professornana (professornana) wrote,

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Questions in search of answers

Yesterday, as I was reading my Twitter feed, I found a link to an example of close reading. Students had been given a passage. During one of the readings of the passage, they were asked to highlight various parts of speech in different colored highlighters. One reading instructed them to annotate any unfamiliar words. On another pass (same passage), students were instructed to write predictions about the text. Another reading was supposed to result in students writing questions they had in the margins of the text. Those questions were to be open-ended. A shot of the pager after it had gone through all of these different readings was offered. It was colorful. But it also bore NO resemblance to the original text. There was so much "stuff" on this page that I would have struggled to make sense myself as an outside observer.

So, here are a few questions I have about this process:

1. Is this a process we, as adults, use?
2. If so, how often do we use it?
3. In what careers would this type of annotating the text be part of the job?
4. How many college classes require this?
5. What does this teach kids about reading?

mo willems

So, let's see how this unfolds in an elementary classroom. Here is the opening page of GOLDILOCKS AND THE THREE DINOSAURS. If I follow the process I saw yesterday, I would ask kids to highlight pronouns using orange highlighters, verbs using green, and adjectives using yellow. Maybe we could use blue highlighters for proper nouns, too. Then, I would instruct readers to note any vocabulary they do not know (perhaps NORWAY?). On the next reading, kids would note predictions for what will happen next. Finally, they would be asked to note the questions they had in the margins of the text making sure they were open ended. OK, this would never happen. I know that. We knows kids' developmental abilities well enough to know that even thinking about doing this to a text would be ridiculous.

But I do want to come back to question #5 above: what does doing all this teach kids about reading? As we celebrate National Poetry Month, I once again recall the words of my friend and former colleague Bob Seney who commented that poetry made him smell formaldehyde. It is about dissection. Call it close reading, but it is picking apart text. At the end what remains? A bunch of pieces. And I worry that those pieces are the very thing that kids will think is the goal of reading: reducing a text to pieces is the goal, not comprehension. If comprehension were the goal, we might think about stopping after the initial read and seeing if kids understood the text instead of asking them to pick up the highlighters one more time.

I do have one thing that I do not question: if you are going to muck about in a text repeatedly with markers and marginalia, please do so with a boring piece of canonical literature. Please keep your claws off contemporary literature. I would hate to see kids develop a strong distaste for YA or children's books. I want to have those on hand to give these kids when they hit MY classroom as a grad student so I can reawaken the inner reader that fell dormant during close reading time. Our reading will be OPEN.
Tags: close reading, dissecting
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