“The best teachers are those who show you where to look, but don’t tell you what to see”
Alexandra T. Trenfor
Reading activities are no longer as they used to be. The students nowadays are required to develop new reading techniques and strategies to deal with texts on the basis of analysis and scrutiny, questioning the texts deeply to see what they say, how they say it, and eventually what they mean. This process allows the students to discover a relatively new perspective of reading texts so as to be able to unveil the purpose of the writers, and the means they use to persuade, convince or -in the least- present their ideas.
This paper tends to point out a very crucial practical process in dealing with texts in the classroom. Nowadays, Internet has provided the learners with great opportunities to search and allows them to easily find countless different sorts of texts and e-books, in different formats. Most of these texts need lots of reflection to fully assimilate them from different angles. Therefore the students must be active readers; otherwise, they’ll be lost within the abundance of the texts available on the same topic on the internet.
It is quite hard, as a method, for beginners, but it is not impossible. It is true that fresh brains are susceptible to accept everything as facts because they are not fit for unveiling hidden messages in texts especially if they are not in their mother tongue. They need to know how and when to draw a line between facts and opinions. Many different hard aspects are interwoven together and need some more extra efforts to subdue them.
What they actually need is a thorough scanning of texts so as to evaluate them for credibility, validation and validity. To do this, the learners have to start training on critical reading for an unbiased stand point vis-à-vis any given text.
1. The Old School Reading Comprehension ..................................4
2. The New Reading methodology.................................................4
3. Reading critically needs critical minds .......................................5
4. Why critical reading is necessary...............................................6
5. The learner as a critical reader..................................................6
6. Efficient critical reading skills....................................................8
7. Conclusion ...............................................................................9
Critical reading, Critical Thinking, Text, Analysis, Synchronisation, Evaluation,
1. The Old School Reading Comprehension
A few decades ago, when the teachers of English as a second or a foreign language taught reading comprehension, they focus principally on vocabulary, linking words, reference, information transfer, cause and effect relationship or event sequencing asking the students wh- questions to make sure they understand what the text says.
The simplicity of life in the past makes any feedback satisfying for the teachers. The ultimate goal for most teachers was when the students could read and understand a text. In those by-gone complexity-free times, most texts were granted as they were verified and evaluated because the authors were academically well-known and trustworthy despite their diverse inclinations. However, this is not the case any more.
Technology has made it a little more complicated to certify whatever thing. Nowadays, everyone can write anything, and the youth are exposed to a multitude of types, written, audio and visual. The teachers have to be more aware than ever before of the risks that the students are likely to face outside the classroom walls. The internet, for instance, is full of texts that are not reliable and the students are in direct contact with them on a daily basis. Most of those texts are rootless. Their origins are unknown, and their authors are very so often unidentified, nicknamed or unknown. As younger learners are mostly green, inexperienced and naïve, they are effortlessly drawn into accepting anything they read, listen to or watch on the internet as facts.
2. The New Reading methodology
When we talk about a new methodology in reading, we don’t actually mean a rapture with the conventional reading approaches, on the contrary, what we mean actually is a only a developmental continuity in improving reading skills. There different strategies like the SQ3R, SRR, PQ4R and the SQ4R methods (1) which are almost all there.
However, times change, and so must our teaching methods. The students should be taught reading as usual, but this time with a different outlook. The texts themselves should be chosen carefully to stimulate the students’ cognitive abilities to start questioning the text they read before accepting its content whatsoever it is, and whosoever is the author. This has become a must because we don’t know what the students read exactly when they are not supervised. They should be taught how to read critically in order to understand,
- What the text says
- What it means
- What the writer’s purpose is
Hence they need to learn how
- to reiterate any text to fully understand what it says
- to interpret, analyse and asserts the text to know what it means
- to recognize the author’s purpose through the tone and persuasive elements used to eventually recognize partiality.
These are the basic skills beginners should own to get ready for facing diverse texts. When the learners are capable of doing this, with any given text, they could be capable of confronting implicit messages in some texts and surmount the possible confusion and ambiguity phases they may encounter during reading. This way, it would become very hard to make them accept anything unverified. The youngsters today are bombarded with all sorts of texts starting from ads and ending in misleading fanatic ideologies.
3. Reading critically needs critical minds
The non-critical readers of the past used to read for memorization taking what they read for facts, whereas critical readers should know for sure that impartiality is relative. To redress the learners’ usual reading approaches, the teacher needs to build critical minds. The sharp shift from non-critical reading to prudent critical reading is hard to achieve overnight as it requires engagement and intensive practice to update the thinking system of the learners as well as their background knowledge.
To implement this wide step move in class, first, the teacher has to provide a text which allows the students to be able to distinguish between facts and opinions, and then a text with an opinion supported by arguments for the students to see if those arguments are strong enough to make it fair enough to agree with the opinion. Bearing in mind that what they read are just view points, the students would be able to understand that the texts are negotiable and susceptible to be discussed, supported or maybe refuted.
In a second stage, the teacher has to challenge the learners with a text which requests deep attention to decipher its stereotypes or fallacies, and urges the students to read between the lines. This is a quite tough stage that needs long and permanent practice.
4. Why critical reading is necessary
Some texts, especially on the social networks are mainly gossips, rumours, plots, boasts or conspiracies. If the teacher could put her students on the rails, she achieved her goal offering them skills enough to avoid pitfalls and unveil deceitful ideas. On the internet, most non-certified texts are not innocent. There is always a message hidden inside, and it could mislead non-critical readers effortlessly. Critical reading thus, is a shield against any harmful ideas.
The learners should get used to asking questions about everything connected to the text they read from the very beginning. This is no longer an optional step in reading as it used to be formerly. In the digital era everything is subject to questioning so as to understand what the text says, what it means and why is it written in the first place.
The schemata help a lot in well-based analysis and synchronisation. That’s why reading critically takes a longer time before it is ripened and mastered. The learners with little background knowledge find it hard to evaluate a text according to what they already know, for what they know is so meager and meek compared to the text content. The more the students learn, the more their critical reading approach is solidified. They have no other options. They must learn how to be critical readers so as not to be cheated into believing false ideas. Non-critical readers don’t unveil false reasoning, but critical readers easily do. The stronger the schemata, the better a text will be understood and evaluated.
5. The learner as a critical reader
To be analytical and rational for a beginner is not easy at all. However, the teacher can invite them to discover anomalies in simple texts or dialogues, sometimes with clearly put evidence easy to detect and single out. Imagine how beginners would read this dialogue, for instance.
As you have already noticed this dialogue is meant to teach the quantifiers used with countable and uncountable nouns. The hidden lesson; however, is the style used by the boy and the mother throughout the dialogue. Asking for permission and requesting are two functions in English that need to be politely stated.
At the beginning, everything goes on normally; the students need to understand what happens. The boy’s asking for permission to have more milk is quite polite and the interaction goes smoothly until the boy asks for money to buy chips. He does that in a relatively impolite way, “I need some money to buy chips” The mother replies to the request appropriately, “I have no money for your chips”. When the boy wants to get the money, he makes recourse to false equivalence comparing his mother to John’s mother to appeal to emotion. The mother understands what the boy is trying to do right away, and she replies accordingly, “I am not John’s mother, and you are not John, either”. She immediately unveils his informal fallacy, and she deals with the issue bluntly. She is not John’s mother, and so Peter is not John. That’s logical, but the mother’s logic differs from that of the boy who uses it as a tactic to “blackmail” his mother. This manœuvre is also called the ‘incomplete comparison fallacy’. Once the students could understand this, they would apply it to other similar situations. Generally syllogisms require deep concentrated thinking efforts to assimilate fully to uncover the anomaly.
I know it is somehow too much demanding to make the students aware of the hidden message in the conversation, but I am confident with practice they will soon be able to spot such mischievous schemes and single them out. Here, the students will not be ready yet to unveil Peter’s conniving tactic to get the money from his mother because they do it themselves very so often. The purpose of this exchange is to teach the students to quickly discover such illogical analogies and avoid making them.
It is always better to do this task through dialogues as a subset of a conversation that when once advanced, the students could manage to complete it with ideas of their own. As a follow up, the teacher might want to ask the students to give examples of such fallacies from their own life.
It is a very usual fallacy that the parents use with their children:
Father: “You didn't do well at school, Henry studies in the same class and he has got a full mark in Maths”.
Mother: “Why won’t you do the washing for me? Mrs Clifford’s son is your age, and he usually does that for his mother”
6. Efficient critical reading skills
It goes without saying that beginners won’t stay beginners forever. They grow up and with them the habits they get from school. If the habit of reading actively attracts them, it will never leave them. In this case, their critical reading is to develop as they grow up, and they become more and more adept at using it with time.
Growing amidst the school routine, the students get used to reading for duty and for exams only, but rarely for pleasure or learning. That’s why they hate the task, and this is not a good sign at all. If they knew how to read actively, skeptically and critically, they would probably love reading and writing as in a challenging game. Academically speaking, reading should always be handled in a critical way.
To read as proficient critical thinkers, the learners have to develop certain reading strategies so as to be able to...
• Skim and scan
• Ask appropriate questions about the text they are reading. Questions concerning
Ø The author (credibility)
Ø The audience for whom the text is destined
Ø The claim or the thesis
Ø The types of evidence provided
Ø The key words used
Ø The kind of language used
Ø The switch words used
Ø The kind of reasoning used
Ø The theory used to interpret data
Ø The examples used to support facts
Ø And so on
They should also be able to
• Make a map for the text
• Choose one word to title the passage
• Take notes for each paragraph (main ideas)
• Highlight the key words
• Underline the switch words (conjunctions)
• Read between the lines (conjecture)
• Connecting main ideas to details
All these have to be done simultaneously to be pragmatic and save time and effort. Most importantly, to get the “gist” of any given text, the reader should own a strong background knowledge to activate whenever there is an interaction between what he has previously learnt and the text, that’s to say having the ability to set up a bridge between what the text tells you and what is in mind. In brief it is a kind of interaction between schemata and texts or a simple synchrony.
Gradually the students will be able to deal with higher critical reading standards when they start considering the three rhetorical styles in their readings, notably Logos (logic and consistency), Ethos (ethics, credibility and trust) and Pathos (emotions and imagination). Once they reach this stage, they are completely safe from guzzling junk writings and from producing nonsense and gibberish themselves.
Today anyone can write anything even without knowledge, expertise or credible information. The internet and the yellow press and books have kept the door wide open for everyone to share their “thoughts” despite their mediocrity or animosity. We cannot actually object on that; but, thanks to critical reading, we can discover any illogical and erroneous statements or any other defects right away. This is why we have to be real critical readers, in other words to be different from the main stream readers; or else, we would easily be prone to accept and believe the first thing presented unquestioningly. The lack of using critical thinking in our daily life, including reading of course, makes us passive and ready to choose the easy way, that is to follow what the others say or do blindly. All in all, “Never forget that only dead fish swim with the stream.”as Malcolm Muggeridge wisely styles it.
(1) “SQ4R” stands for (Survey, Question, Read, Recite, Relate andReview)