Critical thinking irritation

Let’s think critically about critical thinking. 

I have always thought that the purpose of my work is to teach communicating in English with people from other countries as freely as possible. I’m not saying that such issues as critical thinking or unconformity don’t matter at all, but there seems to be a huge buzz around them. I love asking thought-provoking questions and discuss burning issues but I’m really reluctant to make it my major concern. If it’s such a crucial matter, why don’t they implement it as an independent subject in a school syllabus? I want to underline that I’m not against fostering critical thinking, actually, I’m quite in favour of it, but I’m starting to feel that too much importance is placed on this matter, so that it may well get you side-tracked. 

Teaching critical thinking is often opposed to ‘doing’ tests. But yes, some students really need tests for entering universities or just understanding where they are on the scale, whether they have moved a step forward. But to pass a test they don’t only need to know English well, but also to know how to approach one test or another and what is tested in each task. This also should be taught to facilitate the procedure and save time during a test. Unfamiliarity with a test format may lead to nervousness, time-consuming approaches to tasks and eventually to failing a test or doing it with a worse result than expected. Subsequently, it brings the feeling of disappointment and frustration which may be followed by discouragement to continue learning and improving.  Therefore I want to urge you to teach speaking and understanding English, to teach understanding the culture and mentality, to teach how to approach tests and to let critical thinking emerge in discussions created for practicing English.    

That’s all. Thank you. 

P.S. And, yes, I know that critical thinking is a 21st century skill and all that jazz. 

P.P.S. The picture portrays my view on cramming huge ideas into a framework of another huge idea that leads to a weird and eclectic phenomenon which doesn’t make sense.

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3 thoughts on “Critical thinking irritation

  1. Hi Kate! Thank you for the post. If fact I agree that it can be a great subject for schools, and they had it (with a course book) in Myanmar when when I was there in 2011. It was an international school, all subjects in English. I would have loved to have something like that in my school when I was a kid 🙂

    • Hi Zhenya!
      Thanks for your reply. It is a wonderful idea to teach critical thinking as a sound and separate subject and I’m glad to know it happens somewhere. Maybe in the future it will be as common as English lessons. I’d love to have such a subject myself.

  2. That’s a great question to bring up, Cait. As I was reading your post my own mixed feelings on the issue surfaced and for the first time I soberly considered them 🙂
    While I’m not questioning the importance of the ability to think critically, I am wondering about a number of things, the first being the age of the students. I assume we have adults in mind here. Surely by their twenties they have developed the above mentioned skills and are already supposed to show signs of them during classroom discussions. When are these skills formed anyway? I believe at some point in your childhood when you discover Santa Claus bears a striking resemblance to your next door neighbour. Joking aside, I believe there’s a window during which they are and should be formed. So tackling the task now sounds like too little too late.
    When it comes to exams though, our focus may shift from debating casually in groups and this is where CT fully comes into play. Writing an essay or doing the reading paper of any exam implies a good level of CT skills. Then again, activities in any sensible exam preparation coursebook promote their development, and this has been so for years before the whole issue of CT came up.
    I’ve also received controversial response from my students. Over the last two years I’ve been working with Life coursebook, which emphasizes CT skills development and has specific tasks targeting them. Oftentimes my pre-intermediate students found the exercises extremely easy and were even offended by them (“Do they think we’re that stupid?”). My upper-intermediate group, on the other hand, struggled with some tasks and a couple of times, to my utter dismay, showed no trace of some of the CT skills whatsoever. I remember a fifty-year-old man not being able to identify the author’s opinion in an article and eventually stating the opposite of what the writer believed in. I didn’t manage to convince him otherwise.
    My impression is that people’s own views and experiences tend to get in the way of succeeding in such tasks and prevent them from focusing on the printed evidence, which is a major hindrance in exams.
    Where am I going with this? The benefit of writing a comment here is not losing marks for skipping conclusions 🙂 I can offer none at the moment, so let me leave some questions hanging here 🙂

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