Close Reading Seems So Far Away

To stay current on educational changes and trends, I find myself constantly skimming, flagging, and saving articles from dozens of education journals and e-newsletters. (Following the example of a librarian on our advisory board, I recently started using Scoop.It! to help me organize and share key articles with my colleagues—it’s a great tool.)

This article in Education Week drew me in for a deeper read right away. It follows the uphill climb a teacher and her eighth-grade students in the District of Columbia are making in pursuit of new Common Core skills. To teach the skill of doing a “close read” of a text—analyzing the elements of a piece of writing to determine its main idea—the teacher painstakingly leads her students through a nonfiction article. She focuses students on each structural element in the text—chapter titles, subtitles, captions, bolded text, call outs, etc.—which give them clues about the main topic and help them grasp the message. The students make some strides, but it’s a process they haven’t used before; the discussion is slow going and hard work.

While I frequently talk with teachers and librarians and read and reread the Common Core documents to understand how our books can better support teachers and readers in learning these new skills, I don’t often get the sense of the exertion it takes in a classroom to help students put them to work. This in-the-trenches article made it crystal clear to me. As a publisher, we must remain diligent in our creation of books with well-structured, clearly written text and intentional with our nonfiction text features to ensure we support these teachers and readers on their journey.

The article also points out that in the District of Columbia and elsewhere, there’s an amazing network of coaches, master teachers, directors, and administrators who are spending time analyzing and strategizing to improve teaching tactics. Kudos to all of you—and your students—for blazing these new trails. We’ll all keep learning from you.