Today my colleague, Courtney Jablonski, and I did a full-day session on the ELA PARCC Model Content Frameworks and Common Core Learning Standards for Literacy. Among the various activities and resources we presented was an exercise on text complexity and close reading. We chose a relevant topic, invasive species in Adirondack Lakes, to teach the strategy. Audience members were asked to read a technical passage about Eurasian Water-Milfoil and highlight the words they didn’t know, underline passages that confused them, circle parts they found really interesting, and in the margin write things they wanted to know more about. Our purpose was to demonstrate the practice of close reading, something we did indeed accomplish in that one-hour activity. More importantly, we wanted to show how content area teachers outside of English Language Arts could easily bring literacy into the classroom. A webcast of the exercise can be accessed through YouTube.
Close reading. Hmmmm. Why the focus on close reading? David Coleman and Susan Pimentel write about it in Common Core Publishers’ Criteria. David Coleman and Kate Gerson speak about it in the Common Core videos on EngageNY, and Doug Lemov spreads the good word about it in Race to the Top Network Team training sessions. When you get right down to it, is there any other way to read but closely? To pay attention to details? To delve deeper into the content, positions, and evidences? As with learning and lasting comprehension, it seems implausible to read for understanding without paying close attention.
It dawned on me last evening that close reading is really about attending to details. Paying attention to text, or anything that lasts longer than seven seconds, is becoming increasingly difficult in our over stimulating world. Whether we’re talking scientific inquiry, analysis of primary documents in history classes, using algorithms in math, or plying through a new smart phone app for the first time, we must pay close attention to what we’re doing. As Race to the Top continues to be rolled out in schools across the nation, teaching our children to read closely and attend to details will be the responsibility of all teachers, not just those who teach English Language Arts. Our children will surely benefit through rigorous and relevant instruction that relies more on complex texts and text-based evidence.