In this first of a series of blog posts on English for Academic Purposes, Lawrence Lawson, a teacher at Palomar College, USA, demystifies the term “critical thinking”.
“Why do I need my raincoat?” I asked my grandmother. It was itchy, hot, and I didn’t want to wear it.
“Look outside. Why do you think you should wear it?” she replied.
Dark clouds covered the sky; puddles vibrated with new rain. I collected these clues, connected them, and shouted, “Because it’ll keep me dry!” Instantly, my raincoat changed from something uncomfortable to something necessary and important.
With one question, my grandmother encouraged me to think critically about my world, make connections, and discover my own answers—something teachers want students to do every day.
But what is critical thinking?
A critical thinking approach asks students to do something with information being learned. Teachers can set small goals, or learning outcomes, to give students targets to hit—for example: “After this lesson, you will share with a partner three reasons why people emigrate to other countries.” The readings, questions, and exercises in the lesson encourage students to use language to discover their three reasons. Students and teachers work together to understand, analyze, synthesize, and evaluate the lesson’s content to reach the stated outcomes—all skill categories in Bloom’s Taxonomy, a resource that outlines goals of the learning process. By providing students with learning outcomes, students can critically think about information and develop their own meaningful answers.