Monday, January 11, 2016
Growing to Become a Critical Reader
Last week I discussed the benefits of reading fiction. This week I continue to consider reading by considering the idea of critical reading. This is making use of our critical thinking skills in our reading. This came to mind as I was thinking about a book I read some time ago titled, Preface to Critical Reading by Richard D. Altick published in 1947. It was another great find from a used bookstore. The author was an American literary scholar, known for his pioneering contributions to studies on Victorian literature and was an American literary scholar, known for his pioneering contributions. From 1945 until his retirement in 1982 he was a professor of English at Ohio State University.
In the book whose purpose is a primer for college freshmen students to improve their reading skills; he discusses topics such as denotation and connotation, diction, the use of logic, grammar in writing and understanding tone of an author in a work of writing. The emphasis on what appears to be English grammar is for the purpose of moving from ok reading to the art of intelligent reading and how to read beyond the mechanical process of just reading the words and getting through the book. Which is a pitfall of many students who read simply because the professor told them to. The book reminds me of a author I heard at a book fair who mentioned, to be a good writer one needs to be well read. Altick’s emphasis on reading and understanding all aspects of the writing process underscores this.
Altick brings out in the Foreword what the critical thinking reader should desire to move his reading level to: “True reading involves comprehension of material – comprehension far more penetrating and detailed than that of required for a brief report on subject matter. True reading means digging down beneath the surface, attempting to find out not only the whole truth about what is being said, but also ( and this in the long run is more important) the hidden implications and motives of the writer. When a reader finds out not only what is being said, but also why it is said, he is on the way to being a critical reader as well as a comprehending one.” (page xi). If we add this mindset to our reading that of a critical thinking investigator it can add to gain from our non-fiction and magazine reading. The learning process can be broadened when we are digging for gems in the reading material rather than just finishing the material to say we finished another book.
He brings out in the Foreword as well that it is important for modern civilization for the average citizen understand the issues of the day. They need to be critical readers and listeners who can weigh facts over opinions and falsehoods. He spoke of this being a critical matter in the late 1940’s. How much more of importance is it to be critical readers of what we read on the web, newspapers, and magazines in our ever changing era.
In being a critical reader by having a mindset to dig into the purpose of the author and investigating the information of the reading material we read the purpose is to gain more personal reward in reading. Altick brings out that of course close critical reading is not possible for every reading session. He states, “We do not imply that henceforth, to the end of your days, you must read everything so minutely, but you must get in the habit of watching for certain tricks of style, rhythm and logic, and the only way to develop that habit is to practice it intensively for a while.” (page xix). For example fiction novels for pleasure a person would not want to go into that material with close critical reading. That level of scrutiny would take the joy of the story away. So understand the purpose of the reading you are doing. But as Altick says do practice some close critical reading and see how much more you gain from that type of reading.
Critical reading makes use of our critical thinking skills. Be a questioner when you are reading material where you find critical reading is important. One way to improve in critical thinking for being a critical reader is to read up on critical thinking. My favorite website to find information on critical thinking is www.criticalthinking.org where I can read the writings of Richard Paul, Linda Elder and their associates in the critical thinking community. Check out their website to grow in your critical thinking.
Reflection: Do you ever read as a critical reader? Do you think being a close critical reader may help you gain more gems and gold from your reading material? Choose a magazine article and first quickly peruse it and then go back as a critical reader. What was the difference between the two readings?