What is critical reading?
Critical reading is the activity involved in reading for a deep understanding. The skills necessary for critical reading involve reflecting, close reading, and questioning to name a few. In other words, critical reading challenges students to move past surface-level interpretations.
Literary criticism is a type of critical reading activity that involves studying, interpreting, analyzing, and evaluating a work of literature. If you teach any type of critical reading, you are using literary criticism as a pedagogical approach. Therefore, it’s no surprise then that literary criticism has a vast history of practices and theories, which span over a period of more than 2,000 years.
Considering this long history dating back to Plato, you won’t be surprised to learn that scholars have stressed different interpretative methods to go about literary criticism (Takolander, 2009). Then, literary theory is a set of schools of literary analysis based on assumptions or guidelines that shape the way the reader interprets a text. These theories focus on different areas of interpretation based on the theme of that theory. As a result, literary theory is often referred to as multiple perspectives or multiple lenses.
How can critical reading help my students?
Empowering students to think critically and analyze content on their own can be a very difficult task for the teacher, yet these reading skill sets are vital for students to be prepared to grapple with difficult content in college and problem solving situations in the workforce as well as succeed on standardized tests (Bloom, 1959; Carr, 1998; Baker, 2002; Collins, 1993). Fortunately, the connection between teaching literary theory to students and students’ improved critical thinking and reading skills is well supported by a review of the related literature (Appleman, 2009; Barker, 1965; Beach, Appleman, Hynds, & Wilhelm, 2006; Cox & Lewis, 1974; Golden and Canan, 2004; Harper, 1998; Knickerbocker & Rycik, 2002; Muller, 2006; Pace, 2006; Parfitt, 1997; Rozema, 2001; Sagan, 2003; Schade, 2004; Troise, 2007).
When students consider different perspectives to their reading, they learn to address the different, and sometimes conflicting, ideologies that exist within a particular text. This transaction with the text encourages students to break out of lower-level thinking (comprehension) to engage in higher-order thinking skills, such as synthesizing information from a variety of perspectives to create a new perspective based on their reading. Acknowledging these differences, students engage in a textual relationship that empowers them to create their own understandings based on the many complexities of a text (Faber, 2011). This type of awareness is particularly important for developing empathy and empowerment, two characteristics that are the basis for a cooperative, productive society.
How can my students become critical readers?
Critical reading is an activity that all students are capable of mastering, and therefore, all students in all age groups, even pre-kindergarten, can become critical readers. No matter the grade level, the steps for creating a critical reading classroom follow a three-step system that I call TPA (pronounced “T” “pa”). Using the TPA model, teachers can plan their reading units around this model:
- Texts: Choose texts of academic merit.
- Perspectives: Determine the perspectives related to that text.
- Activities: Design activities to analyze the text based on those unique perspectives.
How should I get started?
Free Planning Resource
I created this free planning resource to simplify your critical reading planning. Download your free planning resource to get you started:
Free Professional Development
You can also read my blog posts and watch my live PD sessions related to critical reading:
The Complete Guide to Literary Theory
Planning critical reading lessons can be time consuming. That’s why I created The Complete Guide to Literary Theory.
This guide will streamline the planning process by providing you with a perspectives checklist that links to a variety of common perspectives. By completing this checklist, you will easily determine which perspectives apply to the work. Also included is a teacher’s guide for an easy-to-follow explanation of each perspective with suggested activities related to each perspective. You do not have to be an expert in literary theory to teach multiple perspectives!
Critical Reader’s Guides
You can also find complete Critical Reader’s units that are already developed to cover these multiple perspectives. These units include all materials necessary to develop, engage, and assess critical readers. I am working to develop new Critical Reader’s guides for all of our favorite works. I would love to hear your requests. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Appleman, D. (2009). Critical encounters in high school English: Teaching literary theory to adolescents. New York: Teachers College Press.
Baker, L. (2002). Metacognition in comprehension instruction. In C.C. Block & M. Pressley (Eds.), Comprehension instruction: Research-based best practices (77–95). New York: Guilford.
Barker, J. (1965). The essay test in teaching the concept of literary analysis. Testing in English. 52(5), 31-35. Retrieved from ERIC database.
Beach, R. (1993). A teacher’s introduction to reader-response theories. Urbana, Illinois: National Council of Teachers of English.
Beach, R., Appleman, D., Hynds, S., & Wilhelm, J. (2006). Teaching literature to adolescents. London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.
Bloom, B.S. (1959). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. New York: David McKay Company Inc.
Carr, K. S. (1988). How can we teach critical thinking? Childhood Education, 65(2), 69-74. Retrieved from Platinum Periodicals.
Collins, N.D. (1993). Teaching critical reading through literature. Eric Digest. Retrieved from ERIC database.
Cox, R. & Lewis, S. (1974). The student critic. Cambridge: Winthrop Publishers, Inc.
Faber, J. C. (2011). Re-envisioning the transaction: Literary theories in the high school English classroom. (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest.
Golden, J., & Canan, D. (2004). “Mirror, mirror on the wall”: Readers’ reflections on literature through literary theories. English Journal, 93(5), 42-46. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.
Harper, H. (1998). Dangerous desires: Feminist literary criticism in a high school writing class. Theory into Practice, 37(3), 220-8. Retrieved from ERIC.
Knickerbocker, J., & Rycik, J. (2002). Growing into literature: Adolescents’ literary interpretation and appreciation. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 46(3), 1-14. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.
Muller, V. (2006). Film as film: Using movies to help students visualize literary theory. English Journal, 95(3), 32-38. Retrieved from Research Library.
Pace, B. (2006). Between response and interpretation: Ideological becoming and literacy events in critical readings of literature. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 49(7), 584-594.
Parfitt, M. (1997). What kind of discourse?: Thinking it through. Annual Meeting of the Conference on College Composition and Communication, 1-15. Retrieved from ERIC database.
Rozema, R. (2001) “Heart of darkness” webquest: Using technology to teach literary criticism. National Council of Teachers of English, 1-29. Retrieved from ERIC database.
Sagan, C. P. (2003). Sing a new song: A fresh look at literary criticism. English Journal, 92(6), 40. Retrieved from Wilson Web.
Schade, L. (1996). Demystifying the text: Literary criticism in the high school classroom. English Journal, 85(3), 26. Retrieved from Research Library.
Takolander, M. (2009). Energetic space: The experience of literature and learning. College Literature, 36(3), 165-183. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.
Troise, M. (2007). Approaches to reading with multiple lenses of interpretation. English Journal, 96( 5), 85-90. Retrieved from ProQuest database.
Wilhelm, J. D. (2009). The power of teacher inquiry: Developing a critical literacy for teachers. Voices from the Middle, 17(2), 36-39. Retrieved from ProQuest database.