Teaching Critical Thinking: Reports from Across the Curriculum is a compilation of essays by disciplinary faculty, including one U of L faculty member, on the methods of inquiry the various disciplines use to help students apply the specific knowledge of their fields to the more general facets of their lives. As the editors, John H. Clarke and Arthur W. Biddle, state in their introduction, “While knowing a subject remains the primary goal of most secondary and college teaching, knowing how to use information to discover further information or to solve problems has become increasingly important” (1). Clarke and Biddle note that this is especially true in an age which has virtually brought entire libraries to the screens of our computers through changes in technology and electronic media, yet which threatens to overwhelm the student with too much information.
The essays within this book are organized into four sections. Each section represents a stage within the critical thinking process which the editors have isolated as common to most, if not all, the disciplines.
The first two sections discuss the gathering of information and the formulation of theories. Section One, “Gathering and Organizing Information: Data Analysis Processes,” provides six essays on how students acquire information as they begin to acquire knowledge in various disciplines. Titles range from “Interpretative Strategies in Literature Study” by Michael Smith to “Summary and Analysis in Microbiology” by Robert E. Cannon to “Briefing the Supreme Court: Summary and Analysis” by Kenneth Holland. Section Two, “Developing Perspectives: Theory Building Processes,” attempts to examine how students move from the stages of invention to examining from different viewpoints the knowledge they have acquired or the data they have compiled in order to develop theories. Titles in this section include Jonathan F. Lewis’ “Theory Building in Sociology: Queen Anne and the Dinosaurs” and Elizabeth J. Stroble’s “Belief and Doubt: Testing Concepts in Religious Studies.” Stroble is a U of L faculty member.
Section Three, “Examining Ideas and Relationships: Theory Testing Processes,” looks at how students interrogate the theories they have developed or learned. Titles from this section range from Thomas W. Rishel’s “Geometry as Metaphor: Writing in the Math Classroom” to Camille L.Z. Blachowicz’s “Teaching Terminology to Test Ideas.” Section Four, “Applying Plans to Problems: Data Generating Processes,” examines the application of specific disciplinary knowledge to general facets of the student’s life. Titles include Clara Wajngurt’s “Problem Solving through Math Journals” and Jo Margaret Mano’s “Maps and Graphics: Developing a Critical Eye.”
Throughout each of the essays, the authors
provide particular attention to the role of writing in the critical thinking
process. As the editors note, “Writing is the most powerful tool we have
for making thought possible. In their own writing, students can recognize
their own thought processes and amend those processes to better suit their
aims” (15). Clarke and Biddle go on to provide a short summary of how critical
thinking processes are connected to writing:
Data Gathering Processes: Writing helps students link factual information and try out their interpretative skills.
Theory Building Processes: Writing helps students weigh alternative perspectives and arrive at defensible theories.
Theory Testing Processes: Writing helps students extend the ideas they discover toward their implications, raising questions that need to be answered.
Data Generating Processes: Writing provides a vehicle for planning, imagining steps in a procedure, and working through problems with attention to detail. (15-16)
The commitment of the editors and contributors to the use of writing to develop critical thinking is especially seen in the essays which look at informal (journal writing) and formal (research papers) methods of discourse as well as conventional (description, analysis, etc.) and unconventional (metaphors, images, etc.) styles of writing.
In many ways, this book is beneficial
to the disciplinary instructor who not only wants to learn about the processes
of critical thinking and its relationship to writing but who also wants
to know more about how different individuals learn. The essays are most
helpful in their attempts to cover these different themes and issues. The
one drawback to the book is that it tends only to consider the more traditional
disciplines of the university, such as English, business, mathematics,
at the expense of newer schools, such as sports administration and equine
studies. Yet, faculty from these newer schools can still benefit from the
struggles of other scholars to understand student learning.
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