Critical Reading for All Content

Reading instruction in teacher education, in schools and colleges, and in textbooks must be founded on a theory and practice of critical reasoning for engaging textual material. Otherwise, it has no power to enable teachers or students to read independently for critical understanding and/or comprehension.

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Examples of the Severe Limitations of Common Close Reading Instruction

Approaches to reading for understanding and comprehension in teacher education programs, schools, and colleges – such as those used in common close reading programs – are inherently limited. This is because they have no power to represent subject matter critically. They do not bring to the act of reading instruction a shared, critical, formal, and explicit critical reasoning process.

For example, the New York State Department of Education’s website, Engageny.org, describes a close-reading procedure. It uses as content Abraham Lincoln’s three-paragraph Gettysburg Address. Along with many guiding questions, each paragraph is read three times, twice by the students and once by the teacher. The reader is then asked to rewrite each paragraph. However, There is a basic problem concerning the rewriting. In order to translate text into one’s own words, one needs to first comprehend the text. But comprehension is the intent of close reading. So, with this approach, students are asked to engage in close reading (i.e., to comprehend), without first being taught a critical reasoning process to comprehend. In addition, having to rewrite every paragraph is impractical from a time point of view. Furthermore, the large amount of guidance provided by the teacher will not be available to students when the time comes for them to read independently.

Another example appears in How to Read a Paragraph—The Art of Close Reading, Paul and Elder (2008). They also do not offer a critical reasoning strategy for engaging textual material. Their close-reading process requires the reader to paraphrase text. To do this effectively one needs to first comprehend the text. So, as in the engageny.org process, this approach asks students to engage in close reading (i.e., to comprehend the text), without first being shown how to “capture the essential meaning of the original” text. All told, the procedure requires readers to consider 17 variables when engaging text. It is simply not practical for teachers to provide instruction in such a procedure and for students to apply it to every paragraph of text.

To practice either or similar close-reading techniques requires an extraordinary amount of time. With both techniques, the collection of readers’ notes remains scattered on the mind’s palette with no way to integrate them into a critically organized and complete painting representing comprehension. They offer no view of subject matter that considers how to connect and integrate critically the facts and ideas present in all text.

How to Practice Reading Instruction for All Content That Allows All Students to Independently Achieve Understanding and/or Comprehension

Reading instruction in teacher education and in schools and colleges must be based on a close reading program that is founded on a theory and practice of critical reasoning for engaging textual material. Otherwise, it has no power to enable teachers or students to read critically for understanding and/or comprehension (learn difference here).

In addition, with no critical reasoning processes in play in course work or in textbooks adopted for reading programs, (a) teachers are not provided with an operating theory and practice for reading with which to instruct and share with their students, (b) students have no basis for engaging text independently, and (c) without use of an explicitly shared critical thinking strategy, teachers and students cannot effectively assess the degree of understanding and/or comprehension. What is needed are systematic, reproducible, and transferable reasoning processes for reading. Such processes allow the reader to take intellectual control of content.  Mind grammar-based critical reading provides such processes.

More Critical Reading Resources

For more on the great limitations of conventional graphic organizers, classroom questioning, and approaches to reading, and writing, see Chapter – Instructional Practice is Inherently Weak – The Hidden Story, in Fixing Instruction – ​Resolving Major Issues With a Core Body of Knowledge for Critical Instruction (Maiorana, 2015; pp. 28-34)

For information on how to read for critical understanding and/or comprehension, see Chapter 7: Read for Critical Comprehension, in Preparation for Critical Instruction – How to Explain Subject Matter While Teaching All Learners to Think, Read, and Write Critically (Maiorana, 2016).

For many example classroom assignments that show primary through college students how to read critically, see Teach Like the Mind Learns – Instruct So Students Learn to Think, Read, and Write Critically (Maiorana, 2017)