Teachers for Teachers | Using Close Reading to Understand the Deeper Meaning of a Text
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Using Close Reading to Understand the Deeper Meaning of a Text

At the IRA conference this spring we were fortunate enough to attend two different sessions that discussed Close Reading. Chris Tovani talked about how she uses close reading in her classroom and Nancy Frey and Doug Fisher shared strategies they use to teach students to annotate a text during close reading lessons.

Since close reading is mentioned in the Common Core State Standards but not described in-depth, it was helpful to hear these practitioners share specific strategies for using close reading to help students comprehend deeply. Here are some of the essentials we learned about close reading:
• Students reread the text multiple times. The purpose for rereading, however, isn’t about reading faster or fixing miscues. It is about searching for patterns and discovering deeper meanings.

• Students need lots of opportunities to talk about the text. They need time after an initial reading and then again after subsequent readings. Rereading, thinking and talking multiple times gives students opportunities to discuss their thoughts, ask questions, and gain new insights.

• Students need to be taught specific strategies in order to read closely. They need to learn how to read for different purposes and to record their thinking.

During Chris Tovani’s session, she shared how she teaches her students to reread a text for a different purpose on each rereading:
• Read the text first for plot
• Read it again to clear up a question and try to connect the title to the text
• Read it again with a literary element in mind

This made so much sense to us. These steps are simple enough that our students will remember them, yet broad enough that our students can use them when rereading any text. On each rereading we are not directing students to think in one specific way, but simply teaching them a strategy for uncovering the deeper meaning.

Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey talked about the importance of teaching students to annotate a text when reading closely. They recommend that students read the text first and then on a subsequent read annotate the text. Here are the annotation marks they teach students in grades 3-5:
• Underline the major points
• Circle keywords or phrases that are confusing or unknown to you
• Use a question mark for questions that you have during the reading. Be sure to write your question.

Annotating is not only an important strategy for students; it is terrific assessment tool for teachers. Once our students have annotated the text we can review their notes to get a glimpse of their thinking process. We can see what parts of the text they understood and what parts of the text were confusing. This information is helpful when we talk with students about their learning goals. Fisher and Frey have a great website, Literacy for Life, with lots of resources on close reading and annotation.

Both of these sessions demonstrated different ways to use close reading as a powerful tool for expanding our students’ comprehension. We are looking forward to trying these strategies with students.

  • Joan
    Posted at 13:19h, 02 August Reply

    This is a wonderful article! Well done girls!!

  • Glenda Bloxom
    Posted at 15:06h, 02 August Reply

    Thanks for sharing these ideas….I am digging for information about Close Reading and this was a helpful article…thanks

  • Janet F.
    Posted at 12:15h, 04 August Reply

    Thanks for these two shares. I was at IRA, too. I would like to mention that Dorothy Barnhouse and Vicki Vinton’s book What Readers Really Do is a great way to help children learn the process of close reading in meaningful, engaging ways. They presented at IRA. I have heard them speak at a number of conferences in the last two years and at NCTE ’12 a teacher from Colorado shared her recent experience using these ideas with her students. She showed us video tape of the students doing close reading ON THEIR OWN!! So I highly recommend the book as well as the authors who are literacy consultants in the NYC area.

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