When thinking of reading approaches, what does the word “approach” mean? It means the way something is viewed. It can also be taken a bit more literally to mean how close we get to a text. Are we looking at a text holistically? Are we looking for global themes or ideas? Or are we getting more local, reading for a deeper meaning, looking at word choice, the purpose of phrases or sentences, and how small claims add up to bigger ideas? This type of close reading, one way to approach a text, has been gaining momentum in US K-12 contexts and Freedman (2015) looks at how she uses it to approach texts in university.
Leora Freedman, from the University of Toronto, describes a 300-level university Asian Studies class (taught by Janet Poole), consisting of domestic and international students and their approach to reading academic texts, especially theoretical texts from authors such as Foucault, de Certeau, and others. This course was organized around close reading, “a simplified method of reading sections of a text iteratively and critically” (p. 263). It was argued that such an approach would benefit all students, and both L1 and L2 readers have difficulties with academic texts.
The approach in this course relied heavily on modeling, paraphrase, thinking aloud, and questioning. The course instructor would choose sections of the text that contained key ideas. She would then paraphrase the section, helping students understand the academic vocabulary and expressions. She would analyze statements, look at ambiguities, look at author purpose or perspective, or contrast a statement with something earlier or by another author. In addition, individual words and phrases were analyzed for how nuances of meaning depending on context, purpose, or perspective. After students were familiar with this process, the instructor gave students a worksheet to help them approach texts in the same way, following ideas of close reading:
(Reproduced from Freedman, 2015)
The instructor moved from reading to writing by explaining (through think aloud) how students can use concepts and readings in their own writings. This part of the course focused on critical thinking and reflection, which was seen as an important starting place for writing.
The author offers anecdotal evidence that this approach does in fact improve students’ reading and writing abilities. This evidence comes from other colleagues in the department who have these students after completing Poole’s course.
In a previous Research Bites post of mine, Leki argued that reading does not have to be an individual activity. Rather, there is more benefit to the social (de)construction of texts. By working together to read, paraphrase, and question key aspects of a text (following some of the principles of close reading) we are more likely to engender really good critical reading behavior in students who typically do not read at a critical or academic level. He approach to dissecting a text, paraphrasing, looking at context, looking at the polysemy of vocabulary – all of these are critical skills. This article shows how they can be tied together in a way that is scaffolded and which easily transfers to writing.
(Academic Reading Circles is another great method that employs many of these close reading strategies.)
Freedman, L. (2015). Using close reading as a course theme in a multilingual disciplinary classroom. Reading in a Foreign Language, 27(2), 262. [link]
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