You Need Arrogance
I am convinced that a major problem for learners is the fallacious belief that their knowledge source is infallible. I am not suggesting that we dismiss scientifically evaluated research. I am saying that in order to engage your mind in learning, you must question every presentation. This is the scientific method. It also aids critical thinking and comprehension.
What’s more you should expect the presentation of knowledge to captivate your attention and inspire your imagination. You can’t always count on every book to provide this. If the presentation is not engaging, you can employ some techniques to ensure that you not only read but comprehend by engaging your brain.
Allow me to explain arrogance WITH power–also called Critical Thinking. I have argued that many students implement an arrogance without power. They summarily dismiss new information because it does not jive with their previous understanding or expectations. That is not scientific or scholarly inquiry. Scholarly inquiry questions the new knowledge AND sets up a test to examine the validity and reliability of the knowledge. This is critical thinking.
On the other side, many students sit intimidated by their text failing to examine in ways that support recall and comprehension because they believe that reading is about remembering in order to score highly on the test. Critical thinking is not determined by knowing everything or even planning down to the minute detail. There is a place for that, but it’s called research protocol. Critical thinking includes the cognitive flexibility to consume new knowledge and integrate it into your expertise and context.And that’s where I fear you lack the confident questioning, the sustainable arrogance that is critical thinking.
My best exemplar is your approach to reading. Reading with critical thinking–what I call reading smarter–is not about reading multiple times, reading every word, or highlighting every line of the text. These distractions often result in the adoption of an identity as a “slow learner.” It supports a sense of overwhelm with the amount of information you must consume. It often translates into habits of procrastination, excuse making, and lower responsibility for learning. Ultimately, it can mean frustration with learning altogether.
The solution is to relearn to read smarter. It’s a three-step process that integrates with my Study Smarter process. When approaching any non-fiction text, first figure out the structure. Second, discover the model or the contribution the work adds to the knowledge base. Third, determine how you would present the content to others.
Finding the Structure
Every text begins with an outline. Outlines have a beginning, middle, and end. In non-fiction texts, the beginning is usually a background or foundations of learning section. The middle is typically a presentation of the major contribution the text attempts to make. The ending is most likely a presentation of examples of the model in application.
A reference text, often referred to as a “boring” text, structures its content chronologically. The beginning, middle, and end are all time periods. Find the story line within each period. There you will find the foundation, model, application pattern you expect.
Start with the table of contents. Next, read the first paragraph of each chapter. As a last step, turn through each page of the book. Note bold words, italicizes phrases and headings within chapters.
You are looking for anchors that stimulate your awareness of the structure of the text. As you read for comprehension, these anchors will support your ability to connect the knowledge you gain with your prior knowledge and in some recall-ready order.
Model in the Middle
“But, that’s not reading the book.” You are correct. Ask what part of the book is most useful? Ask what contribution does this text attempt to make? The answer is presented near in the middle section of the book.
Critical thinking suggests that you have your own ideas you would like to test based on the content you expect from the text. It is perfectly acceptable to test this new knowledge against what you already know. Where many fail is that they resist when the new information contradicts their prior knowledge. Set up your test. If the knowledge is valid and reliable. Accept and integrate it, having reviewed it critically.
The choice is not either-or. Critical thinking offers a third option: synthesis. Synthesis is the ability to explain the existence of two competing ideas. It is usually accomplished by including a third concept or an organizing construct that enables the coexistence. See Hegel’s Dialectic for more on this.
Teaching It: Evaluating Application
The text can be horribly written and not engaging at all. But, you have now reviewed it. This third step is an opportunity to reform the information in a way that may appeal to more readers and bring prominence to the contribution made by the text.
With an awareness of the point or points, consider a new beginning, middle, and end that lead or build toward the point. Think in terms of storytelling. Introduce the characters through definitions that have import. Provide foreshadowing with introductory paragraphs. Provide reflections with summary paragraphs. Ensure that the content you present in the middle is intentionally presenting what the reader must do, think, and become.
Definition of Critical Thinking
This is critical thinking. It is to examine positions, arguments, text for structure. It is to test for reliability and validity integrating and synthesizing. It is to take the core of content and present it faithfully, intentionally, and in your voice.