As publishers continue to flood the market with “Common Core” aligned materials, the task of sifting through and weeding out the good from the bad becomes increasingly more difficult. Educators are particularly concerned about which materials to purchase to support students’ ability to read “closely and carefully.” In response to this growing concern, we offer you the following three questions to ask as you evaluate and vet the materials you are considering for your school.
1. How interested will your students be in reading the texts in this resource?
In developing their materials, many publishers have ignored the three defining characteristics of complex text (quantitative, qualitative, reader and task) and unfortunately include text that meet only the quantitative measure. Furthermore, in many cases, publishers are repurposing text that is decades old, offering students the dryest of reading selections. Because reading is a transactional relationship between reader and text, it is important that text be compelling. We cannot expect students to invest in close and careful reading if they lack the motivation, purpose, knowledge, or experience to be able to interact with the articles and/or stories in the resource. We recommend that educators read at least three to five different samples of text in a close reading resource to determine whether the content feels appropriate for the intended audience.
2. Who’s doing the work?
As we have perused many resources aimed at helping students read “closely and carefully,” we have noticed a trend toward the publisher determining when and where children should stop and think. Generally, these points are delineated by the insertion of a text-based question or task that asks students to reread to notice something deemed important about the text. While there is some value in supporting students’ ability to read closely and carefully in this way, we are skeptical that repeating this process over and over will yield the desired result–an independent and proficient reader. We believe that the decision making process about how to read closely and carefully is more important than answering a series of questions about a text. We recommend that educators consider how a resource releases thinking responsibility to the student. If there are no opportunities for students to make decisions about where to stop and think and what to think about, it is unlikely that they will transfer this skill to their own independent reading.
3. Are the questions worth answering?
In looking at several materials by several different publishers, it appears that “close reading” has been generalized to mean “exhaustive reading.” We find that more times than not, close reading resources leave no stone unturned. Text is chunked into equal portions and students are asked to notice and note details about every aspect of the text, regardless of its significance to the larger themes and messages of the text. We are concerned that this practice implies that all text is created equally, which it is not. Some text , even portions of classic literature, just isn’t worthy of close, careful rereading. We worry that time spent rereading to answer questions about inane sections of text will perpetuate what Kelly Gallagher calls “readicide,” or, the systematic killing of the love of reading.” As you evaluate resources for reading closely and carefully, we recommend that you consider how much rereading students do in each text and consider whether the questions in the text have students striving toward significant or superficial understandings.