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Comprehension Skills That Require Critical Thinking

by David Raudenbush

Readers apply comprehension skills to determine what a text says. They rely on critical thinking skills to tell them whether to believe it. When readers seek more in depth understanding of a passage, comprehension skills and critical thinking skills will merge. Readers begin to question the writer’s ideas and compare what the text says to what they know to be true. Blending comprehension with critical thinking leads to the highest possible levels of understanding.

Comprehension and Thinking

In the earliest stages of comprehension, readers build a literal understanding of the text. The skills include recalling details and summarizing the passage. At this point, the reader has done very little critical thinking. Critical reading begins as readers start to form interpretations and make inferences. Now, readers are thinking analytically, using hints and clues to make sense of ideas implied but not directly stated in the text. Readers still focus on understanding the writer’s message. At the highest levels of comprehension and thinking, readers evaluate the ideas in the text, judging the accuracy of the information and the logical organization of the text evidence.

Asking Questions

As a comprehension skill, readers ask questions for two reasons: to clarify their understanding or to deepen understanding. Questions like, “What does this mean?” prompt readers to seek clarification by going back over the text or by moving forward to find more information. Readers might ask these questions while wrestling with a particularly tricky metaphor or an unfamiliar analogy. Questioning strategies lead to critical thinking when the reader begins to monitor his comprehension by asking, “Do I understand what I’m what I’m reading?” This promotes rereading the text to fix flaws in understanding. At a higher level of critical thinking, readers question the accuracy of information by asking, “Is that really true?” The reader also questions the writer’s conclusions by wondering, “Does the evidence really support that decision?”

Evaluating and Making Judgments

When readers evaluate a passage they have read, they support comprehension with critical thinking. Readers should be free to form opinions about what they have read. However, that isn’t necessarily critical thinking. As a comprehension and critical thinking skill, judgments and evaluations must be based on some form of evidence. When readers find a flaw in a writer’s logic, they must be able to support the evaluation by explaining the flaws in the way the writer used evidence. Readers can make judgments on a range of topics, from character’s actions to the writer’s style. However, those judgments only count as critical thinking when they are supported by examples from the text and explained with valid reasoning.

Drawing Conclusions

When readers draw conclusions, they test their thinking against the writer’s. They read the argument presented in the text, examine the clues and evidence the writer provides and make a decision or draw their own conclusions. If they have read critically and thoughtfully, applying comprehension skills and strategies, either they will reach the same conclusion as the writer or they will see the flaw in the writer’s thinking and reach a different conclusion. This represents a high level of critical thinking because it requires readers to compare what they know with what the writer has expressed.

About the Author

David Raudenbush has more than 20 years of experience as a literacy teacher, staff developer and literacy coach. He has written for newspapers, magazines and online publications, and served as the editor of "Golfstyles New Jersey Magazine." Raudenbush holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and a master's degree in education.

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