ERIC Identifier: ED363869
Publication Date: 1993-00-00
Author: Collins, Norma Decker
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading English and Communication Bloomington IN.
Teaching Critical Reading through Literature. ERIC Digest.
This Digest focuses on developing thinking skills in reading. Tierney and Pearson (1983) posit that readers draw on background experiences to compose a text, engaging in an ongoing negotiation to arrive at meaning. This is fundamental to the act of reading. For this reason, reading offers the potential for higher level thinking. Essential to the success of higher level reading is the reader's ability to relate new information to what is known in order to find answers to cognitive questions.
Another underlying principle in the instruction of higher order thinking skills in reading is the acceptance of the theme of active learning. Literacy scholar Paulo Freire contends that those who share in the learning process are empowered by a critical consciousness of themselves as meaning makers. Freire supports the position which suggests that it is language that provides the tool for meaning construction. Language is a thinking process which allows students to learn and grow.
Paradoxically, educators have had this tool at their fingertips for years, but have failed to respond to the cries for greater competency by looking to language as the source for improvement. It is only within the last decade, and particularly the last five years, that schools have begun to identify ways to optimize language use to promote higher level thinking.
IMPETUS FOR CRITICAL READING
Not only were students unable to summarize, they were rarely encouraged to support an evaluative interpretation. Reading instruction reflected the lowest level of thinking--it lacked critical analysis.
Today, professional organizations and the professional literature support critical thinking in the classroom and call for teachers to guide students in developing higher level thinking skills (Neilsen, 1989). Because teaching higher level cognitive processes requires comprehension, inference, and decision making, the reading classroom is the logical place to begin. These skills have been associated with reading instruction for years. Now, instead of being enrichment skills, they have become core skills.
Teaching students to think while reading is referred to in the professional literature as "critical reading." It is defined as "learning to evaluate, draw inferences, and arrive at conclusions based on evidence" (Carr, 1988). Children's literature is a powerful tool for teaching critical reading. It offers children the opportunity to actively engage in texts while simultaneously considering ideas, values, and ethical questions. Through literature, students learn to read personally, actively, and deeply (Sweet, 1993).
Beck (1989) adopts a similar perspective, using the term "reasoning" to imply higher order thinking skills. Comprehension requires inferencing, which plays a central role in reasoning and problem solving. For Beck, children's literature has the potential to engage students in reasoning activities.
When literature is approached from a problem solving perspective, students are asked to evaluate evidence, draw conclusions, make inferences, and develop a line of thinking (Riecken and Miller, 1990). According to Flynn (1989), children are capable of solving problems at all ages and need to be encouraged to do so at every grade level. (See, for example, "Using Fairy Tales"  for young children; Anton  for elementary children; Johannessen  for middle school children.) Teachers may want to experiment with a particular children's book and plan a lesson which places reasoning at the center of instruction.
Wilson (1988) suggests that teachers re-think the way they teach reading and look critically at their own teaching/thinking processes. She cautions against skills lessons that are repackaged in the name of critical thinking but which are only renamed worksheets. She points out that teaching students to read, write, and think critically is a dramatic shift from what has generally taken place in most classrooms.
According to Wilson, critical literacy advocates the use of strategies and techniques like formulating questions prior to, during, and after reading; responding to the text in terms of the student's own values; anticipating texts, and acknowledging when and how reader expectations are aroused and fulfilled; and responding to texts through a variety of writing activities which ask readers to go beyond what they have read to experience the text in personal ways.
THE ACTIVE READER
It is not an easy task to incorporate higher level thinking skills into the classroom, but it is a necessary one. For students to participate in the society in which they live, they must have experiences which prepare them for life. In order to become critical thinkers, it is essential that students learn to value their own thinking, to compare their thinking and their interpretations with others, and to revise or reject parts of that process when it is appropriate.
A classroom environment which is student-centered fosters student participation in the learning process. Learning that is both personal and collaborative encourages critical thinking. Students who are reading, writing, discussing, and interacting with a variety of learning materials in a variety of ways are more likely to become critical thinkers.
THE TEACHER'S ROLE
Post-reading activities that extend texts provide an opportunity for teachers to check for learning. Transforming ideas from reading into artwork, poetry, etc. is an evaluative, interpretive act that reveals the student's level of understanding.
Critical readers are active readers. They question, confirm, and judge what they read throughout the reading process. Students engaged in such activities are likely to become critical thinkers and learners.
Beck, I. L.(1989). "Reading and Reasoning." Reading Teacher, 42(9) 676-82. [EJ 388 672]
Carr, K. S. (1988). "How Can We Teach Critical Thinking?" Childhood Education, 65(2), 69-73. [EJ 382 605]
Flynn, L. L. (1989). "Developing Critical Reading Skills through Comparative Problem Solving." Reading Teacher, 42(9), 664-68. [EJ 388 670]
Johannessen, L. (1989). Interpreting and Writing about Literature in the Junior High/Middle School.[ED 325 853]
Neilsen, A. R. (1989). Critical Thinking and Reading. Bloomington, IN: ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading/Communication Skills. [ED 306 543]
Riecken, T. J. and Miller, M. R. (1990). "Introduce Children to Problem Solving and Decision Making by Using Children's Literature." Social Studies, 81(2), 59-64.[EJ 413 991]
Sweet, A. P. (1993). Transforming Ideas for Teaching and Learning to Read. Washington: Office of Educational Research and Improvement. [CS 011 460]
Tierney, R. J. and Pearson, P. D. (1983). "Toward a Composing Model of Reading." Language Arts, 60(5), 568-80.[EJ 280 830]
"Using Fairy Tales for Critical Reading. Bonus Activity Book" (1991). Learning, 19(8), 23-42. [EJ 427 873]
Wilson, M. (1988). "Critical Thinking: Repackaging or Revolution?" Language Arts, 65(6), 543-51.[EJ 376 160]