Posts Tagged ‘critical thinking’

Thinking About Thinking..I’m Tired Already

In how people learn, teaching, test anxiety on February 19, 2012 at 5:57 pm

Have you ever focused on something so much that time seemed to stand still? And when you finished, you looked up and a great deal of time had passed?That’s happened when I’ve had a good meditation session or when I’m reading or writing something that requires a great deal of thought.

According to Margaret Moore, (as quoted in this article: Life’s Messy. Train Your Brain to Adapt) co-director of the Institute of Coaching,

“When you can focus all of your brain on one thing, that’s when you’re at your best…”You’re integrating all your brain. But it also consumes a huge amount of resources. You get tired. That’s really how the brain learns—when the brain is learning, it’s laying down new networks. The brain is changing when we focus. It takes a lot of energy, and when it’s depleted it isn’t able to manage the emotional brain. When your pre frontal cortex is depleted, your emotions rule all day”

In the Life’s Messy article, the author summarizes Moore’s approach by describing stress as a positive and strong emotion that is not always negative, but that can be used to help re-train the brain toBrain think and to try to bring order and organization from chaos. Moore recommends that we use stress to ask ourselves questions that could lead to re-organization. She gives the example of question such as “‘is this an error message? Or is this something I really need to pay attention to?’” Moore continues by proposing that we can re-train our brains by building willpower, motivation and confidence.

So Test Anxiety s a Good Thing?

So what does that mean? As a teacher, certain situations create more stress for students than others. Tests, especially the traditional closed-book, closed notes tests, create a great deal of stress for students. So, is this author suggesting that those stressful test situations are good? Apparently, it is the body’s way of getting attention and to the extent that that attention can be properly focused (i.e. to prepare properly), then perhaps test anxiety isn’t all bad. The key is to assist test takers to focus that stress on productive study techniques.

Or does all that concentrating just wear us out (but that’s a good thing, because we do our best work when we focus….and experience stress)?!

Improving Critical Thinking in Higher Education-Possibly

In faculty responsibilities, institutional responsibilities, teaching on March 15, 2011 at 6:43 am

In Chapter 2 of Academically Adrift,  authors note that improving critical thinking is a skill that many university’s tout as one of their leading goals. Yet, according to the study, the improvement in critical thinking during the first two years of school is minimal at best—according to the authors, the improvement is statistically not above zero. The book authors state

An astounding proportion of students are progressing through higher education today without measurable gains  [emphasis added] in general skills as assessed by the CLA. While they may be acquiring subject specific knowledge or greater self-awareness on their journeys through college, many students are not improving their skills in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing.” (ch 2-reading on Kindle so don’t have page #)

How can that be? Institutions require that students take a package of courses and one key goal is to improve critical thinking. How is it that institutions can miss the mark by so much? Similarly GE courses have as one of their goals requiring students to write a minimum number of words in a course. Why is it that students cannot write (well) after their first few semesters in college?

I have a couple of thoughts (I still haven’t finished the book to find the authors’ suggestions). One is that faculty have not been taught how to teach critical thinking. Most of us teach the substantive content in our disciplines and teach primarily in the way that we had been taught. We presume that if we learned that way, then students can learn that way.

I enjoy critical thinking questions and challenges, yet I am not certain that I do a good job teaching students how to think critically. (And we don’t’ always agree what that means.) I try thinking, musing girl silhouetteto model how we think in the discipline through the way I solve problems, but I don’t know whether I’m helping students learn how to do it or not.

Critical thinking is a skill and habit of mind that must be practiced. At the same time, one must have an interest in it. If I am giving a complex problem, case scenario or reading, I dive in. I presume that I will be able to read through it and analyze it enough so that I can understand it. I see it as a challenge to try to understand it.

Many of my students do not approach tough material or a complex scenario with the same gusto. They seem to just want  me to tell them the answer and they are uncomfortable with the idea that there could be multiple ways of approaching the issue and multiple solutions depending on one’s interpretation of the scenario. They are not comfortable with the idea that I want to know how they arrived at the solution—they just want to know whether their solution is the “correct” solution.

So far, the reading implicitly presents an argument that these initial courses should be taught by full time-tenured faculty who have had guidance in learning how to teach someone to develop critical thinking skills. On most campuses, however, the faculty who tech the GE courses are part time or adjunct faculty and those faculty may be excluded from opportunities to learn how to teach critical thinking more effectively.

My theory on lack of writing ability is based on my concerns with student plagiarism. I will not repeat here what I explained in an earlier post.