Purposeful Close Reading

Like so many educational colleagues, I have physical and virtual piles of professional readings about the art of close reading. I am truly enjoying the posts written by Christopher Lehman, Kate Roberts, and those of the contributors to their #Close Reading Blog-a-thon. Bloggers have discussed the ideas of close reading and the concept of the reader being the fifth corner of the text, which I love. As I continue to read and reflect on the ideas out there about close reading, I am haunted by one important word: PURPOSE.

For years one of my closest friends, and former colleagues, teased me about my reading.  Because I finished books so quickly, he was convinced that I didn’t actually read much of anything. He often quizzed me on specific information from those books and when I didn’t remember key details, which was more often than I care to admit, he was more convinced than ever that my speed reading wasn’t leading to actual comprehension. But I always knew the gist of the stories, and I always knew the feeling the books had left with me- whether I enjoyed the experience and would recommend it to my students or peers, or not.

As a reader, I read with a purpose in mind. Or at least, whenever I want to do something with my reading I read with a purpose. My purpose in reading those YA novels quickly as a teacher was to be ready to recommend books of interest to my students at any given point in time. I wasn’t trying to pass a multiple choice quiz nor write an essay in which I closely analyzed the text in great details. This was especially important when I was teaching a group of 8th grade students who had experienced many years of “fake reading” in school and little joy or pleasure out of the act of reading. Even now, as a doctoral student and a district level leader, I read different texts with different purposes.

  • If I am reading an assignment I know we will discuss in class, I read to make meaning of the overall concepts and I annotate my texts to support me throughout a discussion.  I select quotes that resonate with me and I formulate my thoughts about them, so I can speak to them in class. I hope that my peers have done the same so that our discussion can truly be rich and collaborative and lead to new insights for me.
  • If I am reading research articles to see if they will be useful in my review of literature, I skim and scan, looking only at specific sections. If I determine that the article would benefit my research, I then read with a new purpose, ready to summarize the research as it relates to my area of study.

If I am reading a professional book or article, I read with various purposes:

  • To get an overview of a new idea, methodology, research, concept, etc., for my own understanding.
  • To determine if this reading would benefit any of my colleagues (I would share it personally or through one of our meetings).
  • To determine if a team of my colleagues would benefit from a combined study of this text to enhance our collective knowledge.
  • To determine if a program or product is worth considering.
  • To challenge my thinking, assumptions, beliefs, ideas, and to encourage reflection.
  • To learn!

When I think about all of the different purposes I have for reading (and I haven’t even mentioned the fact that I LOVE to read fiction novels for fun outside of work and school!), I worry about schools creating formulaic, procedural methods for close reading. I read closely based on my purpose. Not every purpose involves me dissecting the nuances of the author’s language, nor determining the meaning of an unknown word that didn’t hinder my comprehension. Not every purpose involves me annotating in the same way. As a reader, I make meaning of the texts based on my purpose for reading. The more difficult the text (or the content), the more I employ my own strategies for making meaning (thank you to Stephanie Harvey for reminding us that “the more challenging the text, the more strategic the reader needs to be”). If I was forced to follow the same 2-5 steps of “close reading” with all of the different texts I read, I would lose my mind.  Literally.




So I hope that is not what we do for students. I believe that we need to teach our students how to set a purpose for their reading, determine what strategies they need to employ to make meaning, and be prepared to collaborate orally and in writing about their analysis of the texts. I also believe that there are times for specific lessons on reading closely for a teacher-determined purpose, but those should not outweigh student-driven reading.

How are you helping students set a purpose for their reading?  What purposes do you have for reading something closely?Image

About Amy's Reflections

Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services in Southern CA, taking time to reflect on leadership and learning
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2 Responses to Purposeful Close Reading

  1. franmcveigh says:

    Your title says so much “Purposeful Close Reading” and that does NOT mean that the purpose is “because I said so.” From the tweets in Chris’s blog, I would guess that those students are experiencing the “not purposeful.” I agree with your statements, ” If I was forced to follow the same 2-5 steps of “close reading” with all of the different texts I read, I would lose my mind. Literally.”

    The role of the teacher as the “guide on the learning journey” is critical. That means that teachers need to have conversations about reading processes and strategies that they use in their own reading, just as you have in your blog!

    Thanks for making me think!

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