Zia Hassan

The Case For Multiple Reads

When I was a classroom teacher, I used to teach a course called Close Reading of Complex Text. The idea behind the course is that if you give a student a text that is just slightly beyond their reading abilities (in other words, harder than a text they could understand by reading it one time, but not so hard that they give up), they will need to work hard to use their skills and extract meaning.

That’s not a new idea for college and graduate students, who have to parse text constantly to extract meaning necessary to be effective in their class sessions. But for 3rd and 4th graders, this was a relatively new challenge, one brought on by changes in national standards (i.e. the common core).

Even more daunting was teaching it. I know how to access complex texts. How do you teach it?

Turns out there are a few different principles involved in teaching students how to access a piece of text that is probably too challenging for them, but of the strategies used, the major one is reading the passage or text several times with different intentions each time.

You read it once for pleasure, just to take it in. You might read it again to try and use context to understand unknown words. Perhaps a third time to think about specific motivations of characters, or to uncover a technical process. And maybe a fourth time to determine why the author wrote the piece.

It’s effective, and it also works with art.

I’ve watched the series Lost so many times now that I’ve gone beyond trying to understand the ending… I know want to understand the connections between the characters and their philosopher counterparts (like Desmond Hume being named after David Hume, John Locke, etc.)

I’ve listened to Kind of Blue so many times that its meaning changes for me on a regular basis. It’s remarkable because the music is somewhat out of my grasp; I’m not a music theorist, though I am a musician.

Multiple views of Lost in Translation also gives a deeper edge to the movie, making it one of my favorites. I went from thinking that it wasn’t important to know what Bill Murray says to Scarlett at the end of the movie, to thinking that was important to at least have my own interpretation of it.

Maybe a conclusion we could draw from this is that multiple listens/views is required to understand anything that is complex and slightly out of reach. So the next time you don’t get something you read/watch/hear… try consuming it again.