CRCRTH 601 Critical Thinking
draft for discussion, 18 Mar 2015
In Fall 2015, the course format will center on 4-week "collaborative explorations" (CEs), a variant of project-based learning (PBL
) that begin from a scenario or case in which the issues are real but the problems are not well defined, which leads participants to shape their own directions of inquiry and develop their skills as investigators and teachers (in the broadest sense of the word). The basic mode of a CE centers on interactions in small groups (online or face-to-face) over a delimited period of time in ways that create an experience of re-engagement with oneself as an avid learner and inquirer--as this quote from a student in a PBL course evokes:
- This course is a gift – the chance to be open – open-ended in design, open to process, open to other perspectives, open to changing your ideas, and open to sharing. Of course this means it's risky too – you won’t always know when you’re coming from or where you are going – you might think you aren’t sufficiently grounded by the course. But you have the freedom to change that – and being on the other side of it now, I see it works out beautifully. The attention to process provides you the tools to grow and by the end you’re riding the wave of your earlier work...
The CE component of each class session will be 60-90 minutes. The rest of each course session will involve activities or discussion of a shared reading on a key concept in the field.
(Note: The Critical and Creative Thinking Graduate Program will host simultaneous CEs (online) where the wider public can participate (http://CollabEx.wikispaces.com
). Students in the 601 course do not have to join these CEs, but they will be able to draw on what is publicly shared by the participants
; the public CEs will use the same themes as those used in the course and involve a 60-90 minute online conference call once per week, at a time other than
Tuesdays from 4:00-6:45pm.)
The format is designed to allow each student to
a) undertake intensive reading in the area of critical thinking, with students sharing annotated bibliography entries from which others can learn;
b) shape a path and final products for each CE that link closely with their personal interests.
LEARNING OBJECTIVES: By the end of the semester, you will have:
- a set of tools, experiences, and knowledge of publications, and an enhanced disposition to self-directed lifelong inquiry around critical thinking, i.e., scrutinizing the assumptions, reasoning, and evidence brought to bear on an issue-by others and by oneself, where such scrutiny is enhanced by placing ideas and practices in tension with alternatives;
- a set of tools, experiences, and knowledge of publications, and an enhanced disposition to self-directed lifelong inquiry for what is needed to teach or guide others re: the above in ways that might depart markedly from your previous schooling and experience.
- a critical understanding of collaborative explorations and allied approaches to project-based learning in relation to participants re-engaging with themselves as avid learners and inquirers.
Technical note: The live sessions will use Google+ Hangout, so sign up for a http://plus.google.com
account, get the audio & video plugins installed, and let instructors know your gmail address. Exchange within the course will use a private UMB blog to which you'll be invited once you let us know you have registered as a user of the UMB blog system
Texts to purchase or borrow are listed near the start of syllabus. You will need to be able to use interlibrary loan (either at UMB
or at your local library) to get materials that interest you when needed.
If you have time for reading during August, choose a reading that especially interests you from the CE descriptions
Class 1, Introduction: the tension between direct and indirect approaches to fostering critical thinking
|In a sense subscribed to by all teachers, critical thinking means that students are bright and engaged, ask questions, and think about the course materials until they understand well established knowledge and competing approaches.
This becomes more significant when students develop their own processes of active inquiry, which they can employ in new situations, beyond the bounds of our particular classes, indeed, beyond their time as students.
My sense of critical thinking is, however, more specific; it depends on inquiry being informed by a strong sense of how things could be otherwise. I want students to see that they understand things better when they have placed established facts, theories, and practices in tension with alternatives.
Critical thinking at this level should not depend on students rejecting conventional accounts, but they do have to move through uncertainty. Their knowledge is, at least for a time, destabilized; what has been established cannot be taken for granted.
Students can no longer expect that if they just wait long enough the teacher will provide complete and tidy conclusions; instead they have to take a great deal of responsibility for their own learning. Anxieties inevitably arise for students when they have to respond to new situations knowing that the teacher will not act as the final arbiter of their success.
A high level of critical thinking is possible when students explore such anxieties and gain the confidence to face uncertainty and ambiguity (Taylor 1995).
to bring students' ideas and experience to the surface: "If asked to describe situations when my thinking shifted significantly, what comes to mind includes..."
Share something about your recollections with a neighbor
: 5 minutes to explain how I came to be a person interested in learning more about critical thinking--how to do it myself and teach/foster it in others. Each introduction followed by “connections and extensions” feedback.
(Time permitting) Dialogue process
on how people get supported to improve their critical thinking.
Contrast between indirect and direct approaches to critical thinking, that is, between a) building the support and context for the thinker to improve their thinking and b) instruction on methods of scrutiny of the assumptions, evidence, and reasoning underlying thinking. (Point to various texts that do the latter.)
on claims made in Taylor 1995: Raise questions about the assumptions, evidence, and reasoning underlying the statements.
Review of ways that the activities illustrated the tension between direct and indirect approaches to fostering critical thinking
Introduction to Collaborative Exploration 1 (CE1) including the steps each week and the basic rhythm
of the course.
Quick preview of syllabus and tasks to get set up.
Take stock of the session (Critical incident questionnaire
CE1 (classes 2-4)
How do people have their thinking changed?
(A CE in which students practice applying critical thinking at the same time as developing their own direct or indirect approach to fostering critical thinking in others.)
There are many approaches to teaching or coaching, each of which aims to improve the knowledge or thinking of students or some other audience. In other words, each aims to change their thinking. This is obviously also the case when one tries to improve the critical thinking of others.
We might ask how strong the basis is for any given approach to teaching or coaching. We could, in the spirit of critical thinking, scrutinize the assumptions, evidence, and reasoning behind the approach. In this case, we want you to do this for a teaching/coaching approach "X" (where you choose X from the list below), but also to go further: Envisage a person or kind of person who is an exponent of teaching/coaching approach X and develop a plan to improve the thinking of the exponent(s) and/or enhance the impact of X on audience "Y" (where Y is a relevant audience for X). In other words, you will be exploring the issue "How do people have their thinking changed" at two levels: first, you think critically about how approach X addresses the issue, and second, you consider how to change the thinking of an exponent of X so that they think more critically about their approach. (You might also reflect on how your own critical thinking about critical thinking develops—that would be a third level.)
X could include: Teaching to a high-stakes tests. Clear lecture, texts, expositions. Teaching to move students from their private universe to new understandings. Experiential learning. Constructivist learning. Entrepreneurial design thinking. Inspirational learning. Redemption. 4Rs. Reevaluation. Socratic method. Talmudic method (Yeshiva education). Project-based learning. Opening-up themes. Clearness committee. Dialogue process. Popular education. Transformational learning. Therapy, of various varieties. Action research. Writers' workshop. Participatory planning. ORID or focused conversation. Mentoring or apprenticeship. Thinking classroom. 21st century skills. Human Givens approach.
Entry points to these approaches will be provided as requested. Approaches not on this list can be used provided you consult with an instructor first to get approval.
Class 2: Dialogue process
to share and clarify what we are inquiring into regarding the case.
Class 3: Work-in-progress presentations
, each followed a few minutes of time to finish writing Plus-Delta feedback
Class 4: Dialogue Hour for Taking stock of the first Collaborative Exploration
CE2 (classes 5-8)
Everyone can think critically!
(A CE in which students learn as much as possible about how critical thinking is presented and promoted by others.)
Imagine a "guidebook" to help you appreciate the idea that everyone can think critically and to help you help others appreciate that idea. The end-product of this CE are drafts of entries to this guidebook, which might take the form of text, maps, schemas, mp3s, or something else (adding up to at least 1200 words or its page-equivalent, in one or more entries). These entries should introduce and organize key resources, i.e., key concepts, issues and debates, references to research, quotes or paraphrases from those references, interactive activities and personal habits, people and organizations to take note of, appropriate stories. (Do not be concerned about whether your entries overlap with anyone else's.)
Some questions that might stimulate your inquiries:
- How much have well-worn sources from the 80s and 90s been superseded by more recent research and writing; how much do old sources hold up? Is it justified to criticize a course or a handbook on critical thinking for using old references? Can we show the longer-term CCT instructors in 601 ways to update their syllabi?
- Could the critical thinking process be thought of less as adding rule-bound practices and more as recognizing and removing obstacles that have come into place and obscured natural critical thinking? What authors have promoted the latter approach?
- How much does the critical thinking process need to involve individuals seeking or creating supportive "context," e.g., arranging sounding boards or establishing one's surroundings as a "studio" to make a space where critical thinking comes easier? What is known about how spaces for critical thinking, communities and historical periods came together? What does critical thinking mean in different fields of work?
- What has been studied and written about regarding what we are calling indirect approaches to fostering critical thinking?
- To the extent that the critical thinking process like the creative thinking process involves the capacity to manage, seek out, even welcome risk, struggle and failure, how can we feel more comfortable and supported in allowing "failures" to happen... of letting go of positions we once held strongly to?
- What is there to support, or contradict, the idea that "everyone can think critically"? In guiding those who believe that they are not critical thinkers, what steps might be taken to encourage them to at least explore the possibility?
- How is improvement in critical thinking assessed? How are different tools and activities to foster critical thinking evaluated?
towards the end products
should involve reading and digesting as much as you can in the time available. The assumption (is this justified?) is that your experience undertaking CE1 before having looked at how critical thinking is presented and promoted by others will help you to choose topics that most grab your interest and be engaged in learning about them. In any case, there is no expectation that you think like a textbook writer who has to cover every topic. Entry points for readings are given by:
Your explorations may, of course, lead you to more recent or more appropriate sources than you find in the CCT syllabi.
Class 5: Autobiographical stories, retold in relation to case 2
Class 6-8: as for Classes 2-4 above
CE3 (classes 9-12)
Manifesto and Plan for Practice
(A CE in which students, building on CEs 1 & 2, formulate specific plans for how to continue your own development as a critical thinker and, as a result, be able to foster the same among colleagues or students in your work/life/teaching situation.)
- "If there is one basic rule... that I, as a novice, have learned it is
- DON'T BE AFRAID! (Frangie, Novice Sage Manifesto)
Books such as Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way
provide readers with a program for developing one's creativity, but what is the equivalent for developing one's critical thinking? In any case, given that a mark of creativity is to develop one's own program, not follow someone else's, what would your program—or "manifesto"—for critical thinking look like? All invention involves borrowing, so the challenge is really to synthesize elements from sources encountered during and before this course. These syntheses or manifestos should be selected and organized so as to inspire and inform your efforts in extending critical thinking beyond the course
. For a brief introduction to the experience of past students who wrote manifestos for critical thinking, see section 2 of http://www.faculty.umb.edu/peter_taylor/journey.html
. For the full manifestos from a 1999 class, including Frangie's, see Readings
Corresponding to your manifesto, what is your plan for practice to develop your ability to foster the development of others as critical thinkers in your work/life/teaching situation? The plan should demonstrate how and when you plan to put into practice the skills and tools from the course - in your work situation or community, and/or how you could adapt and practice using those tools for opportunities in the future. You should include a plan for evaluating the outcome so you learn from experience and practice.
Classes 9-12, as for Classes 5-8 above
Critical thinking slam
(A one-session activity that builds on CE3)
"Difficult topic" case studies are distributed. Design, drawing on their plan for practice, an activity to engage other people in the case with a view to beginning to change a person's thinking about the difficult topic. 5-minute presentations on the designs are given in the last part of the class.
Taking stock--where have we come from and where are we headed?