Louis Rogers, co-author of the new Oxford EAP series, looks at the much-debated topic of teaching critical thinking in Academic English (EAP) courses. Louis hosted a webinar on this topic on the 1st February 2013.
Critical Thinking has been a buzz term in recent years within EAP and is not without its controversies. The one thing that most people would agree on is that it is integral to academia no matter what country, culture, institution or course the students are based in. However, what much of the discussion of critical thinking revolves around is: What is critical thinking? Who is responsible for teaching it? Can it be, and does it actually need to be, taught?
Critical thinking is one of those terms, like culture, that can have numerous definitions as it means so many things to different people. In fact it is so intertwined with culture, whether of a nation or an institution, that it is hardly surprising that many people find it hard to define. The Higher Education Academy in the UK is not supportive of the idea that critical thinking is a western cultural phenomenon, and as Yoshino (2004) points out it hardly demonstrates good critical thinking skills from those who argue that there is the existence/absence of critical thinking in entire cultures. In the case of some cultures this would mean saying that hundreds of millions of people are unable to think critically. The challenge for an EAP practitioner is that institutions, courses and lecturers will have certain expectations as to what they mean by critical thinking.
Not to say that we have the right or perfect definition in Oxford EAP, but we have chosen to define it in this context: ‘students need to question what they read, look for assumptions and weaknesses, make connections, respond, and evaluate’. For us it was also integral that such tasks were integrated alongside other activities. It is obviously a challenge for students to understand what is expected of them critically but to also do this in a second language raises the bar considerably. In particular, when they are expected to decode individual words, put them back together into a proposition that makes sense and to then see how these relate to other ideas and propositions within a text while at the same time engaging on a critical level, it is incredibly challenging.