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Introducing critical thinking

- Teachers notes

Suggested procedure 1. Introduction in class i) Students discuss what they understand by critical thinking feedback as a class (the class does not need to arrive at an agreed answer at this point). ii) Class activity: 8.1 Mystery graphs: an introduction to critical thinking. An activity from EAP Essentials (see Teachers notes and Tasksheet) could be done as a jigsaw activity in small groups. 2. Give students An introduction to critical thinking (2 double-sided sheets A4) to read at home and complete tasks individually. 3. In the following class, students compare their answers/discuss the reflective tasks (in An introduction to critical thinking) in pairs. Discuss answers and points raised as a class. 4. Give out Assess your thinking skills (3) & (4) for students to complete individually in class. Students can score themselves and read the relevant evaluation of their score using Answers to Assess your thinking skills (on last page of Teachers key). 5. Critical thinking questions can be asked about texts used in class. There are also more critical thinking activities from EAP Essentials in the Supplementary Material files of L&Sp and RSS.

An introduction to critical thinking


What is critical thinking?

Key

Critical thinking is a complex process involving a wide range of skills and attitudes. It includes analysing other peoples views and arguments: identifying other peoples stance, ARGUMENTS and conclusions; evaluating the evidence for different points of VIEW; being able to read between the lines and identify FALSE assumptions; recognising techniques used to make certain positions more appealing than others, such as false LOGIC and persuasive devices; drawing conclusions about whether arguments are VALID and justifiable, based on good evidence and sensible assumptions; and ones own views/arguments: having reasons for what we believe and do, being AWARE of what these are and critically EVALUATING our own beliefs and actions; presenting a point of view in a structured, clear, well-reasoned way that CONVINCES others. Task 1: Complete the gaps above, using the words in the box below. false convinces valid evaluating aware arguments logic view

Critical thinking in academic contexts


1. Expectations of university students Students are expected to develop critical thinking skills so that they can dig deeper below the surface of the subjects they are studying and engage in critical dialogue with its main theories and arguments. This is usually through engaging in critical debate in seminars, presentations and writing produced for assessment. Students need to develop the ability to critically evaluate the work of others. It is easy to accept or apply the results of other peoples research too readily, without checking that the evidence and reasoning really support the main points being made. It is also important to recognise when research is based on a small sample of the population or on faulty reasoning, or is out of date.

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2. Three lecturers approaches to critical thinking

Key

Lecturer A I first read quickly to get the overall picture and compare what I read with what I already know about the topic. I see whether it makes sense or contradicts what I believe to be true. I hold the overall argument in my head as I read and look for the authors point of view. As I read each section, if I am not sure what it means, I read it again. If it is still unclear, I come back to it later as the rest of the text may make it clearer. I then read more carefully, seeing what reasons the writers present and checking whether I am persuaded by these. If I am, I consider why. Is it because they refer to experts in the field? Is there research evidence that looks thorough and convincing? If I am not persuaded, then why not? Do I have good reasons for not being convinced? Have I read other material which contradicts it? I then create my own position, and check that my own point of view is convincing. Could I support it if I was challenged? Lecturer B I focus on identifying what is relevant amongst a mass of less relevant information. It is not enough just to understand; you have to be constantly evaluating whether something is accurate, whether it is the most important aspect on which to focus, whether it is the best example to use, and whether what you are saying about it is a fair representation of it. Lecturer C I concentrate on what is really being said, and why. The answer may not be on the page; it may be in the wider history of a debate. It is surprising how often the wider context, or even what is currently in fashion, have a bearing on what a text is really saying. Task 2: Which aspect(s) of critical thinking is illustrated by the lecturers comments? i) a selective approach ii) an understanding of the background to the text iii) being self-critical about your own understanding, interpretation and evaluation iv) a strategy for analysing reading material Lecturer (s) B Lecturer (s) C Lecturer (s) A & B Lecturer (s) A

3. Is criticism negative? In academic contexts, criticism refers to an analysis of positive features as well as negative ones. It is important to identify strengths and satisfactory aspects rather than just weaknesses. Good critical analysis accounts for why something is good or poor or why it works or fails. It is not enough merely to list good and bad points.

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4. Questioning

Key

Asking questions is an important part of critical thinking. These include questions such as, WHY/WHEN was this text written?, WHY am I reading it?, What does this writer THINK ? Does the writer do enough to SUPPORT this stance?, How does my previous KNOWLEDGE fit with this new information? Task 3: Complete the words above (the first letter is given) and write two more critical thinking questions you can ask when reading or listening: Examples of further questions: Are some criteria more important than others? Can the same criteria be used to evaluate other cases? What do I already know about this topic? How can I apply this information to a new situation? Who are the intended readers of this text? What do I think about this topic?

5. Making connections/seeing new relationships and applying knowledge It is important to link new information to what you already know and to other subjects.

6. The idea not the person A distinction is drawn between an idea on the one hand, and on the other, the person associated with it. This should also be done when critically analysing other students work. Even so, it is worth remembering that people identify closely with their work and may take criticism of it personally. Tact and a constructive approach are needed; giving difficult messages in a way that other people can accept is an important aspect of critical evaluation. Task 4: Note down i) a situation in which you felt personally criticised, and ii) one in which someone criticised your work constructively. i) Ask students: What effect did this have on you (positive/negative/more complex)? ii) Ask students: How was this/can this be done? 7. Nothing is taboo Task 5: Make a list of any topics which would not usually be discussed/questioned in the country you come from, or people who would not be questioned/challenged. ______________________________________________________________________ At most English-speaking universities, students are expected to take a critical approach to what they hear, see and read, even when considering the theories of respected academics. Normally, any theory or perspective could be subjected to critical analysis. Some colleges, such as religious foundations, may consider certain subjects to be taboo, but this is not typical.

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