Many people speak in favor of critical reading. The trouble is that they often either
(a) talk about critical reading either as if it were a mysterious, though praiseworthy skill, or
(b) give a roadmap for critical reading that makes it sound very hard.
When I look at the descriptions of critical reading in the images above, I feel tired. I feel the same way when I read the first paragraph of the current version of the Wikipedia article on "Critical reading":
Critical reading is a form of language analysis that does not take the given text at face value, but involves a deeper examination of the claims put forth as well as the supporting points and possible counterarguments. The ability to reinterpret and reconstruct for improved clarity and readability is also a component of critical reading. The identification of possible ambiguities and flaws in the author's reasoning, in addition to the ability to address them comprehensively, are essential to this process. Critical reading, much like academic writing, requires the linkage of evidential points to corresponding arguments.
In this post, I want to stick with an easier level of critical reading I think it is reasonable to ask of my students: what I will call the apprentice level of critical reading. The main intent of the apprentice level of critical reading is simply to make what an author said easier to remember, while get at least some hints of deeper insight.
Here is how to reach the apprentice level of critical reading:
- Every few sentences—or maybe every sentence if the writing is complex— ask yourself: "Do I agree with what the author is saying?" (You can do this with the image of thumbs up/thumbs down sign language.)
- If you disagree, ask yourself
- Why do I disagree?
- Does the author have any good points on her or his side?
- Why might the author believe what they said sincerely, even if it isn't true—or say it insincerely?
- If you agree, ask yourself
- Why do I agree?
- Do they have any good arguments I could use someday to argue for the point I agree with?
- What are the broader implications of the thing I agree with?
That's it. That is the apprentice level of critical reading. If you do it, you will nail down what the author thinks, where you agree and where you disagree, and you are likely to learn a few other things along the way.
From things you disagree with, you are likely to get ideas you can write about. From things you agree with, you are likely to get things you can think about. And if you are ever asked what the writer thought, you can just consider what you think and then check your memory for whether you were disagreeing or agreeing with the author on that.
This is a follow-up post to "On Teaching and Learning Macroeconomics."