Close reading vs. reading

Common Core standards call for teaching “close reading.” How does that differ from plain old reading? Lisa Hansel tackles the question on Core Knowledge Blog.

Many students read to find the main idea, summarize it and make a prediction, she writes. It’s the common comprehension strategy. The details don’t matter, so skimming is fine.

As an example, she provides a Feb. 5, 2014 New York Times story on security concerns at the Olympics.

Main idea: Russia has lots of violence and unrest; the Olympics might not be safe.

Summary: The Olympics might not be safe because Russia has had lots of violence and unrest for decades and currently has people trying to attack the games. Over time, a separatist movement morphed into and attracted small terrorist cells. Even if attempted attacks during the Olympics are prevented, Russia will remain under threat for the foreseeable future.

Prediction: At least one attack on the Olympics will be attempted and prevented; Russia will remain under threat for the foreseeable future.

That’s the skimmer’s version, she writes.  If she were reading the story closely with teenagers, many questions would arise:

Where are all these places? Who and what are nearby?

Is “President Vladimir V. Putin” a president in the sense used in the United States or is the term defined differently in different countries?

What is the Kremlin? Are we to take comfort in its security operations or are there historical reasons to question their apparent good?

What is an independent caliphate?

What is a nihilistic ideology and what are the particular features in this case?

Soviet Union—what’s that? It collapsed? Then what happened?

Close reading requires learning recent Russian history. “We don’t read for the sake of summarizing or predicting plot twists; we read to learn,” writes Hansel. “In our speed-obsessed world, maybe that does deserve a special name.”

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