The Palmer House hotel I am using in Chicago is most ungenerous with WiFi but if you sit at the bar in the lobby and nurse a drink, you have free access. I was catching up on my student’s work yesterday when I saw, sitting next to me, a woman preparing her NCTE talk — which, in a way, is the exact reverse of what I have been writing about here. She is teaching content area teachers (think Social Studies) how to teach and make use of the kind of reading strategies English teachers now. She is a big fan of Myra’s work in that regard. There is, then, this interesting convergence: we who write NF are pleased to see that the CC standards require Langiuage Arts teachers to think deeply about NF. But, as this professor (whose name, I am sorry to say, I did not catch) emphasizes, content area teachers need to be just as alert to developing the reading and thinking skills of their students. We should, of course, all meet in the middle at Critical Reading.
Critical Thinking is one of those great phrases that we all bow down to, and sometimes really mean it, but which is so overused it fades into blur. Textbooks are full of little sidebar questions and tests called “Critical Thinking” — and once an idea makes its way inot the TOC of a textbook you know it is entirely safe. Now what about Critical Reading — every English teacher who has ever taught a novel, even a picture book with subplots, has found a way to get students to see beyond the obvious words on the page — Point of View, characterization, language, on up to unreliable narrator — all of these take shape in the student’s mind as they become better critical readers. The see beyond the obvious to the joys, traps, and tricks, the author has woven into the book. And that is the same in NF — readers need to see beyond the parade of names and dates, beyond the narrative posture of calm and assured knowledge, past the apparent architecture of firm and settled authority — to similar issues — point of view, use of language to characterize one person, event, or time, flow of language, structure of the book. The NF Critical Readers learns to mine the book just as the fiction CR does.
CR — perhaps that is a flag that it will be easier for Language Arts teachers to salute than the fuzzy idea of Critical Thinking as applied to content areas in which they themselves have limited knowledge. See what the lack of wifi can do, it gets you thinking (the butternut squash soup at the bar wasn’t bad either).