When a Checklist Won't Do the Job
“My students do Close Reading every day at the start of the day. It has really been a great routine for my class”.
In a room full of educators the majority will tell you they either do Close Reading or have done it at least a couple times with their students. A good number of them may have already attended a workshop on it. However if you asked each teacher in the room to define Close Reading, chances are there would not be a shared understanding of what it is. There may even be a few brave souls who will admit they have little idea of what Close Reading is or of how to do it.
In education, like any profession, it is important to be up to date on the current trends and lingo. We listen to our colleagues for key words to ascertain if they too are up on the topic du jour. We subtly mention that we attended this latest training or that we have read the most recent book by that hot author, all so that others will know we’re not behind the times. We use these phrases of the moment even if we’re not entirely sure of what they mean or how to make it happen in the classroom because those words have become the new measure of effectiveness. The buzz phrase “Close Reading” is a current day example that has come out of the shift towards the Common Core State Standards.
TESS insists that a shared vocabulary for instruction is the only way to improve one’s craft in a learning community. That being said, a shared vocabulary is not just the ability to add the new words into professional conversations, but a shared understanding of the concepts behind the labels. It is only with this shared conceptual understanding that teachers can begin to plan focused lessons, select appropriate texts and assess students for their ability to achieve deep understanding of a text’s meaning.
I get wanting to be current. I get wanting to sound like an educator who has their finger on the pulse of what’s new. I get wanting to be able say “I do Close Reading in my classroom.” The problem as I see it though is that the measure of our effectiveness is not in how well we can talk about Close Reading, but whether students are able to successfully read a text for a deep understanding. Students will only be successful at Close Reading to the degree that a teacher, first, understands the concept behind the label and, second, teaches the what, how and why of careful reading.
In the meantime, we’ll continue to casually talk about our Close Reading routines and hang up our Close Reading checklists. It won’t be until we have a shared vocabulary for what it is and how to teach it that we’ll know those aren’t enough for students to effectively learn to read a text closely regardless of what we call it.