Most people believe they know what critical thinking is, but they have trouble defining it. Gary Meegan uses one of Richard Paul's definitions and takes it apart, looking at what critical thinking involves and just how important it is.
This chapter works to define critical thinking for first year writers, explaining a process that helps them think, read, and write critically. With a focus on Annie Dillard’s essay, “Living like Weasels,” you can show students how they can learn to read carefully for ideas, to identify and analyze key points, and to synthesize observations into strong arguments. The chapter also provides guidance on how to move from personal response toward more formal, academic writing. An annotated student essay gives you and your students a glimpse of how strong writers approach texts critically and engage with others’ ideas to develop perspectives of their own.
"We can learn to take charge of our thinking, to monitor and assess the moves our mind makes if we see the value in doing it, and are willing to consistently practice at it. Despite the fact that becoming highly skilled at good reasoning involves a long, slow process, the basic intellectual moves that the mind must make to do so are assessable to you. By learning these moves, you can learn to approach any subject in college, any course you take with a critical eye. You can learn to ask important questions and can, in essence take charge of your thinking so that you are not simply “doing what the teacher says to get the grade,” but continually asking yourself how the content of your college classes relates to the issues in your life in a meaningful way. In other words, you can use the information you learn in school to do better reasoning if you learn to approach the content in your classes through good reasoning."
"There is nothing more practical than sound thinking. No matter what your circumstance or goals, no matter where you are, or what problems you face, you are better off if your thinking is skilled. As a manager, leader, employee, citizen, lover, friend, parent — in every realm and situation of your life — good thinking pays off. Poor thinking, in turn, inevitably causes problems, wastes time and energy, engenders frustration and pain."
Close reading—usually of a written text, but quite possibly of a film, a painting, or another work of art— is the first stage in writing an essay that responds to or builds upon the ideas in the original text. That is why a close reading is sometimes called “reading to write” or “reader response.” Rather than merely extracting facts from the text, a close reading prepares you to analyze it critically through your own writing.
"To be skilled in critical thinking is to be able to take one’s thinking apart systematically, to analyze each part, assess it for quality and then improve it. The first step in this process is understanding the parts of thinking, or elements of reasoning. . . . In this article we focus on two of the elements of reasoning: inferences and assumptions. Learning to distinguish inferences from assumptions is an important intellectual skill."
Learning to “read like a writer” can be a great benefit to students. As teachers of writing know, a term goes by too quickly, and there is much to cover. This chapter, however, suggests ways students can improve their interaction with text by reading like writers from the start of a course. Students will find this chapter useful for expanding their writing strategies by helping them learn to identify key moments in texts, moments when the author uses an innovative technique, which they might employ in their own writing. Detailed steps and comments, incorporating the voices of numerous students, will assist you in teaching students how to practice the habit of reading like a writer.
"Universal intellectual standards are standards which must be applied to thinking whenever one is interested in checking the quality of reasoning about a problem, issue, or situation. To think critically entails having command of these standards. To help students learn them, teachers should pose questions which probe student thinking; questions which hold students accountable for their thinking; questions which, through consistent use by the teacher in the classroom, become internalized by students as questions they need to ask themselves."