Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Close Reading for Beginning Readers? Probably Not.

I am a first grade teacher. My principal has mandated that all classes K-5 do Close Reading. Is it appropriate for all ages? It seems to me that the texts at K/1 are not likely to be complex enough and that the students at this age are too concrete in their thinking.
Good question. I share your concerns. There are very few articles or stories appropriate for K/1 that would make any sense for close reading. The content usually just isn’t deep enough to bear such close study (and, frankly, if you look at the comprehension standards themselves, specifically standards #4-9 for those grades, it should be evident that CCSS doesn’t envision particularly close reading at these levels).

I think the problem is the nature of typical beginning reading text, not the students’ intellectual capacities. Given that, several beginning-reading experts whom I have spoken with about this all agree: teachers can read wonderfully rich literature and informational texts to these young-uns, texts that would be too hard for the kids to read themselves. With your guidance they should be able to analyze such texts in terms of their craft and structure or their value and connection to other texts. Close listening experiences in Kindergarten and Grade 1 could lay a valuable foundation for the later development of close reading ability.

Some additional advice on this: (1) keep your eyes open for that very occasional beginning reading text that could support a close read (you're most likely to find such texts later in the year during Grade 1); and (2) don’t overdo it; close reading (or listening) is important, but it is not the only reading goal set forth by CCSS; every reading does not need to be a close reading. 


Jen said...

I am very confused on this. A quick google search of "close reading kindergarten" has a huge response of lesson plans, videos, teacher blogs, Pinterest posts... Some are at Kindergarten level texts and some are shared reading.

Are you saying that close reading in kindergarten isn't necessary because texts at levels aa-D do not provide enough meat? But what about reading aloud to students?

My understanding from your blog is that close reading should not be a teaching technique, but as a result of close reading, my students will understand the text better. In kindergarten, wouldn't close reading look like a teacher modeling thinking aloud and verbally asking students high level questions they can support with th text?

My school is having K-8 school is having PD on close reading this week, and I am sure my principal will be looking for evidence that my K students are doing close reading. Advice? Thanks!

(Former student of yours- congrats on your retirement!)

Tim Shanahan said...

Just because many people are producing lessons and products promoting close reading for kindergartners doesn't make it a good idea. People are scrambling to meet the requirements of Common Core, and good sense is not always in control in these efforts.

A major purpose of close reading is to analyze why authors have made the word and structure choices that they have and how these choices reinforce and extend the text's message. This simply does not make any sense with beginning reading materials. I assure you that these beginning primers are not aimed at conveying symbolism or deeper meanings; many/most of the choices are aimed mainly at presenting children with combinations of words that would allow them some entrance into text.

It might be reasonable to ask why Lincoln repeats the word dedicate 6 times in the Gettysburg Address. It is not reasonable to ask a kindergartner why his preprimer repeats the word run six times in the story. (The explanation would be: we are trying to teach these children the word run and we thought if we repeated it enough it would stick).

Indeed, it is possible to read children texts that are complex enough to support close reading, but then it isn't close reading anymore (more like, close listening).


Kristen Hull said...

Wow this post and comments are very valuable to me. My school district is pushing close reading in ALL GRADES K-5 and we K-1 teachers are struggling with coming to terms with this idea, when we feel phonological awareness and phonics, decoding, fluency and accuracy are the most important for younger grades. I like how you changed it to close listening. Teachers reading,listening, together thinking aloud and making meaning of a challenging text. We use Reading Wonders and do you suggest we stock with the literature anthology for our close listening? Readers workshop story more for the phonics and decoding lesson? Where do you feel the leveled readers come in from this program? More for close reading and comprehension check up? What do you suggest I do in my small group? Use the leveled reader for all? Use the readers workshop? We are told as teachers to follow the program with fidelity and this is where I find myself getting so frustrated.

How should I present this idea to my principal?

Tim Shanahan said...


Yes, with young kids you have no choice but to provide a substantial amount of teaching in phonological awareness, phonics, and fluency. It is lovely to try emphasize close reading or any other approach to reading comprehension too, but it is not one or the other.

I worry that teachers/schools are not understanding what close reading even is. I see a lot of answering traditional reading comprehension questions with the admonition that kids provide "text evidence" for their answers. That isn't a bad thing, but it is not really what close reading is about.

I am not against using the anthology for close listening at grade 1, but not at the higher grades. The leveled readers are not traditional leveled readers; they afford the opportunity to introduce a text at an easy level and then to give the kids an opportunity to read different, and more complex versions of the same text.