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Close reading aims to improve students' comprehension ability

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 09, 2014 12:50 PM

The Common Core State Standards aim to help prepare kids for college and their future careers while they are still in school. Reading comprehension is one of the many skills students must master to excel in a university setting, where their professors will assume they can read a text on their own and learn from it. For this reason, states and schools that have adopted the Standards include close reading lessons in their curricula. 

What is close reading?
Close reading is an analytic strategy that allows students to engage with complex texts in a deep way. By using close reading techniques, students should be able to extrapolate the meaning of key concepts of the work as a whole, as well as unlock small details in sentences. Students interact with the reading, and learn to ask questions about the information they gathered that will help them come to both a meta and micro understanding of the text. 

The goal of close reading is to build comprehension and develop critical thinking skills. Students should not only be able to identify key content concepts, but apply them to other works and subjects as well. 

Close reading strategies
The Common Core suggests teachers give their students a mix of short informational and literary texts that the students can cross examine. For example, NPR visited a school in Vermont where students were learning about the Holocaust. They were asked to read two texts that on the surface seemed unrelated, but would ultimately lead to greater comprehension when scrutinized in conjunction: One article talked about science and how Nazis misconstrued the work of Darwin to support their regime. The other text was a fable about a blind man petting an elephant. The science article noted that Nazis, and especially Adolf Hitler, used the concept of survival of the fittest to justify genocide. In the fable, the blind man petted the elephant's tail and thought it felt like a rope - he then surmised that all elephants must be ropes.

The students took the article and fable home, where they had to highlight key ideas and form their own opinions on what the two texts had in common. When the students met up in class again, they used quotes to support their hypotheses and held a discussion. By pairing the texts together, the students learned about the dangers of generalizing science. While they could have made these connections with a single text, the themes became more prominent when the fable and article met.