Critical Thinking

Much is being said these days about critical thinking.  We offer multiple Teaching Seminars and Workshops on it each year.  It’s a common mantra of the Learning Communities and First-Year Experience initiatives.  It’s also a common complaint of faculty that students just don’t know how to do it.  Like writing, however, many faculty assume it’s someone else’s job to teach them how to do it.

Maryellen Weimer, one of our outstanding keynote speakers at the 2011 South Alabama Conference on Teaching and Learning, recently wrote a blog post on the subject.  In the post, she discusses the profound ambiguities and disagreements about what critical thinking actually is, how difficult (and even unnatural) it is for students to learn, and how important it is despite those ambiguities and difficulties.

I found one passage in her post most telling.  In discussing an article by Fitzgerald and Baird (2011), she identifies a couple of major points that could benefit all of us:

We aren’t as purposeful as we should be in designing assignments that promote critical thinking, however we define it, and if we have come up with creative activities and assignments that are effective (meaning we have assessed how well they work), we don’t share those much beyond a few favorite colleagues.

Her conclusion is also worth sharing.

We can’t leave the development of critical thinking skills to chance, hoping students will pick them up by virtue of being around folks who are good thinkers and who assign them logically coherent things to read. We must be clear about what we mean by critical thinking and purposeful in the activities and assignments we use to promote its development.

You can see her full post at


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