studying outside May 8

Using Reading Prompts to Encourage Critical Thinking

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“Students can critically read in a variety of ways:

  • When they raise vital questions and problems from the text,
  • When they gather and assess relevant information and then offer plausible interpretations of that information,
  • When they test their interpretations against previous knowledge or experience …,
  • When they examine their assumptions and the implications of those assumptions, and
  • When they use what they have read to communicate effectively with others or to develop potential solutions to complex problems.” (p. 127)

And don’t we all wish our students read this way! Unfortunately most of them don’t, and the challenge is finding those strategies and approaches that help them develop these sophisticated reading skills. Terry Tomasek, who crafted this description of critical reading, proposes one of those kinds of strategies.

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teaching information processing skills January 29

Helping Students Develop Critical Information Processing Skills

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The wealth of digital information has shifted our focus in higher education from developing critical thinking skills to developing critical information processing skills. Today’s students are digital natives, and many assume these students possess basic research skills because of their natural ease with technology. However, many college students lack important information processing skills to understand electronic material. Grafstein (2002) noted that “Given the seductively easy accessibility of masses of unregulated information, it is imperative that students, from the very beginning of their academic careers, adopt a critical approach to information and develop the ability to evaluate the information they encounter for authenticity, accuracy, credibility, authority, relevance, concealed bias, logical inconsistency, and so on” (p. 199).


college students reading as a group September 15, 2017

A Method for Deep Reading

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Many students struggle with college-level reading and writing assignments. Part of it is simply not knowing how to get the essentials from a text. I have been experimenting with a simple method I call GSSW: Gather, Sort, Shrink, and Wrap.

The goal of using this method is that students learn to write an essay, based on the readings, that is exemplary of organized, clear, accurate, and critical thinking.


library bookshelf February 14, 2017

Partially Annotated Bibliography on Critical Thinking

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Abrami, P. C., Bernard, R. M., Borokhovski, E., Wade, A., Surkes, M. A., Tamim, R., & Zhang, D. (2008). Instructional interventions affecting critical thinking skills and dispositions: A stage 1 meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 78(4), 1102-1134.

To develop critical skills in students in a course, instructors must have the explicit goal of developing those skills as well as training in ways to do so. Critical thinking does not progress by accident.

Bloom, B., & Associates. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives. New York: David McKay.

Braun, N. M. (2004). Critical thinking in the business curriculum. Journal of Education for Business, 79(4), 232-236.

Nora Braun of Augsburg College points out that in the business world, making decisions is a daily occurrence. Discussions, debates, and guided questioning are some of the techniques that should be used in business courses to classify and evaluate the enormous quantity of available information.

Bookfield, S. D. (2012). Teaching for critical thinking: Tools and techniques to help students question their assumptions. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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students working around table January 3, 2017

Discipline-Relevant Critical Thinking Skills and Outcomes

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Critical Thinking demands explicit awareness, monitoring, control, and evaluation of one’s thinking, so add a meta-assignment (grade pass/fail) in which students reflect on and describe their thinking processes (metacognition, self-regulated learning). Sample prompts:

  • How did you arrive at your response/solution?
  • Describe the process by which you arrived at your solution and determined it was the best. How did you define the task/problem, decide which principles and concepts to apply, develop alternative approaches and solutions, and assess their feasibility, trade-offs, and relative worth?
  • How did you conduct your design/problem-solving/research process (steps taken, strategies used, problems encountered, how overcome)?
  • How did you set and modify your goals, strategies, and actions in response to other players? (after a simulation or role play)
  • What skills did you use or improve, and when will they be useful in the future?
  • Evaluate your strategies, performance, and success in achieving your goals.
  • What goals and strategies will guide your revision (if applicable)?
  • What learning value did this task have? What would you do differently?
  • What advice would you give next semester’s students before they do this assignment (preparation, strategies, pitfalls, value)?

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professor with small group of students December 1, 2016

Critical Thinking Verbs: Do Your Students Know What They Mean?

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Analyze: Break something down into parts, such as a theory into its components, a process into its stages, or an event into its causes. Analysis involves characterizing the whole, identifying its parts, and showing how the parts interrelate.

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students working on project November 7, 2016

The Power of Transparency in Your Teaching

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The most recent issue of Peer Review (Winter/Spring 2016; published by AACU) highlights the powerful impact ‘transparency’ can have on learning for all students. One aspect of transparency is making obvious the intellectual practices involved in completing and evaluating a learning task. But making these processes visible for students is more easily said than done; we are experts in our fields for the very reasons that our thinking and evaluating are automatic and subconscious. It’s hard to describe exactly what we do intellectually when we synthesize or integrate, critique, or create. Similarly, it’s difficult to articulate the differences between an assignment we score as an A and one to which we give a B. Thus, a challenge in achieving transparency is developing a deep awareness of our own processes. Only then can we explicitly teach those thinking processes. In my own case, thinking about thinking (aka metacognition) was a new pedagogical consideration and it took time to learn this new set of skills in the context of teaching biology. So I was tickled pink one day last September when, at my new institution, I was able to problem-solve on my feet. I was teaching a new-to-me set of skills (writing outside of science) in a new-to-me format (discussion) to a population of students with whom I had no prior experience and in a class I’d never taught before.


students studying at library June 10, 2016

The Phases of Inquiry-Based Teaching

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A central goal of education is teaching critical-thinking skills. Inquiry-based teaching is an excellent path to this goal. Based partly on the philosophy that “humans are born inquirers,” the method focuses on student discovery over pushing information from the instructor. Along the way, the students explore multiple sources and contexts, ask questions and pursue hypotheses, and work to apply their theories to new and diverse situations. In doing this, they actively discover the interrelatedness among concepts, topics, and theories.


online student on laptop December 7, 2015

Built-in Self-Assessment: A Case for Annotation

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we want students to be critical thinkers, we must routinely and explicitly give them structured practice opportunities to critically examine their own thinking. Squeezing two or three metacognitive activities into a hectic semester teaches students that such reflection is only for special occasions. Rather, student self-evaluation should be a daily course routine.


student with laptop September 24, 2015

Scenario-Based Learning in the Online Classroom

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Scenario-based learning can be an effective way for students to apply what they have learned to realistic situations. There are many different ways to design scenarios for online delivery, from text-based case studies to interactive, immersive simulations. Regardless of the resources that you have available, there are effective ways to put students in scenarios that contribute to their learning.