Needed: More Critical Readers & Thinkers


If there’s anything that my engagement on social media has shown me, it’s the vastness of adult Americans who lack critical reading and thinking abilities. Initially, I wanted to believe that these individuals represented a small number of the population but after a brief review of the International Assessment of Adult Competencies 2012 report, I realized that wasn’t the case at all. 

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), literacy is “understanding, evaluating, using and engaging with written text to participate in society, to achieve one’s goals and to develop one’s knowledge and potential” (2012).

The PIAAC literacy scale marks five levels: Below Level 1, Level 1, Level 2, Level 3, and Level 4/5. It’s assumed that Level 3 is about where one would expect a proficient reader and beginning level critical thinker to be. Pages 31-33 of the report provide a detailed description of the levels, as well as what the survey participants were asked to do. The report showed that in the United States,

  • 52% of adults age 16 to 65 performed at or below Level 2 in the literacy category,
  • 36% of the participants demonstrated Level 3 proficiency, and
  • 12% showed Level 4/5 literacy proficiency.

I recalled an earlier article I’d written about the 2015 NAEP results in which 66% of U.S. Grade 8 students scored at or below Basic level reading comprehension, and then my social media experiences with fellow Americans began making more sense.

Read “Basic: The US Standard” here

career-1019998_1280The reality of the country’s struggle to develop higher-level readers and thinkers starts early and doesn’t seem to change as students age and graduate. I think it’s important for parents to continue to recognize their role here and for educators to continue offering resources that students can use at home to help strengthen their comprehension and critical analysis skills. Reading a few minutes a day is not enough. Sitting in a classroom is not enough. Students must be engaged in higher-level activities constantly, which means these things must happen outside of the school day too. It’s not about knowing the classics; it’s about knowing the skills. Any type of solid writing will provide the field for students to practice and maturate the skills.

  1. Annotating texts
  2. Close reading strategies
  3. Drawing conclusions/Deduction
  4. Providing sufficient evidence for support
  5. Generating logical statements

These are the skills that critical readers and thinkers continue to hone throughout their educational careers. Students don’t have to go to college to know these things, but college certainly provides ample opportunities to practice them. However, if the nation’s vision is cultivating a “college ready” student, then undergraduate matriculation should not be the first time your student is exposed to the skills above.

Read Often

Your student cannot develop Level 3/4/5 skills if they are not engaged in reading activities. The statement I hear most often from students is, “I don’t like reading,” which is fine, but they seldom have a reason for disliking it. In fact, after they finish with my class, the comment evolves to, “I don’t like reading ___ type of genre, but I love ___.” That’s what needs to happen. They need to learn what types of writing they don’t like and what they do. Even still, it’s important to note that they will have to read things they don’t like in life. The point is being able to read it fluently and critically no matter what. There are a plethora of apps available for reading: Newsela, Flipboard, and NPR are just a few.

Discuss Oftenstudents-1177702_1280

If you’re not providing your student with an avenue to practice drawing conclusions, how will they ever learn? Social media is great for interacting with others and learning about people’s thoughts, and it’s also a good place to learn how not to engage and form thoughts/opinions. It’s important for critical readers and thinkers to learn that it doesn’t mean much if you can’t support it and communicate it effectively. Discussing via blogging (to include microblogging like Twitter), face-to-face discourse, and other communicative means are integral for developing critical thinkers.

Reflect Often

Your student will want to believe that everything they think is logical. Believe me. Social media makes that reality even scarier because finding like-minded people tends to make folks believe their thinking is infallible. Not the case. It’s imperative to consider one’s thinking – metacognition.

  • How did you come to that conclusion?
  • Is your evidence solid? Where are the holes?
  • Are you basing this on something illogical like prejudice, stereotyping, sexism, etc.?
  • Are you aware that an accepted idea doesn’t mean it’s logical? I.E.: the world is flat.

The mark of a critical thinker is one who can be unbiased in their assessment of a text, situation, and even themselves. This person is able to acknowledge personal bias and how it impacts their perception of topics and situations. Allowing one’s personal feelings to cloud critical thought limits the effectiveness of the analysis.

Critical readers and thinkers are not only found on the college track, and we do a great injustice to millions of students when we, as educators and parents, limit their exposure to activities that teach and exercise lessons in critical thought. Neither the school nor the parents can do it alone. Students spend an overwhelming amount of their time between both places, and they should be practicing these skills in both environments.

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5 Responses

    1. I wish I had known some of these things a little earlier myself. Thankfully, we know them now, so we can adjust. 🙂

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