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I have a confession to make – I hate football.
I know it’s un-American, in fact it’s almost sacrilege. But every time I try to sit and watch with a good friend of mine who’s a huge college football fan I get bored, antsy, impatient. I sigh and look at my watch. This past fall I suffered through Notre Dame vs. Navy. I don’t know who won. I can’t remember which team wears which uniform. The players always seem to be jumping on top of a human heap, grappling for the ball, inching interminably along the field.
So what, you might ask, does appreciating football have to do with close, directed reading? And effective writing? I’ll come back to that, I promise…bear with me for a little bit…
In order to read for deep comprehension (close reading) it’s essential that students learn how to deconstruct the texts they’re reading and to examine them through “author’s eyes.” It’s critical that students have a knowledge of the tools and techniques authors use to organize their thoughts, understand and recognize not only the salient features of a particular genre, but certain “road signs” in the text that point to the author’s motivation, intention, and purpose within the piece.
For example, what would an author do in order to illustrate the inner feelings of a story character? How would an author weight the most significant parts of an information piece that she/he would like the reader to take away? Why would an author spend an entire paragraph describing a character, setting, object, event or phenomenon? How would an author indicate an important transition? How does the author use descriptive language to set a tone or create a mood? What are the ways an author can indicate the point of view or feelings of a character? In what ways might an author acknowledge and gently refute an opposing view in an argument piece? By learning these techniques (and many more) students begin to understand the strategies involved in communicating effectively through writing.
It’s a little bit like… me and football. Without a clear understanding of the object of the game, the rules and scoring, and the position and role of each player, the game can just look like a bunch of guys throwing the ball, running around, and jumping on each other – it seems incomprehensible. But, to a trained observer who understands the finer points and all the technical aspects of the game, every play takes on much greater significance. This is why I can never hang in and follow the game, let alone appreciate it – because I lack the critical understanding of the sport.
So, to fully engage students in reading (and writing) they have to read with author’s eyes. The other benefit of learning to read with “author’s eyes” is that it creates a powerful reading/writing connection. The attention students have paid to annotating texts, while essentially an analytical reading activity, also informs writing. When students approach a writing task they do so with a much greater understanding of how authors do what they do, and are in a much stronger position to begin to imitate that. Close reading enhances writing, and writing enhances close reading.
By applying the annotation process every time students read, the reading/writing connection becomes more indelibly linked. What follows is a link to download a chart that connects writing techniques to textual clues. As one or the other is taught (techniques or textual clues), the counterpart should also be acknowledged.