Last year, as the Common Core state standards were implemented in full-force by schools across the country, “close reading” of “complex text” became the focus of many educators. In fact, as teachers aimed to amp up their instruction to align with the standards, they labored over text selection wondering if their choices were worthy of “a close read.” In many cases, complex text was supplanted by hard text and presented to students by enthusiastic but uncertain teachers saying things, such as:
- “Let’s do a close read of this text.”
- “We’re going to closely read this text.”
- “Let’s be sure to read closely and carefully.”
In fact, by the middle of October of last year, close reading was so emphasized in the schools Kim’s sons attended that it became the subject of sarcastic dinnertime humor. Her younger son would ask her older son, “So Matthew, did you read (imagine a ten year old child using air quotes here) ‘closely and carefully’ today?” For Matthew and Nathan, close reading was akin to a story map or a diorama—one of those things that teachers ask you to do in school.
As we ready for the new school year, it is important to remember that making meaning is the essence of reading. If children are leaving our classrooms with the idea that close reading–or in other words, mining text for its deepest meaning–is simply something that teachers ask you to do in school, then we must work hard to reclaim meaning making as inherently valuable to reading. Perhaps this year, it might serve us better to reserve “close read” and variant terms to use in professional planning conversations with colleagues. We should exchange ideas about the different ways we are able to help children reach new understandings or achieve insight into a text, or, in other words, read closely. Perhaps we needn’t remind students that they are reading closely but rather, that they are doing the important work of reading: understanding.