It is more than forty years since Benjamin Bloom and his colleagues presented their Taxonomy of Educational Objectives as a basis for planning educational objectives, teaching-learning activities and assessment items. For almost four decades since 1956, the Taxonomy, typically referred to as Bloom's Taxonomy, has been used in various ways in education. This paper takes a critical perspective in evaluating how the cognitive domain of the Taxonomy may be used as an educational tool in teaching Critical Reading in classes which teach English as a Foreign Language (EFL). A brief overview of Critical Reading is provided together with an overview of several strategies currently used to teach Critical Reading in EFL classes. Following consideration of the relative strengths and weaknesses of each of the strategies, the paper concludes that all six levels of the cognitive domain of Bloom's Taxonomy are present (albeit under different labels) in current EFL strategies and when modified slightly the Taxonomy can still be useful as a planning tool for teaching Critical Reading in EFL classes.
Critical literacy was defined by Shor (1992) as the 'analytic habits of thinking, reading, writing, speaking, or discussing which go beneath surface impressions, traditional myths, mere opinions, and routine clichés; understanding the social contexts and consequences of any subject matter; discovering the deep meaning of any event, text, technique, process, object statement, image or situation; applying that meaning to your own context' (p. 32). One aspect of critical literacy is critical reading which has been defined in various ways and the discussion which follows synthesises elements of definitions proposed by Paul (1993), Flynn (1989), Cheek, Flippo and Lindsey (1989), Hickey (1988) and Rubin (1982). The synthesis from the definitions is followed by a discussion of existing theories and strategies for teaching critical reading. The strategies for teaching critical reading proposed by Singh, Chirgwin and Elliott (1997) and Karlin (1980) are discussed together with the possibility of using each strategy in teaching critical reading in English as a Foreign Language (EFL) classes.
Paul's (1993) definition of critical reading includes the idea that it is an 'active, intellectually engaged process in which the reader participates in an inner dialogue with the writer' (p. 461). Paul suggests that, when people read uncritically, they miss some parts of the author's intended message and distort other parts. A critical reader, on the other hand, is aware of the process by which he or she considers the writer's point of view, a view which may be different from their own. A critical reader actively looks for the writer's key assumptions, major concepts, justifications, supporting examples, parallel experiences, implications and consequences and any other structural features of the written text, by which he or she may interpret its meaning and assess it accurately and fairly. In short, Paul (1993) considers that critical reading is a process by which readers relate the author's ideas or information to their own experiences or problems using a process which includes analysis, synthesis and evaluation.
This concern with analysis, synthesis and evaluation of ideas was also held by Flynn (1989). Flynn states that to develop students' critical reading ability is a major goal in reading instruction and that a teacher needs to 'present students with opportunities to analyse, synthesise and evaluate ideas through cooperative problem solving' (p. 664). Thus, both Flynn (1989) and Paul (1993) focus on the cognitive processes of analysis, synthesis and evaluation involved in critical reading.
Following the same ideas, Cheek et al. (1989) state that: 'Critical reading involves evaluating the relevancy and adequacy of what one reads . . . (and) making use of what one reads by relating ideas or information read to one's experience or problems' (p. 8). These authors identify the cognitive abilities used by students in evaluating the relevancy and adequacy of what they are reading as 'knowing, comprehending, applying, analysing, synthesising, and evaluating' (p. 8). They consider the reader's critical and creative reading ability is enhanced by relating information in the text to the reader's 'past experiences, interpreting figurative language, determining the authors' purposes, evaluating the ideas presented, and applying the ideas presented to actual situations they have experienced' (p. 8). They also recommend that teachers design and use appropriate questions to encourage students to engage in critical reading rather than in reading and learning isolated facts. In short, they stress relating the new material to the learners' prior knowledge and experiences, interpretation, analysis, evaluation and application in developing critical reading abilities.
In contrast, Hickey (1988) considers that critical reading is an 'integrative process' in which the critical reader is actively involved with the text and is 'able to suspend judgment until relevant facts are amassed, willing to consider author's viewpoint and allow for the possibility of bias' (p. 192). Yet another view claims that: 'Critical reading is at a higher level of reading than literal interpretation and comprehension as it involves evaluation, the making of a personal judgement on the accuracy, value and truthfulness of what is read' (Rubin, 1982, p. 208). For critical readers to be able to make judgements, Rubin (1982) considers that they must be able to collect, interpret, apply, analyse and synthesise the information. In addition, critical reading requires the reader to be able to differentiate between fact and opinion, fantasy and reality and be able to identify propaganda in the text.
Certain similarities and differences are evident in the definitions proposed by the five authors above. To facilitate a consideration of these similarities and differences, table 1 summarises the main elements of each.
The first similarity evident in the definitions portrayed in table 1 relates to how each of the definitions incorporate some form of critical thinking processes. For example, Paul (1993) suggests that critical reading is an intellectual process in which a reader participates and has a dialogue with the writer, looks for assumptions (requiring the reader to analyse the document), identifies key concepts and ideas (requiring the reader to have a good understanding or comprehension of the text), considers justification (requiring the reader to evaluate the text), provides supporting examples, parallel experiences, consequences (requiring the reader to synthesise ideas from the text), and assesses it accurately (requiring the reader to evaluate the text). Similarly, Cheek et al. (1989) identify a range of cognitive processes such as comprehension, thinking, applying, analysing, synthesing, evaluating, and relating information in the text to personal past experiences. Suspending judgment (Hickey, 1988) requires the reader to hold an evaluation in a kind of cognitive limbo. Rubin's (1982) differentiation between fact and opinion, fantasy and reality requires evaluation of the text as does identifying propaganda.
|Author||Critical readers should be able to:|
|Paul (1993)||Participate in an inner dialogue with the writer and consider the writer's point of view by looking for key assumptions, major concepts, justifications, supporting examples, parallel experiences, implications and consequences, and means to interpret the text's meaning and assess it accurately and fairly.|
|Flynn (1989)||Analyse, synthesise and evaluate ideas through cooperative problem solving.|
|Cheek et al. (1989)||Know, comprehend, think, apply, analyse, syntheses, evaluate, relate information in the text to personal past experiences, interpret figurative language, determine the authors' purposes, evaluate the ideas presented, and apply the ideas presented to actual situations they have experienced.|
|Hickey (1988)||Suspend judgment until relevant facts are amassed, and be willing to consider the author's viewpoint and allow for the possibility of bias.|
|Rubin (1982)||Collect, interpret, apply, analyse, and synthesise information, differentiate between fact and opinion, fantasy and reality, and be able to identify propaganda in written text.|
The foregoing overview has highlighted that although a variety of cognitive processes are suggested by the various authors, most of the processes are similar in essence to the various levels of cognitive demand suggested by Bloom et al. (1956) in the cognitive domain of the Taxonomy of Educational Objectives (typically referred to as 'Bloom's Taxonomy'). For those readers who may not be familiar with this taxonomy, a brief overview is provided in the following section.
Bloom's Taxonomy comprises cognitive, affective and psychomotor domains (Krathwohl, Bloom & Masia, 1964). The cognitive domain relates to learners' recall or recognition of knowledge and the development of intellectual abilities and skills; the affective domain relates to learners' interests, attitudes, and values; and the psychomotor domain relates to motor skills. However, the discussion in this paper is confined to the cognitive domain.
Bloom's cognitive domain comprises six processes which require learners to demonstrate knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation as learning progresses from 'lower order' to 'higher order' thinking. (However, some of the concepts described by Bloom such as 'levels' and 'knowledge' are questionable - see later). Table 2 illustrates one use of Bloom's Taxonomy, that of formulating questions, for teaching critical reading in EFL classes.
|Generic Definitions||Applying Bloom's Taxonomy in EFL classes|
Learners are expected to store in their mind information for later recall.
The knowledge question is often used during or after reading a passage to encourage learners in an EFL class to recall the content of the passage.
In EFL classes, there are three types of comprehension behaviour: (a) translation (learners translate from the second language to the first language); (b) interpretation (reorder ideas into a new configuration); and (c) extrapolation (making predictions based on what is given in a passage as opposed to abstraction which is derived from other experiences).
Critical reading questions which require students to translate a passage are not relevant in EFL classes since both teachers and learners use the target language. However, EFL learners are required to interpret and extrapolate meaning during and after reading.
Applying a language rule, theory, method or process to a problem or situation and referring to the learners' ability to use the learning materials in new and concrete situations.
A critical reading teacher in EFL classes will ask application questions about the topic before, during and after reading a passage. Questioning before a reading encourages students to anticipate what is possible; questioning during the reading directs learners to focus on the function of the topic; and questioning after the reading directs learners to apply the concepts in a new context.
Analysis refers to the ability to break down a passage into its component parts so that its organisational structure may be understood.
In critical reading for an EFL class, analysis questions can be used during and after reading activities to encourage learners to understand the content and the structure of the given passage.
Synthesis encourages students to create something new and to rely on original and creative thinking. Students may make predictions and solve problems and make a variety of creative answers
Synthesis activities in an EFL class can include: (a) solving problems which are described in the passage; or (b) communicating with the author in the target language.
Evaluation is concerned with the ability to judge the value of material, the solution to a problem or the facts about particular cultures.
Critical reading in an EFL class may use evaluation as a means of focusing on learners' personal judgements derived from their existing schemata.
The brief review of the elements of Bloom's Taxonomy given in table 2 is based on the assumption that readers generally are familiar with the Taxonomy and therefore need only be introduced to the ways in which it may be used in EFL classes. It also assumes that readers accept the usefulness of the taxonomy for developing learning objectives, questions and assessment items. However, it should not be assumed that Bloom's Taxonomy is without critics. The following section takes a critical perspective and considers the relative strengths and limitations of the Taxonomy.
Second, Bloom confuses the terms 'recall' and 'knowledge' (Paul, 1993) since achieving knowledge always assumes at least minimal comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation. Everything we believe we have in some sense judged to be credible. Paul (1993) continues by stating that obtaining knowledge involves thought and hence learners cannot recall knowledge without understanding it. If learners merely recall the knowledge without understanding, then the goal of the teaching-learning process has not been achieved and the newly acquired knowledge will be quickly forgotten. This position is supported by Newman (1993) who suggests that:
Knowledge is not a mere extrinsic or accidental advantage ... which may be got up from a book, and easily forgotten again ... which we can borrow for the occasion, and carry about in our hand ... it is something intellectual ... which reasons upon what it sees ... the action of a formative power ... making the objects of our knowledge subjectively our own. (p. 39)Thus, Newman argues that knowledge cannot be developed before it is comprehended. In addition, a teacher not only provides knowledge but also shows learners how to comprehend it, how to apply it, how to synthesis it and how to evaluate it.
Third, Bloom's Taxonomy indicates the authors' belief in a sequential, hierarchical link between each level which fails to acknowledge the interdependence of the levels. Paul (1993) argues that while the distinctions in cognitive levels may be important, there is not necessarily a sequential, hierarchical link between the levels since 'the categories themselves are not independent but interdependent' (p. 375). Paul suggests that it is not necessary for a teacher to use the order of questions in Bloom's cognitive levels because these levels are blurred. Anderson et al. (1994) also suggests that it is unnecessary to refer to levels of complexity since, for example, students' inability to evaluate may not mean that the problem is difficult, but merely that learners are unfamiliar with the particular topic or process. Thus, a teacher can jump from the knowledge level to the application level and back to the comprehension level as exemplified in the following sequence of questions: What is critical reading? (knowledge) In what way do you use critical reading in your daily life? (application). What is the meaning of critical reading? (comprehension).
We concur with the critiques by Paul (1993) and Anderson et al. (1994) that educational endeavours normally are value laden. However, with respect to the distinction between 'recall' and 'knowledge', we think that Bloom intended to imply that knowledge, once acquired using any process, could be recalled and that this acquired knowledge is of a specific type, that is, the facts, figures and data which act as the foundation for higher order thinking to occur. Therefore, in this respect, we disagree with Paul's position. With respect to the sequential, hierarchical link between each level of Bloom's Taxonomy, we propose that, although the learning processes need not be sequential and hierarchical, when the various processes are used in planning objectives, questions and assessment, the range of learning processes is extended from the common lower-level cognition tasks to include higher-level cognition. Thus, Bloom's Taxonomy provides a framework for structuring goals, objectives, planning, questions, activities and assessment and as a tool to ensure appropriate coverage of a variety of types of cognitive demands made on students.
In developing critical readers, a full variety of questions is required since higher order questions are founded on more basic concepts, namely, assumption, fact, conclusion, premise, evidence, relevance, consistency, implication, argument or judgement and point of view (Paul, 1993). Teachers may stimulate learners to be critical readers by asking or encouraging the learners themselves to ask analysis, synthesis and evaluation questions. However, Paul (1993) points out that students must have acquired the pre-requisite knowledge, comprehension, application skills in order to be able to engage in these higher order processes. Thus, Paul (1993) does not intend that teachers only highlight analysis, synthesis and evaluation types of questions but suggests that teachers use all types of questions. Table 3 compares the elements of critical reading as suggested by Paul (1993) with the various levels of Bloom's Taxonomy.
Paul's (1993) final point relates to the fact that not only should teachers assist their learners to engage with higher order thinking tasks, they also should develop their own personal higher order thinking skills. He suggests that there is no single set of recipes to foster critical thinking in students and the most useful thing teachers can do is to be proficient and educated critical thinkers themselves, even if it means enrolling in a critical thinking course to nurture their own thinking which in turn is the foundation for what they teach their students.
|CRITICAL READING||BLOOM'S TAXONOMY|
|Relevant and irrelevant||Evaluation|
|Consistent & inconsistent||Evaluation|
|Point of view/interpretation||Comprehension|
Table 4 indicates how each of the critical reading definitions included above contains some of the processes of Bloom's Taxonomy. However, in most cases, the authors of the definitions include other elements in their definitions which were not included in Bloom's Taxonomy of cognitive abilities. These additional elements are identified in table 5.
|Cheek et al.|
|(Legend: + = similarity; - = difference)|
|Paul (1993)||The reader participates in a dialogue with the author which requires judgment to interpret the text ('top-down' process).|
|Flynn (1989)||The reader learns to analyse, synthesize, and evaluate ideas through problem solving and cooperative learning ('top-down' process).|
|Cheek et al. (1989)|
|Hickey (1988)||The reader integrates one idea with the writer's thought and judgment ('top-down' process).|
|Rubin (1982)||The reader makes personal judgments to value the accuracy of the media ('top-down' process).|
From table 5 it may be concluded that both 'schema' and 'top-down' processes are common in the critical reading process described by each of these authors and in the various levels of cognitive abilities described by Bloom et al. (1956). The role of both schema and top-down processes in critical reading are discussed in the following sections.
Harris and Sipay (1985) suggest that a person's schemata represent all that person knows about an event (for example, a birthday party), a situation or a sequence of actions (for example, eating in a restaurant involves being seated, calling a waitress, receiving the menu, reading the menu, and ordering food). Schemata are not constant; they can be added to by the acquisition of new information. Thus, a person's schemata are developed through a variety of experiences. People have their own individual experiences which is one explanation of why two people may read the same text but make different interpretations.
There are three kinds of schemata: content schemata; formal schemata; and linguistic schemata. The term 'content schemata' refers to the comparative knowledge a reader brings to a text. For example, when a non-Australian reader reads about Australian culture, the knowledge which that person brings to the text is their background knowledge about the foreign country. Subsequently, the reader compares the culture of Australian people with the culture of the foreign country. If the reader has extensive knowledge of the culture of other countries, they may bring to the text background knowledge about other countries which have similar characteristics. The comparative images that a reader has acquired are called content schemata.
The term 'formal schemata' refers to the background knowledge of a reader in relation to the level of schooling, structure, vocabulary and grammar which the reader has achieved. This level of achievement will influence the reader's understanding in reading a passage or a text. For example, if a teacher introduces the simple present tense, learners will relate that knowledge to their current knowledge of present continuous tense which they obtained from prior learning experiences.
Finally, 'linguistic schemata' are used to decode sentences into phrases in order to understand the content of a passage or text. For example, in reading a text the reader may read a sentence, then relate that sentence to other sentences to form a paragraph. From one paragraph the reader will connect with another paragraph to understand the whole text. Consideration of learners' content, formal and linguistic schemata is essential when developing a strategy to teach critical reading in an EFL class since the learners' background knowledge will influence their interpretation of the passage and their attempt to create new knowledge.
In contrast with the top-down processing described above, bottom-up processing suggests that reading occurs when the reader constructs meaning first by understanding the smallest units (letters, words, phrases, clauses and sentences). The process of reading, according to this theory, is automatic so that readers are not aware of how it operates (Aebersold & Field, 1997). Consequently, bottom-up theory views reading as a composition of words, phrases, and sentences which can be separated as units of instruction. The bottom-up approach takes time. Using this approach learners begin with the letters and move from letters to words, sentences, clauses, phrases, and paragraphs. This process is ponderous and time consuming. Perhaps it may be justifiable for beginning EFL learners who still have problems with structures to use a bottom-up strategy for reading, but it is not so appropriate for advanced learners.
By contrast, a reader using top-down processing sees the whole of the printed material as a meaningful unit without first breaking it into its smallest part (letters, words, sentences, phrases and paragraphs). Top-down processing is a type of psycholinguistic guessing game (Goodman, 1976) and as such, reading involves an interaction between thought and language. It is not necessary for a reader to identify all elements to understand a passage but understanding occurs on the basis of reader's prediction selected from a perceptual input using available language cues. Top-down theory may be useful in teaching critical reading in an EFL class since readers may use their prior knowledge of a particular topic to predict the content of text.
Singh et al.'s (1997) strategy encourages learners to use each of the cognitive processes described in the three upper levels of Bloom's Taxonomy, those commonly associated with critical thinking skills. For their purposes Singh et al. (1997) modified Bloom's order slightly, included some processes more than once, omitted one type of process and included a pretest of existing knowledge. This unique strategy engaged students in a metacogitive consideration of their own thinking processes by asking them to compare their initial and final conceptions, justify why their initial and final conceptions changed, and finally to draw conclusions about the accuracy of their thinking.
|Singh, Chirgwin & Elliott's Processes||Bloom's Lev el's of Cognitive Learning|
|Pretest of existing knowledge|
|Obtaining new knowledge|
|Comprehension - looking for similarities and differences|
|Analysis - comparing and contrasting, drawing conclusions and supporting the argument|
Karlin (1980) proposes another strategy for teaching critical reading. Karlin suggests that students can learn to evaluate a passage or text at three levels: Level 1, judging the accuracy of the content or information; Level 2, distinguishing between fact and opinion; and Level 3, recognising persuasive statement in the passage.
Level 1 requires learners to read a passage and critically evaluate its content. For example, in a text about a poor farmer who lives in a village, the farmer has no money to go to school and consequently has learned to read and to write by himself without the aid of a teacher. Next, the farmer learns by himself how to plant and grow crops better. Later he becomes a popular scientist in agriculture. While reading this passage learners ask themselves the questions: Is it possible that an illiterate person can become literate without a teacher and later become a popular scientist? When did the story happen? Where was it? Why didn't the government educate him? How old was he at that time? Is the man still alive? Is the story true? To assess the accuracy of the information, Karlin (1980) suggests more questions should be raised such as: What is the source of the information? Who is the author? Is the author an authority? Is the information complete?
Level 2, distinguishing fact from opinion, is more difficult. For example, President Soeharto was the second President of Indonesia (fact). Indonesia will be prosperous forever (opinion). Opinion is sometimes not clearly defined, and when this occurs, a teacher may clarify the issue by raising questions which lead learners to understand why the statement (opinion) should be accepted or rejected: Who was the first President of Indonesia and who was the second? (question based on fact). If the soil in Indonesia doesn't produce anymore, will Indonesia be prosperous? (question requiring learner's opinion).
Level 3, recognising a persuasive statement, requires learners to use questions such as: What is the author's opinion? What is the message of that story? Is the message good or bad? Why? Examples of a text which contain persuasive statements are frequently found in newspapers, magazines, television programs or advertisements. The passages may contain some factual information, and may stimulate learners to identify the message of the story. For example, a slogan in relation to cigarette smoking claims that 'You will lose one minute of your life for each cigarette you smoke.' In teaching students to recognise a persuasive statement such as this, learners may learn to recognise flaws in the line of argument. For example, it is well-accepted (although not proven) that cigarette smoking causes cancer (fact), that cancer of the lungs is much more common among smokers than nonsmokers (fact), and that wide variation exists between individual person's responses to carcinogens. However, it is not well-accepted (nor proven) that a certain number of cigarettes must be smoked before cancer begins, or that a certain time period must elapse before cancer begins. Therefore, it is not possible to conclude accurately that each cigarette will shorten each person's life by one minute. This statement must be the author's attempt to persuade people to stop smoking by using means other than rational argument.
In using Karlin's (1980) strategy for teaching critical reading, the teacher uses questioning as a means of assisting learners through each of the levels in which they evaluate a text and judge the accuracy of the content, distinguish between fact and opinion, and recognise a persuasive statement. As with the strategy proposed by Singh et al. (1997), a certain degree of overlap is obvious between Karlin's processes and the various levels in the cognitive domain of Bloom's Taxonomy.
Each of the sections above has highlighted that Bloom's Taxonomy is used in various forms by advocates of critical reading. Although authors may omit some levels, or may add other elements, both the authors of the definitions of critical reading that appear in the literature and the authors of teaching strategies for teaching critical reading use parts of Bloom's Taxonomy.
In this paper we contend that our current pedagogy with regard to critical reading is consistent with, and has emerged out of, past understandings of how to develop learners' critical thinking and higher order thinking skills. Modern authors of critical reading definitions and critical reading strategies have drawn from the ideas of Bloom et al. (1956) and 'it would be difficult to find a more influential work in education today than The Taxonomy of Educational Objectives' (Paul, 1993, p. 375). In some cases the ideas of Bloom et al. (1956) are drawn on heavily without acknowledgment, perhaps because the Taxonomy is more or less considered 'common knowledge' (see, for example, Flynn 1989; Rubin, 1982). In other cases the authors show a clear line of adaptation (for example, Harris & Sipay  describe a clear line of progression from Bloom through Smith & Barrett's [1974) adaptation which was later revised by Ruddell ) and acknowledge their debt to Bloom et al. (1956).
We contend that modern adaptations such as those used by Singh et al. (1997) and Karlin (1980) highlight that Bloom's Taxonomy remains a useful tool in teaching critical reading in EFL classes. However, in saying this we do not believe that teaching critical reading is merely learning how to ask and answer questions in all of Bloom's categories, nor do we believe that the categories should be used as a strict guide to lesson sequences. Rather, the Taxonomy correctly highlights the complexity of critical thinking (and critical reading) processes and provides a framework which encourages EFL teachers to plan a variety of learning activities which encourage critical reading.
In considering the relative strengths and limitations of using Bloom's Taxonomy to plan for teaching critical reading in an EFL class, we conclude that all six processes are useful in developing learners' critical reading abilities in EFL since analysis, synthesis and evaluation processes are founded on knowledge, comprehension and application processes and each type of process is interdependent in relation to the others. Th us, we conclude that Bloom's Taxonomy, when modified to suit the needs of the particular context, can be particularly useful as a tool for planning to teach critical reading in EFL classes.
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|Author details: Tjahjaning Tingastuti Surjosuseno|
Faculty of Education and Creative Arts
Central Queensland University
Rockhampton Qld 4702
Dr Vivienne Watts
Faculty of Education and Creative Arts
Central Queensland University
Rockhampton Qld 4702
Please cite as: Surjosuseno, T. T. and Watts, V. (1999). Using Bloom's Taxonomy to teach critical reading in English as a foreign language classes. Queensland Journal of Educational Research, 15(2), 227-244. http://education.curtin.edu.au/iier/qjer/qjer15/surjosuseno.html