This week, my FYW (First Year Writing) students begin their second project of the semester–a reading intensive sequence that leads them to write an academic proposal. It is auspicious, then, that this week I also read through a couple of articles on teaching reading.
In “Teaching Close Reading Skills,” Tinker et al. define close reading as identification and argument. Close reading includes, “first, the ability to identify textual details that have significant interpretive implications and then the marshaling of disciplinary terminology and an understanding of genre to develop an original argument about how, what and why a text means” (507). They describe a pilot large literature lecture where the team of authors implements several vaguely described pedagogical tricks to engage their students in productive close reading that manifests in better writing-about-literature. The qualitative study that takes us through their students’ quiz results, and a textual analysis of several papers, adds to a compelling logos appeal. However, as a reader of the study, I wished for a bit more specific description of the explicit instruction that guided students through the close reading practice. As a teacher, I’m left thinking mostly that the study presents an argument for teaching students to use textual evidence in their papers, but not how to teach them how to do that.
On the other hand, Erick Kelemen’s Pedagogy article, “Critical Editing and Close Reading in the Undergraduate Classroom,” presents a specific set of assignments as well as the theoretical backing for doing so. In contrast to Tinker et al., Kelemen draws on a technique Rosenwasser and Stephen call “The Method” for his working definition of close reading: “through exhaustive iterations, look and record exact repetitions first (for example, words and phrases), thematic repetitions (say, nature and imagery) second, and expressed and implied binaries third…” Basically, he says, close reading is pattern recognition. And, rather than lumping the writing portion (forming and articulating an argument) into his definition, Kelemen deliberately keeps close reading as a preceding step within the overarching task of “critical editing”–distinct, and in this sense, better targeting an audience of undergraduate students.
Kelemen writes that he likes to frame close reading as a way to gather data, a method of discovery, “moving form a lack to a plentitude of knowledge.” I like this, because not only dose it keep reading a separate process all its own, but it also keeps things more ingestible for undergrads.
Kelemen’s connection to Friere’s liberation pedagogy, framing his assignment to prompt students to interrogate, rather than passively recieve, resonated strongly with me. There was something very similar in his critical editing assignments to a WAW (Writing About Writing) approach (125). However, the claim that students who engaged in critical editing were “more empowered, more skeptical, more careful readers,” lacked evidence for me.
In the end, there were bits and pieces of both articles I thought useful to my own teaching practice, considering the new unit we begin tomorrow. Framing reading for my students as an act of data gathering will underscore our secondary research focus beautifully. I loved the advice Kelemen passed on to readers from Rosenwasser and Stephen, that rather than trying to find “bits” to support what students “already know,”
“…a more productive approach is to deliberately assume that you don’t understand…”
I love it! Now, how can I translate that into practical knowledge for my First Year Writing students?