Responding to and Evaluating Texts
What does the Ontario Language Curriculum say that students from kindergarten to high school have to do when they analyze, evaluate and interpret texts?
The Ontario Language Curriculum stipulates that kindergarten to grade two students should be able to talk about their thoughts and feelings after reading a text. By grade three students must be able to discuss their ideas and opinions about what they’ve read. In grade four, students must be able to back their ideas and opinions with evidence. Grade five sees a jump in sophistication: students must now make judgments about what they’ve read using stated and implied evidence. By grade six and into grade seven and eight students have to be able to evaluate the effectiveness of ideas in texts. Once in high school, students must become competent in the interpretation of perspective and bias, and be able to identify missing voices.
What can teachers do to guide students through the increasingly sophisticated and demanding task of analyzing, evaluating and interpreting a text?
The section that follows is a non-grade specific attempt to help teachers respond to reading expectation 1.8 and media expectation 1.3 (responding to and evaluating texts). Although most of the questions in italics that begin with “good questions to ask yourself as a reader are…” are aimed at junior, intermediate and senior students, all sections are suitable professional resources to support instruction.
What is the text about?
Authors are trying to convey a message or an idea. Summarizing the author’s main idea in a sentence of two is a good way for a reader to begin to analyze a piece of work. You’ve got to be able to articulate the author’s ideas if you hope to be able to say what you think about them.
As a reader, some good questions to ask yourself are, “What is this author saying?” or “What is the author’s message?” or “What ideas are repeated or connected to the main idea?”
Who is the author?
Knowing whom the author is and when and where he or she wrote can sometimes provide useful information that will help you understand what is being said. All text is written within a certain context and this context can help you interpret the author’s ideas. Similarly, when and where a text is written can also be important when evaluating or analyzing a text.
As a reader a good question to ask yourself is, “What background information do we know about the author such as age, gender, views, or cultural background that might help use understand his or her ideas?”
Who is the audience?
All writing is aimed at a particular audience. The author was speaking to a particular group of people or perhaps just one person, but there was someone whom he or she wanted to read his or her ideas.
As a reader, a good question to ask yourself is, “Who is the audience for this text and why might this matter?”
What is the purpose and form of the text?
Authors have a reason to write and they choose a particular form of writing to best convey their ideas to an audience. To analyze and evaluate a text, readers must consider why the author wrote the text in the first place and why he or she decided, for example, to write a newspaper article instead of a flyer.
As a reader, some good questions to ask yourself are, “What’s the purpose of this text and why did the author choose this form of writing to communicate his or her ideas?” or “Is this form of writing meant to be read out loud or silently and how does this contribute to my interpretation?”
How does the author’s style contribute to meaning?
Authors often emphasize their ideas by adopting a particular style. One author might be fond of using a lot of metaphoric language in his or her work while another might choose to use satire to communicate. A different author might choose to communicate through graffiti messages or the conversational writing of a blog.
As a reader, a good question to ask yourself is, “How has this author’s style of writing helped me understand his or her ideas or contributed to my interpretation?”
What is the author’s point of view?
By its nature, all writing represents a particular point of view. When readers evaluate a text, consideration must always be given to the author’s bias and the way in which he or she crafts a certain perspective.
As a reader, some good questions to ask yourself are, “How might the author’s point of view affect the way the information is presented or the way in which we understand it?” or “Has the author used other sources of information to create a balanced perspective?” or “Are the opinions presented supported through the work of others? Has/have the author(s) used data to support conclusions? How reliable are these data?”
Whose voices and values are represented in the text?
All writing reflects the values and beliefs of certain individuals and authors speak to some people but neglect or ignore others in their work.
As a reader, some good questions to ask yourself are, “Are the views and values presented in the text from one specific culture? If the text was presented from the point of view of another culture, would the values change? To what extent are the values presented universal?”
How do personally reconcile what you’ve read with what you already know?
As readers become more knowledgeable about the world, they become critical analyzers of text. Good readers don’t believe everything they read but instead accept parts and reject others. Good readers sometimes reserve any judgment until they’ve read more about a topic.
As a reader some good questions to as yourself are, “In what ways have your own values and/or beliefs been affected by the ideas in the text?” or “What values have been presented through the text? Do you agree or disagree with these values? Why? Or “What questions have been raised in your mind as a result of your reading of the text?
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