The Myth of Close Reading: Infographic

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Avid readers of Brilliant or Insane know that we typically frown on the Common Core and high stakes testing. In one anti-Common Core post, I argue strongly against one of Common Core authors’ favorite strategies, “close reading.”

I envision a room filled with 30 children, their faces perched two inches from a textbook, scanning the words as closely as possible. Ridiculous? Maybe. But line up 10 teachers anywhere in the world and ask them what close reading is, and the odds are that no more than one or two will be able to define close reading, as Common Core authors would like.

You can see PARCC’s definition of close reading in the post, 5 Reasons the Common Core Destroys Education, but be sure you don’t miss the remainder of this myth-busting piece.

When I saw the infographic below which was created, presumably, as an endorsement of this bizarre strategy, I shook my head and thought, No wonder the myth of close reading continues to grow. Of course, that thought was followed with the idea that this myth had to be busted.

Take a look at the 10 Tips for Close Reading Success in the infographic, but be sure to scroll to the bottom, where I use this information to unravel the myth of close reading.

10 Tips for Close Reading Activities Infographic
Find more education infographics on e-Learning Infographics

Busting the myth of close reading

In the interest of fairness, let me say that some of these 10 tips are useful, but they are nothing more than study habits or daily learning strategies that have no business being given a misleading, trendy label like “close reading.”

For example, Tip 8 suggests annotating text. This is an excellent strategy for preparing for tests or for research. Plus, digital tools, like Diigo and ScoopIt make annotation easy and fun, which helps readers internalize material. Tip 5 (encourage exploratory discussions) is a strategy every teacher in any grade and in all subjects should use daily. Teachers who didn’t learn how to facilitate discussion in college probably shouldn’t be classroom teachers.

Let’s examine some of the more ridiculous tips disguising themselves as so-called “close reading.”

Intensifying focus: This is like the old “study harder” directive. No one really knows what this means. Imagine reading something and being told to focus harder. What would you do?

Extending focus: This nonsensical phrase is so similar to intensifying focus that there isn’t much to say about it. Are you starting to see why “close reading” is nothing more than a catchy phrase concocted by Common Core authors so education publishers would have something they could sell?

Marking up text: Wouldn’t it have been wonderful if educators had thought of this decades or even centuries ago? Oh, that’s right, they did. Not only is “marking up,” or highlighting, text about as old as the chalkboard, it wasn’t a useful strategy in 1940, and it’s a complete waste of time today. Marking up text is a fruitless game that kids have become very good at playing. What this does is discourage reading, because it enables students to locate what they are told are important details and highlight them. Not much thinking here.

Encourage rereading: My daughter came home from school one day with a short story anthology. She told me her homework was to read a story. Wonderful, I initially thought. She then told me they had read the story in class that day. “So, why do you have to read it again?” I asked. She shrugged. “Because it’s homework, and I’ll get in trouble if I don’t.”

Maybe the authors of the Common Core should rename “close reading.” I’m thinking, “How to kill the joy of reading.” Of course, education publishers might struggle to sell that one.

If teachers want to help students improve their reading, there’s one simple method that doesn’t require a trendy name. It is research-driven and is not a myth.

The next time someone tells you to teach your students close reading, nod your head, wink, and say, “No problem.” Then, head back to class and tell your students to pick a book they love and read and talk about it. Now, that’s good strategy, minus the trendy name.

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Mark Barnes is the Founder of Times 10 Publications, which produces the popular Hack Learning Series, The uNseries, and other books from some of education's most reputable teachers and leaders. Barnes presents internationally on assessment, connected education, and Hack Learning. Connect with @markbarnes19 on Twitter.

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