Reading Comprehension L2

I wear a variety of professional hats - university professor, literacy consultant to districts, author of several books related to comprehension. To keep myself honest (and humble), I spend a lot of time in classrooms watching kids and teachers at work. During the past decade, I've observed a transformation in the teaching of reading from an approach that measured readers' successful understanding of text through lengthy packets of comprehension questions to one that requires students to think about their thinking, activating their "good reader" strategies.

Close reading is deep analysis of how a literary text works; it is both a reading process and something you include in a literary analysis paper, though in a refined form. Fiction writers and poets build texts out of many central components, including subject, form, and specific word choice s. Essentially, close reading means reading to uncover layers of meaning that lead to deep comprehension. "Close, analytic reading stresses engaging with a text of sufficient complexity directly and examining meaning thoroughly and methodically, encouraging students to read and reread deliberately. Directing student attention on the text itself empowers students, to understand the central ideas and key supporting details. It also enables students to reflect on the meanings of individual words and sentences; the order in which sentences unfold; and the development of ideas over the course of the text, which ultimately leads students to arrive at an understanding of the text as a whole." Reread the definition of close reading — closely — to extract key concepts. You might identify these ideas: examining meaning thoroughly and analytically; directing attention to the text, central ideas, and supporting details; reflecting on meanings of individual words and sentences; and developing ideas over the course of the text. Notice that reader reflection is still integral to the process. But close reading goes beyond that: The best thinkers do monitor and assess their thinking, but in the context of processing the thinking of others (Paul & Elder, 2008).

When you close read, you observe facts and details about the text. You may focus on a particular passage, or on the text as a whole. Your aim may be to notice all striking features of the text, including rhetorical features, structural elements and cultural references; or, your aim may be to notice only selected features of the text — for instance, oppositions and correspondences, or particular historical references. Either way, making these observations constitutes the first step in the process of close reading. The second step is interpreting your observations. What we're basically talking about here is inductive reasoning: moving from the observation of particular facts and details to a conclusion, or interpretation, based on those observations. And, as with inductive reasoning, close reading requires careful gathering of data (your observations) and careful thinking about what these data add up to. Literary analysis involves examining these components, which allows us to find in small parts of the text clues to help us understand the whole. For example, if an author writes a novel in the form of a personal journal about a character's daily life, but that journal reads like a series of lab reports, what do we learn about that character? What is the effect of picking a word like "tome" instead of "book"? In effect, you are putting the author's choices under a microscope.

The process of close reading should produce a lot of questions. It is when you begin to answer these questions that you are ready to participate thoughtfully in class discussion or write a literary analysis paper that makes the most of your close reading work. Close reading sometimes feels like over-analyzing, but don't worry. Close reading is a process of finding as much information as you can in order to form as many questions as you can. When it is time to write your paper and formalize your close reading, you will sort through your work to figure out what is most convincing and helpful to the argument you hope to make and, conversely, what seems like a stretch. It's our responsibility as educators to build students' capacity for independently comprehending a text through close reading. Teaching is about transfer. The goal is for students to take what they learn from the study of one text and apply it to the next text they read. How can we ensure that students both reap the requisite knowledge from each text they read and acquire skills to pursue the meaning of other texts independently?

I suggest we coach students to ask themselves four basic questions as they reflect on a specific portion of any text, even the shortest: What is the author telling me here? Are there any hard or important words? What does the author want me to understand? How does the author play with language to add to meaning? If students take time to ask themselves these questions while reading and become skilful at answering them, there'll be less need for the teacher to do all the asking. For this to happen, we must develop students' capacity to observe and analyze. First things first: See whether students have noticed the details of a passage and can recount those details in their own words. Note that the challenge here isn't to be brief (as in a summary); it's to be accurate, precise, and clear.

The recent focus on finding evidence in a text has sent students (even in primary grades) scurrying back to their books to retrieve a quote that validates their opinion. But to paraphrase what that quote means in a student's own language, rather than the author's, is more difficult than you might think. Try it with any paragraph. Expressing the same meaning with different words often requires going back to that text a few times to get the details just right. Paraphrasing is pretty low on Bloom's
continuum of lower- to higher-order thinking, yet many students stumble even here. This is the first stop along the journey to close reading. If students can't paraphrase the basic content of a passage, how can they dig for its deeper meaning? The second basic question about hard or important words encourages students to zoom in on precise meaning. When students are satisfied that they have a basic grasp of what the author is telling them, they're ready to move on to analyzing the fine points of content. If students begin their analysis by asking themselves the third question — What does the author want me to understand in this passage? — they'll be on their way to making appropriate inferences, determining what the author is trying to show without stating it directly.

We can also teach students to read carefully with the eye of a writer, which means helping them analyze craft. How a text is written is as important as the content itself in getting the author's message across. Just as a movie director focuses the camera on a particular detail to get you to view the scene the way he or she wants you to, authors play with words to get you to see a text their way. Introducing students to some of the tricks authors use opens students' minds to an entirely new realm in close reading.

1. In the above passage the author has used the term 'Rhetoric features'. What does it mean?

  1. Any characteristics of a text that are repetitive in nature and is interesting
  2. Any characteristics of a text that improves the grammar of the literary text
  3. Any characteristic of a text that helps convince reader of a certain point of view
  4. Any characteristic of the text that provides solutions to questions for the readers

2. According to the author what is inductive reasoning with regard to Close Reading?

  1. Observing the characteristics and features of the text and moving to conclusions
  2. Understanding the overall theme and gathering evidence from the text to support it
  3. Understanding the text and preparing lot of questions
  4. Observing the nuances of the text and preparing a suitable analysis for class discussion

3. According to the passage, what is the importance of 'paraphrasing' for students?

  1. It is part of higher order learning and improves the speed of reading of students
  2. It leads to a deeper understanding of the text by improving the accuracy and clarity
  3. It accelerates the understanding of the text and enables students to be brief
  4. It enables students to reproduce the text exactly as it is without confusion

4. With reference to the above passage, what responsibility, according to the author, do educators have?

  1. To. build skills of close reading so that students can independently improve their knowledge of English grammar and translate the meaning from one English text to another
  2. To build skills of close reading so that students can by themselves apply the knowledge they have gained through analysis and understanding of one English text to another
  3. To build skills of close reading amongst students to improve their ability to paraphrase from one of English text to another
  4. To build skills of close reading so that students can independently analyse one English text and prepare for class discussions

Answers

  1. C
  2. A
  3. B
  4. D

1. Refer to the ‘when you close read….Particular historical references’ in the 2nd para of the passage.

2. Refer to the lines ‘The second step….. data add up to’in the 2nd para of the passage.

3. Refer to the lines ‘This is the first step…..for its deeper meaning’ in para 3rd of the passage.

4. Refer to the paragraph and the last few lines of the 3rd paragraph of the passage.