An Overview of Critical Reading

     Critical reading is a skill for
discovering information and ideas within a text and it refers to a careful,
active, reflective, and analytic reading (Kurland, 2000). It also gives
learners the opportunity to think about and analyze the information critically
which means being able to look at the context with a wider perspective linked
to their critical understanding (Wallace, 2003).

      Through critical reading the reader seeks
ways to first understand and then confront the ideas of the writer and that
often may require thinking and using the vocabulary of the text. A critical
reader performs a mental action on the word form and makes associations between
the context and his own personal knowledge to infer word meanings (Wallace,
2003). Moreover, this is in line with the key point which Craik and Lockhart
(1972) emphasize by stating that what matters in the retention of vocabularies
is neither the intention to remember nor the frequency of repetition. Critical
pedagogy rejects the ‘banking’ concept to education and aims at
students from the confines of those
classrooms in which the teacher is traditionally expected to
transfer knowledge to students, while students receive and accept the information, right or wrong, without deserving the
right to question the authenticity of the knowledge
being transferred.

    Banking education, by contrast, prevents
students from naming their world in order to understand it better and improve it.
Actually, it disqualifies the very language they speak. Macedo, Coauthor with
Freire of Literacy: Reading the word and the world, describes this
characteristic of the banking system of education, arguing that in such a
system, those with power “refuse to accept and legitimize the students’

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     Critical reading is an area which has been the center of attention
of critical pedagogues for
many years. Several scholars
and researchers have made
attempts to incorporate, or encourage the inclusion
of critical reading indicators
in reading programs(Freire,1983;Patching,Kameenui,Carnine,Gersten,&Colvin1983;Peavey,1954;Walz, 2001; Wolf, King, Huck, 1968).

     The problem of education was first
proposed by John Dewey (1916) the American educator and then by Paul Freire the
Brazilian educator. Dewey (1916) warned educators when he was frustrated over
the teacher-talk, one-way transmission of knowledge and undemocratic relations
dominating education by posing the question that why learning by a passive
absorption, in spite of the fact of teaching by pouring in, is universally
condemned and is still entrenched in practice. (p. 38). He insisted that
education was not an affair of telling and being told in Freire’s term”
Banking concept” but an active and constructive process (Shor, 1996).

     As Freire states (1972)
tradition education suffers from focusing
primarily on the transfer of basic skills from the instructor to the students
through mindless drills and rote memorization of selected “facts”
that can easily be measured through standardized testing. Such traditional
schooling which focuses exclusively on preparing students for the work force,
abstracts education from the challenges of developing a critically conscious,
socially responsible and politically active student body and citizenry
(Leistyna& Woodrum, 1996). In the traditional schooling model, as all have
experienced it, students come to class expecting the teacher to do most of the
talking, because that is the way education has been done to them so far (Shor,


     McLaren has developed a critique of formal
education that suggests that it “always represents an introduction to the
preparation for, and legitimation of particular forms of social life”
(McLaren, 1989, p. 160).The fact that curricula represent not so much timeless
truth and knowledge but rather very particular ways of understanding the world,
one can start to develop a critical form of pedagogy that addresses the margins
and exclusions of schooling by encouraging students to develop their own voice.
Voice in this context is understood as far more than just speaking; rather, it
is a broader understanding of developing the possibilities to articulate
alternative realities, and since it has gained the agency to express one’s
life, it is less about the medium of voice (Speaking, Writing) and more about
finding possibilities of articulation.

     Paul Freire who is generally considered to
be “the inaugural philosopher of critical pedagogy” (McLaren, 2000)
was born in Recife, Brazil in 1921. Freire learned about poverty oppression
through the lives of the impoverished farmer around whom he lived. By critical
pedagogy, Freire means to offer a system in which the locus of learning process
is shifted from the teacher to the student.

     Freire believed “education must begin
with the solution of teacher-student contradiction, by reconciling the poles of
the contradictions so that both are simultaneously teachers and
students”(cited in Shor, 1996). According to Pokewits and Flender (1999),
critical pedagogy would never find it sufficient to reform the habits of
thought of thinkers, however effectively, without challenging and transforming
the institutions. Following Freire’s idea, Shor (1996) believes in student
empowerment and negotiating the course of study with them and argues about
teaching any disciplinary material before negotiating the curriculum with
students to share power. By transforming unilateral authority, Shor (1996)
argues about teachers and students’ being creating a mutual learning process as
the best condition for the introduction of any formal academic subject matter.

     One of the main concerns of Freire’s pedagogy
is giving a chance to students to voice their concerns; giving a critical voice
to students, mainstream scholarship and the education (Kinchelo, 2004) Culture
of silence, in Freire’s idea, are the characteristics of oppressed people in
colonized countries that do not have a voice in their society. The dominant
culture makes the oppressed silence through the cultural transmission of
discourse in schools and other institutions that support its domination and
through ignoring other discourse that might challenge its authority. As a
result, oppressed people learn to internalize negative images of them. Because
they are not taught about the tools of critical inquiry that would allow them
to challenge these false representations, they remain passive and silent
(Freire, 1972).

      Critical pedagogy strengthens the voices
of those who have had to struggle to be heard; it is always searching for new
voices that may have been excluded by the dominant culture (Kinchloe, 2004).
Hence, development of voice and authoritative means of self-expression is a
central concern in critical approaches to EFL/ESL pedagogy (Pavlenco, 2004).
Critical teachers understand the anger, depression, and anxiety such practices
incite in such students. As a result, more encouraging students to voice
themselves are no longer seen as sufficient, and teachers need to provide the
learners both with the safe space and with adequate linguistic resources for
development of voices which can be heard (Pavlenko, 2004).


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