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CREW Program Elements

The creation of a more substantive and academically rigorous introduction is a key element of CREW. First-year students are currently introduced to college-level reading and discussion in orientation through the University’s Common Reader program. These discussions are led by University faculty and staff and are designed to improve the first-year experience and introduce the intellectual engagement with diverse ideas that are expected at the University.

Norfolk State University defines “close reading” as the deep analytic reading that directly stresses engagement with a text of sufficient complexity. Going beyond basic literacy, it examines meaning thoroughly and methodically, encouraging students to read and reread deliberately (PARCC, 2011). In other words, close reading is a strategy used to extract meaning from reading that provides students with an in-depth understanding of literature that may not otherwise be obtained. Close reading directs the reader’s attention to the text itself (Frey & Fisher, 2012; NEA 2013; NGAC 2010), and includes three major steps: read the key ideas and details; craft and structure; and integrate the knowledge and ideas (Boyles, 2013). These major steps are not only building blocks to improve reading comprehension but also to improve writing skills (Snow, 2013). As stated previously, if students are to write well, they must be able to read beyond the basic decoding of words, to evaluate the information they need, and to incorporate it into their own work (Broussard, 2017). 

Close Reading for the QEP

Close reading is defined as the practice of paying careful attention to all elements of a text (content, organization, tone, style, format, sentence structure, grammar, and such) in order to analyze, as well as to comprehend the text and to become familiar with effective writing practices to be transferred into one’s own writing.

Recommended Steps for Close Reading

In an ideal reading process, the student will make multiple passes through the text and read for different elements on each pass.

  1. Review or skim the text for basic features:  genre, structure, sections, headings, diagrams, title, purpose, and the like. Discuss what information these features provide to readers and how we should approach the text.
  2. Read the text for basic comprehension. Discuss purpose, main and supporting ideas, vocabulary, and be able to recall the fundamental ideas from the text.
  3. Read the text critically. Consider and discuss the author’s point of view and potential biases, assumptions made about readers’ knowledge and beliefs, consider what is unsaid or excluded from the text, and consider implications and possible interpretations of the material presented.
  4. Focus on a smaller passage and discuss the writer’s style and strengths of language, punctuation, and syntax.

Applying Close Reading to Student Writing

Understanding and articulating views on a text in writing puts into students’ writing practice the elements of strong writing identified through close reading. Direct imitation of good writing’s style and features, as well as indirect practice through high faculty expectations will help these elements of strong writing become habit and manifest in other written work.

Options for Direct Imitation Practice

  1. For informational texts, have students imitate the tone, language, and structure of the text read in a piece of writing on a subject they know well. Another option is to have them summarize/paraphrase the text at the same level using the same tone.
  2. For argumentative texts, ask students to respond to the argument with their own point of view, either following the patterns and evidence used in the text read or directly rebutting the argumentative text using the author’s own evidence.
  3. Have students write a project or paper proposal that implements the requirements and genre conventions of the field as identified through close reading.

Zemelman, Daniels and Arthur (2005) postulate that the best practices to tie in close reading to better writing are to strategize and establish a positive atmosphere for writing, reading and learning; to organize for writing; arrange for meaningful-to-students reasons to write; arrange for students to read, respond to, and use a variety of materials written for a variety of purposes and audiences; and to write regularly across the curriculum and disciplines. These diverse comprehension strategies can be used in varying ways depending on student needs, instructor goals, and the demands of the reading task (Frey & Fisher, 2012, Snow, 2013). Embedding close reading strategies instruction into one’s pedagogy provides students with skills to overcome reading comprehension difficulties and helps them become more skilled readers and more successful in approaching the many types of writing tasks required for college-level work.

Indeed, since CREW is designed to enhance undergraduate reading and writing skills, social constructivism, which suggests that through immersion and shared experiences students will collaboratively construct knowledge (Falk-Ross, 2001), serves as the plan’s theoretical framework. The interventions at the heart of CREW, common readings and intensive writing across the disciplines, lend themselves particularly well to social constructivist views of knowledge as they build academic community through moderated discussion and peer interaction and review. These opportunities model the intellectual engagement that is expected in highly literate environments, like universities (Anderson & Kim, 2011; Falk-Ross, 2001; Ferguson, 2006).

Social constructivists view learning as a social phenomenon, and they emphasize the collaborative nature of learning (Au, 1998). Social constructivist learning environments are designed to help learners reap the rewards inherent in being a member of a knowledge community while also promoting intrinsic motivation (Vygotsky, 1978). CREW is based on the idea that complex academic texts are best understood through academic discourse through group discussion and the development and expression of ideas in writing. This framework has various implications for teaching both in the classroom and beyond. Social constructivist pedagogues view learning as a collaborative process, wherein faculty do more than simply lecture; instead, they create rich learning environments that promote peer interaction, active learning, and group discussion. Since learning also happens outside of the classroom, CREW engages librarians and Student Affairs staff and the larger University community through discussion forums and a range of curricular and co-curricular programming.

Finally, strategy instruction for “effective writing” draws on social constructivist theories of learning (Englert, Mariage, & Dunsmore, 2006) to understand how to help students develop self-regulated strategies. Students actively construct their own understanding of strategies and where and when they are useful through their learning experiences. Instructors support learning by providing explicit explanations, modeling the strategies with think alouds, scaffolding students as they apply the strategies, arranging for peer collaboration, and gradually releasing control. Emphasis is placed on the purpose and value of the strategies to enhance motivation and transfer (MacArthur & Lembo, 2009). All of these strategies are dependent upon “close reading” as defined above.