Teaching Critical Thinking

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Critical thinking, I like to believe, is at the core of what I do in the writing classroom. One of the reasons I love to teach with Emerging is that the readings place ideas front and center.  Students learn critical thinking in my classes by first finding the ideas, then understanding the ideas, then using the ideas.


Finding the ideas is the first step and doing so takes careful reading of the essays.  We go over how to annotate while reading so that students can mark critical quotations and parts in the argument of the essay.  I reinforce this work in class with group exercises where students locate the most important concepts and their meaning in a particular reading.


Understanding those ideas is the next step.  Group activities are again very helpful.  Groups can work to explain the ideas and offer examples from outside the text, ideally by looking to other readings.  That work of locating examples is then the first step in using the ideas.


Using the ideas, I like to say, doesn’t mean swallowing them whole.  Part of the work of critical thinking is figuring out when a concept doesn’t work and why it doesn’t, often prompting students to offer a development of the concept and thus offering new knowledge as a contribution to the conversation.  I find that working connectively across multiple readings (2 or 3 work best) is a great way for students to develop facility in testing and modifying concepts.  Along the way they start to develop concepts of their own, and that for me is the most exciting part of critical thinking.


How do you use readings in your class to develop these skills?

About the Author
Barclay Barrios is an Associate Professor of English and Director of Writing Programs at Florida Atlantic University, where he teaches freshman composition and graduate courses in composition methodology and theory, rhetorics of the world wide web, and composing digital identities. He was Director of Instructional Technology at Rutgers University and currently serves on the board of Pedagogy. Barrios is a frequent presenter at professional conferences, and the author of Emerging.