Teaching Critical Thinking Through Writing

Critical thinking? An essential part of education, but how to teach this skill? Today I attended a lunch seminar on using informal (“low stakes”) writing assignments across the disciplines to help develop critical thinking skills.  But how does this actually look in the classroom?  A lot of the strategies involved having the students develop a future “professional persona”-who will they be in 5 yrs?  This serves several purposes in the classroom, first it starts to change the mindset from student to future potential colleague.  Second, it makes the student critically evaluate what they are good at, what needs improvement, and what type of jobs they may want to pursue.

Other strategies we discussed included weekly blogging (topic relevant to the field, different aspect each week), short response paragraphs to reading assignments, and guided peer review practices.  One instructor presented the idea of using the ever more common discussion journals as the base for teaching the ethics, principals, and critical thinking involved in peer review since they provide access to all steps- the initial submission, the reviewers comments, the author(s) response and the final version.  Depending on the class level, maybe the students even write a short review of the paper before being shown the reviews posted.

We also discussed the the active learning approach called CREATE (Consider, Read, Elucidate hypotheses, Analyze and interpret the data, Think of the next Experiment- see The American Biology Teacher “But if it’s in the Newspaper, Doesn’t that mean it’s True?” v72 #7 p415 for a published example).  One great thing about the CREATE approach is the flexibility.  You can break the concepts into pieces to fit the time and goals of the class.  For instance, have the class read the results (provide text only) and draw what they think the results look like- as a class compare the drawings, emphasize the importance of clarity in writing to create shared meaning.  Have the class read the conclusions and complete a short writing assignment addressing: 1) do you agree with the conclusions on the data? why/why not? 2) What evidence could change your mind? (these first two tie nicely back with the idea of peer review!)  3) What else would you like to know?  Especially if there is an applicable series of papers, after asking the students to read the first one, have them predict the next experiment.

As long as students stop telling me that the biggest problem with this article (http://www.umbachconsulting.com/miscellany/velcro.html) is that it is “a little old, maybe something more recent”


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