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Critical Reading, Critical Thinking, Critical Listening

By Mel Wolk
LEAVEN, June-July 1998

We provide articles from our publications from previous years for reference for our Leaders and members. Readers are cautioned to remember that research and medical information change over time

How many times has a Leader heard a mother say, "On the new last night, they talked about a study that said breastfeeding . . . " or "I read an article that says the Journal of ____ has found that breastfeeding . . . "? How many times has a Leader herself heard a media report and wondered how accurate it was?

The first step is to get a copy of the article in question. Many times media information is limited to what was re-ceived in a press release or summar-ized by a press service. It is important to read the article itself before making judgments. You may find a copy of the article through your Pro-fessional Liaison (PL) Leader, public library, or a university or hospital library.

Use these points to help you critically evaluate the article:

Abstract - This summary gives an overview of what was done and what was found. After reading this, you can decide whether you want to read the whole article.

Authors - Who are they? Do you recognize anyone from LLL con-ferences or publications? What degrees do they hold? Have they done any other breastfeeding research?

Funding - Where was the research done and who paid for it? Research funded by private companies may be biased.

References - Are resources given? How many are original studies? Are they current? Look at how many were published in the last five years com-pared to how many were published more than five years ago.

Importance - Why was the research done? Will it help you to help mothers?

Number of subjects - The fewer the subjects, the harder it is to draw meaningful conclusions.

Controls - Are other variables controlled? Are some factors forgotten or ignored?

Definitions - What does "breastfeeding" mean according to this study? This is very important! Breastfeeding may be defined as once a day, as total breastfeeding with no supplements or not be defined at all.

Research or review? - Were conclusions drawn from studies done specifically for that purpose (research) or in retrospect from preexisting information (review)?

Data - Are tables or other presen-tations or statistical information in-cluded? Can you draw conclusions from the data and are they significant? Or is it a "so what" study?

Comparisons - Are the results comparable to similar research? Do the conclusions make sense to you?

Conclusions - What effect will this have on breastfeeding mothers? Will the way you help them be influenced by this study? What practical impact does the study have? Does this influence your judgment? Would you recommend this article to other Leaders?

The PL Leader can help a Leader review breastfeeding research articles. She may also be able to share related articles with similar or different conclusions.

Leaders may not supply a photocopy of an article to a mother without violating copyright restrictions. However, Leaders are free to give mothers the exact reference and let them know where they can find the article. When the Leader talks with a mother about an article, she can share the points she used in evaluating the article without interpreting any part of the study.

Outside Material at Meetings

Critical reading does not relate solely to research articles. Suppose a Leader finds a magazine article, quote or poem that she would like to use to begin or end the discussion at a Series Meeting. Can she use written material that is not from an LLL source? A Leader can use critical reading to determine whether the material is appropriate. These questions can help:

· Is the material in tune with LLL philosophy?
· Does it convey respect for all mothers?
· Does it support a Leader's purpose to help mothers breastfeed?
· Does if fit with the guidance offered in the LEADER'S HANDBOOK?
· Does it support its claims with credible references?

If a Leader is in doubt about using material at a Group meeting, it is best not to do so. Be sure to share a copy of the non-LLL material with the District Advisor/Coordinator before using it at a meeting.

Also, while an idea from an outside source may be appropriate to include in your meeting plan, it is not appr-priate to copy or distribute material from an outside source. Only LLL approved material may be distributed by Leaders.

Critical Listening

Just as important as using critical reading skills with research articles and critical thinking when using out-side materials for LLL meetings is using critical listening skills in mother-to-mother helping and telephone helping.

Why is a particular breastfeeding study important to this particular mother? Does it have a direct bearing on her situation or is she just curious about current breastfeeding research? Sometimes a mother asks a question to open a door to conversation with a Leader. Or, more often, a mother will ask questions about research topics that relate directly to her own breastfeeding situation. Whatever the reason, this is a wonderful opportunity to develop rapport with the mother. As the mother becomes more comfortable talking with the Leader and the Leader reflects back her concerns, they can be more directly addressed. The Leader can help a mother learn what questions to ask when looking at press releases, magazine and journal articles and media reports about breastfeeding.

By using critical reading, critical thinking and critical listening regularly, a Leader develops the habit of looking at the breastfeeding relationship as a whole. In doing so, she is better able to support mothers at meetings and through telephone helping.


Luck, C. Another look at critical reading. Canadian Collage, XIII, 2, May 1997.
Critical Reading of Research Papters, US Western Division CARE Conference, July 1993
Wolk, M. Critical reading and critical listening, LLL of Missouri, USA, En Face Fall/Winter 1993

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