Adam Kovach on Critical Reading Problems

Adam Kovach (philosophy) presented on “critical reading problems” at fall 2009 Innovations.  He finds students are not reading and/or not engaging with their texts.

He likens philosophical writing to a jungle.  Students need to bushwhack their way through texts but too often give up.  If professors pull out the key ideas and present them as potted plants, students can make sense of them. “But if we do everything for students,” he says, “then they can’t do it for themselves.”

After getting a grant and doing some research, he identified what he wanted students to do and then developed aids to specific texts, sort of readers’ field guides.  The goal: make students independent learners. The struggle: how to model critical reading without “giving away more than I have to.”

Here’s an excerpt from his presentation.  For the entire PowerPoint or examples of aids to specific texts, e-mail him or Sylvia in DISCOVER.

Reading Philosophy Actively (what students should do)

(a) Identify the main questions that motivate the text.

(b) Identify the main claims put forward in the text.

(c) Paraphrase the main arguments presented in support of (or against) the main claims.

(d) Define any special terms used to express the main claims and arguments.

(e) Formulate criticisms of the main claims and arguments.

(f) Formulate focused questions about the text to help fill gaps in your understanding.

Reader’s Aid (to help students do what they should do)

1. Locate and cite relevant passages in the text.
2. Look up terms background information to the text in a dictionary or encyclopedia.
3. Put significant non-transparent claims into your own words.
4. Explain the meaning of a longer passage in your own words.
5. Create new examples to illustrate a general principle or rule.
6. Paraphrase or outline an argument.
7. Compare different parts of a text and identify the logical connection.
8. Compare texts with previous readings to recognize how ideas are reused, developed and modified.
9. Explore some parts of the text independently and formulate questions as needed.
10. Answer open-ended critical thinking questions.


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