Teachers read a text with students, with the text being visible to the class. The text could be in a big book format, projectable format, individual student copies, or charted. The selected text should be based on the benchmark reading level for a particular grade and corresponding time of year. Shared reading may run with the same text over a four/five-day cycle. Each day of the cycle has a different focus that is ultimately in service of understanding the text.
The definition of close reading is ever-evolving for both primary and intermediate readers. I draw upon the voice of experts captured in a blog post (What Close Reading Isn't (Or at Least Shouldn't Be)) by Christopher Lehman to define close reading below:
“Close reading is when a reader independently stops at moments in a text (or media or life) to reread and observe the choices an author has made. He or she reflects on those observations to reach for new understandings that can color the way the rest of the book is read (or song heard or life lived) and thought about.” Christopher Lehman
We find Patricia Kain’s work from the Writing Center at Harvard instructive. That close reading is making careful observations of something and then developing interpretations from those observations. In other words, we stop to look carefully at choices an author (or painter or musician or director or architect) has made, and then develop ideas from what we have noticed.
We agree with Doug Fisher that close reading is an interaction between a reader and a text, an extension of the critical reading theory of Lousie Rosenblatt and others. Implicit in this is that the reader is reading.Actually reading (insert: underline x infinity). Yes, we can teach lessons about close reading, but if our students are not holding their own books and working to apply these skills then we probably are only close teaching, they are not actually close reading.
We also find Kylene Beers and Bob Probst’s explanation of the characteristics of close reading from Notice and Note to be instructive (see page 36). Particularly that it often involves rereading of short portions of a text with intensity, and then you bring ideas from those short rereads to longer sections of the book. That is to say, other than Graduate Students of Comparative Literature, we would almost never require students to reread and closely analyze every page of a text. There is just no time for that in a busy classroom. More importantly, rereading page after page after page is an engagement killer and kids who don’t read don’t learn to read well. We have a choice to teach in ways that either raises engagement and joy or smashes it to bits, so we agree it is important to teach students to stop and observe small sections and then jump back into their love affair with the unfolding story or fascination with the ideas of an article.
Finally, we believe that close reading is not simply a way to analyze texts. It is a way to study the things that we love more carefully and appreciate their subtleties more fully. Close reading can be applied to texts, but we also can look to songs, video games, television shows, art and even our daily lives. We observe the choices a chef made when our meal is presented to us at the table (“wow, this looks so good… are those mushrooms?”) just as we form interpretations off the little things our partner does (“she is either doing this to make me feel special or because she wants to ask me something…”). Our students deserve to have experiences with close reading not only be “task” driven, but instead be life driven.
See my text recommendations page to view several titles that will nurture your understanding close reading.