The enquiring mind
Critical thinking is innate – it comes from inside us – and as humans we have survived and developed by approaching things critically. Children naturally try to check what they have been told, and are ‘programmed’ to piece together the information they encounter. For example, a six year-old child I know was told that diamonds are the strongest and hardest thing on earth and could cut through other stones and even metal. He then visited a rock on the English Jurassic Coast that had been ‘carved’ into an arch, and after listening to an explanation of how it had happened asked, ‘Which is more powerful, diamonds or the sea?’ This child could not yet read and write, but like other children, he was developing his critical mind.
Critical thinking essentially means having a questioning, challenging, analytical state of mind. A critical mind is comfortable with a degree of scepticism and doubt; it is a mind that is open to reinterpreting and refining its knowledge, and accepting that what we know may change in the light of new knowledge. A critical thinker questions whether something is believable, evaluates how strong is the basis of an assumption, and makes new connections between what they know and learn.
Multiple intelligences are involved in critical thinking. The conductor of an orchestra critically interprets the written score, even if it is as familiar as Beethoven’s Ninth. They aim to add something new, and communicate their interpretation to the musicians through movement. A surgeon has to work out the wider picture from the detail they can see, and act quickly. Someone working in business accesses the information relevant to their sector, assesses its significance, and looks for a new opportunity. These people are all thinking critically. Our students will do jobs like these when they have completed their education.
Critical thinking in the classroom
Part of our job as language teachers – and more broadly as educators – is to develop our students’ critical thinking competence. In reality, different students may have experienced varying degrees of nurture and discouragement at the hands of their parents, previous education, and wider culture. Our students’ level of critical thinking may not be related to their language level.
We can start by introducing tasks which ask students to question what they read and listen to, investigating the deeper – more implicit, meanings in texts – and identify assumptions and weaknesses. We can ask students to respond to statements that emerge from the materials we are already using. For example, my class were shown a slide in a lecture which stated ‘China will soon become the number one English speaking country in the world’. I elicited critical questions which included: ‘When? – How soon is ‘soon’?’; ‘Why not India?’; ‘How do you know? – What are your sources?’; and ‘How well will they speak English?’ We can start by asking the simple question ‘So what?’ Our classes, and all our lives, will be richer for our students’ responses.
- Critical Thinking in EAP (oupeltglobalblog.com)
- Critical Thinking – Teaching Tips from Around the World (oupeltglobalblog.com)