Close reading, one of the most ubiquitous terms of the Common Core literacy era, passed away yesterday evening. Ironically, its death is mourned by the very teachers (myself included), administrators, coaches, consultants, and authors who killed it through overuse. In its final hours, close reading lay on its deathbed and reflected on its meteoric rise to stardom and similarly rapid decline to death, content in the knowledge that in classrooms, blogospheres, publishing houses, and convention centers around the nation, its name would live on, even if not its actual meaning.
In its final moments, close reading asked that those who mourn it devote themselves to studying the cause of its sudden demise, a disease known as buzzwordification.
Buzzwordification: What we know about the disease
Buzzwordification is a universally recognized disease, yet its causes and cures remain unknown. (<–Click here to tweet that.) In the case of close reading, symptoms began when it was mentioned in the very first phrase of the very first of the 32 Common Core literacy anchor standards, R.CCR.1:
Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
Some doctors believe close reading's fate as a buzzwordification casualty was solidified at the time the standards were drafted; others claim it was when entire books (and gargantuan blog posts [<– that links to my own blog post! *Pokes fun at self*]) began devoting themselves to close reading, most notably Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading, and close reading's personal favorite, Falling in Love with Close Reading: Lessons for Analyzing Texts–and Life. All of these sources and hundreds more elevated close reading from being an academic term to being something like a transcendent demigod.
Indeed, transcendent is the perfect adjective for close reading. At the height of its battle with buzzwordification, close reading meant something different to every mouth that uttered it; to some, it was simply re-reading a text, while to others, it was “marking up” the text; some preferred close reading with lenses, while others did it with signposts; and while some sought to limit close reading to words on a page or a screen, others applied it to things as diverse as video games, conversations with friends, and even life itself.
In its final stages, buzzwordification dispatches its victims when the connotative scope of a term becomes impossibly broad, rendering accurate, meaningful communication with the word improbable (for an example apart from close reading, consider the edu-term “essential question,” which passed away when it became synonymous with simply writing words on a whiteboard each day and placing a question mark at the end of the words).
Hope for a cure
Although nearly all cases of buzzwordification have thus far proven terminal (the only exceptions being those cases in which the term went into a nearly comatose, dormant stage for decades or more), doctors are optimistic that a cure is possible.
First, doctors are quick to point out that simply hating all buzzwords — as many veteran educators are wont to do — does not cure buzzwordification, nor is it in the best interest of students. Indeed, in the case of close reading, the basic practice of intensively grappling with a text needs always to be a part of the literacy classroom, and this means teachers must develop the ability to instruct students in this practice.
Secondly, administrators must be careful not to give bonus points, consciously or otherwise, to educators who use buzzwords fluently. What matters in student achievement has much less to do with the label applied to an instructional practice than the instructional practice itself. In the case of close reading, does the teacher model higher-order reading for kids? Does he or she show wisdom in intentionally choosing appropriately complex texts for close examination? The answers to simple questions like these should be the basis for evaluative points.
Finally, buzzwordification will only cease to plague education when all of us learn to laugh at ourselves once in awhile 🙂 I pray this post is received in the light-hearted nature in which it was written, and that together we can continue our pursuit of what matters most in teaching kids to flourish in the long-term.
I hope you're having a good summer so far.
Much love to you, colleagues.
PS. If you would like to add anything to this obituary or create one for another victim of buzzwordification, please leave a comment below.