Reading as Meditation
Why We Should Teach Children to Close Read
I am guilty of inhaling books. I don’t often take my time to absorb the meanings of words, the nuance of sentences, or the particular style of writing. I often seem to adopt an ‘as many as possible and as quickly as possible’ approach to my reading. I am absolutely a consumerist in this sense. I have this hunger to read as much as possible. In my defence, as a bookseller and teacher, I need to be able to recommend as many books as possible.
However, I have been teaching my students to close read. What is close reading you ask?
‘Close reading is an interaction that involves observation and interpretation between the reader and a text. It means rereading and reflecting to come to new conclusions and understandings about the ideas that a text sets out.’ Samantha Cleaver, We Are Teachers.
What does that mean practically? As a teacher and parent that means that we highlight words that we don’t understand or words that capture our attention. It means we read a paragraph and then go back to discuss how a character is described, why the author wrote in that style, what was the author trying to make the reader think, feel, and do. You may have done this at school or college.
Maybe the benefits of teaching children to close read become apparent; their ability to analyse, decipher and critique text will augment, their vocabulary and comprehension. Their ability to use the skills in their own writing will naturally follow. These are all excellent and resounding reasons why every language teacher should do this. However, upon teaching close reading let me tell you the benefits I have realised. When you close read you take your time, you don’t rush through, you absorb meaning and ideas that you would not if you gallop through your book. Maybe a little like life; we are often rushing for the next event, get to the next level, achieve more…and rarely take the time to appreciate and assimilate the here and now. Then the greatest irony is I look back and miss different periods of life; be it the summer holidays, the staying-in days, the walks to collect my children from kindergarten, the book that I enjoyed so much I never wanted it to end.
So maybe close reading’s greatest lesson is to slow down, take your time, appreciate, absorb, and reflect on the here and now. That is a great lesson to teach children.