Becoming an active, critical reader…

Back in September, Jim Groom shared his thoughts on the importance of reading for context. An approach to reading that for me is about becoming a more active, critical reader. As I read his post, I found myself nodding along, each sentiment reflecting what I find myself saying to both my GCSE and A-Level students on a weekly basis…

I’ve taken pains to reinforce how essential it is to read for context. To read for the things that don’t make sense, read for the things you do not know, and read for the ideas that make you stop and think. And in the process take the time to play detective. Look things up. Follow the lead the writer gives you, try and build a context for your reading. What’s more, with the ubiquity of the web the process couldn’t be any easier.

Without an understanding of context…

You miss something in the understanding. And with the web always already right there it makes the excuses of not doing it nothing short of paltry. Contextualizing and augmenting one’s understanding of any book is that much easier, faster, and more powerful—and it should increasingly be expected of students.

Yet I often find that it isn’t or hasn’t been. And as Jim exemplifies in the age of Google there is no excuse.

With my own students I begin at an even more basic level. When they encounter a word they do not know, I encourage them to work to figure it out; to contextualise it. And should that not work, to turn to the dictionary and find the definition. What I won’t do is tell them the answer nor will I allow them to ignore it. Why? Because…

…the act of reading is not to be taken for granted.

Reading is an active, critical process that needs to be cultivated. While it may not seem likely to them at first, I believe that most of my students come to appreciate that rather than taking the pleasure out of reading, stopping and looking things up improves their understanding and their enjoyment with it.

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James Michie

Husband, Educator, Writer, Runner...

3 thoughts on “Becoming an active, critical reader…”

  1. I am thinking about your response to Groom’s ideas:

    …as Jim exemplifies in the age of Google there is no excuse.

    I believe this sentiment comes from the notion that because information is now so readily available, it is therefore easier to be critical.

    The assumption is being made in that statement is that difficulty in access is the reason that critical reading doesn’t take place. Perhaps there are more reasons for a missing critical position of the reader. The reader might not have developed skills in critical reading or the reader might not have a purpose for being critical.

    Despite abundance of information, critical reading is still challenging.

    1. Hi Lou, it is funny that you have brought this up as I have a half-drafted follow up to this post about that very same point. I am going to take this as a much needed prompt to finish and publish the post.

      As you have suggested there is more to critical reading than simply having access to Google. In my opinion being critical has more to do with asking questions. As I plan to discuss in my follow-up, becoming a ‘questioning’ reader is a skill that has to be learned, practised and refined. Furthermore, it has to be actively encouraged from a young age.

      I’ll leave this here and get to work on finishing that post. 🙂

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