Common Core English Language Arts uses close reading even in the early grades. What some might not realize is close reading comes from college. If you Google “college and close reading,” numerous PDF files and websites surface about how to teach college students close reading, and if you Google “kindergarten and close reading” almost an equal number of how to teach close reading websites also pop up.
Harvard’s Writing Center has a website called “How to Do a Close Reading.” Another article by Jarrell D. Wright out of the University of Pittsburgh is titled “How to Teach Close Reading: Demystifying Literacy Analysis for Undergraduates.”
Tell me, if close reading mystifies college students, how baffling must close reading be for kindergartners?
Shouldn’t college work stay in college?
Think of it this way, you wouldn’t make a five year old wear an eighteen or nineteen year old’s shoes. The shoes wouldn’t fit! So why do reformers think they can make college work fit the brain of a kindergartner? It defies reason.
San Diego State University Professors Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey, who appear to support Common Core State Standards, discuss close reading at the elementary level in a paper published in The Reading Teacher titled “Close Reading in Elementary Schools.” They write about the use of text complexity, exemplars, frontloading, scaffolding, details, vocabulary, the author’s purpose, opinion and intertextual questions, key details, opinions, arguments, and intertextual connections.
They also suggest kindergartners use Wikki Stix (yarn-like molding strips) to underline passages in their books since close reading includes analyzing the text. Children, they suggest, should do this before moving on to the use of sticky notes. This is seen as a solution to not writing in the books that the children most likely don’t own.
But one cannot help but worry that this is reading overload for small children. Ask any parent whose child comes home from school hating it, who, at an early age, has been diagnosed as having reading problems.
Many parents are beginning to ask questions. They worry that their children are unjustifiably and inaccurately being identified as having learning disabilities. They don’t buy into the idea that their kids are failing at reading. They don’t understand, or believe, their children ever had a reading problem. They wonder, instead, if children are being pushed to read before they are developmentally ready.
Are children being pushed to read and understand complex text too early? Will they learn to hate reading?
What we find, and it is indeed unfortunate, is that today’s education reformers are pushing the idea that the developmental stages, like those determined by Swiss developmental psychologist, Jean Piaget, which have served us well for years, (See Piaget’s stages HERE on Web MD), are outdated. This is worrisome because the research challenging Piaget just isn’t there.
For example, recently selected Rhode Island School Superintendent Ken Wagner said this, which supports pushing children to achieve earlier than ever before:
I think one of the most transformative pieces of addressing achievement gaps is, as I’ve been speaking about, needs to start with high learning expectations for all students, and that’s something that can sometimes make people feel uncomfortable. We approach the work occasionally with preconceptions about what students can and can’t do and what certain students can and can’t do. … It’s not a question of what a student can and can’t do. This idea that students are somehow stuck in discrete developmental stages has changed, this idea has changed in the half century since Piaget was writing about developmental psychology. Now the consensus seems to be much more that students can achieve things never thought possible, provided the right supports. So we need to start the achievement gap question with Do we really believe and do we really have high expectations for all students?
This higher expectation talk is dangerous. It is not “preconception” when you teach according to a developmental foundation that has worked well for many years.
And “consensus” is not research unless specified. Supt. Wagner has not displayed any proof that children learn faster than they used to learn in the past. Those who rally around the idea that young children should be pushed beyond their developmental years might agree with each other, but that certainly doesn’t mean there is proof they are right.
My friend Sheila Resseger who worked as a teacher at the Rhode Island School for the Deaf, and who is a tireless activist for children, is working on an Op-ed piece concerning the research on this strange thinking, that children’s brains have somehow evolved to where they can understand higher-level learning. With her permission, I will share her information or provide a link to it after it is published.
Children have learned to read well for years. We know what works. Should there be reading instruction improvements? Any new ideas should be field-tested for a decent length of time, carefully, and made with teacher and parental oversight. And children from poor backgrounds need to receive a vibrant, rich literacy program based on proven research that works! That is what has been missing in the past.
Young children should not be driven to learn that which is beyond their reach. Close reading is a college skill, and little children, forced to walk in big shoes, might stumble along for a while, but they will eventually fall and get hurt.
Fisher, Douglas & Nancy Frey. “Close Reading in Elementary Schools.” The Reading Teacher. 66(3). November 2012.
Ken Wagner’s Responses to Several Key Questions during the joint meeting of the RI Board of Education and the Council on Elementary and Secondary Education at which his nomination by Governor Gina Raimondo as Commissioner of Education was confirmed. July 13, 2015. Courtesy of Sheila Resseger.