Critical Thinking and Writing Course Reflection
In the technological era that we live in today, literacy is just one of the many skills we must acquire in order to sustain ourselves. Being literate allows us to learn how to use the technology commonly used to perform everyday tasks such as the self-checkout at the grocery store, pump-gas, even use a computer to send an email or a phone to send a text message. The inability to read basic signs and directions such as traffic signs and medication dosage directions can sometimes be fatal. Aside from technology, literacy is important because being literate allows us to communicate with one another effectively, and communication is key to a successful society. If we could not communicate, then we would not be able to get anything accomplished, because we would not be able to inform each other on tasks that need to be performed. We also would not be able to settle disputes between one another.
That being said, there is more value to being a critical reader as opposed to being just literate. It is true that being able to read and write will allow you to be able to communicate, follow instructions, and head warnings, but as far as appreciation for literature goes, strong pieces won’t be very effective to you if you are not able to grasp their concepts.
According to David Bartholomae and Anthony Petrosky being a strong reader means being able to rearrange the ideas gained from reading the text in ways that help you figure out how everything relates. Strong readers have the ability the read critically--that is, strong readers search for evidence to use to question the writers claims. Strong readers also have the ability to relate the works that they have to other things aside from the reading.The difference between strong critical readers and merely literate people is that strong critical readers grasp concepts completely because of the way they read, and are able to think beyond what is explicitly stated.
At Santa Clara University, I am enrolled in a Critical Thinking and Writing Class that focuses on the topics of Education and Identity. As stated in the syllabus, the main objectives of the course include for students to be able to read and write with a critical point of view and write essays that contain well supported, arguable theses. Throughout the course I feel that my critical thinking has flourished, as well as my ability to create a solid thesis for an essay. The assignments were never done with ease; I did struggle to grasp concepts presented in some of the assigned readings. However, as my successive Critical Reading Logs and annotations reflect, I progressed throughout the quarter, eventually being able to spot main, important ideas in essays, rather than noting everything including unnecessary details. With each successive essay, my theses became more concise and clear, and my ability to decipher which details were necessary and which were irrelevant became sharper.
My annotations are one area in which my growth as a critical reader is exemplified. The annotations that I took on the essay Reading the Lives of Others by Bartholomae and Petrosky were very extensive; they included a lot of detail, but the details that I mentioned did not display any insight. The written notes I took were just patch-written; they were rearranged versions of what the author was trying to say, but they did not exemplify my understanding of the concept. For example, I took notes on the meaning of “reading with the grain” and “reading against the grain” that were almost identical to how the essay defines these terms.
This does not display my understanding of the concepts, but rather shows my ability to patch-write. I was able to identify the main point within my highlighting, however, I also included secondary details that were not necessary to understanding the purpose of the essay. In this case, I put quantity over quality. I was not practicing the skills of a strong reader. My lack of skill as a critical reader was further reflected in my Critical Reading Log (CRL #1); I did not clearly grasp the concept of reflecting on a work and instead I merely summarized it.
I feel that I start to display the characteristics of a strong reader in the fourth set of annotations that I had to turn in for the piece written by Christopher Hayes. On my annotations for this piece, I include less reiteration of the concepts discussed by the author. Instead, I focused more on highlighting important supporting details. For example, in my annotations I highlighted most of the important supporting details and indicated a main idea of the essay with a poorly drawn red arrow : “the moral justification for meritocracy is straightforward: the meritocracy gives everyone what he or she deserves. Effort and talent are rewarded, ignorance and sloth are punished.” Highlighting this point epitomizes one of the contrasting views that someone might pose in opposition to that of the author. By recognizing this, I am widening my scope on the subject, noting that there are various viewpoints to the subject as opposed to just that of the author. From this point offered by the author, I was further able to think critically of the main idea that the author presented in my Critical Reading Log (CRL #4).
The essay It’s Time for Class: Towards a More Complex Pedagogy written by Amy E. Robillard proved to be the toughest work that I had to read throughout the course solely because I found it difficult to locate the main idea. Despite this, I still feel that I completed the best annotations on this essay because I worked the hardest towards grasping the concept than I had on any other reading. I took into account what Bartholomae and Petrosky had said about the development of a strong reader and applied it to this assignment. Doing so greatly influenced my ability to think critically about the piece. In her essay, Robillard touches on various subjects including economic and social class, time, the relationship between narrative and analysis, the relationship between the concrete and the abstract, and the role of autobiography in the composition classroom. I found that Robillard made the most insightful point on the topic of economic and social class. I make note of this in my annotations by highlighting ideas that express her ideas on delayed gratification. Also, I view her style of writing in a critical way as well as the ideas she presents (I comment on her transitioning from paragraph to paragraph). My summaries of the main ideas of her essay evolve from mere reiterations of the authors point to actual note-like summaries that I was able to use as a reference when writing my reflection (CRL #7). I read her work and viewed through a critical viewpoint, taking note of what was explicitly stated in the essay and using it to focus on the implications. From those implications I found that her essay was applicable to another work--The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie--in the a class discussion. I was able to use the ideas that Robillard presented in her essay to view the concepts displayed in Alexie’s book through a different lens.
The extent to which my critical reading has grown can also be seen in my writing; specifically in my Critical Reading Logs. I feel that as the quarter progressed, my Critical Reading Logs became more concise and more insightful. For example, my first CRL was basically a summary of exactly what the authors, Bartolomae and Petrosky, were trying to say. I described the main idea of the essay--the concept of strong reading--but I did not really provide any examples of strong reading beyond what was asked of me in the CRL prompt. I did not attempt to to question the authors’ point of view in any way, suggesting that I read the piece, but not in a critical way. My third CRL reflects more use of critical thinking which can be seen in the way I relate the topic of the essay Why Write...Together? written by Lisa Ede and Andrea Lunsford to my life. I state that as they seemed to come a cross a few collaborations in their summary, I, too, would expect to come across similar problems (CRL #3). My best Critical Reading Log thus far would have to be number 6, one of my most recent logs, because the prompt of the log required me to think critically, but also allowed me the freedom of interpretation and expression. The prompt asks me as a student to consider the title of Sherman Alexie’s novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, and demonstrate the concepts emphasized by the title. I was able to demonstrate my newfound strength in critical reading by providing an insight as to why the book is titled the way it is: to reflect the blunt and open style the author uses to portray the attitude of protagonist (CRL #6).
At the beginning of the course, I was only practicing my literacy. I was displaying how well I could read a piece of literature and write a summary on it. However, I was not demonstrating how well I understood an essay and how well I could relate it to other topics, something that a strong reader is able to do. As the course progress, and as can be seen in my annotations and my Critical Reading Log’s, I have steadily become a stronger reader. I know that there is still plenty of room for improvement. Reading long and complicated works is still very intimidating to me because I still find them difficult to understand, however, if I continue to practice writing and reading critically, I will surely become better at comprehension.