005). QAR: Enhancing comprehension and test taking across
grades and content areas. The Reading Teacher, 59, 206-221.
Pearl Garden is a doctoral candidate at Texas A&M- Commerce. Follow along as she chronicles her pursuit of her Ed. D in Supervision-Curriculum and Instruction- Elementary Education. Just know that these are the ramblings of a doc student and a lot of what you read is a first draft and will go through some rewrites.