Reading Improves the Ability to Think Critically
Despite the fact that these days, technologies and the Internet are taking most of people’s time, some of them still continue to read books every day. Books help dive into the unknown and inaccessible world and see something that it is impossible in real life. Besides, with the help of books, readers constantly learn something new. The author Nancy Williams notes that “students need to be problem solvers and critical thinkers to meet the demands of the twenty-first century”. Reading is one of the best exercises for the brain development. It cultivates attention, memory, language, and literacy as well as enriches the vocabulary. Moreover, reading improves the ability to think critically. Literature helps people analyze the ideas expressed by various authors. Therefore, critical thinking can be greatly improved through reading and the development of culture of working with the text. Therefore, the purpose of this paper is to study the influence of books on the readers.
Reading is an extremely complex exercise for the brain. However, it presupposes the development of other vital skills, such as writing and critical thinking. A person learned to read about five thousand years ago. As a matter of fact, the human brain was formed more than 100 thousand years ago. Thus, from the evolutionary perspective, the ability to read is a clear superstructure over the existing structures of the brain. Reading influences most of the top brain areas. It means that this skill can be considered as the best mental exercise.
Learning to read and write is considered by all civilizations as a key to the intellectual development of a person, in spite of difficulties and time spent on developing this ability. Besides, not only reading and writing not only allows people to communicate and express their opinions, but it also enhances the functioning of the human brain. The brain that is able to read works in a more complex way than the mind of an illiterate man. Moreover, the human brain that practices reading in childhood is able to activate all of its resources better than the brain of an adult who is learning to read and write.
As it has been already mentioned, one of the advantages of reading consists in the fact that it develops the ability to think critically. The author Victor P. Maiorana states that “reading, listening, writing, and speaking are all based on thinking”. The understanding of the text is a complex mental operation, especially when people are working on the comprehension of someone else’s ideas. A person translates the ideas of the authors into the available language as well as the thought. However, thinking is passive. Ideas created by other people just have to be perceived. Critical thinking occurs when new, already understood ideas are checked, evaluated, and developed. In the book Effective Teaching, the author Mathew Thomas notes that “if one needs to have their own opinion about anything heard, read, or seen, then they have to think critically”. In such a way, critical thinking is a form of human intellectual activity, which is characterized by high levels of perception and understanding as well as an objective approach to the new information.
Critical thinking is independent. Every person formulates his/her ideas, beliefs, and evaluations independently. The information written in the book is a starting point, not the end point, of critical thinking. To give rise to a complex thought, it is necessary to process a great number of facts, ideas, and theories. Besides, every new fact is subject to critical reflection. Critical thinking begins with a person asking questions and understanding problems that should be solved. It is necessary to replace the traditional accumulative education with the formation of problem-staging. Critical thinking builds on convincing arguments, statements, evidence, and a conclusion. It is a social form of thinking that includes work in pairs and groups including debates and discussions. Critical thinking develops such qualities as tolerance towards other speakers, responsibility for a certain point of view, and the ability to listen. All of these traits are necessary for a productive exchange of views. Literature can develop all the characteristics needed for critical thinking.
At the end of the 20th century, the technology of the development of critical thinking through reading emerged in the United States. Subsequently, it has spread to other countries. It is based on the ideas and principles of Piaget’s theory about the stages of intellectual development of the child, Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development and the inextricable link of training and overall development of the child, Popper and Paul’s basics of formation and development of critical thinking, etc. There is an inextricable link between the development of thinking skills and the formation of democratic civil consciousness. Therefore, it is extremely significant to develop critical thinking since an early age.
There are several stages of the development of critical thinking. The first stage is evocation. It includes the actualization and analysis of existing knowledge. When the person reads a book, it is necessary to evoke interest towards it. It is also important to activate the person’s thinking and give him/her the opportunity to purposefully express his/her thoughts. Then, the material should be structured. The next stage is the realization of meaning. The functions at this stage include the acquisition of new information about the book, its interpretation, and the combination of new information with the old knowledge. A reader consciously builds bridges between old and new information to create a novel understanding of the text. In the book Thinking for Yourself, it is noted that “becoming more skillful in critical thinking requires active involvement in unlearning old habits and standards in order to make room for better ones”. The next function of critical thinking is the maintenance of activity, interest, and inertia of motion gained during the previous phase. The last stage is reflection. It includes the expressions of new ideas and information. There is al so holistic interpretation and compilation of information received on the basis of the exchanged views. This stage also includes the analysis of the whole material and the development of the attitude to the text as well as re-problematization.
In the phase of reflection, people systematize new information in relation to their existing ideas, as well as in accordance with the categories of knowledge. This combination of individual and group work is extremely appropriate for learning. During individual work, for example, during various types of writing, such as essays, keywords, or graphic organization of the material, people produce a selected amount of information, which is important for understanding of the essence of the subject. In addition, it is also most significant for the realization of individual’s previous goals. On the other hand, with critical thinking, new ideas and information are expressed independently and cause-effect relationships are created. Such form of understanding has a long-term character. When a person reformulates the old word with the help of a new notion, he/she creates a personally meaningful context. Along with writing, verbal reflection is no less important. A lively exchange of ideas between people gives them an opportunity to expand the lexicon as well as to get acquainted with different views. Whenever there is a healthy dialogue along with reflection, there is an opportunity to consider various opinions on the same issue.
With such an approach, there is not only more profound assimilation of the material, but also a realization of the idea and its structure. Thus, each person creates a holistic cognitive field that brings together all theoretical knowledge, practical information, and skills. The existence of a coherent structure of knowledge significantly increases the efficiency of the perception of the new information, knowledge, interest, and information processing. All these components can be combined under the notion of critical thinking.
Reading is the basic processes, with the help of which people receive and share information. Therefore, it is necessary to read effectively. It is not about the primary meaning. It is about thoughtful and productive reading, during which information is analyzed and ranked according to its relevance. It is necessary to understand the multiplicity of meanings of the text and the fact that its interpretation depends on the readers’ context as well as the form of group work employed. This approach makes it possible to combine intellectual activities with communication skills.
Reading helps shape a new style of thinking, which is characterized by openness, flexibility, reflexivity, the awareness of internal ambiguity of positions, and the alternativeness of adopted solutions. It develops such basic personality traits such as communication, creativity, mobility, independence, tolerance, and responsibility for the choices as well as results.
With the help of literature, people learn to construct logical reasoning and create mutually coordinated sensible models. Books also help make informed decisions regarding whether to dismiss some judgment, accept it, or temporarily postpone its consideration. They also help evaluate the thought process – the course of reasoning that leads to certain conclusions, or the factors that are taken into account during decisions.
Effective critical thinking can help identify cause-and-effect relationships, consider new ideas and knowledge in the context of already existing patterns, and reject unnecessary or incorrect information. People learn to understand how various pieces of information relate to each other and determine errors in reasoning. With the help of reading, people are able to gain particular values, interests, and ideological installations from the text. Readers also learn to avoid rigidity in their statements and display honesty in their arguments. Books can help identify false stereotypes that lead to wrong conclusions and preconceived attitudes, opinions, or judgments. A person should be able separate the important from the trivial in the text and accentuate the former.
The most important thing is not the amount of information received, but a person’s capacity to manage information, find meaning in it, and apply it to real life. It is necessary to construct new knowledge, which appears in the process of reading. The ability to think critically is not the search of shortcomings, but an objective assessment of the positive and negative sides of the object under scrutiny. The readers should remember that simple and excessive generalizations, clichés, stamps, and unacknowledged assumptions are not always accurate and can lead to the formation of stereotypes. Reading should be focused on education of the social responsibility in people. For this purpose, the reading process is closely linked with specific life challenges, their clarification and solution. A socially-oriented attitude to reality, teamworking skills, interdependence of principles, and responsible actions of the person are the necessary conditions for the formation of civic attitudes. All of these traits can be gained through reading and critical thinking.
All in all, reading expands the range of emotions experienced by the person, develops his/her vocabulary, teaches him/her to express thoughts and understand the speech of other people. A rich language developed by reading allows to express the opinions and verbalize feelings or needs. Therefore, reading forms the ability to think critically. Critical thinking is not a separate skill. It includes many other complex abilities, which are formed gradually in the processes of personal development and learning. However, it develops faster with the proper analysis of the read text. It can be enhanced through the discussion of written work and the active analysis of texts. After all, critical thinking is necessary for the proper functioning of any society.