Close Reading and Text Selection

July 18, 2014, The IRIS Center

Deborah Reed, an Associate in Research at Florida State University’s Florida Center for Reading Research, talks about close reading and how it can benefit the development of students’ literacy skills (time: 5:01).

Questions asked of Deborah Reed in this audio:

  1. What is close reading and how is it different from traditional text reading?
  2. Can you talk about some of the important considerations teachers should keep in mind as they select texts for their students to engage in close reading?

Deborah Reed, PhD
Deborah Reed, PhD
Associate in Research
Florida Center for Reading Research
Florida State University

Transcript: Deborah Reed, PhD

Narrator:This interview is brought to you by the IRIS Center, a national center funded by the Office of Special Education Programs.

Deborah Reed, an Associate in Research at Florida State University’s Florida Center for Reading Research, talks about close reading and how it can benefit the development of students’ literacy skills (time: 5:01)

Narrator: Dr. Reed, what is close reading and how is it different from traditional text reading?

Deborah Reed: Close reading, as we’re beginning to understand it more, involves having students iteratively revisit the text. So the first time they read it, they just get a basic understanding then they can go back and examine the use of certain words and then they can go back again and really dig into the ideas. It’s a different way for content-area teachers to think about helping students with understanding text. I think the more common model is just getting them through the text, so it’s more of the surface-level understanding. It’s not uncommon for me to encounter teachers who think that only the advanced students can go back and do anything resembling close reading. And it’s probably because they don’t have a lot of these built-in supports in place for helping the struggling students be more successful. Close reading comes from a different place. It’s not about getting through the text, just getting that surface-level understanding or telling the students how they should be thinking about the information. It’s really more about supporting and guiding the students as they go through the text and allowing them to explore their thinking and the author’s thinking and not necessarily with the interjection of the teacher’s thinking in there.

I think that’s one source perhaps, but it’s just so different from the way instruction has been done previously where the teacher was the authority. The teacher took the students through, made sure that the students thought about it the way the teacher thought was the right way to think about it, or get the right information out of it. And so I don’t know that it’s appropriate for all texts. And certainly three repetitions of reading a passage wouldn’t be a very good approach for all texts. I don’t think that all texts are interesting enough to go back and read three times.

Narrator: Can you talk about some of the important considerations teachers should keep in mind as they select texts for their students to engage in close reading?

Deborah Reed: If I were a teacher, the first question I would ask is, “Is this a text I would want to read three times?” And as a teacher who’s chosen this subject area or this discipline for my career, if I’m not interested enough in the material or don’t think the presentation of that information is interesting enough to warrant really exploring it more closely and going back through it to look for particular nuanced pieces of information, if I don’t want to do that as the expert who’s chosen this discipline for my career then I don’t know why we would think students would be very eager to go back through in iterative cycles and look more closely at that information. So I guess that would be the first thing that I would ask of teachers, is, “Do you have high enough quality text that’s interesting enough and worthy of this level of exploration?” And that probably means they need some supplemental material. I don’t know that the typical textbook presentation of information is going to be the best source all the time of close reading. I think in English/language arts where you have anthologies of literature, perhaps it’s authentic literature that’s in there. Perhaps in that case the textbook is a valuable source of material for close reading. If the history textbooks include primary source documents within the chapters or within the history text—which I think that they are doing much more often these days—then those might be good sources of passages for students to explore more deeply. In science texts, any ethical considerations would be good examples of passages that would warrant having students go back and dig more deeply into the information to explore perspective or to look at the way that the author chose to communicate the information that might be influencing how we would perceive this issue in science that potentially has ethical concerns related to it.

Narrator: Thank you for listening to this IRIS Center interview. For more information about the IRIS Center and its resources, visit us at www.iriscenter.com [https://iris.peabody.vanderbilt.edu/].

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