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Start a Close Reading Without Previewing the Text
October 22, 2018
Since close reading is applied only to complex and challenging texts, teachers often feel the need to frontload students in preparation. They tend to provide in-depth background information, a thorough text summary, and relevant vocabulary definitions.
However, part of what makes a close-reading experience significant is that it engages students in a “productive struggle.” It should be a “struggle” to understand the entire text in a single reading. It should be “productive” in that the reader’s perseverance and multiple reads lead to a deeper understanding of the text. Consequently, it’s best to minimize the traditional pre-reading activities on a close-reading day. Just get their noses in the books–just get them reading.
- Don’t hand-hold students through a page walking/preview of the complex text. Rather, provide a few moments for them to do it independent of you.
- Don’t simply give students the definitions to unfamiliar words. Rather provide simpler texts/sources for them to access, as needed. (In the real world, when an individual doesn’t know something, he “googles” it, meaning he goes to another, simpler source for support. This parallels the idea of providing additional simpler texts for students to build their own background knowledge.)
- Don’t ask students to make text-to-self connections before reading. Rather, just start reading. This keeps the focus on the author’s ideas–rather than the reader’s experience.
With minimal frontloading, the first reading of the text will not produce deep understanding. This is normal! Nobody understands everything about a complex text in the first read. That’s the whole point of closely reading a challenging text. It requires the reader to persevere, to reread, to dive back into the text to discover more meaning. Since a close-reading is about guiding students through the productive struggle, don’t remove the “struggle” by providing too much support before reading.