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CREW - Close Reading for Effective Writing

CLOSE READING FOR EFFECTIVE WRITING   

Norfolk State University's choice of "Close Reading for Effective Writing" (CREW) for its second Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) centers on the basic notion that reading and writing skills are complementary. The University is not doing two separate QEPs, but it is focusing on the rather traditional idea that reading academic texts and materials for analysis, context, and connection will lead to more effective writing and writers. Close reading proceeds by means of an instructor who very enthusiastically and lovingly models the reading skills and habits he or she is trying to instill. Students often approach a great text with feelings of trepidation, especially if it contains challenging vocabulary or was written in a previous century. Close reading skills and habits offer a way into intimidating texts, a way of entering what seems impenetrable. Students should feel rising levels of confidence as they move into a world (or experience an artifact) that previously seemed blocked to them.

Close reading does not resolve all questions that students might have about the meaning(s) of a text; it does, however, teach students to tolerate and even relish ambiguities and multiple meanings. By making students aware of narrative techniques, they become aware of a writer’s purposes and goals (both those met and those unmet). Close readers become aware of the writer’s position and perspectives relative to their own position and perspectives. They share in a transfer of both knowledge and opinion – learning when to yield to another mind and when, possibly, to resist. The strategies and practices of close reading strengthen students’ ability to articulate what they are feeling using both the author’s words – brief direct quotation – and/or their own responsible paraphrasing.  Understanding the text brings one into it and then through it. Close reading, then, enables students to emulate the best of what they have read (a good writer’s strategies and ‘tricks of the trade’) when they next sit down to write.

Accordingly, faculty and staff, in conjunction with student leaders, need to know how to teach close reading for effective writing, and that is why professional development and co-curricular programming are key to the success of this project. One cannot assume that everyone knows how to teach close reading, or, even less useful, that only the humanities, especially the discipline of literary criticism, should use close reading.