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Evrim stnlog lu
T U R K E Y

Language
Teaching
through
Critical Thinking
and Self-Awareness

I N RECENT YEARS LANGUAGE TEACHERS HAVE FOCUSED ON THE ROLE OF THE

learner as an active participant in the teaching-learning process. Focusing on the

learner is a natural outgrowth of a change in orientation from behaviorist to cog-

nitive theories of learning. That change has highlighted what the learner does

and how the learner processes information during the lesson rather than focus-

ing on what the teacher does.

The outgrowth of the cognitive approach has been perceived in language

teaching together with reflections about the relationship between thinking and

language. Teachers who want to promote thinking should try to observe how

students produce knowledge rather than how they merely reproduce knowledge.

Producing knowledge requires the use of a number of thinking skills such as ana-

lytical, lateral, problem solving, critical, creative, and reflective thinking (Rose

and Nicholl 1997).

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Although thinking skills can be learned by ence, irrational fears, acquired hostility, and
practicing, like playing tennis and swimming, inflexible ideas into the classroom so their
they require more effort than many teachers learning is limited to the surface (Paul and
realize. To emphasize thinking skills, a teacher Elder 2002; Kurland 2000).
must organize course objectives well and must Language teachers can activate critical
be aware of his or her own values, perceptions, thinking in the classroom by highlighting self-
assumptions, and judgments as well as those awareness; that is, they can help the learners
of the learners as these are closely related to have and show understanding of themselves
thinking (Heuer 1999). and their surroundings. By means of interac-
Various definitions of critical thinking exist. tive approaches and materials, teachers can
All include many of the same concepts. Scriven help students be aware of their perceptions,
and Paul (1996) define critical thinking as the assumptions, prejudices, and values and can
intellectually disciplined process of actively and help students break old habits to construct a
skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, new point of view. It will take effort, but stu-
synthesizing, and evaluating information gath- dents will enjoy discovering themselves as they
ered from, or generated by, observation, experi- learn a language.
ence, reflection, reasoning, or communication,
as a guide to belief and action. Perceptions
This article covers the rationale for critical We hear, see, taste, or feel stimuli by ACTIVITY 1 ILLUSTRATIONS
thinking followed by sample activities for means of our senses. This process occurs so
developing thinking skills. Critical thinking is spontaneously that we tend to think of per-
one of the thinking skills that should be high- ception as a passive process. However, percep-
lighted in designing and improving language tion is an active rather than a passive process.
curriculum because the world we live in is get- It enables us to construct, interpret, and make
ting more complicated to understand, and conclusions about information we receive,
how we process information has become more rather than simply to record reality. Percep-
important than specific facts. Taking this idea tion is a process of making inferences.
into consideration, we language teachers can Through inferences we construct our own
encourage our students to go beyond surface version of reality. However, our version of
meaning and to discover the deeper meaning reality may be distorted by our past experi-
instead of merely using basic literacy skills ences, education, cultural values, and role
(Van Duzer and Florez 1999). requirements (Heuer 1999).
To help the learner become aware of his or PICTURE A
How critical thinking can be improved her own perceptions and how they may differ
in language classes from those of others, language teachers can
Critical thinking skills are not likely to use optical illusions in class. Activity 1 will
develop spontaneously. On the contrary, teach- teach students different ways of seeing and
ers must take a directive role in initiating and help them realize that people can perceive the
guiding critical thinking. Language classes are same things in different ways.
particularly appropriate for teaching critical Activity 1 PICTURE B
thinking owing to the richness of material and Begin by showing the pictures (right) one
the interactive approaches used. by one to your students and asking them what
Of the many concepts related to acquisition they see. Most of them will say that they see a
and improvement of critical thinking, self- picture of a woman (Picture A), some figures
awareness is one of the most important. (Picture B), and an old man on a boat (Picture
Through critical thinking and self-awareness, C). Be patient and wait for some students to
one can understand the relationship between perceive the pictures in a different way (verti-
thoughts and emotions. Although it is assumed cally or upside down); give them time to dis-
that they are independent, the truth is that feel- cuss their perceptions with the other students.
ings are based on some level of thought, and After a while, ask students what else they per-
thoughts generate from some level of feeling. ceive. In all likelihood, some will say they see:
Emotions play an important part in learning The word Liar in Picture A (viewed diag-
because learners may bring learned indiffer- onally). PICTURE C

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The word LIFE in Picture B (seen by smiled at the little girl and rang the bell again.
focusing on the white spaces between the Still, no one answered. He waited and rang the
black spaces). bell a third time, and when there was still no
A large bird with a man in its mouth in sign of anyone in the house, he said to the girl,
Picture C (when looking at the picture I thought you said your mother was home.
upside down). She is, the girl replied, but I dont live
This activity will help students appreciate here. (Boostrom 1994, 201)
that images can be perceived differently, not After reading the joke, ask your students
only in language class but in real life as well. the following questions:
Students enjoy the lesson, and they get an What made the deliveryman assume that
opportunity to discuss what they have seen, to the house belonged to the little girl?
learn vocabulary, and to practice structures
Would you make the same assumption if
such as present continuous tense (e.g., What
you were that deliveryman?
is the man in the boat doing?).
What would you do to ascertain that the
Assumptions house is the girls house or that anyone is
Assumptions are ideas that a speaker or a at home?
writer takes for granted, like axioms in math- Have you made any wrong assumptions
ematics. Ideas that ought to be examined are lately? What were they? What was wrong
assumed to be true, so it is possible to build an with your assumptions?
argument that seems completely logical. How- Discuss with your students how difficult it
ever, if an initial premise is false, the result will
is to avoid making assumptions, and how
be wrong. By focusing on critical thinking
important it is, when thinking critically, to
skills, language teachers can help students
consider the assumptions we make. Only by
identify their assumptions, consider whether
doing so can we determine if an idea makes
those assumptions are justifiable, and under-
sense. Teachers can use the AFAN formula
stand how they shape students point of view.
(Rose and Nicholl 1997) to help students ana-
Since associating personal interest with collec-
tive interest (assuming that what is good for lyze their assumptions. AFAN stands for:
you is good for everyone) is a common trend, A=assumptions, F=For, A=Against, N=Now
clarifying assumptions is one of the basic steps what? Each of the letters raises certain ques-
of critical thinking (Heuer 1999). tions:
There are many techniques for revealing A (Assumptions): What have I assumed?
assumptions. One is to have students read a What have I taken for granted? Do I
story and then explain their assumptions and need more information? What are the
give their rationale for those assumptions. The facts?
teacher must be careful not to label responses F (For): What is the evidence for my
as right or wrong, or students will be reluctant opinion? Is it good evidence? Is it a fact
to speak. The following joke can help make or belief? What are the reasons for my
students aware of their assumptions. belief?
ACTIVITY 2 A (Against): What are the alternatives to
One hot summer afternoon, a deliveryman my point of view? Can I see this another
drove up to a house, got out of his truck, and way? What if my starting assumption is
started up the walk when he noticed a little wrong?
girl sitting on the steps. Is your mother
N (Now what?): This is a question posed
home? he asked her. The little girl nodded
to lead to a better assessment of the argu-
and said, Yes. So the deliveryman went back
ment, one that may produce a better
to his truck, slid out a large carton containing
final decision.
a mattress and box spring, and carried the
heavy carton up the steps to the front door. The AFAN formula can be easily applied
Red-faced and sweating, he pushed the door- to most assumptions. Try the AFAN questions
bell and waited. No one came to the door. He with the deliveryman joke above.

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Prejudices My friends are valuable to me because,


A major obstacle to critical thinking is preju- through them, I can share my happiness,
dice. Everyone has some prejudices because we unhappiness, and other important matters.
all have ideas about what is true, false, right, or Money is valuable to me because it
wrong. Our prejudices related to patriotism, enables me to live comfortably.
race, religion, class, ethnicity, or gender affect the Education is important to me because it
way we think. To be a critical thinker does not excites me and makes me a more inter-
mean that one has no opinions; rather, it means esting person.
that one is alert to ideas that may change his or My career is valuable to me because peo-
her opinions. We language teachers should be ple respect me for what I do.
alert to data, information, and evidence used in
our classes to question our prejudices (Boostrom Ask your students to state what they value
1994). Activity 3 provides a way to do this. in order of importance. Make sure they give
their reasons. This activity will help make stu-
ACTIVITY 3
dents aware of their values and why they have
This activity can be structured or less for-
certain ones. The exercise also gives them
mal, depending on the level of the students.
practice in speaking and listening to English.
To make students aware of their prejudices,
give them concepts or certain words to con- Breaking habits
sider or open-ended sentences to complete.
Habits can be quite useful, especially habits
For example, ask your students what feelings,
that we repeat regularly, such as when we eat
ideas, or opinions occur to them when they
our meals and how we go to school each day.
hear the following words or phrases:
Without habits we could spend much of our
School or School is a place where I time deciding what to do next. On the other
_____. hand, when we need to think imaginatively or
Women or Women should _____. critically, we have to break habits. A good
Teachers or Teachers are always _____. thinker does not get stuck in a rut. Good
Marriage or Marriage is never _____. thinkers are imaginative; when one method
Education or Education is _____. does not work, they try a new one. Instead of
seeing things only one way, they see many pos-
Students can be made aware of their preju- sibilities. When good thinkers make plans,
dices and those of their classmates by dis- they are also willing to break them to follow a
cussing their responses. better idea. They create versions instead of
only one way (Boostrom 1994, 123).
Values
To practice creating new thought patterns,
Critical thinkers are thinkers who are aware have your students do the following activities.
of the values on which they base their judg- They may help students break habits of nega-
ments. Learners should be shown ways to iden- tive thinking.
tify their values because how students judge
ACTIVITY 5
what is said or written may depend on whether
they share the values of the speaker or author. Ask students to keep an appreciation jour-
nal in which they write about everything they
ACTIVITY 4 appreciate about themselves, their lessons, or
Have students write or discuss their five even their teachers. If they look puzzled, direct
most important values, and have them rank them by giving them the following sentences
those values from most important to least to complete:
important. First, act as a model for your stu-
dents by stating what you value. Here are I like English lessons because _____.
examples of some things you might say: I appreciate my family because _____.
I value family, friends, money, educa- I love the way my friend speaks with me
tion, and career. because _____.
Family is most valuable to me because I enjoy school because _____.
my family has supported me throughout It could be an interesting experience to find
my life. at least one positive sentence even from stu-

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dents who say they hate school or learning a Form A: You believe that human beings
foreign language. are fundamentally bad and brutal, have
ACTIVITY 6 animal-like instincts, and always look
Shifting perspective is another way to break for pleasure. The best way to control
habitual negative thinking. The following human beings is to threaten and punish
activity requires students to use language that them.
describes what they want. For example, instead Form B: You believe that human beings
of saying I dont want to be sick anymore, are fundamentally good and can realize
they can say I want to be healthy. (Note that their potential if they are not prevented
the former focuses on sickness, while the latter from doing so. There is no need to con-
focuses on health.) Likewise, I dont want to trol human beings. The only thing to do
fail in English class may be changed to I want is to show them love and understanding.
to succeed in English class. Form C: You believe that human beings
Ask your students to write or say as many are neither good nor bad. Society and
sentences as they can that shift their negative the environment they live in determine
opinions to positive ones. Also ask them to whether they will be good or bad. The
state why they want to transform negative way to control human beings is to per-
habits into positive ones. As a follow-up activ- suade and reward them.
ity, discuss the benefits that students receive
3. Each group of students is a jury that will
from positive thinking.
decide on a punishment for a suspect who
A new point of view is 25 years old, has lost his wife and his job,
and has sole responsibility for the care of
We think that the way we see things is
his 10-year-old son. Explain that the sus-
exactly the way things are because of the influ-
pect was caught stealing food that costs
ence of egocentricity. Egocentricity is the
$40. Each group must judge the mans
inability or unwillingness to consider other
actions and decide his punishment accord-
points of view. It results in a refusal to accept
ing to the philosophy assigned to them
new ideas, views, or facts. Trying to see a new
(even if they do not believe that philoso-
point of viewor at least being open to seeing
phy). They should not show their form to
something differentlyis an important strate-
other groups.
gy for critical thinking (Boostrom 1994, 39).
Considering a variety of possible view- 4. Give the students 10 to 15 minutes for dis-
points or perspectives, remaining open to cussion. Then ask each group leader to pre-
alternative interpretations, accepting a new sent the groups verdict to the entire class.
explanation, coming to a conclusion, and cre- 5. After each group gives its verdict, ask the
ating a new point of view are goals that can be group members how they felt having to
achieved in language classes to activate critical support a view they dont believe in or lis-
thinking. Carefully chosen activities will help ten to a point of view they dont share.
students identify their points of view, seek 6. End the activity by asking the students
other points of view and identify strengths and which philosophy actually appeals to them
weaknesses of those points of view, and strive and why.
to be fair-minded in evaluating all points of
view (Paul and Elder 2002). Activity 7 can be Evaluation
used to practice a new point of view. Evaluation is an important element of criti-
ACTIVITY 7 cal thinking. Critical thinkers use evaluation to:
1. Divide your class into 3 groups (If your class become aware of their values and to
is large, you can have more than 3 groups.) understand why they are values.
2. Give each group Form A, Form B, or Form consider different points of view.
C, each of which represents a philosophy. recognize the difference between evi-
Instruct the group members to communi- dence and interpretation when exploring
cate with each other as if they believe in the assumptions.
philosophy represented on their form. check the limits of their knowledge.

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distinguish between prejudice and fact. weakens their independence. They ask why
Because evaluation is an important part of they need the foreign companies and what
critical thinking, teachers should focus their benefits come from foreign markets. They
assessment efforts on important learning have been selling diverse forest products in
goals, not just those that are easily measurable. their own local markets for years and have
Evaluation should be related to valid, reliable, been conserving the forest at the same time.
useful information (Gersten 1996). Native people have been asking for protection
During the process of evaluation, the num- of the rain forest and preservation of their tra-
ber of questions to ask is limitless, but you can ditional lifestyle (adapted from Corry 1993).
select questions according to the level of Make sure that all students understand the
thinking you want your students to follow. reading, including key vocabulary. As a follow
Thorpe (1992) categorizes questions into four up activity, ask such questions as the following:
types: summary and definition, analysis, Analysis Questions:
hypothesis, and evaluation. To promote criti- Why have native people been losing their
cal thinking, teachers should ask their students land?
analysis, hypothesis, and evaluative questions
What are the reasons for companies to
instead of summary and definition questions.
invest in the rain forests?
In reading lessons especially, teachers have the
opportunity to apply these categories. Activity What are the reasons for some native
8 describes some possibilities. peoples to be cautious?
What is the main concern related to the
ACTIVITY 8
foreign companies that have invested in
Read the following narrative to your stu-
rain forests?
dents:
Hypothesis Questions:
Rain Forests
What would happen if the foreign com-
In the rain forests of the tropics, native panies hadnt invested in rain forests?
peoples have been losing their land rapidly to
What will happen if foreign companies
development. Companies that invest in the
continue to invest in rain forests?
rain forest have been taking over large areas of
land for logging, agriculture, cattle raising, Evaluation Questions:
and mining. When the forest disappears, so Is it logical or illogical for native people
does the indigenous way of life. to work for foreign bosses?
Foreign investment has been increasing the Do the foreign companies make the for-
demand for forest products, but it hasnt est and native ways of life disappear?
brought the land itself back under native con- What is your solution to the conflict?
trol. Corporations from industrialized nations What are the advantages or disadvan-
have been inviting tribes to participate in the tages for native people working for for-
rain forest harvest, to gather nuts or copaiba eign companies?
oil. This cooperation with outside companies The questions above motivate students to
has been changing the native culture. More think critically more than summary and defi-
native people have been working for foreign nition questions, such as:
bosses and have been selling products to for-
Who has been losing the land rapidly to
eign markets, rather than to traditional local
development?
markets. Companies that have been advertis-
ing rain forest products have been selling What are the big foreign companies
products such as hair conditioner and skin doing on large areas of land in the rain
creams. Consumers are eager to support prod- forests?
ucts that can benefit native people without Who is concerned about the investment
harming the forest, and they are happy to hear of foreign companies in rain forests?
that some profits return to the rain forest Classroom climate contributes to critical
countries. thinking. In an open and democratic class-
However, some native peoples are cautious. room, students feel free to express their opin-
They feel that reliance on foreign markets ions and feel confident doing so. In such class-
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EFL teacher may wish to adapt and use some or write (and discovers that /c/ can also have
all of them in the manner of the first 36 lessons. the sound /s/), but is not a problem now.
However, it is Bloomfield and Barnharts two 2. q and x should not be used in initial
preparatory steps and first 36 lessons that lessonsq because it occurs in connection
address the basic obstacles faced by speakers of with an unusual value of the letter u (for w),
non-Romanized languages when learning to and x because it represents two phonemes
read English. (ks or gz).
3. It is curious that rhyme is a common lin-
Conclusion
guistic feature in readers for children but is
Over 100 years ago, Henry Sweet (1899, only rarely used in EFL readers. Bloomfield
35), the leading British philologist of his day, and Barnharts use of rhyme helps EFL
wrote that, the greatest help in learning an learners master and distinguish English
alphabet is to establish definite associations phonemic values, a particularly difficult
between the symbol and its sound. His claim
task for adult learners.
has never been seriously challenged, and
Bloomfield and Barnharts text, still in print References
after 43 years, establishes those definite associa- Bloomfield, L. and C. L. Barnhart. 1961. Lets read:
tionsassociations which happen to be the A linguistic approach. Detroit: Wayne State Uni-
major obstacle faced by learners whose L1 is a versity Press.
non-Romanized language. With the minor Sweet, H. 1899. The practical study of languages.
modifications suggested above, teachers can use London: Oxford University Press.
Bloomfield and Barnharts two preparatory Ur, P. 1996. A course in language teaching. Cam-
bridge: Cambridge University Press.
steps and first 36 lessons to successfully teach
reading to these learners.
SCOTT ALKIRE has taught English as a For-
Notes eign Language for the Open Society Fund
1. In these examples, c and k both designate in the Czech Republic and Bosnia-Herze-
the same English phoneme [k]. This will be govina. He is currently researching polyglots
a difficulty later, when the student learns to in Central Europe.

L a n g u a g e Te a c h i n g | stnloglu
continued from page 7

activate and develop critical thinking in their Kurland, D. 2000. How the language really works:
students, language teachers need to set up The fundamentals of critical reading and writ-
ing. http://www.critical-reading.com/
tasks and activities and adjust their teaching
Paul, R. and L. Elder. 2002. The elements of criti-
programs and materials to promote such cal thinking. http://www.criticalthinking.org/
thinking. Teaching language through critical university/helps.html
thinking enables learners to recognize a wide Rose, C. and M. J. Nicholl. 1997. Accelerated learn-
range of subjective analyses, to develop self- ing for the 21st century. New York: Dell Publishing.
awareness, and to see linkages and complexi- Scriven, M. and R. Paul. 1996. Defining critical
thinking: A draft statement for the National
ties they might otherwise miss. Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking.
http://www.criticalthinking.org/university/
References univclass/Defining.html
Boostrom, R. 1994. Developing creative and critical Thorpe, J. 1992. Methods of inquiry programme.
thinking. Lincolnwood, Illinois: National Text- Toronto: Ryerson Polytechnic Institute.
book Company. Van Duzer, C. and M. C. Florez. 1999. Critical lit-
Corry, S. 1993. The rain forest harvest: Who reaps eracy for adult English language learners. Wash-
the benefits? The Ecologist, 23 (4):48153. ington, DC: National Center for ESL Literacy
Gersten, R. 1996. The double demands of teaching Education. ERIC Digest EDOLE9907.
English language learners. Educational Leader-
ship, 53 (5):1822. EVRIM STNLOGLU is an assistant profes-
Heuer, J. R. 1999. Psychology of intelligence analy- sor at the Faculty of Education, Educational
sis. CIA: Center for Study of Intelligence. http: Sciences Department at Balikesir University,
//www.cia.gov/csi/books/19104/index.html Turkey.

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