Close Reading: Brilliant or Buzzword?

I recently came across the post, An Obituary for Close Reading, from Teaching the Core.  This tongue-in-cheek post suggests that Close Reading has gone the way of many other education phrases and fads; it has been buzzwordified and therefore lost its meaning. When terms become buzzwords and are overused, they succumb to what Teaching the Core terms “buzzwordification.” “In its final stages,” as written in the post, “buzzwordification dispatches its victims when the connotative scope of a term becomes impossibly broad, rendering accurate, meaningful communication with the word improbable.”

Close reading is popping up everywhere. Though never explicitly mentioned in the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) (the Anchor Standard R.CCR.1 states that students must “read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it”) everyone who’s working with the CCSS will inevitably come across the idea.

I have to agree with Teaching the Core on some level. In my work with schools, I have seen the term close reading refer to everything from general Socratic Seminar preparation to a painstaking 3-step paragraph-by-paragraph procedure that involves finding vocabulary, summarizing, and annotating. Since the phrase has become so important—tied to the Common Core—yet not clearly and universally defined and understood—as evidenced by the various ways teachers are implementing close reading—it’s not surprising that some teachers are more comfortable throwing around a buzzword than implementing careful, purposeful reading of text.

I think that the conversation around close reading presents an opportunity to give students the type of reading experience that we want to have. An experience that slows down and takes time to engage with text in ways that students might not do if they weren’t all in the same room. An experience that provides for students and teachers to share the most meaningful aspects of reading, from the paragraph that just has to be read aloud to the hidden humor in a YA novel. The obsession with Close Reading could spiral into “buzzwordification”, but I hope it sends us to our bookshelves instead, looking for that next great read. 

(Texts that influenced this post: Falling in Love with Close Reading by Christopher Lehman and Kate Roberts and The Case for Slow Reading by Thomas Newkirk.)  

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