Reading as Critical Thinking
“Reading is a transaction, a process, in which readers actively construct meaning from a text by bringing meaning to as well as taking meaning from a text.” Rosenblatt
Reading is not a single, static act. It is not a mere transmission of ideas or information. Reading is a complex, dynamic, exploratory process that involves the making of meaning through the interaction of the reader and the text. In this context, what the reader brings to the text is as important as the text itself. Looking at reading from this perspective is, therefore, very empowering, as there is no meaning on the page until the reader decides there is (Tierney & Pearson, 1982).
What leads people, then, to engage in such a sophisticated process?
People read for different reasons and in different ways. People read for pleasure, to get information, to learn about something or someone, and to form an opinion. In order to fulfill their goals, skillful readers use a wide variety of strategies to interact with a text, their choice depending on the purpose of their reading act. After determining the purpose, they predict and confirm by developing questions and later checking if the text has answered them; they relate ideas, make connections with other texts, retell, reflect, take the ideas beyond and discuss them further. Also, skillful readers do not believe everything they see and read. They are critical and selective. They compare and evaluate different sources, very important in today’s Information Age: is the source reliable? Is the author trying to influence my opinion? Is s/he neutral?
What can teachers do, then, to equip learners with effective reading strategies and turn them into powerful readers? In the English class, learners may be engaged in a wide range of reading activities with fiction and non-fiction texts. Here, I would like to highlight two of these strategies: SQP2RS (Squeepers) and literature circles.
SQP2RS is a reading strategy for expository text based on the SIOP model- Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (Echevarria, Vogt, & Short D. 2008), and it was developed to facilitate instruction to ELs in content-area teaching. The abbreviation stands for: survey, question, predict, read, respond, and summarize. When the student receives the text, s/he scans it for one or two minutes, generates questions about what the text will probably answer, makes a couple of predictions—what do you think you will learn about?— reads the text to confirm the predictions, responds to questions, generates more, and finally summarizes the text (orally or in writing). This process allows the teacher to activate students’ prior knowledge of the topic and to guide them through the discovery of meaning. In order to accomplish the task successfully, the student is led to read the same text a few times. As the task is broken down into manageable chunks, done individually or in groups, it provides scaffolding, leading the learners to test hypotheses and build the meaning confidently. The teacher does not need to repeat the steps of the process to the students. The sequence is self-explanatory, contributing not only to learning but to student autonomy as well.
Next week, we’ll be looking at literature circles. Stay tuned!
Maria Teresa Aranda (Terry) is an English Language Coordinator at a Bilingual school in São Paulo and a freelance consultant and trainer. You can contact her at taranda at uol dot com dot br.