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Building Reading Comprehension. Why Close Reading is Not Enough?

March 21, 2017

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Building Reading Comprehension. Why Close Reading is Not Enough?

March 21, 2017

"A person who is not at least a modestly skilled reader by the end of third grade is quite unlikely to graduate from high school" (Snow et al, 1998). A similar study by Fletcher and Lyon found that almost 75% of third graders who struggled with reading continued to struggle once they hit high school. These two studies showcase the extreme amount of importance that needs to be placed on building reading comprehension among children at a young age. In order to do this, we need to work with and build upon the Common Core State Standards to improve vocabulary and background knowledge and develop a deeper understanding of the literature that is being read.


The Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts are a set of standards that are designed to prepare young children to succeed in college and beyond. The standards are based on the fundamental comprehension skills that are required to each understand, write about, and discuss things that have been read by a student. Previously, the old standards focused mainly on the ability to read passages and recite the information within them.


Recently, however, the standards have been improved, and teachers are expected to challenge students, increasing the difficulty of their readings by each grade level. To do so, schools are now incorporating more original and educational readings into their curriculums (such as "The Gettysburg Address" by Abraham Lincoln and "Letter From Birmingham Jail" by Martin Luther King). No longer are students simply expected to read and recite the passages, but they are also challenged to display critical thinking and analytic skills through additional assignments related to the readings.


In order help children accomplish the above goals, many teachers are currently using the Common Core Standards combined with close reading. What is close reading? When you perform a close reading, you take a short passage and analyze it in detail. This type of reading requires you to read and re-read text several times, focusing entirely on the text itself. Once finished reading, you may be asked "text-dependent questions" -- questions that can only be answered through reading the text. No pre-reading or post-researching is required in this style of learning.




Is Close Reading Enough?


Unfortunately, close reading is not enough. Why? Simply put, it does not place enough emphasis on vocabulary or background knowledge. If the student does not have the proper vocabulary, more emphasis can be placed on trying to understand individual words than the actual meaning of the text itself. The "30 million word gap" is a good example of why this is an issue.


The 30 million word gap was first introduced by psychologists Betty Hard and Todd Risley after conducting a research study on language differences between lower and higher income families. Findings of the study suggest that by the age of 4, children from lower income families are exposed to over 30 million fewer words than children from higher income families. Imagine the gap that these differences place between the two categories of children. When using closed reading, children that do not have an extensive vocabulary are going to face a great deal more difficulty when reading than children who have a greater vocabulary. Why? Because they are being forced to spend more time focusing on individual words that they do not understand than focusing on the meaning of writing itself.


Similarly, close reading does not focus enough on background knowledge. Our knowledge of the world and our knowledge of words go hand in hand. In fact, children who have background knowledge on a topic show a much better understanding and comprehension of the topic than children who are simply asked to read a text. When "lower ability" students are given knowledge on a topic before they read about it, they are more likely to reach the same level of performance as "higher ability" students.


As such, while the Common Core State Standards and close reading do have their benefits, they are not enough to close the gap. In fact, when used by itself, close reading can actually increase the gap and set certain children up to fail. At Like Academy, we can help to bridge this gap. Here, our SEA & SOAR approach to reading focuses on building vocabulary and completing pre-reading activities that help to build background knowledge, as well as improve understanding, comprehension, and critical thinking skills. With the help of our program, you can set your child up for success and help them bridge the unnecessary gap caused by regular reading standards.

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