brioso-complex-texts

Want To Know How Students Feel When They Read Complex Texts?

by Grant WigginsAuthentic Education

Ed note: As a follow-up to Grant’s post on reading comprehension, he developed the following quiz for teachers to monitor their own reading behavior. 

What, in fact, do you do when you read challenging text? What do you do when you do not understand on first pass? Try a little test, below: “read” the following paragraphs, then post a comment about what you were doing as you were “reading.” Do not tell us what you think the passage means; tell us metacognitively, as best you can, what you believe you were doing with your eyes and thinking with your mind to try to determine the meaning of the text.

Monitor Your Understanding: A Revealing Exercise For Teachers

Unlike the famous ambiguous passage about “piles of things” developed by Bransford and Johnson for use in cognitive research (which we analyzed in Understanding by Design), this is a real text: the very first pages of the Introduction to Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. What is Kant saying here?

“There can be no doubt that all our knowledge begins with experience. For how should our faculty of knowledge be awakened into action did not objects affecting our senses partly of themselves produce representations, partly arouse the activity of our understanding to compare these representations, and, by combining or separating them, work up the raw material of the sensible impressions into that knowledge of objects which is entitled experience? In the order of time, therefore, we have no knowledge antecedent to experience, and with experience all our knowledge begins.

But though all our knowledge begins with experience, it does not follow that it all arises out of experience. For it may well be that even our empirical knowledge is made up of what we receive through impressions and of what our own faculty of knowledge (sensible impressions serving merely as the occasion) supplies from itself. If our faculty of knowledge makes any such addition, it may be that we are not in a position to distinguish it from the raw material, until with long practice of attention we have become skilled in separating it.

This, then, is a question which at least calls for closer examination, and does not allow of any off-hand answer: whether there is any knowledge that is thus independent of experience and even of all impressions of the senses. Such knowledge is entitled a priori, and distinguished from the empirical which has its sources a posteriori, that is, in experience.

The expression ‘a priori‘ does not, however, indicate with sufficient precision the full meaning of our question. For it has been customary to say, even of much knowledge that is derived from empirical sources, that we have it or are capable of having it a priori, meaning thereby that we do not derive it immediately from experience, but from a universal rule — a rule which is itself, however, borrowed by us from experience. Thus we would say of a man who undermined the foundations of his house, that he might have known a priori that it would fall, that is, that he need not have waited for the experience of its actual falling. But still he could not know this completely a priori. For he had first to learn through experience that bodies are heavy, and therefore fall when their supports are withdrawn.

In what follows, therefore, we shall understand by a priori knowledge, not knowledge independent of this or that experience, but knowledge absolutely independent of all experience. Opposed to it is empirical knowledge, which is knowledge possible only a posteriori, that is, through experience. A priori modes of knowledge are entitled pure when there is no admixture of anything empirical. Thus, for instance, the proposition, ‘every alteration has its cause’, while an a priori proposition, is not a pure proposition, because alteration is a concept which can be derived only from experience.”

After reading the passage, consider the following questions:

  • Using arrows and labels, what was the visual “itinerary” of your reading. Where did your eyes go to, when, and why, as you read?
  • What questions, if any, did you ask yourself as you read? Mark the places on the text.
  • Where did you get stuck, if any place? (Mark the text) What, then, did you do, if you got stuck?
  • If you could not “unstuck” yourself at each moment of being stuck, what did you do next – and why?
  • Which “reading strategies” did you use when (without my having prompted you to use any)? If not, why not, do you think? If so, which ones did you consciously choose and why?
  • Where /when did you start feeling dumb/frustrated if at all. What did you do/feel about it if you did? If you quit, say where and why.
  • On a scale of 1-4, how confident are you of your understanding of Kant’s opening setup of his inquiry?

After this self-monitoring, take this formative quiz:

  • Circle the 1-2 key sentences in this selection, and be ready to explain why you are confident that they are key even if you are not sure what they mean.
  • Title this reading and be ready to explain why you gave it that title
  • In a sentence, state what Kant intends to explore. And speculate as to why he might want to explore such a question.

Ed note: Share your thoughts in the comments below, at Grant’s blog, etc. Would love to hear it.

This article first appeared on Grant’s personal blog; Grant can be found on twitter here; Want To Know How Students Feel When They Read Complex Texts? image attribution flickr user .brioso.