How to be a critical reader
How to be a critical reader

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How to be a critical reader

1.3 Thinking about what a text is saying and doing

When you read critically it is important to ask yourself first what the text is saying and then what it is doing: for example, how it develops an argument. This is called the function of a text [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] . A part of a text can also have a function. Understanding what a text and its parts are doing – their functions – can help you to recognise what the writer’s purpose is. You are now going to read the text from which Extract 1 was taken and think about what it is saying and doing.

Activity 3

Task 1

Read Text 3, ‘The accounting cycle: students then and now’ (below), reasonably closely to get an idea of what it is about. As the writer is talking about accountancy students, there is some specialised vocabulary. Try to decide whether unknown words are important and, if possible, use other words in the text to try to understand the ones you are not sure about. Only use a dictionary if that doesn’t work. You might want to record useful words.

The accounting cycle: students then and now

January 2009 – Compared with the students in the 1970s, today’s accounting students are uneducated and unfit for a college education.

[1] I have been teaching full time for over thirty years. During that span of time, one sees many, many students, and it amazes me how different they have been over time, and the inequality continues to grow. Compared with the students in the 1970s, today’s students are uneducated and unfit for a college education.

[2] Before proceeding, let me state two premises. First, I do not think there is any significant difference between the two groups in terms of native, raw intelligence. Instead, the distinction between yesterday’s and today’s students when they first set foot on college campuses rests in their educational backgrounds, analytical thinking, reading abilities, willingness to work, and their attitudes concerning the educational process. In short, they differ in terms of their readiness for college. Second, I am focusing on the average student who majors in accounting. Both groups arise from a distribution of students. The less able of yesteryear’s population had some weak students, and the more able of the present-day population has some very strong students; however, when one focuses on the means of these two groups, he or she finds a huge gap.

[3] Thirty years ago I required my Intermediate Accounting students to derive the future and present value formulas, including the present value of a perpetuity, which requires a knowledge of limits. I gave up on that over a decade ago when I observed that the average student had no idea what I was talking about. Worse, they didn’t care.

[4] Today’s students cannot read at what used to be a tenth-grade level. I learned this dramatically when I wrote a couple of textbooks in the 1990s. Editors at both publishing houses insisted that I rewrite my materials so today’s student could read it. I was forbidden to employ large or ‘fancy’ words and had to simplify the grammar. Today’s students cannot read critically. If I really want them to perceive anything, I have to tell them. Of course, that doesn’t work in the long run because I won’t be there in the future to help them read essays.

[5] Worst of all is attitude. Yesterday’s student was willing to work; today’s student is not. Past students thought of education as a privilege; current students view it as an entitlement. Earlier students took responsibility for their mistakes; contemporary students call mom and dad, who in turn call their attorneys. Previously, it was honorable to obtain a B and at least acceptable to receive a C, especially with the harder classes. Nowadays, students want at least a B for signing up for class and an A with any effort expended on the course, regardless of knowledge displayed in the classroom.

Ketz, J.E. (2009) ‘The accounting cycle: students then and now’, www.joannejacobs.com/2009/02/unfit-for-a-collegeeducation/# comments

The following paragraph summaries are in the wrong order. Drag and drop them into the correct order to form a summary of Text 3.

Using the following two lists, match each numbered item with the correct letter.

  1. Students today don’t understand accounting as well as they did 10 years ago and don’t care.

  2. Students today think they are entitled to education and to get good marks without making an effort.

  3. Students today can’t read well or read critically and have to be told what they are meant to understand.

  4. Students today are uneducated and unsuitable for higher education.

  5. The average student today is less able for several reasons which have nothing to do with intelligence.

  • a.Paragraph 4

  • b.Paragraph 5

  • c.Paragraph 2

  • d.Paragraph 1

  • e.Paragraph 3

The correct answers are:
  • 1 = e
  • 2 = b
  • 3 = a
  • 4 = d
  • 5 = c

Task 2

Identify the main function of each of the paragraphs of Text 3. To do this, you will need to follow the author’s argument as you read the text. Remember that the function of a particular paragraph may depend on the function of the paragraphs before or after it. Three paragraphs in Text 3 have the same function.

Hint: A claim is a statement which can be true or false and which shows the opinion of the author. To ‘qualify’ a claim means to be more specific about what you mean and what you don’t mean.

Paragraph 1

  • I have been teaching full time for over thirty years. During that span of time, one sees many, many students, and it amazes me how different they have been over time, and the inequality continues to grow. Compared with the students in the 1970s, today’s students are uneducated and unfit for a college education.

a. 

States a claim


b. 

Gives supporting evidence


c. 

Qualifies the claim


The correct answer is a.

Paragraph 2

Before proceeding, let me state two premises. First, I do not think there is any significant difference between the two groups in terms of native, raw intelligence. Instead, the distinction between yesterday’s and today’s students when they first set foot on college campuses rests in their educational backgrounds, analytical thinking, reading abilities, willingness to work, and their attitudes concerning the educational process. In short, they differ in terms of their readiness for college. Second, I am focusing on the average student who majors in accounting. Both groups arise from a distribution of students. The less able of yesteryear’s population had some weak students, and the more able of the present-day population has some very strong students; however, when one focuses on the means of these two groups, he or she finds a huge gap.

a. 

States a claim


b. 

Gives supporting evidence


c. 

Qualifies the claim


The correct answer is c.

Paragraph 3

  • Thirty years ago I required my Intermediate Accounting students to derive the future and present value formulas, including the present value of a perpetuity, which requires a knowledge of limits. I gave up on that over a decade ago when I observed that the average student had no idea what I was talking about. Worse, they didn’t care.

a. 

States a claim


b. 

Gives supporting evidence


c. 

Qualifies the claim


The correct answer is b.

Paragraph 4

  • Today’s students cannot read at what used to be a tenth-grade level. I learned this dramatically when I wrote a couple of textbooks in the 1990s. Editors at both publishing houses insisted that I rewrite my materials so today’s students could read it. I was forbidden to employ large or ‘fancy’ words and had to simplify the grammar. Today’s students cannot read critically. If I really want them to perceive anything, I have to tell them. Of course, that doesn’t work in the long run because I won’t be there in the future to help them read essays.

a. 

States a claim


b. 

Gives supporting evidence


c. 

Qualifies the claim


The correct answer is b.

Paragraph 5

  • Worst of all is attitude. Yesterday’s student was willing to work; today’s student is not. Past students thought of education as a privilege; current students view it as an entitlement. Earlier students took responsibility for their mistakes; contemporary students call mom and dad, who in turn call their attorneys. Previously, it was honorable to obtain a B and at least acceptable to receive a C, especially with the harder classes. Nowadays, students want at least a B for signing up for class and an A with any effort expended on the course, regardless of knowledge displayed in the classroom.

a. 

States a claim


b. 

Gives supporting evidence


c. 

Qualifies the claim


The correct answer is b.

Answer

Did you notice that the author made a claim and then provided supporting evidence? In academic texts it is considered important that writers support their claims with evidence, but it is also considered important that they present balanced arguments by looking at alternative views. As you can see, the author of Text 3 does not do this.

Comment

Once you know what a text is saying and doing, the next question to ask is how is it doing this? This involves looking more closely at the language and style of the text and what sort of evidence is used to support any claims.

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