March 13, 2012
Strategies for modeling critical thinking in your discipline
Although disciplines may vary in how specific aspects of critical thinking are defined and emphasized, they share some common assumptions. Specifically, Brookfield (2011) argues that students in all disciplines must “recognize, and question, the assumptions that determine how knowledge in that discipline is recognized as legitimate” (p. 28). That is, disciplines have specific processes by which scholars in the discipline determine whether disciplinary content is true.
Brookfield proposes that faculty who effectively model critical thinking skills in their discipline make their process of critical thinking public by making the strategies they use explicit. Privately questioning your assumptions and considering multiple perspectives doesn’t help students discover how to cope with the discomfort they experience when they confront and question their assumptions or articulate the interpretations that follow from a perspective that originates from a different set of assumptions. Instead, describe how you engage in critical thinking about difficult topics in your discipline. Personal examples that describe how you mastered disciplinary material that present challenges to your students can be helpful guidelines for students. However, these stories past successes will be less useful as models than current examples based on controversies or challenging topics in the field that represent areas that cause you to struggle with new ideas.
Avoid virtuosic displays of high-level and seamless critical thinking that display your expertise without revealing your underlying thinking strategies. If you must use an example that you have thought about frequently and already worked through many of the thorny problems, warn students that you have worked on this problem before and already resolved many of its difficulties and that they should expect the process to be slower and more difficult. Novel problems will slow down your strategies and make them more visible to you (so you can better describe your strategies) and to your students. Alternatively, spend some time discussing the difficulties and missteps you encountered when you first began thinking about this problem and describe the strategies that helped you correct errors and overcome obstacles.
Give students opportunities to practice new critical thinking skills. Model your critical thinking strategies on one content topic or problem that is analogous to but not identical to the content topics or problems that you assign to students for a critical thinking assignment. Give feedback on how well students used these strategies when completing their assignment.
Example: Modeling how you evaluate the quality of web sources
Select one topic related to the course content and locate web pages that discuss this topic (one that is a high-quality source and one that is unreliable). Do a “think aloud” demonstration of the questions you ask and the evidence you look for when you open a web page and evaluate the accuracy and validity of content provided. Describe the things you look for (and find) on the high-quality web page. Describe the things you look for (and don’t find) and other warning flags that you look for that indicated that the unreliable web page is problematic. Give students an opportunity to practice these skills in a critical thinking assignment in which they evaluate other web sites that present content on a different set of course topics. Evaluate their submissions in terms of the evidence they provide that illustrates their use of these critical thinking strategies when reviewing their web sites.
Brookfield, S. D. (2011). Teaching for critical thinking. San Franciso: Jossey-Bass.
September 13, 2011
Short video guides for students on effective study strategies
College students frequently waste time using ineffective study strategies because they are unaware of which strategies are effective or don’t retain the suggestions for effective study provided by their instructors. Stephen Chew, a cognitive psychologist at Samford University, created a series of 5 short YouTube videos that describe effective study strategies and explain why these strategies produce learning that lasts.
In each video, Chew provides context and defines terms so that an instructor can direct students to an individual video for good advice on studying. However, because each video builds on concepts explained in detail in earlier videos, the greatest benefit will be gained by asking students to view all of the videos in sequence. The following annotated guide to the five videos is based on descriptions provided by Stephen Chew.
Video Guide: How to Study Long and Hard and Still Fail…or How to Get the Most Out of Studying
The overall theme of the videos communicates two important ideas. First, students who use ineffective or inefficient ways of studying will discover that they study long and hard and still fail. Second, students who use effective strategies will get the most learning out of their study time and will be more likely to succeed.
Video 1: Beliefs That Make You Fail…Or Succeed
Chew examines common mistaken beliefs students often possess that undermine their learning. The video tries to correct those misconceptions with accurate beliefs about learning.
Video 2: What Students Should Understand About How People Learn
Chew introduces a simple but powerful theory of memory, Levels of Processing, that explains why some strategies are more beneficial than others for learning. Application of the Levels of Processing model when selecting study strategies can help students improve their study.
Video 3: Cognitive Principles for Optimizing Learning
Chew operationalizes the concept of level of processing into four principles that students can use to develop effective study strategies.
Video 4: Putting the Principles for Optimizing Learning into Practice
Chew applies the principles of deep processing to common study situations. Chew describes the conditions in which the student’s method for taking notes in class or highlighting text while reading corresponds to either shallow or deep processing, with predictable consequences for quality of learning.
Video 5: I Blew the Exam, Now What?
Chew addresses what students should and should not do when they earn a bad grade on an exam.
The first four videos are based on a presentation Stephen Chew makes to freshmen at Samford, which he described in a publication of the Association for Psychological Science Observer (2010).
Chew, S. L. (2010). Improving student performance by challenging student misconceptions about learning. Observer, 3 (4).
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