Monday, February 18, 2013

On close reading and CCSS: Reading Anchor Standard #10

Todd Finley accurately states that close reading is only one pathway to understanding. He's referring to the Gettysburg Address and the emphasis David Coleman and others have placed on this particular text. Mr. Finley also notes that close reading reclaims a very old strategy for reading; one that had been proven and, apparently, discarded for a newer strategy.

Finley also notes
In a training session last summer, I observed 20 veteran teachers struggle to comprehend Lincoln's speech. Likewise, many students will initially need help comprehending literary nonfiction before they can pick up a text cold and successfully analyze it. Dave Stuart, Jr., a NYC teacher, in a blog about this perennial challenge asks, "How do I avoid over-teaching and under-teaching the complex texts we read in class?" Based on his interpretation of Kelly Gallagher's Deeper Reading: Comprehending Challenging Texts, 4-12, Stuart offers abundant support. "But there's got to come a point in each text where, in order to avoid enabling helplessness, I need to gradually release my students into independently grappling with the complex text in front of them." This approach is known as the gradual release of responsibility model. 
If I may, the purpose of teaching students a process for close reading is precisely so they can analyze and manage tasks related to a new text when confronted with something they've never seen before. As in, perhaps, a standardized test situation.

While there has been some sniffing about the "I do/we do/you do" gradual release model, there is, I believe, a time and place for this kind of instruction depending on the learning objectives and the capabilities of their students, which assumes, however dangerously, that teachers don't randomly select strategies and try them without thinking about learning objectives and the capabilities of their students. For another view of this model you might go here for a video titled "Improving Practice with Sarah Brown Wessling."

As a literature professor, what I like about the close reading approach is that it forces students to re-read a text and quite likely forces them to slow down a bit in the process of reading. I would not want to implement the close reading process the same way for every class period, but I can see its value in providing a structure for students (and teachers) and, ultimately, helping students develop and refine skills to be independent and proficient readers.

Good teachers make instructional choices based on their learning objectives for their students and their knowledge of their students' capabilities. Really good teachers know that it's important to challenge their students, sometimes a little and sometimes a lot. And excellent teachers know that scaffolding is only temporary and the overall objective is, as indicated in Reading Anchor Standard #10, to enable our students to "read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently."

If the occasional close reading of any text helps students develop and refine skills to achieve that standard, then I think it makes sense to implement close reading strategies. With or without the Gettysburg Address.

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