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How I Interpret Close Reading

Is close reading just a fad?  Is it just annotating with symbols?  Is it something more?  Recently, my grade level team and I were in a Data Reflection Session (DRS) with our principal.  We started to discuss close reading and what resources might be available.  As the discussion veered to using consistent symbols when annotating, I offered that close reading shouldn’t be about the symbols!  It should be about interpreting, analyzing and understanding the text.  The focus should not be the annotation symbols.

Does anybody really know what close reading should look like?  To me, it should look like authentic reading.  What does that entail?  As I’m reading the text, words and phrases will stand out for me because they are unique or well written; words and phrases will make me question my understanding or wonder more; words and phrases will make me react emotionally; words and phrases will help me answer questions that I had before reading.

Just recently, I did a close reading with my class.  We are currently learning about the Mission Era in California’s history.  Taking a page from our social studies book, I projected a page for us to read together as a shared reading (enlarged text, we all — including the teacher — read together, all sitting on the rug up close while the teacher leads with a pointer).

We read it once through to get the gist.  Then we read it a second time to begin the interpretation, analysis and understanding.  That is when I annotated the text while it was projected against the whiteboard.  I did not use symbols.  Instead I underlined or circled and then wrote notes in the margins.  I modeled my thinking to the students.  But they were not passive either.  At points, I had them turn to a partner and discuss what they thought the underlined or circled words meant.  I also had them infer at one point why the Spanish built the Missions close to the coast and not farther inland.  That to me is more authentic.  That to me is what any reader would do.

Am I an expert on close reading? Not really, but I am trying to make reading more authentic for my students.  What are your thoughts on close reading?  Share your comments.

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2 thoughts on “How I Interpret Close Reading”

  1. I agree with you that sometimes the focus is too much on the symbols. If a student is worried they aren't using the "right" symbol instead of what the text is about, then there is an issue. I do like the idea of condensing the annotations to symbols because it opens up the idea of using some shorthand symbols for note-taking in general. Many students struggle with simplifying ideas and the symbols can help them do that. I think that CLOSE reading can be a useful technique, but should be used with flexibility according to what works for the individual student.

  2. I don't totally discount using symbols in the annotation of the text. What I do prefer though, is that students see CLOSE reading as an aide to deeper understanding of the text. As you said though, symbols are a good shorthand for note taking. But first, I am teaching my students to just analyze the text and annotate without symbols. As the need arises, symbols will be introduced to make CLOSE reading more efficient.


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