By Kim Bessolo
Faculty Member, School of Arts and Humanities at American Public University
When we read critically, we question our comprehension, double-check to ensure we understood a concept accurately and connect what we read to what we already know. Critical reading is thinking while we are reading. It is engaging with text as if there were a conversation between author and reader. It is hard work, going beyond simply consuming information on a page, to actually participating in the process of creating meaning. Critical reading extends beyond understanding words and moves us into making judgments and drawing conclusions.
Critical reading is a process along a continuum, a habit to practice instead of a destination at which to arrive. To get started as a college-level critical reader, follow these five tips when approaching reading assignments:
- Find your purpose. Determine the purpose for reading. Is it to provide background on a topic, to offer a different viewpoint, confirm information or explore new ideas? Determining a purpose helps a reader focus on what they need from a text.
- Preview the text. Examine subheadings, illustrations, the introduction and conclusion. Get a clear sense of what you will be reading and develop expectations on what you hope to gain before you dive in.
- Study. Read and re-read. Interact with the text and question your understanding; summarize, reflect and connect concepts in the text with what you already know.
- Annotate. Take notes in the margins while reading, summarize key ideas, underline important vocabulary words and analyze the concepts. Ask questions in the margins and note important information. Highlighting is fine, but annotating a text is a more meaningful practice.
- Slow down. Be tenacious because critical reading takes time and effort. Don’t quit easily and avoid coming to a reading assignment in a panic because your comprehension will suffer. Try to make reading a part of your daily habit.
Practice these steps with smaller readings and observe how they heighten your reading experience. You will know when you are reading critically because critical readers can:
- Adapt reading strategy to meet the needs of the text.
- Monitor their own comprehension.
- Understand the relevance in accompanying charts and graphs.
- Make connections when reading.
- Distinguish core concepts in a piece.
- Synthesize new information with old, creating new ideas.
People need critical reading skills to fully understand and participate in their world. Reading expands our knowledge and increases our understanding. By learning to look at information in new ways, reading can help us grow wiser and more empathetic. The simple act of regular reading can expand our vocabulary and make us stronger readers. Because the habits practiced and honed in college are likely to endure throughout our lives, starting now to become a strong critical reader can have a lasting effect.
Becoming a strong critical reader is within anyone’s reach. Begin now to reflect on the way that you read. Examine the strategies you use to approach different text. Notice how different purposes for reading require you to employ different skills. Then challenge yourself to adopt practices that will help you become a stronger critical reader.
About the Author
Kim Bessolo, M. Ed., has taught first year learners at APUS since 2004. Reading attitudes was the focus of her master’s thesis, for which she was awarded Kansas’ Reading Association’s Researcher of the Year Award. Taking her passion for reading to her community, Ms. Bessolo volunteers locally as a tutor.