How to Use Critical Thinking Skills - Analyse, Evaluate, Predict, Improve Long-Term Memory for Dyslexics
Why Critical Thinking Skills?
A fellow online writer asked me an interesting question : How do you Learn or Improve Critical Thinking Skills?
In this hub we'll be
- looking at the different ways information is presented,
- exploring the processes which need to be gone through in order to absorb that information,
- then seeing how we analyse and evaluate what we are being told
- and what we can do with it.
The outcome of having taken in the knowledge presented will be different for each person and the applications will be even more varied.
My interest in critical thinking skills stems from teaching dyslexic students basic study skills. Study skills help process any given information in order to learn it. The journey must be highly structured and progressive in order to retain that information in long-term memory.
Study the Details
Why do we Need Information?
- for the study of specific subjects
- for interest, learning about your favourite sport, author, artist, actor, car
- for personal information on health issues, educational courses, jobs, emergencies...
- in order to reason & make decisions regarding finances, choosing a house, buying a car...
Where does that information come from?
- we listen to people, to the radio, to teachers
- we read newspapers, books, magazines, pamphlets
- we look at and listen to television - news, documentaries, reports
- we read, look and listen on our PCs, laptops, etc.
- we look at the world around us
The World Around Us
How do we analyse and evaluate it?
- is it interesting?
- is it relevant? to me? to the question/subject?
- is it true?
- is the presenter reliable/reputable?
- is the presenter biased?
- are both sides of an argument presented?
- how much proof of detail/fact does the source give?
- are references given?
- is it well-presented (varied, with colour, easy to follow, planned & sequenced)?
- is the message clear?
- does it have visual back-up where relevant?
- can questions be answered with integrity 'off the cuff'?
- does it make me think?
- is it useful for me?
What reaction do we have?
- we form an opinion about it - interesting, boring, colourful, fascinating...
- we might understand it easily or it might be confusing or complicated
- we like or dislike it
- we might be angry or happy or sad about it
- we might find it useful and/or informative
- we react, criticise, reason & decide by asking ourselves the questions above
How do we adapt this process to the classroom?
I'm referring to my experience in the classroom with dyslexics but this is equally applicable to any class of pupils being presented with information for learning, be it reading, science, geography or history.
It is useful to follow this sequence:
- looking and listening, probably more than once,
- then speaking, discussing, repeating,
- then reading,
- then writing,
just like we do when we learn our own language.
By looking and listening we take in information (if it is well-presented); information may be presented with visual cues but often also involves listening. The listening can be repeated, be it in exactly the same way or in an alternative fashion to keep the interest, to keep the content fresh. It may be listening to the teacher or someone else talking (cd or video as a specialist resource), it may be listening to reading (by teacher or peers), or listening to the radio or a recording.
Speaking refers to repeating or talking about the information. A teacher needs to find out how much is remembered, so having asked the pupil to pick out certain facts whilst listening and viewing, for example
- Who is the most important person?
- What type of car did they talk about?
- What did he like to eat?
s/he will ask who can offer those pieces of information, making sure everyone gets a turn, and the information will be discussed in an attempt to get as much out of it as possible - pupils' ideas, any insights into what else they can surmise; many will open avenues of exploration, be inspiring, be accurate, or not so. Whichever it is, a discussion is valuable to everyone and reinforces what has been heard, as well as giving opportunities to reiterate what has been learnt or help others learn (as this is a powerful way of learning oneself).
It might then be necessary to read further about the topic, either in a text book, or on the net, or by looking up information in the library. This could involve making notes but photo-copying is a useful alternative if writing presents difficulties (and it saves time!). Listening and discussion can come back into the frame at this stage when new facts and ideas emerge and need sharing and evaluating.
Evaluating is done by asking questions such as those in the analysing & evaluating section above, making the pupils think carefully and realise that all information should not always be taken at face value, depending on the subject and the source. A History exam requires the pupil to do just that, to look at a source and, with background knowledge of the period of History being examined, to be able to decide whether that source is valid or not and discuss whether the content, or some of it, can be relied upon. There may not be a definitive conclusion but it is the process of evaluating, of being aware of possibilities and pitfalls, which is the most important.
Inevitably, some sort of writing will be necessary to record what has been learnt, what has been discussed, how some points have been evaluated and what opinions have been formed. The information will be put to use in the form of an essay or power-point presentation or verbal and visual presentation. Some will be hand-written, some typed, some recorded with voice-activated software, some dictated for typing by another.
The information will also, hopefully, be put to use by storing it in the memory and being able to recall it when needed, to apply it to the relevant situation, in order to make reasonable decisions.
Do You Know Where This Is?
Example - Teaching a Study Skills Lesson
Study skills are important for any pupils, more so for dyslexics as they need to have a structured, directed way of dealing with learning and recording.
I often start off a lesson with 'jokes', to exercise the memory. This is set up by telling a joke, asking why it's funny, asking for it to be repeated and then saying I'll see who can remember it for the next lesson (in other words, to encourage repetition as this commits information into long-term memory). Anyone can bring another joke and the process is repeated. It also helps to have this sort of routine for lessons.
We'll then start with Observation:
I use a ‘Big Picture’ with lots of detail, such as that illustrated here, and ask the pupils to look at it for 1 minute, looking at each part of it in as much detail as possible.
I give out A4 plain sheets – after the minute, the picture is taken away. I ask the pupils to write/draw what they, individually, can remember of any details in the picture.
Then they listen to each other to find out what each has seen. I ask questions, such as: how many people/animals/.. did you see? What colour was....? What sort of building was there? What were the people in the foreground doing? A discussion ensues. Some pupils will argue the details, some will guess, some will be accurate and some not; they try to remind each other what was next to what.
I then go into more detail: What were the people wearing? Can you date the picture? Why was it painted/taken? What country is it? What kind of countryside? What do you think is the relationship between that person and those people?
Let them discuss and compare.
Ask them: (answers in brackets refer to the illustration here)
- what the picture is of (a town/city centre.... a church.... a market.... Where? Birmingham)
- where they think the picture comes from, (a print of an artist's impression, from information under the picture)
- who might have painted it or photographed the scene, (again from info under the pic)
- what period of history it might represent (the clothes and the buses indicate the era - 1949/early 50s)
They will have all sorts of ideas, some informed, some guesses; you'll probably be surprised at the knowledge some have. Then discuss any other detail which is of interest.
- for what purpose might the picture have been made;
- to record history?
- to influence?
- to state fact?
- to raise the artist's reputation or opinion?
(probably to depict a typical 50s scene on market day in the middle of Birmingham, to be a decorative piece but also as a conversation piece)
They are evaluating what they have seen. Then tell them what it’s about and ask them questions to check that the information has been retained. They should then add to their notes (always give a choice of picture or word notes).
All notes are kept and put in a file/folder, named and dated. They should refer to these notes and be able to tell you about a certain week’s lesson when they look back at them. Reminders are very important, to be able to commit all information eventually to long-term memory.
Further information on the subject can then be searched for, with help for reading where necessary. Notes (the Cornell method is good) are made and then all report back to the rest of the class for the next lesson. The accumulated information is discussed, a reminder is given about the process they have gone through and the usefulness of such is discussed. Individual or group presentations can be made about various aspects of the research.
Instructions for the Cornell Method can be found here: https://shp.utmb.edu/asa/Forms/cornell%20note%20taking%20system.pdf
Cornell Note-taking System
Students like being critical. Channel their natural instincts and see where it takes you! Allow them to observe, to discuss and to find out more about whatever their interests are. These days, with the National Curriculum prescribing all, it is often difficult to stray off the set sequence of subjects. If there is time for separate Study Skills tuition, then it can be used to great effect whilst exploring subjects which otherwise are not afforded the time.
To evaluate something is quite a difficult concept, to challenge what is before you in black and white (or colour!), to ask who is providing the information and why, to see if the information is worthy or not... all this can be a difficult journey. With practice it can be rewarding and can be applied to many aspects of life.
© 2012 Ann Carr