July 26, 2016

Demystifying “the Process of Meaning Making” and Close Reading

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Common Core reading anchor standard one outlines the expectation that students should:

Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from text.

This standard has drawn tremendous attention to “close, careful reading” leaving many to wonder what this means, exactly.  One of the best books that we know that deals with this topic is Dorothy Barnhouse and Vicky Vinton’s What Readers Really Do: The Process of Meaning Making.

This book is based upon the premise that  “we don’t actually read to practice inferring, identify a conflict, or learn what someone else has said…about the symbolism” but rather “those skills and this kind of knowledge all are a means to an end, but not the end itself.”

In this book, Barnhouse and Vinton introduce tools like the KNOW/WONDER chart where students carefully read line-by-line and track their thinking about what they “know” and what this part of the story makes them “wonder.”  As students do this work either collaboratively or independently, they call upon several strategies that require readers to cite evidence to support the inferences, ideas, and conclusions they are drawing as they read—all very Common Core ideas of what it means to read “closely and carefully.” This highly engaging tool allows students to integrate several comprehension strategies while actively setting a purpose for reading that helps them to notice things that might have gone unnoticed on a more cursory reading—again, the very purpose of the “close, careful reading” espoused by the Common Core.

As students become familiar and comfortable with this tool, Barnhouse and Vinton add new layers by adding a column for “other patterns this might connect with.”  This demonstrates to students the importance of identifying how parts of a text are related—yet another aspect of close reading outlined by Common Core reading anchor standard number five. Barnhouse and Vinton’s book is unfailingly committed to reading closely, thinking critically, and in their own words, teaching children “the way readers think as they read, not what to think.”


  1. I’m in London making my way back from Reggio Emilia, but just wanted to thank you so much for supporting my and Dorothy’s work! And I’m so glad to be part of a community that’s working so hard to make the Common Core really ‘meaningful’, not just the next thing coming down the pike.

    • Jan Burkins & Kim Yaris says:

      It pains us to imagine a world where students are given sets of text-based questions and asked to return to text and read again in the name of “close reading.” We were so excited as we read your book, Vicki, because we found ourselves shouting, “YES!” knowing that THIS better fit what we would like to imagine in the next generation of teaching and learning. We are so happy that you wrote it and it is our pleasure to help spread the word! Safe travels!

  2. I saw Dorothy Barnhouse at IRA in Chicago and was very impressed with her approach/presentation. She had videos that showed the children at work. I have used the term “habits of mind” for years and don’t know where I got it from, but recently saw that Rachel Billmeyer uses it in her work. By helping kids get the habit of close reading from early ages, perhaps the interest that can be generated early on through conversation and wondering, etc. plus layering on the other aspects of their approach will become truly integrated in that kids will use this independently. So once they get to higher grades, they will have the tools to engage with the higher text levels in more critical ways. Dorothy and Vicki give specific examples for teachers to learn from so I can see why you recommend this book. Thanks for the reaffirmation and sharing! I actually finally got around to ordering this just yesterday; I am now even more excited to read it.

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