What is critical thinking?

What is critical thinking? It is a combination of skills: reasoning, relying on evidence, analyzing, evaluating, considering a variety of viewpoints, interpreting facts, and recognizing relationships. In simple English, it is a varied interpretation of facts.

In an academic English teaching situation, both critical thinking and critical reading are essential skills to master. But, what should our students do to be able to read critically? They should recognize the author’s purpose, understand tone, or recognize bias. These are all indirectly inferred from the text; hence, the student must learn to analyze (to know what to look for) and make inferences based on evidence. 

Is this an easy task? By careful examination of a text, identifying its parts, relating them to understand the whole, a critical thinker is then prepared to infer. This basically means reaching a conclusion based on specific evidence making educated guesses based on supporting evidence or examples.

In critical reading, the student examines the choices made by the author while portraying a topic. He examines the choices made in content, language, and text structure. And finally examines the effects of these choices on overall meaning.

What are the steps for teaching critical reading strategies?

a) finding out what a text says by determining what is important and discriminating between fact & conjecture in order to evaluate the validity of its ideas

b) analyzing what a text does (criticizing, describing, contrasting) by asking questions

(before-during-after)

c) inferring what the text, as a whole, means using prior knowledge to draw inferences from data/evidence in order to reach/recognize conclusions

My suggested framework:

* practice only one reading strategy for two weeks

* model to your students how to use this strategy

* give assignments to review this strategy at home

* have students work in class in small groups for extra guidance/practice

* conduct individual conferences about problems they may encounter

* conduct a whole group review of this strategy before starting a new one

Remember the formula is simple: the text implies but readers infer.

Comments

Hi RaniaI like your blog, it is very professional, clear and beneficial for all levels; teachers and students.  I am curious and waiting for your next article.  What it would be?I will advice my daughter to read and access your blog.At last but not least, Congratulations.Hoda El Gamal

Thanks for your encouraging words. Next week, I am planning to start a dialogue about the role of motivation in EFL. In the meantime, I welcome any questions about the ideas I am sharing. Hopefully your daughter will read my blog.

Dear prof. Thanks for your subject. I am working in an international school in KSA and I'd like to know : how can I make all students share with me in an critical way . which materials I want what are the role of crical thinking in dealing with individual differances. finally I'd like to thank you.  

The problem we face with our students is that they regard us teachers are oracles. When discussing any reading, for example, they want to know what the teacher thinks or believes. In fact, they are even sometimes too shy or even too scared to voice their opinion. We teachers have to keep our opinions to ourselves as much as possible till the end of the discussion. Let us be good listeners to them and encourage them to ask questions and reflect, or else this would be spoonfeeding them our ideas. Always give your students "think time". This would be built in during your class period. I know that the clever ones always want to blurt out answers, but with a bit of training, they can learn to pause, digest, and then talk. We as teachers also need to vary the kind of questions we ask. "Why" questions are very useful in addition to information retrieval questions. Ask about the tone of the author of a text and ask about why a writer would choose a particular topic. Also ask about what conclusions can be drawn from a text. Always ask them to think of other sides to their argument or a counter-argument. They need to learn that there are two or more sides to every issue. To think critically, one needs to consider various sides to any issue.

Rania I liked the idea of getting learners to look at a topic from different perspectives, in fact using this way will train in one of the most vital skills needed in real life, listen to the others.

A very famous game that many teachers play is "Thinking caps/hats". I do know the origin of the game,but I know as child in school and as a trainee teacher I practiced it. It goes as such. Put a controversial statement on the board, like "women should stay at home to take care of their husbands nd children" or " Student grades should be basedon behavior not test scores" or Women aremore intelligent than men". Divide your class into groups and assign to each group a role/character that they shouldargue its point of view. So, in the situation of women working or staying at home the groups could be: a) women b) men c) society d) children. Students are put in a situation where they have to consider several sides to one issue and are required to argue for a specific point of view which they might not agree with. I've tried this activity with various age groups and various levels of English and it really works. They take an interest and very heated discussions emerge.

It also works if you are training teachers. Get them in two groups teachers/learners and ask bot to evaluate a certain teaching/learning activity, material, method of teaching, classroom environment ..etc and you'll get evaluations from a teacher's and a learner's point of view. When I get assessed, one of my internal assessors always asks me questions like " If I am your learner, why will I like/ not like  this activity, material, way of error correction and so forth. In this way she gets me thinking and evaluating my own practice. I think this a very effective way to introduce  trainee teachers to Reflective Practice (Donald Schon (schön)).

I agree with you as critical thinking games can be applied to teachers and students to air out feelings and ideas about any teaching/learning situation.

Dear Raina,I really agree with you that the students should be able to think critically,analytically and divergently. But if you find the examination pattern in india, it is information based and examination oriented. Your blog is really illuminating and highly educative and useful. Inspite of my difference of opinion about learning and acquistion with you I hold you in great esteem for your scholarship and professional expertise. yours sincerely, JVL Narasimha Rao Andhra PradeshIndia

In many schools and even universities teaching is exam oriented, and exams mainly require information retrieval as you correctly say; however, we teachers ought to introduce our students to critical thinking and reading skills in our classes during our discussions and tasks. I will share with you one experience I had many years ago while giving a workshop in a conference. A member of the audience came up to me at the end and told me that he is a successful teacher and his students do very well on exams, but that today during my workshop he has learnt something new. He should start asking students "why" questions, i.e. t ask students to think or go beyond the text. When I asked him why he does not ask why questions, he simply replied that these types of questions are not on the test! Obviously, we need to distance ourselves from falling into the trap of teaching to a test. We ought to teach beyond the set book and beyond the test if we want our students to become citizens of this global world.

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