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Full text of "ERIC ED033010: Critical Reading: Secondary Level."

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ED 033 010 

By “Howards. Melvin - 

Critical Reading: Secondary Level. \ 

Pub Date 1 May 69 \ 

" lOp.i Paper presented at the International Reading Association 
30-May 1. 1969. 

EORS Price MF*$025 HC-S060 

RE 002 039 

conference. Kansas City. Mo-. Apr. 

^Sens^^Integratio^ £ ' nV,ror ‘ mef ' t * * Cr ' t,cal Reading. Critical Thinking. Experience. * Secondary Schools. 

Critical reading is viewed as requiring total involvement of the reader, and the 
classroom alive with questions, energy, and feelings is seen to facilitate such 
involvement. Critical reading involves looking at the world and its relationships of 
persons, places, thinas. and feelings. Teaching and encouraging environmental 
involvement from the first grade is emphasized. Additional emphasis is placed on 
experiences requiring a variety of human skills and sensitivity to seeking new 
relationships among objects and people- This sensitivity to new relationships along 
with the traditional critical reading skills should result in more effective reading. (RT) 

£00 3301 0 





Dr. Melvin Howards 
Director, Center for Educational 
Northeastern University 
102 The Fenway 
Boston, Massachusetts 02115 









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International Reading Association— Presented by Melvin Howards, 
Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts . Kansas City: 

Ph.D. , 
May I, 1969 

v™, ha-'« ainsariv "read" me critically. My blazer, a bold maroon with 
white buttons, long sideburns, relatively long hair, general appearance, have 
all been used by you as non-verbal clues to make some judgements about me 
and what I might say. This type of non-verbal critical person-reading is one 
of many components of what I consider critical reading . Typically , critical 
reading skills are taught (as is almost everything else) in a sequential and 
linear fashion which 1 believe is not only irrelevant but superficial. Not 
only is the non-verbal dimension ignored in most critical reading programs, 
elementary or secondary level, but there is a tendency to either ignore 
true critical reading or to offer it in the form of prescribed skills , at 
prescribed times, and generally it is taught as are most other reading skills, 

in isolation and out of context . 

We can all list many of the critical reading skills , and almost everyone 
here can teach some of them to classes of students , so it is not my Intent 
to review for you the names and groupings of skills classified as critical 
reading. Too much time has been spent, much of it wasted, in carefully 
listing and grouping skills, rather than establishing the conditions which 
will make the learning and application of these skills a relevant and live 
activity and experience for the readers . Before I veer off into my own 
conception of critical reading, let me make obeisance to the established 
order and mention some of those skills I consider most important in 

page 2 

Dr. Melvin Howards 

developing critical readers: detecting propaganda is the most obvious area 
for skill development because the techniques used in propaganda of all 
types, at all levels, do indeed require interpretational skill beyond mere 
literal recall or literal transliterations of another person's statements, 
another part of the critical reading skills gestalt involves drawing inference 
and making generalizations (which are in fact an integral part of all 
interpretation and critical reading, including propaganda); interpreting 
symbols and imagery in literature is another aspect of critical reading; 
discriminating between fact and opinion is actually a sub-division of what 
happens when a reader is critically handling propaganda, especially card 
stacking. This is not all of the skills one could list, but represents a 
good summary of the specific skills, and more importantly, represents 
the kind of thinking and reasoning and sensitive perception which is the 
core in any critical reading. So much then for a mention of the skills; 
let us now make our real visit to the realm of critical reading . 

Several things are true about critical reading, and I'll mention them 
first and try to explain them as I view them, and as I have taught them 
to a wide variety of populations, youth and adult, black, brown, red 
and white around the country . 

The first thing that is true, is that critical reading is not simply a 
set of skills, like those I briefly mentioned earlier, but rather critical 
reading is an organic whole of values, beliefs, information, feelings, 
conditions — in short, ciitical reading, at any level, requires the total 
participation of a whole person in a total environment. Learning the 

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Dr. Melvin Howards 

propaganda techniques (one or all of them) is not all there is to critical 
reading, obviously. Or indeed, would I call it critical reading if a student 
knew and could apply in specific situations all of the skills I've listed. 

The whole, is indeed, greater than the sum of its parts in the area of 
critical reading. 

The way a classroom is physically set up; the smell of the room, 
lighting, the psychic dimension and interrelationships between the students, 
and between the students and teacher. A classroom which stimulates critical 
reading and all interpretive reading goes far beyond selected materials; far 
beyond specific lessons. A classroom which stimulates critical reading 
is alive with questions, with energy and vitality, with feeling, as well 
as with information. Very little critical reading is taught anywhere I've 
ever been because these conditions do not exist; classrooms are ordered by 
prescription from someone else; the subject matter is controlled and carefully 
doled out, on schedule. The key to most classrooms I have observed is 
control, order — the need on the part of the teacher to "cover" material 
or skills. It is interesting to note that the word "cover" means to bun', 
to conceal, which is what happens most often, at all levels. Critical 
reading cannot be fertilized in such an arid climate . 

Critical reading is the way we use students and teachers in their 
environment, the way we use words as windows through which they begin 
to see into life and experience. Critical reading is almost always and 
entirely a verbal matter, as is most of our education, and this is one of its 

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Dr. Melvin Howards 

weaknesses. For critical reading is a total immersion in both printed matter 
being read by a person, a living, breathing, feeling person, in his environ- 
ment— in and out of his skin. This is the way words become windows 
through which the critical reader begins to see into the author and his 
world, beyond his words, and this is the way the reader begins to see 

into himself and his realm of life experience. 

Too often critical reading is presented as a series of skills, which 
are often only polished comprehension skills to get at basic information 
and a superficial glimpse at the meaning which I believe always exists, 
not in the words in print, but in the spaces between the words and in 
those unique spaces between a reader as a whole person and the writer 
as a whole person in a world in which many things occur simultaneously, 

not in a sequential or linear fashion. 

Another "truth" about critical reading is that it is a way of looking 
at the world and its many interwoven relationships of persons, places, things 
and feeling, is that critical reading must be taught very early— the first 
grade. The critical reading facility, since it is much more than mere skills 
applied to particular matter, must be supported by foundations laid in every 
year from the first grade onward. Of course the quality of the interpretation 
will improve during the years, but what has to happen in the early grades 
if we are to get really perceptive critical readers in h.’gh school, is the 
development through involvement of youngsters in experiences which will 
call on them to use all of their human skills and sensitivity, and not just 
exercise intellectual muscles the way many phonics or other reading skills 

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Dr, Melvin Howards 

programs do. The essence of critical reading is seeing relationships , 
sensing moods, tone, and being able to bring to bear on all reading 

.. . . u.i *3 MM«M>Anaaa fnr what ifi IWttltTlnGf 

situations , vwufil cuiu iuntvwwu, u ww awwnKww *w. •• •— — 

in the total field. Kids do not become this kind of sensitive tomtit* 
of distinct skills, instruction and practice, any more that' we make 
poets in workbooks or in our lesson plans. Kids do become this kind 
of sensitive and therefore able to do some real critical reading, whether 
in newspapers, novels, poems or advertising r if brom first glide onward 
an educational environment is developed with those kids wbidh is filled 
with questions, with unsolved problems, with sensitivity to smell. 

taste, touih, sight, hearing— to experience and the kinds of relation- 
ships which moke for all of us. The skills we teach can, at 
hast, be highway signs pointing, as does all language. In the direction 
of the real and the live. The signs are not the destination, any men than, 
l e a ning phonics rules, or vocabulary roots is the core of critical reading. 

Critical reading then la not Jest s; sat of skills offered Jn some re- 
determined order, nor Is It Just done at Junior or senior Ugh level. My 
experience in universities is that most of the students who do indee# hava 
trouble staying in school, irrespective of their major field, laofc ctttieate 
liftaii ' leaimad too wail from us, starting in first grade, 
that one focuses oft specific skills, specific formation and facts, and one 
never gets t© the overall, the gestalt view of what an author is saying , 
on several levels beyond the verbal. Poetry h a Joy fr* those who can 

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Dr. Melvin Howards 

share, through the poet’s words and Mages, or who can re-create in 
themselves the sensory realm and the intellectual realm of the author. If 
one reads poetry or any great literature as an exercise in vocabulary and 
d*finition, one has missed the whole point. Such persons, and they are 
in the vast Jaajarity, do not like to read much, and when they do they 
are most likely to be literal in their understanding of what has been said 
and wjiy. It‘s like believing you are living in the reflection of a TV set; 
or believing you are living a human experience by saying words quietly 
to yourself as you look at a book • 

We can create conditions for this kind of total immersion called 
critical reading if we think about the way almost all of us learned 
the most important things in our lives: how to speak our native tongue; 
how to feel and express love; how to survive in a threatening and ambiguous 
world. All of these universal human learnings did not come through a 
set of prescribed skills, lesson plans, homework or grades — they came 
through life experience, past words, and through some joy. Mother 
does not (usually) plan lessons for her two year old toddler on which 
elements will be taught this week. She talks to her child; she responds 
warmly and with joy and real interest; when she is pleased she expresses it 
both verbally and rwn^verbally and sincerely. The child likes language then; 
he likes communicating; he is curious and Interested. He develops concepts 
rules, judgements on his own, with little formal instruction and grading. 

Yet when he gets to school, especially when we teach him to read and write, 
all of that gives way to rigid work work and duty, and the fragmentation 

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Dr. Melvin Howards 

of the entire world of information and experience and feeling. 

Clearly a critical reader, of any age or grade level, must add to 
these integrated human elements we have mentioned, must be a certain 
kind of person and a certain kind of thinker— and they are intimately related 
to each other. I do not mean thinking in the usual sense of following a series 
of facts or other information and merely drawing some conclusion from them; 

I mean thinking in the organic sense of Which 1 have been speaking. Thinking 
which knows specific Information in several areas and subjects , and 
which naturally integrates these facts and information with a blended 
awareness of life experience, and feeling. No separation between thought 
and feeling and a very pervasive sensitivity to words, people, events— 
to the total world in which he finds himself. Classrooms can become such 
incubatsgs fas critical reading only if the teacher is so sensitised and 
willing to let learning and thinking occur in the global and non- sequential 
and non-linear ways so common. Humor and drama become part of the 
environment, as does music, art (in many of its forms), poetry (not just 
in books , but in children expressing all kinds of feelings and thoughts 
in their own way) • 

Perhaps I can give one illustration in the limited time remaining which 
bears on the last point and which is directly related to some means of 
stimulating and encouraging some critical reading sensors in students. 

Many teachers have always denigrated the use by students of colloquial 
or even street talk. .They have criticised such language usage as in- 

page 8 Dr. Melvin Howards 

appropriate and closed the door. Yet if they would investigate these 
expressions they would find, as I have, the most sensitive use of language: 
metaphor. I don't mean that everything kids bring into class is necessarily 
a great poetic or literary contribution, but I do mean, and I do know, 
that many disadvantaged children and adolescents are verbal in different ways 
from the typical middle class child. They also know the value of non- 
verbal behavior and they know how to read people for the true meaning 
of what is being dressed up in good grammar. 

Look at some of these common expressions of the type X have Just 
mentioned: "pressed vines" — it's a metaphor. What do you think it 
means? Vines — clothing, good; pressed — special, the best. Yes. 

Pressed vines means the very best clothing you have. Let's look at it as 
metaphor: vines grow very closely on buildings or fences • Clothes 
which fit like vines do would be on. Vines are a 

bit shiny and if they were pressed (which slightly mixes the basic image) 
they would be the most. Why not use this type of metaphor as a beginning 
to teaching p o etry which depends on imagery and metaphor to such a large 
extent. Why must metaphor or other literary imagery and device be a 
textbook tiling? Why can’t imagery come from life mere directly, which is 
what great imagery in literature does anyway. 

Words like "hag" which you and I understood to mean an old 
unpleasant woman , means you are doing or are involved In the thing 
you like — how dull the educatlonese for this: aptitude! 

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Dr. Melvin Howards 

I'm sure you can think of other such expressions. The point is that children 
of all ages come to us with a language and feelings about it, all derived 
from their lives and we do not use this raw material enough. It can be 
a significant part of the critical reading act we've been discussing. Such 
imagery can lead to others, and can develop greater sensitivity to seeking 
new relationships among objects, textures, people. All of this is part 
of the process of csttical reading and thinking. Add to such sensitivity 
and awareness some of the usual skills, in new contexts, and critical 
reading becomes a way of life; a perspective •