by Catherine Gewertz
February 8, 2012
*Excerpts are filtered for the benefit of busy school leaders.
Drawn together by the Aspen Institute, some chief academic officers hash out how to deliver a profound shift in reading instruction.
What would happen if English/language arts teachers revolutionized their instruction to focus intently—and exclusively—on the texts students are reading?
Close Reading: A Key Shift
Close reading represents a key shift in the Common Core State Standards:
Students are expected to engage in "close reading" of complex literary and informational texts.
- In contrast to common practice, in which teachers explain reading passages and supply background information before students read, "close reading" confines initial study to the text itself.
- Students make sense of it by probing its words and structure for information and evidence.
- Through questions and class exercises, teachers guide students back through the reading in a hunt for answers and deeper understanding.
Changes H0w Teachers Teach
Close reading requires profound shifts:
- in how teachers teach
- how districts choose texts
- how they test what students know
- how they evaluate teachers.
Teachers Lack the Capacity
- "I'm really worried that we haven't prepared our teachers for this," one chief academic officer said.
- "The academic and cognitive demand [on teachers] is quite high."
One of the chief academic officers said that such a process represents a more significant change for teachers than they might realize.
Significant Professional Development
Moving teachers toward this way of working will require "some significant professional development:"
- teachers must learn to refrain from providing quick answers
- figure out instead how to formulate new kinds of questions that take them and their students back to the text repeatedly in their search for understanding.
Close reading "moves students toward independence:"
- by developing their abilities to build vocabulary
- access a text's structure;
- grasp a text's meaning and build arguments from it based on evidence in the text itself
- eventually build the confidence to grapple with tough reading on their own.
Questions Left Unanswered
- How, for instance, would they build skill among their educators to provide sufficient supports for struggling readers, special education students, and English-learners to tackle text this way?
- How would teachers respond to a "sea change" that reframes their role from provider of information to facilitator of inquiry?
- And where would they get deep, focused lessons for such instruction?