The Instructor’s Challenge: Moving Students beyond Opinions to Critical Thinking

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  1. Deborah Dessaso

    Excellent article. In my view, the primary challenge is getting students to do the critical reading. Without this foundation, students won't know the issues that are being argued within the discipline. In my last writing class, I actually had to defend the use of scholarly articles. Students whined that the articles were too long and complicated, so I ended up having to unpack the articles in class.

    1. Paul T. Corrigan

      I agree that getting students to read–and to read in a more than cursory way–is essential. It's also problematic. I assume that the default for students is to not read and then I work to find ways to get them to read.

      Unpacking articles for students in class (depending on how one does it and how often) may actually disincentive students from reading on their own in the future (since the teacher's going to "go over it" in class). However, having some assignment, some formal or informal task that students will need to perform (and for which students will need to have completed the reading) has been shown to encourage students to do the reading.

      Another consideration may be the amount of time given for each scholarly article, taking into account such factors as the length and complexity of the article (scholarly articles significantly vary among disciplines), how advanced the students are, and how often the class meets (if you are talking about a face-to-face class). For instance, with a class of first-year students that meets three times a week, I assign a single scholarly article of relatively minimal complexity (just over 25 pages long) by breaking it into three parts over a week, with students writing about/in response to or using in some way each part before one of the classes and then the class discussing/using it in some way in class.

      This seems to help them engage. And, though I also preemptively explain to them why we need to read a scholarly article, I don't remember anyone complaining about it. It may also help that I choose a "controversial" article.

      Paul T. Corrigan
      Teaching & Learning in Higher Ed.

      1. Les

        Yes, I've always assumed that, to encourage students to complete the reading, one does need to assign tasks or projects requiring genuine engagement with the reading. But now I'm curious: When you say that this kind of approach has indeed been shown effective, which source(s) do you have in mind? I'd like to start looking into the literature for myself.

        1. debdessaso

          The source should, as much as possible, reflect the interests of the students. If you teach in a major urban environment as I do where most of your students are interested in hip hop, you may want to review Routledge's That's the Joint! The Hip-hop Studies Reader. This is a compilation of some of the best academic writing on hip-hop culture in the past 20 years. I didn't assume that all of the students would be interested in hip-hop, so I included the book as a suggested, rather than required, reading.

  2. Teresa

    What an excellent resource. It can be quite challenging at times to facilitate the students’ ability to critically think. This is such a critical skill in caring for patients at the bedside, but some students and new graduates struggle with this. I have seen quite the improvements with critical thinking skills with the use of simulations in a controlled environment. It is a safe environment that the students can make mistakes then reflect on their decisions without causing harm to the patients.

  3. aranoff

    Any comments how to teach first year math students? It is hard to find original papers for them to read. They have enough trouble reading the text.

  4. Robert Fielding

    I wish all this had been available when I studied at university, more than 30 years ago. Back then we were more or less left alone with a reading list and an essay title. We had seminars and tutorials to go over what we had been told in lectures, but that amountede to little more than checking you had done the reading and a little bit on whether you understood what you had read.
    Does anyone know of a sort of 'front end' thinking course that students get on entering university. It would be too late for me, but I still write about this stuff and am currently working on short stories that show teachers and students the way – perhaps show it too dictatorial – point out might have been better.

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