Close Reading and the Red Sox Game

You might not think about Close Reading while at Fenway Park watching a Red Sox game, but I do. I’m sure it makes me nerdy and geeky and way too involved in my job, but it’s what I was thinking about last week while sitting in my seat watching the Yankees play the Sox.
You need to understand, I am NOT a Sox fan. I’m not a Yankees fan either. I’m simply not a baseball fan. But once a year, I humor the men in our family and attend the game as a family event. In that respect, I suppose that while I’m sitting at Fenway, I’m a lot like many of the students sitting in our classrooms. They’re not fans for the book we’re asking them to read. They may not be fans of reading in general, or of school even.
I understand the basics of the game of baseball. One guy pitches, one guy tries to hit the pitched ball. A whole bunch of other guys try to catch the ball if the second guy actually manages to hit it (which doesn’t seem to happen all that often, by the way). The strategy of the game eludes me. The nuances that allow baseball fans, like my husband, to talk for hours on end about the game escape me.
To extend my analogy to the students in our classrooms, I think this is probably pretty spot-on too. They get the basics of reading. They can pull the words off of the page. They can re-tell, make fairly basic predictions, answer literal questions and maybe even make some low-level inferences. But the nuances of understanding a story are beyond them. They don’t follow the growth and development of characters. They miss the themes and messages hidden in the layers of the text. In short, they don’t get what all the fuss is about; why the rest of us LOVE to read and get lost in a good book.
So, there I was, sitting in a seat at Fenway while the pre-game rituals unfolded on the field below us. My husband and the others were watching various players warming up. They were heatedly discussing rosters, player strengths and weaknesses, and what the team manager should do today in order to beat the Yankees. They knew all about the pitcher who was scheduled to pitch and whether certain opposing players would be able to hit well against him. Me? I was watching the ROTC Honor Guard prepare for the National Anthem. I noticed their instructor taking a photo. I observed the differing postures of the ROTC members, from full-on at attention, through a military-like “at ease, and right down to a casual hip-cocked-out stance. I teared up during the Star Spangled Banner and noticed that the two vocalists were not evenly amplified through the microphone system. I observed that the teams did not take the field when introduced by the announcer. And I got lost in wondering why they didn’t, since every other sport I’ve watched, the players DO run or strut onto the field as names are broadcast.
That’s pretty much how the rest of the game went. I was watching the field and “reading closely”. I was attending to small details and inter-relationships. I was making connections, questioning, and even inferring about what I noticed. I was certainly actively engaged in the game. The problem was — I wasn’t noticing the right stuff. And all of the other “comprehension work” that I was doing was actually detracting from my understanding of the game. I wasn’t getting any better at understanding baseball.
I worry about close reading in our classrooms right now. I worry that, as teachers, we’re jumping to do something we can call “close reading” because the CCSS require it. And I worry that we’re not helping our kids get any better and understanding reading and the way books work. In other words, I worry that we’re attending to all the wrong stuff.
I want to dig into Close Reading this year. I want to really work on making sure that I’m doing the “right stuff” to grow our kids as readers and thinkers — and thinkers about reading.