A Rubric for Close Reading
With my research assistant Sarah Hertz, I’m developing a rubric for close readings of Shakespeare’s texts, mostly verse, in my English 205 this fall (2011). Close reading is a core skill for English majors, and thus is one of the skills the course focuses on. (The others are slow reading; annotating texts; using evidence; paraphrasing and comparing passages; and the stages of critical writing–from citations to arguments to outlines to editing.)
So how do you test students’ close reading skills in a stand-alone exercise? In the past, I’ve simply demonstrated what you look for when close reading — form, structure, argument, voice/tone, sound/rhythm, language, rhetorical figures. My assignment then offered students a list like this with some descriptive language, and set them loose on a sight passage.
The results were very uneven; a recurring problem was that students would neglect components that were too difficult, and hope for the best. Must a close reading be comprehensive to be valid? Not necessarily, but one that makes no mention of the rhyme scheme when analyzing a sonnet (for instance) is doing it an injustice.
So Sarah and I are formalizing the process with a questionnaire, of sorts. So far the site offered by a consortium called Mantex has been useful for dividing the components into linguistic, semantic, structural, and cultural categories. But we’re also using some guides that have been online for ages: from Sophia A McClennan to the venerable Jack Lynch to John Lye to L Kip Wheeler, these are decidedly Web 1.0-style guides to the timeless, pre-Twitter habits of reading, rereading, and looking up words in the OED.
When we have a preliminary version of the rubric ready to share for comments, I’ll post it here. More in due course.
UPDATE: The exercise is now available here, on Google Docs.