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Critical Reading! Why Now?!

"The best teachers are those who show you where to look, but donít tell you what to see"
Alexandra T. Trenfor


  1. Abstract
    1. The Old School Reading Comprehension
    2. The New Reading methodology
    3. Reading critically needs critical minds
    4. Why critical reading is necessary
    5. The learner as a critical reader
    6. Efficient critical reading skills
    7. Conclusion

Key Words

Critical reading, Critical Thinking, Text, Analysis, Synchronisation, Evaluation,

i. Abstract

            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-ŗ-vis any given text.

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 used to 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 understood what they were exposed to.

            The simplicity of life in the past makes any feedback satisfying for the teachers. The ultimate goal for most teachers, then, was making their students able to 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 communication types, notably the written, the auditory and the visual. The teachers have to be more aware than ever before of the risks that the students are likely to run outside the classroom environment. The internet, for instance, is full of texts that are not reliable and the students are in direct constant 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 nameless. As younger learners are mostly green, inexperienced and naÔve, they are effortlessly drawn into accepting anything they read, listen to or watch as facts.

2. The New Reading methodology

            When we talk about a new methodology in reading, we donít actually mean rapture with the conventional reading approaches; on the contrary, what we mean actually is simply a developmental continuity in improving reading skills. There different strategies like the SQ3R, SRR, PQ4R and the SQ4R methods (1) which are almost all still 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 studentsí cognitive and emotional 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 donít know what the students read exactly when they are not supervised. They should be taught how to read critically in order to understand,

Hence they need to learn how

            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 fit for 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 learnersí usual reading approaches, the teacher needs to build up 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 facts from 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 them 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 those shared 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 teaching 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 it is written in the first place.

            The schemata help a lot in well-based analysis and synchronisation. Thatís 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 meagre and meek compared to the text content. The more the students learn, the more their critical reading approach is solidified and relatively trustful. They can no longer do without it. They must learn how to be critical readers so as not to be cheated into believing false ideas. Non-critical readers donít unveil false reasoning, but critical readers easily do. The stronger the schemata, the better a text will be understood and rationally evaluated.

5. The learner as a critical reader

            To be analytical and rational for a beginner is undoubtedly a tough task. 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.

Peter: Mom, is there any milk left in the fridge?
Mother: I think there is a little. Why?
Peter: I am still hungry. Can I have some more, please?
Mother: Yes, of course you can, dear.
Peter: Thanks Mom.
Mother: You must hurry. Thereís little time left for your school.
Peter: I know Mom. I need some money to buy chips.
Mother: I'm sorry, but I have got no money for your chips.
Peter: Why not, Mom? Johnís mother gives him plenty of money.
Mother: I'm not Johnís mother, and you are not John, either. Leave now.

            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 both 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 Johnís 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 motherís logic differs from that of the boy who uses it as a tactic to "blackmail" his mother. This manoeuvre 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 rapidly be able to spot and single out such malicious language twisters and mischievous schemes. Here, the students will not be ready yet to unveil and recognize Peterís 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 wonít 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. Thatís why they hate the task, and this is not a good sign at all. If they knew how to read actively, sceptically 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...

They should also be able to