Critical Reading for Critical Thinkers

17th-century copper engraving

Think. It seems a simple task. According to the Oxford dictionary, to think means to use one’s mind actively to form connected ideas; to have a particular mental attitude or approach. As simple as the definition is, teaching ‘thinking’ is a complex undertaking. Despite its complexity, fostering critical thinkers should be a fundamental cornerstone in all classrooms.

Over the past couple of weeks, students were faced with reading challenging articles on the conflict between China and Tibet conflict and synthesizing their understandings in a presentation to be shared with the class. To navigate the complex texts, students engaged in active reading strategies. PQRST is one of the strategies students used to make sense of the articles handed to them. This strategy requires students to annotate their questions, connections, and understandings as they engage in each step of the following process.

When PREVIEWING, students are coached to pay attention to the features of a text – headings, subheadings, captions, diagrams, bold and italicized words. At this stage of reading, students begin wondering about the topic – making predictions about the content of the text.

Following the previewing of the text, students focus on QUESTIONING. During this stage, I encourage students to turn headings and subheadings into questions to provide a focus, followed by a reading of the text, flooding it with questions that pop up as they work their way through the article. I advise students to be patient and embrace confusion at this stage as they attempt to formulate the gist of the text.

The next stage reinforces the idea that multiple readings deepen understandings. Students are asked to READ the article once again, this time chunking the text – summarizing their understandings or noting connections as they go. Additionally, I encourage opportunities to discuss the text with a partner during this stage to further solidify understandings.

SUMMARIZING follows reading. It is at this stage that I encourage students to make sense of their newly formed ideas by organizing them into a mindmap that categorizes and summarizes the information. At this point, students have interacted with the text multiple times helping them to move beyond understanding and form critical opinions about the content. It is at this stage that students may get into heated dialogue about the topic. This is my favorite stage of the process, as students demonstrate they have established a conclusion and can justify it with evidence and interpretations.

When needed, to help prepare for an assessment, students can TEST themselves on their understandings by quizzing one another using the mindmaps.

Although multiple readings, annotations and mindmapping may appear tedious, it is important students are offered ample opportunities to engage in these strategies. Malcolm Gladwell, author of Outliers, suggests that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery. I am going to need your help to reinforce these strategies, when applicable, to Humanities homework.

Friday’s presentations on the conflict between China and Tibet provided evidence that the PQRST strategy was effective in developing an understanding of a complicated issue. Students were able to communicate to an audience their perspective of the issues and provide possible solutions based on their research.

Of course the presentations were not without the usual bumps and bruises of awkward pauses, over-reliance on scripts, and factual inaccuracies at times, but overall students should feel proud of their accomplishments. I look forward to future presentations.

An example of a finished product…