How to get critical without really trying

Bored Silly

In some sense, the blogger’s typically less academic voice is relevant to my question. From our readings for the week, including the “Study Strategies” chapter in the handbook and the articles on pre-college and college level reading and critical literacy in “Teaching Developmental Reading”, I was inspired to think about motivation and student interest.

My question is, how can instructors generate student interest and foster critical literacy skills if developmental students have significant and consistent trouble identifying main ideas due to lack of interest in the readings?

My question is partly inspired by my observation of an English 114 class last year. Students spent an entire class period reading a Time Magazine article about a man who was fighting a law that negatively impacted the environment. Sections of the article were read aloud by students and each student completed a handout that asked basic questions about the article.  By the end of the class, only two students out of 20 were able to identify whether the guy was for or against the law discussed in the article.

Lesley’s article on critical literacy suggests that inquiry or critical engagement are key to success, and I tend to agree. However, many students seem so disinterested or unused to owning their own sense of academic inquiry that using this strategy as an entry point seems of limited use. Which brings me back to the tone of blogging. Would encouraging students to frame their inquiry in a more visual and casual  blog format help foster habits of critical inquiry?

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One response to “How to get critical without really trying

  1. I think this is a really interesting question for a number of reasons.

    First, on a personal note, I would like to teach ESL/EFL. As you can imagine, if students doesn’t like reading in their language, they are certainly not going to want to read in another language. Unfortunately, intensive and extensive reading have been shown time and time again to play critical roles in the acquisition of second language. It seems to me the habits brought from the L1 (first language) are implacable in the L2 (second language) arena.

    Second, on a more general note, I’m interested in ways that in-class reading and in-class reading assignments can be fun and compelling for students. I hope this is something we’ll explore in more detail as the semester continues. The case you mentioned reminded me of the sort of classic approach to reading. Not to disrespect the teacher of that class, but surely there are more dynamic processes that hold students’ attention better.

    Lastly, I thought I could mention one potential solution to the problem. It seems that one common thread in the literature I’ve read is let students have a say in what they read. It seems rather simple and straightforward on the face of it, but we are assuming a couple of things. One is that students who don’t care about reading will suddenly be interested if they have a choice. The other is that students will pick something appropriate for in-class reading. Perhaps, as a compromise, students could be allowed to choose among a group of teacher-chosen books.

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