Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Close Reading Is Child Abuse

I'm always surprised when I hear people advocate for "close reading," especially if they're teachers. We really ought to know better. Of course, if you're on the supervisor track, I can only assume you're required to keep up on all the latest fads and trends, and then use the most recent and grooviest buzzwords to describe them to potential employers.

We will enhance classroom-based curriculum integration via close reading, and therefore visualize diverse multiple intelligences across cognitive and affective domains.

I can only suppose when words like Common Core fall out of favor you need to staple your tongue to the roof of your mouth to keep yourself from uttering them.

I'm an ESL teacher, but theories I've studied about language acquisition lend themselves to reading whether you're an ELL or not. Stephen Krashen suggested there is an affective filter that rises when you hand students material to which they cannot relate. They look at it, see it as incomprehensible, and determine it to be not worth their time. In fact, they're very likely correct. Honestly, if you hand me a long, long treatise on The History of Cement, the likelihood I'll read it is quite low.

Krashen thinks ELLs respond best to reading material at or just a little bit above their level. And by reading material, I'd suggest it doesn't have to be the Gettysburg Address, completely out of context. I mean, sure, that makes sense to Common Core architect David Coleman, whose famous theory, in his own words, is that no one gives a shit what you feel or think. But I know exactly how successful I'd be with a lesson like that, and I'm sure it would make no difference whether my students were born here or anywhere on this planet. (In Coleman's defense, I am not entirely sure which planet he comes from.)

Everything I know about teaching suggests you take material and somehow tie it into a student's existing knowledge and interest. If kids can relate to it, they're far more likely to be motivated. I'm fortunate in that I teach English, something these kids direly need and something with direct application to every aspect of their lives. But even so, I work to personalize everything I teach, to make students touch it, use it, and make it their own.

The thing that really jumps out at me about close reading is it's not only counter-intuitive to all my experience, but it also contradicts the research. Of course David Coleman, who knew everything already, couldn't be bothered with any stinking research. Too bad we allowed him, Bill Gates, and Arne Duncan to force their half-baked ideas on cash-starved states via the state-sanctioned bribe that was No Child Left Behind.

This notwithstanding, if you're a teacher, or even if you're an administrator, it kind of behooves you to encourage love of reading, particularly when the likely alternative is hatred of reading. Administrators and would-be administrators who don't know that are incompetent, to say the least. I'm reminded of a song by the Kinks called Dedicated Follower of Fashion. "One week he's in polka dots, the next week he's in stripes cause he's a dedicated follow of fashion."

Take a listen to the song, and substitute portfolios, APPR, the workshop model, and every fad and trend you've ever heard at the September staff meeting for the fashion references. Try to think of close reading as a pair of culottes. And if you don't know what culottes are, you need not bother looking them up. You'll probably never hear of them again, and they are therefore of no relevance whatsoever to you. David Coleman would make you read a book about them, just so your life could be as tedious as his must be.

I want better things for my students, and I certainly hope you want better for yours as well.

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