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“Falling in Love with Close Reading” by Lehman & Roberts

The suggestion that “close reading is something we should teach students to do, rather than something we just do to them” (p. 17), contained at the very beginning of the 2013 book Falling in love with close reading by Christopher Lehman and Kate Roberts, appears highly reflective of the main idea promoted throughout this book’s entirety. Being closely associated with the student-centered paradigm in education, this idea can be formulated as follows: instead of acting as an authority figure while in the classroom, a teacher must adopt the posture of someone who merely ‘steers’ the process of students acquiring new knowledge. In its turn, this idea derives out of the assumption that the process’s main objective is to teach students how to indulge in cause-effect (or dialectical) reasoning.

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As Minter (2011) noted while referring to the foremost principle of the student-centered pedagogy, “Content needs to be presented in such a way that the student can relate the information to previous experiences and knowledge and in so doing, the student builds relationship, synthesis, and a deeper learning experience” (p. 56). In the student-centered classroom, the emphasis is placed on allowing young learners to go about developing their academic competencies in a manner that suits them the best, which in turn is supposed to make it possible for these students to enjoy the learning process. This suggestion relates to yet another supposedly progressive belief, promoted by the advocates of the pedagogical concept in question – students are fully capable of studying autonomously without being closely supervised.

Falling in love with close reading does deserve to be given credit for providing many valuable clues as to how educators should address the task of adjusting the classroom-based learning environment to be consistent with the learner-centered outlook on the purpose of close reading. Probably the most insightful of them is that the cognitive needs of every particular student are uniquely individual, and when asked to do a close reading in class, children must be provided with the circumstantially appropriate incentives to be genuinely interested in doing it.

Nevertheless, despite its apparent progressiveness, the book’s earlier defined idea cannot be regarded as fully applicable in the practical sense of this word. There is a number of reasons for it. First, while expounding on what accounts for the benefits of using the student-centered model for the classroom activities that involve close reading, the authors remained unaware of the biologically predetermined specifics of how one’s brain processes cognitive loads. Second, in the conceptual sense of this word, “teaching children to do…” is no different from “‘doing teaching’ to them.” The reason for this is that both educational approaches imply that a teacher is in the position to pass down instructions to students. Third, many of the authors’ close reading-related suggestions appear highly speculative. As such, they cannot be deemed to represent much practical value.

To understand how the practical implementation of the student-centered approach may influence learners, we must point out the fact that while accounting for only 3%-5% of one’s weight, a human brain consumes up to 30% of all the energy produced by the body (Harris, Jolivet, & Attwell, 2012). In its turn, this naturally causes the body trying to keep the brain in the ‘deactivated’ mode for as long as possible (to conserve energy) while ‘activating’ it only when the concerned individual is in the process of addressing its biological agenda within the conceptual framework of the ‘survival of the fittest’ principle. This is exactly the reason why most students (as well as the rest of people) experience a strong desire to keep finding different excuses not to indulge in the analytical thinking for as long as possible – their brain refuses to consider this activity to be essential, in the Darwinian sense of this word. What it means is that the effective incentives to encourage children to do what is expected of them (while they close read in the classroom environment) must necessarily be ‘biological’ – that is, aimed to capitalize on a student’s unconscious strive for domination.

Ironically enough, this presupposes that it is specifically the teacher-centered pedagogy that suits the best the purpose of encouraging students to apply much mental effort when required to do a close reading. The reason for this is that, as opposed to what is the case with a ‘teacher-guide,’ a ‘teacher-instructor’ is in the position to ostracize underachieving students in front of the class. The main implication of the above-stated is clear – children’s continual exposure to the learner-centered pedagogical methodologies is mostly likely to prove counter-beneficial in the end. Even though students may indeed experience some initial thrill from being able to adopt a more relaxed attitude towards trying to succeed academically, such an eventual development will be eventually followed by their realization of what accounts for the emerging ‘slack off’ opportunities. After all, when assessed in conjunction with the earlier mentioned ‘energy conserving’ feature of how a human brain operates, the very principle of ‘learner autonomy’ will appear discursively misleading.

Another reason to believe that the idea’s practical implementation may have a negative effect on learners is that, as it emerges from the book, many of the instructional suggestions contained in it do not take into account the fact that the cognitive characteristics of how children perceive the surrounding reality never cease remaining in a state of continual transformation. Moreover, these suggestions are essentially concerned with trying to force young readers to act in accordance with the authors’ own highly subjective outlook on the significance of close reading. It is understood, of course, that this hardly contributes to the goal of helping young students to become proficient in close reading.

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There can be only a few doubts as to the fact that the idea of ‘student-centered learning’ does exert a powerful influence on defining the quality of educational dynamics in the US. In fact, this remained the case for the duration of at least two decades up until now. The actual rationale behind it had to do with the assumption that while standing in strong contrast with the positivist conventions in education, this idea correlated perfectly well with the governmental endorsement of the ‘multiculturalism’ social policy. It was expected that the adoption of the learner-centered approach by teachers would make it much more likely for students to be able to realize their full academic potential – something that would sub-sequentially increase de facto literacy in school graduates. However, the actual state of affairs in this respect could not be further from the expected one. After all, throughout the historical period in question, the educational standards in the US continued to decline rather rapidly. The validity of this statement can be illustrated regarding the fact that as of today, America must ‘import’ highly skilled professionals (especially in the field of IT) from abroad.

This simply could not be otherwise. As Dougherty (2006) aptly noted, “(Through the early 2000s), the educational system in the United States became vulnerable to every passing fad. The current vogue of multiculturalism and affirmative action has resulted in a ‘dumbing down’ of the curriculum to accommodate all” (p. 884). Apparently, the student-centered model of learning is, in fact, one of such fads because there is nothing fundamentally innovative about it. Despite the progressive sounding on many of its conceptual propositions, they still justify the idea that it is up to teachers to coerce students into addressing their academic tasks in a manner deemed ‘appropriate’ by those who design these tasks.

The discussed book stands out perfectly exemplary in this respect, “If you find your students are collecting a lot of rambling or sporadic text evidence, teach them to be more selective with their details” (Lehman and Roberts, 2013, p. 42). One may wonder why after having proved rather unworkable, the concerned pedagogical model continues to become ever more popular in the West? This question can be partially answered by pointing out the fact that the student-centered learning paradigm, promoted by Lehman and Roberts, presupposes the absence of any universally recognized criteria for measuring the pace of children’s academic progress. In its turn, this allows those bureaucrats in charge of designing educational policies in this country to continue claiming that the earlier mentioned decline of educational standards in the US is nothing but a myth. The most recent political developments in the US, however, suggest that the described situation will not last for much longer.


Dougherty, J. (2006). John Dewey and the decline of American education. The Review of Metaphysics, 59(4), 883-884.

Harris, J., Jolivet, R., & Attwell, D. (2012). Synaptic energy use and supply. Neuron, 75(5), 762-777.

Lehman, C., & Roberts, K. (2013). Falling in love with close reading, Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Minter, M. (2011). Learner-centered (LCI) vs. teacher-centered (TCI) instruction: A classroom management perspective. American Journal of Business Education, 4(5), 55-62.

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StudyCorgi. (2021, May 11). “Falling in Love with Close Reading” by Lehman & Roberts. Retrieved from


StudyCorgi. (2021, May 11). “Falling in Love with Close Reading” by Lehman & Roberts.

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StudyCorgi. "“Falling in Love with Close Reading” by Lehman & Roberts." May 11, 2021.


StudyCorgi. 2021. "“Falling in Love with Close Reading” by Lehman & Roberts." May 11, 2021.


StudyCorgi. (2021) '“Falling in Love with Close Reading” by Lehman & Roberts'. 11 May.

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