For Close Reading, Skills Taught in Isolation Leave Educators Feeling Underprepared
I have heard from many teachers that they have received training on Close Reading because they have been to a workshop on how to write text-dependent questions. This always makes me wonder. Of course, learning to write text dependent questions is a good thing, just like learning how to find a common denominator for unlike fractions is a good thing. We educators know however that finding a common denominator is not the end goal. Nor does it mean that a student is therefore proficient at manipulating fractions in an equation just because he or she can find a common denominator. Finding the common denominator, though an important skill, would not be the only skill a student mastered in order to become facile at working with fractions.
So it is, or rather should be, when it comes to a teacher being prepared to implement Close Reading. Should time be given to the skill of writing text-dependent questions? Of course. But to what end? I am not sure that teachers are clear on the end goal of reading closely, so I am even more confident they do not really get the purpose of writing text dependent questions. Even thinking about the name, “Text Dependent Questions”, how often do we stop to consider why the questions are dependent on the text? Since when did it become in vogue to be needy and dependent? All joking aside, this is an important question to consider because it has implications for a teacher’s planning and instruction.
By now, one may have heard it said that Close Reading is a series of readings whose goal is to gain a deeper understanding of a text, like an article or a story. It seems pretty intuitive therefore that these text-dependent questions are the vehicle to this deep understanding. I worry though that some could come to the false conclusion that because Close Reading includes text-dependent questions, that any reading including text-dependent questions is therefore a close one. This logical fallacy can be avoided if the concept of Close Reading is better defined.
For the purpose of providing educators with a solid understanding of the concept of Close Reading, in our training we focus on the attributes of a deep understanding of a text. Though a site or district may rightfully identify the skill of writing text-dependent questions as an opportunity for their staff to grow professionally, it is certainly our experience that this skill is better learned in the context of a framework for guiding students to read closely. The feedback from our trainings has consistently been that participants have a clearer understanding of what Close Reading is. Participants also become aware of when and how to best use their materials for teaching students to read critically. Finally, and most importantly, educators gain a clarity on what exactly they need to teach students to know and do when reading for understanding. Will one’s training on text-dependent questions be helpful? It will. In addition, that training will be that much more powerful coupled with a clear understanding for the educator of the concepts and processes inherent in reading for deep understanding.