WHAT HABITS DO CRITICAL THINKERS USE WHEN READING AND WRITING? PART 7A – CRITICAL THINKING SERIES

Disclaimer: Good Day, Readers.  WealthBuildingPowers blog is a financial literacy/competency blog and does not provide specific investment recommendations.  

STYRON’S INTRODUCTION

If I had read and heeded the lessons of this series on Critical Thinking, maybe my dream of becoming a doctor would have been a reality. Critical Thinking Makes A DIFFERENCE!

Read this series and pass it on to your kids, friends, and family. I can see you rolling your eyes. My child is not going to read these blogs! The majority of you are right. Phil Jackson, one of the best basketball coaches in my lifetime, was asked by his team’s owner, Phil, why do you waste your time and money giving these players books? The majority are sitting at the bottom of their lockers!

Jackson replied: THEY WILL READ IT WHEN THEY NEED TO!”

CRITICAL THINKING SERIES

Jim Leemann, Ph.D.

Continuing with our theme on learning, how much knowledge do you absorb when you set about reading an article or a book?  What steps do you take to retain that knowledge over time?  When transcribing that knowledge, how effective are you in capturing that knowledge?

Before exploring the habits of Critical Thinkers when reading and writing, the Foundation for Critical Thinking is presenting Reasoning Through a Problem Using Critical Thinking on Thursday, January 12, 2023, at 8:00PM EST,  which is free and open to anyone.  Registration is required.

PART 7A: WHAT HABITS DO CRITICAL THINKERS USE WHEN READING AND WRITING?

In this column, we will consider the habits Critical Thinkers use when reading an article or a book and the application of substantive writing.  I will cover the interrelationships between reading and writing and discuss Drs. Richard Paul and Linda Elder’s explanation of Close Reading and Substantive Writing presented in their Critical Thinking – Learn the Tools the Best Thinkers Use.

Close reading is a disciplined habit wherein the reader accurately and precisely summarizes the author’s thinking in the reader’s own mind.  Substantive writing entails surfacing important ideas and expressing significant implications of those ideas in clear and precise writing.

The Interrelationship Between Reading and Writing

Close reading and substantive writing are skills of disciplined thought that support and strengthen each other.  Both skills require us to think in a critical and systemic manner drawing upon our reasoning capabilities.  Drs. Paul and Elder present the necessary intellectual abilities to perform these skills, which include:

  1. Clarify purposes – the author’s purpose(s) when we read and our purpose(s) when we write
  2. Formulate clear questions – questions the author is asking (as we read) and questions we are pursuing (as we write)
  3. Distinguish accurate and relevant information – surface the author’s accurate and relevant information as we read and prepare to write
  4. Distinguish justifiable from unjustifiable assumptions – surface the assumptions the author is using or those we are thinking about as we write
  5. Identify significant and deep concepts – identify the concepts the author presents and those we use to guide our thinking while we write
  6. Trace logical implications – surface the implications in the author’s thinking and those from our own written work
  7. Identify and think within multiple viewpoints – identify the viewpoints the author raises or fails to raise and those relevant to the issues we raise in our written work
  8. Reach logical inferences or conclusions – determine the conclusions the author makes based on our reading and in preparation for our writing

These are but a few interrelated examples of reading closely and writing substantively, which you will master through practicing as you read and write.

DISCOVERING CLOSE READING

Exactly why do we read?  Typically, we read for pleasure and personal enjoyment, which does not require a particular skill level, or we read to gain or expand our knowledge in a specific technical area, which does require a certain level of tools and skills to read substantive text.

What is the author’s purpose?

Obviously, when we set about to read, we have our own purpose(s) in mind, but it is just as important, if not more important, to have the author’s purpose in writing in mind.  Consider the adjustments you make in your reading when you think about the purpose(s) of the following writers: politicians, newspaper editors, advertisers, scientists, novelists, poets, colleagues, and friends.  Each of these writers have their own purpose in mind: some give you an accurate description of their purpose, whereas others present their purpose in a way to persuade you to their way of thinking, or even others who distort their purpose to achieve the same end.  Care needs to be taken to ascertain the accuracy of the writer’s purpose in order to decide if further reading of other sources is necessary to confirm or better understand the accuracy of the primary source you have read.

Avoiding Impressionistic Reading

Impressionistic readers tend to wander from one paragraph to another failing to connect the paragraphs as they read and understanding the author’s thinking.  Being uncritical, the impressionistic reader judges the author’s point of view to be correct only if the reader agrees with that point of view.

Reading Reflectively

Reflective readers seek meaning from one paragraph to another, connect the author’s thinking to their thinking, and adjust reading to specific goals.  Reflective readers interrelate ideas in the text with ideas the reader already understands.  Reflective readers read for clarity, accuracy, precision, relevance, depth, breadth, logic, significance, and fairness.  The reflective reader is open to new ways of thinking that leads to learning from what is read.

Thinking About Reading While Reading

The reflective reader thinks about reading by looping back on what has been read to ensure it has been understood.  To accomplish this one must monitor and assess their own thinking while processing the thinking of the author.  For example, when reading something that is difficult to understand, intentionally slow down and paraphrase the sentences you are reading in your own words.  Another example, if you are not in agreement with the author’s point of view, suspend your judgement and focus on understanding what the author is saying.  Rather than dismissing everything the author says, take command of the author’s ideas you do agree with.

Engaging the Text While Reading

Reflective readers engage the author’s thinking through a process of inner conversation with oneself and the sentences of the text by questioning the text in a disciplined manner.

  • Can I summarize the meaning of this text in my own words?
  • Can I give examples from my own experience of what the text is saying?
  • Can I create metaphors and diagrams to illustrate what the text is saying?
  • What is clear to me and what do I need to clarify?
  • Can I connect the core ideas in this text to other core ideas I understand?

Thinking of Books as a Teacher

Every book we read is a potential teacher from which the teacher presents a systematic process for learning the essential meaning and thinking of that teacher.  Integrating the core ideas of a book through close reading can allow us to productively use those teachings in our daily lives.

Reading Minds

We all have minds, but are you aware of your prejudices and preconceptions?  Does your thinking mirror those around you?  To what extent is your thinking influenced by the culture in which you were raised or currently live?  Are you able to step out of your way of thinking and step into the way others think; especially, those you disagree with?  Can you imagine being “wrong” in some of your beliefs?  Are you aware of how to improve the quality of your own beliefs?

Reading other peoples’ work provides you the opportunity to enter their minds.  Coming to terms with another person’s mind allows you to better realize the strengths and weaknesses of your own mind.  This back and forth process creates an environment of learning particularly when you recognize you may be wrong in some of your beliefs.

Reading is Work

As Drs. Paul and Elder note, reading is a form of intellectual work requiring a willingness to persevere through what is often difficult material to understand.  Rather than digging into the technically difficult material, we often become passive readers scanning the text and expecting the meaning of the material to inexplicably leap off the page and into our minds.  To avoid falling into the passive reading trap, one must train one’s mind in the skills of reading and apply those skills on a regular basis.

Structural Reading

Structural reading is a form of close reading normally applied to a book wherein you learn about the book from its title, preface, introduction, and table of contents.  Structural reading allows you to decide whether or not you want to read a book in the first place.  If you decide to read the book, it provides you a framework of the book you can use while reading the book.  

Drs. Paul and Elder suggest in order to read structurally, ask the following questions:

  • What does the title tell me about the book?
  • What is the main idea in the book?  (This should be obvious from reading the preface, introduction, and first chapter.)
  • What are the parts of the whole book, and how does the book deal with those parts? (Again, this can likely be found in reading the preface, first chapter, and table of contents.)
  • By using your structural reading, what questions would you want to pursue during your close reading of the book?

How to Read a Technical Book (e.g., Textbook)

First and foremost, successful reading of a technical book is to recognize all technical books and textbooks are written from the perspective of “systems” which, when you internalize, helps to reason through specific sets of problems.  Technical books and textbooks target a special way of thinking about a specific set of topics and problems.

Most technical books and textbooks begin with an introductory chapter or preface that presents the field of study to be discussed to the reader.  Once you understand this introductory material, you should be able to begin thinking within the system represented in the book.  Having a clear concept of the subject as a whole will allow you to relate to the parts (individual chapters) of the whole.

Tips for Marking in Books

Underlining and highlighting have been the traditional way to identify key ideas, important facts, points of view, and questions.  Typically, we devise are own system of notations and do this to refer back to the important aspects of the book.  The following are several ideas offered by Drs. Paul and Elder that you may find useful in developing your own system of notations.

  • Circle important concepts and underline their definitions.
  • Use exclamation marks in the margin next to important conclusions.  Use multiple exclamation marks for crucial conclusions.
  • Place a question mark in the margin when you do not understand something.
  • Note important problems or issues by using prob in the margin. 
  • Identify important information, data, or evidence using infodata, or evidence in the margin.
  • Record the author’s point of view with POV in the margin.
  • Use assump in the margin to identify the author’s most questionable assumptions.
  • Note the most important implications in the margin with implic.
  • As you are reading you will likely formulate ideas of your own.  Take note of your ideas in the margins, at the end of the chapter, or the blank pages that often occur at the end of the book.
  • Another powerful way to recall important concepts is to draw diagrams of the concepts and how they connect to each other.  Here is an example by Karen Storer:

The Best Close Readers Read to Learn

Given, it is far more important to read a few books and articles well than to read a lot of books and articles badly.  Most importantly, to be an educated or learned person you must embrace life-long learning through reading.  Ideas do not mature as you grow older; in fact, they become stagnant.  Therefore, as a Critical Thinker you should continuously integrate new ideas from your reading with those ideas you have already established in your thinking.

Bio: Jim Leemann, Ph.D.

Dr. Leemann has had a 45-year career that has included being in the forefront of the safety, occupational health, and environmental fields in both the private and public sector. In addition, for 22 of those years, Dr. Leemann was an adjunct assistant professor teaching a variety of environmental and public health courses in the country’s oldest school of public health. In addition to holding a bachelor’s degree in microbiology master’s degrees in industrial hygiene and environmental engineering, his doctorate is in systemic management, which he has used to apply systems thinking methods to address organizational management problems.  

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I am a proud nerd (as my beautiful wife and daughter have told me) investment and finance blogger with an N.C.  State, Chemical Engineering, University Rutgers, MBA and Harvard University, Advanced Management education.

I left a corporate career because I desired to make a difference as a speaker and writer.  I was blessed to be coached and mentored by strong women and men in my family and professional life.  It is my time to serve and give back.

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I started my first business at ~13 years of age (a small but brilliantly created plant nursery). I am a successful investor in stocks, options, real estate and am happy to share my finance and investment lessons.  I am NOT a licensed financial advisor.  Please do not construe my suggestions on this blog as recommendations for your situation.  As an investor, you must establish your risk/loss tolerance.  Investment in any asset involves risk, including complete loss. 

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Powers Investments Management, LLC

This blog will provide, information and simple strategies, that will assist you to achieve YOUR financial objectives and long term targets. For over 30 years, I solved multi-million dollar problems, for Fortune 10-250, companies. My formal education includes: Business, Finance and Chemical Engineering {Problem Solving} at: Harvard, Rutgers and North Carolina State. And an additional 30+ years, managing my family’s investment decisions. I currently manage/advise people with net-worths ranging from the tens of thousands to several million dollars.

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