Close Reading: What is it really?

So…I have read a lot of professional books over the years.  A lot.  I am always happy when the information I read supports my beliefs about best practice or reinforces what I do in my classroom.  Even better is when I find a new nugget of information that I can take and try for myself.  
When a book changes me as a teacher, it’s something I just have to share.  Nancy Boyle’s book “Closer Reading. Grades 3-6” did that for me. It forced me to think about what I believed to be true about reading instruction–and to reassess my own practices.  It’s easy to look for “quick fixes” and “programs” to try to reach our students.  I get it.  We’re swamped.  We’re overworked.  We don’t have time.  Nancy does an amazing job of making quality reading instruction ACCESSIBLE to us–and she is realistic about what it looks like.  Reading is authentic–and “close reading”needs to be authentic as well.  I reached out to Nancy a while back and asked if she would be willing to share her ideas with my readers because I think her ideas are so important, and she graciously agreed.  What follows is her guest post…and I think you’ll agree that her ideas are spot on.  Enjoy!
When close reading gained prominence a few years ago I was
frankly a little insulted that as a professional developer in the area of
literacy, anyone could think that the instructional strategies I shared with
teachers did not help students to read “closely.” Then I learned more about
close reading and saw that it truly did push teachers and students to a whole new
level of rigor. Over time I’ve also learned that there are a few principles and
practices that when applied well, will make teaching the process of close
reading doable for teachers and the outcomes of close reading meaningful for
First, close reading needs to be authentic. To me this means
that it should fit organically into our curriculum with texts we are already
reading with students, or other sources that can enhance our units of study.
Yes, the complexity of a text is important because it gives us more
opportunities to think deeply about its content and craft. But a factor equally
important that we sometimes overlook in our instructional planning is coherence: how things fit together. I
believe that the goal of close reading is not just to teach the skills involved
in reading closely, but to help students acquire robust bodies of knowledge and
insights into issues capable of transforming their thinking. For this reason,
my go-to sources for close reading are often high quality picture books both
literary and informational, classic poetry, short stories such as fables and
myths, and articles. I also like to add video clips, photographs, and
illustrations when applicable. I do not put random close reading worksheets and
lists of follow-up questions in front of kids because I think these miss the
mark in their authenticity, the depth of thinking they inspire, and the
connections students can make between their reading and their world.
Which bring me to my next critical close reading component:
the questions we ask students—or the ones they ask themselves. Close reading is
not simply getting the evidence from a text. When you think about it, that’s a
fairly low level of understanding. Close reading should help students dig
deeper—into both content and craft. Questions we could ask that empower
students’ reasoning might be: What evidence
in this [article] is most relevant to the author’s claim? Why do you think the
author included this paragraph? What detail on this page do you think is the most
important? How is the problem related to the setting?
Of course there are
many other questions we could also ask as well. Here are a couple of guidelines
to keep in mind as you ask questions.
For the purpose of close reading, questions such as those
above are better served through oral discussion during reading rather than written response after reading. Of course students will eventually need to respond
in writing to questions about their reading. But that is testing, not teaching.
For more impactful teaching of close
reading, ask these questions as you proceed through a text, pausing at strategic
points, and then engaging students in conversation. Even better, in pursuit of
close, independent reading, provide
students with these four “good reader” questions which allow them to lead the
learning each time you pause:
What is the author telling me? (This assures
they are monitoring the text’s literal meaning.)

Are there any hard or important words? (This
alerts them to key vocabulary that may be problematic or significant.)

What does the author want me to understand?
(This highlights inferential thinking, what the author is showing, but not

How does the author play with language to add to
meaning? (This addresses elements of the author’s craft like similes and
(These questions are provided in “poster” and “bookmark” format
in my book Closer Reading, Grades 3-6
published by Corwin, 2014.)
What I’ve discovered over these past few years is that students
thrive with close reading when it is implemented thoughtfully. For me in the
intermediate grades, this means teaching a well-designed close reading lesson
once a week for about 30 minutes with text-dependent questions I devise or the
four “good reader” questions noted above. Teachers using a core program with
questions already embedded could add a few “reasoning” and “text connection” questions
to push for deeper thinking. All teachers could incorporate close reading into
their social studies and science curriculum where insights into issues and
problems are particularly needed.
I’ve found that students really enjoy close reading because
they feel oh-so-smart when they find meaning in a text that they would not have
recognized without reading closely. Even struggling readers do well with close
reading because the approach is systematic and thorough. Close reading is explicit
teaching at its best. It’s no wonder that the research has found that it’s the
close reading of complex text that leads to college and career readiness.
Want to see more from Nancy Boyles?  Here are the links to some of her wonderful resources–and I hope your find them as inspiring as I do!  
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