Research Spotlight: Dr. Douglas Fisher on Close Reading

Today’s educators are as much learners as they are teachers — constantly searching for proven strategies that will enable them to make the most of every precious moment spent in the classroom. To support you in your quest for knowledge, we will be pulling a piece of research from our PreK-12 Research Portal to share with you every month. To start, we’re putting the spotlight on Dr. Douglas Fisher, Professor of Educational Leadership at San Diego State University, and his work with elementary literacy strategies.

In Close Reading in Elementary Classrooms, Dr. Fisher examines the growing importance of close reading among young learners, particularly as the practice supports deep comprehension and fosters critical thinking skills. While much of the existing research on close reading has been focused on older students, Dr. Fisher’s work identifies how best practices in elementary grade reading instruction align with the practice of close reading, and outlines the key elements of close reading in that age group.

We encourage you to dive into the full paper when you’re ready for some in-depth summer reading. For now, here are a few of the most important takeaways you can expect to explore in Dr. Fisher’s piece:

Identifying a Purpose for Reading

The first step in the close reading process for elementary school students, according to Dr. Fisher, is to identify their own purpose for reading. Research shows that understanding one’s own purpose for reading is an important metacognitive process that supports a reader’s comprehension of the text (Paris, Wasik, & Turner, 1991).

In the paper, Dr. Fisher contextualizes this concept to the practical experiences of students in this age group, discusses the research around motivation and purpose for reading, and outlines practices teachers can use to help students identify a purpose for reading.

Determining the Author’s Purpose

In addition to identifying their own purpose for reading, students should take the time to determine the author’s purpose for writing. Dr. Fisher explains that while some of the cognitive exercises required to engage in such an analysis might seem complex for early learners, students are actually quite capable, and, according to research, determining the author’s purpose is a key element of reading comprehension (RAND Reading Study Group, 2002).

In the paper, you’ll find a deeper dive into the types of valuable information students can glean from determining the author’s purpose, and a specific framework for guiding elementary school students through this determination process.

Developing Schema

Next, Dr. Fisher explores the complexities of developing schema during reading. Schema theory is central to much of what educators do every day, and it’s particularly foundational in reading comprehension. If a student’s schema (or structure of knowledge about a topic) has gaps, then we know that the student will have to work harder to comprehend what he or she reads (Kinstch & van Dijk, 1978).

In the paper, Dr. Fisher gives an in-depth look at a practical strategy for helping students build schema called text-dependent questions. You’ll find a bulleted list of the elements and details these questions should include so that you can employ the strategy in your classroom.

Understanding Systems of Thought in the Disciplines

This portion of the paper is a complex one, but extremely useful once you begin to understand what Dr. Fisher is explaining. According to research, students need to be familiar with the varying characteristics of texts from different disciplines (Paul & Elder, 2003). For example, a science text will function very differently than a fictional narrative story. Nonfiction texts frequently contain unfamiliar vocabulary and assume a schema is already in place to understand complex topics.

In this section of the paper, Dr. Fisher provides a deeper explanation of the different discipline text characteristics, as well as strategies to help students navigate these differences.

Considerations for Developing Close Reading

In the final section of the paper, Dr. Fisher delves into key clarifications around the nuances of close reading for elementary students. This passage will be particularly helpful as you begin to bring close reading into your classroom, because Dr. Fisher provides tangible and clear strategies, such as discussing the text with peers, annotating or taking notes during reading, and selecting short passages for students to practice and apply these strategies.

In the paper, you’ll also get an understanding of how to structure direct instruction in the practices of close reading so that it becomes more automatic for elementary students as they begin to monitor their own understanding of readings.

To read through Dr. Fisher’s work in full, see below. Then visit the McGraw-Hill Education PreK-12 Research Portal to explore works from more of the best researchers and authors in education!

Works Cited

Kintsch, W., & van Dijk, T.A. (1978). Toward a Model of Text Comprehension and Production. Psychological Review, 85, 363–394.

Paris, S.G., Wasik, B.A., & Turner, J.C. (1991). The Development of Strategic Readers. In R. Barr, M. L. Kamil, P. Mosenthal, & P.D. Pearson (Eds.), Handbook of Reading Research (pp. 609–640). White Plains, NY: Longman.

Paul, R., & Elder, L. (2003). Critical Thinking… and the Art of Close Reading (Part 1). Journal of Developmental Education, 27(2), 36–37, 39.

RAND Reading Study Group. (2002). Reading for Understanding: Toward an R&D Program in Reading Comprehension.

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