Archive for the ‘Critical Thinking’ Category

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My High Wire Act

posted: 5.14.15 by Jack Solomon

Several weeks ago I promised in one of my blogs that I would share the results of an exercise in critical thinking that I was preparing to conduct with faculty in my role as Director of Assessment and Program Review at my university.  Since the outcome of this exercise is equally relevant to the teaching of critical reading and writing—not to mention popular cultural semiotics—I am glad to be able to keep my promise here. [read more]

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Categories: Critical Thinking, Jack Solomon
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Beyond Our Classrooms

posted: 5.8.15 by Donna Winchell

All teachers hope that their students will make use of the knowledge and skills taught in their courses–in spite of the students’ protestations that “I’ll never use this after the class ends!” One example from a writing course:  “I’ll have a secretary to catch grammar and punctuation errors for me.” I must admit that I don’t see either of my sons ever using the advanced math they were learning by the end of high school. But as teachers of writing, we can rest assured that more of our students will make use of the skills we teach than will ever make use of imaginary numbers. As teachers of critical thinking, our hope is that all of them will take that skill out into the world and put it to use as workers, voters, parents, community members, and just as people alive in the world. [read more]

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Categories: Argument, Critical Thinking, Donna Winchell
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What . . . So What Then?

posted: 4.2.15 by Jack Solomon

In my last blog I discussed the importance in critical thinking of precisely establishing what, exactly, one is thinking critically about.  As I continue to ponder the essence of critical thinking—both as co-author of Signs of Life in the U.S.A. and in my current role as assessment director for my university—I am experimenting with ways of conveying, to both professors and students alike, what, exactly, critical thinking itself is. [read more]

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Categories: Critical Thinking, Jack Solomon
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Teaching the Tensions

posted: 1.30.15 by Donna Winchell

The last few weeks have seen two threats to freedom of speech that have generated international attention. The first was North Korea’s threats against Sony if the movie The Interview was released because the comedy was about the assassination of North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un. Although the threats were enough to delay the release, within days the movie opened peacefully nationwide and was soon available on demand. It may have been only a movie—and a mediocre one at best—but it was a matter of principle. Threats to freedom of speech became much more serious with the massacre of twelve journalists at the French weekly Charlie Hebdo following the publication of cartoons mocking the prophet Mohammed. They may have been only cartoons, but twelve people died for the right to publish them, and hundreds of thousands marched in support of that right. [read more]

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Categories: Argument, Critical Thinking, Discussion, Donna Winchell
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Teaching about Free Speech with Comics

posted: 11.3.14 by Elizabeth Losh and Jonathan Alexander

Last month Alison Bechdel received a prestigious MacArthur Fellows Program Award.  Known for her comic strip work Dykes to Watch Out For and the acclaimed graphic memoir Fun Home, which is about her experiences growing up in a funeral home fearful of coming out as a lesbian to her closeted gay father, Bechdel was lauded by the foundation for  “redefining paradigms” in autobiographical writing.  Achieving this recognition was particularly notable, because Bechdel had been at the center of a firestorm of controversy after her work had been designated for inclusion in all-college assigned reading at state-funded campuses.  Conservative legislatures objected to subsidizing material that they deemed supposedly promoting “gay lifestyles” and tried to use the power of the purse to block teaching the book.  Particularly vociferous in condemning Bechdel’s work was Representative Garry R. Smith, who used committee procedures to withdraw $52,000 in funding from the College of Charleston, which had arranged to highlight Bechdel’s Fun Home in its summer reading program. [read more]

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Categories: Critical Thinking, Elizabeth Losh, Visual Rhetoric
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Texting IS Writing

posted: 5.12.11 by Andrea Lunsford

Recently, I followed a thread on the WPA Listserv pondering the question, “Is texting writing?”  The thread took off, from Jeff Grabill’s appearance on Inside Higher Education’s “Academic Minute.” Jeff took his minute to  question those who continue to bemoan the state of literacy today. (Since the 1880s, we have had a “literacy crisis” roughly every thirty years in the United States, so the current one is just an echo of many others—just with different technologies as the culprit.) People, Grabill argued, fail to recognize that young generations today are writing—and I would add reading—more than at any time in the history of the world; this is what I mean when I talk about a “literacy revolution.”  Those who view any change as a decline see new literacies, those enabled by digital technologies, as cause of diminished literacy.  Instead, as Grabill pointed out, literacy today is just different than it was 50 years ago, changing and shifting and morphing—as literacy always has.  Students today are particularly good at communicating through text messaging and through the use of social media such as Facebook and Twitter.  And they have an acute sense of audience and purpose, what I think of as rhetorical awareness, though they wouldn’t use that phrase.

Perhaps most of all, they are inseparable from their phones, which Grabill called “the new pencil.”  With these phones, they are keeping in touch with friends and family, taking notes, writing texts of all kinds—even novels. (The cell phone novel has been a phenomenon in Japan for some time now.)  So YES, texting is writing, and we need to be paying very close attention to it and learning from our students how they are using this new “pencil.”  I expect that textual features will change under the influence of this medium, just as such features changed with the advent of print type.  Looking back, we can see the average paragraph length shorten as newspapers became ubiquitous—those narrow columns needed to be broken up to be reader friendly—and over the decades paragraphs in other genres got shorter too.  Trying to understand changes to conventions and patterns of communication is one reason I ask my students to talk with me about the apps they find most useful, about how many different kinds of writing they do with their phones, and about what they think characterizes effective text messages.  They have a lot to say about all these issues, and I for one am ready to listen.

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Categories: Campus Issues, Critical Thinking
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Talking about Tolerance

posted: 11.16.10 by Traci Gardner


You may not realize it, but today is the International Day for Tolerance. Established by UNESCO in 1996, the event is based on their 1995 Declaration of Principles on Tolerance “to take all positive measures necessary to promote tolerance in our societies, because tolerance is not only a cherished principle, but also a necessity for peace and for the economic and social advancement of all peoples.”

One effective but simple way to explore tolerance is to look at how people talk about the concept. You can begin by asking students to record their own understanding of tolerance. They can record personal experiences, working definitions, and responses to events in the news. There is no right or wrong answer. The goal is to create a touchstone that they can return to later.

Next, take a look at UNESCO’s declaration. Article 1 specifically addresses the meaning of tolerance. Ask students to read the entire declaration, paying particular attention to that section. In class, discuss the definition in the declaration and how it compares to students’ own understanding. Explore the language that is used in the document specifically. Unpack the complex words, and note how the document attempts to be inclusive. [read more]

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Campus Issues, Critical Thinking, Discussion
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Thinking Gray

posted: 12.9.09 by Barclay Barrios

I recently chatted with a group of teachers at a nearby institution who were going to test the readings in Emerging, Appiah’s “Making Conversation” and “The Primacy of Practice.”  One of the things we talked about is that students always want to flatten what they read, a particular problem when it comes to essays with subtle and complex ideas like Appiah’s.  After reading these selections, students will want to say, “We should all just get along,” or “We just need to talk more and that will solve things.”  And, yes, those reflect Appiah’s ideas.  But things are not so simple, so black and white.  Sometimes the challenge of teaching writing is getting students to think gray—to deal with the messiness of complexity, and to think their own way through it.

I shared with those teachers some of the techniques I use to get students thinking gray.  For example, the class will gravitate to certain sections of an essay or certain quotations; these will probably be the key sections of the reading, but they will also probably be the ones students “get.”  I try to direct students to the ignored parts of an essay.  If a section feels unimportant, then why is it there?  What does it do for the argument?  Along these lines, I ask peer editors to find quotations from the essay that challenge a student author’s argument.

But sometimes the best way to think gray is to pay very close attention to the text.  That was my suggestion for Appiah.  Students will want to dismiss him as all “kumbaya” and “Let’s all get along.”  But then I direct them to a small but crucial quotation from Appiah’s text: “Cosmopolitanism is the name not of the solution but of the challenge.”  Asking students to explain what Appiah means, to account for this quotation within his larger argument, to see cosmopolitanism as both a challenge and a solution… that is the stuff of thinking gray.

What are your methods for engaging students in a “messy” reading?

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Categories: Argument, Critical Reading, Critical Thinking, Emerging, Rhetorical Situation, Working with Sources
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Send Us Your Turkey-Day Assignments!

posted: 10.31.09 by archived

Holidays can be hard to write about. The “what you did on your summer vacation” prompt probably tops the pile, but tired sentiments about gratitude and world peace might not be far behind.

With Thanksgiving coming up, the Teaching Poetry blog wants to know how you approach this holiday with your students. Do you assign elegant odes or SPAMku? Do you avoid the topic altogether?

  • How do you get around clichés and get your students thinking for themselves?
  • What models do you use?
  • If you teach creative writing, what assignments work best for generating original turkey-day themed verse?

Send in your thoughts, your favorite assignments–or stories of classroom disasters. We’ll be collecting your insights over the next couple of weeks and posting your responses on November 16th, just in time for the holiday. Then, we’ll ask you to vote for the coolest activity!

E-mail assignments to: aflynn (at) bedfordstmartins (dot) com

Deadline: anytime before Friday, November 13
Vote on all submissions: November 16
Favorites go live: November 17

Stay tuned!

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Categories: Creative Writing, Critical Thinking, Discussion, Joelle Hann (moderator), Literature, Teaching Advice, Uncategorized, Writing Process
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Analyzing the Grammar of Prompts

posted: 10.9.06 by Barclay Barrios

While giving a new writing prompt, have the students analyze its sentence structure using the handbook. Are there clues to approaching the prompt in this structure? What sentences seem to be emphasized based simply on the use of verbs or nouns or clauses?

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Critical Thinking, Grammar & Style, Student Success
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