Won’t We Need to be Able of Critical Thinking Ourselves?

As commonly mistaken and as described in “Paulo Freire and Critical Pedagogyby Shelli Fowler, teaching does not consist of communicating the body of knowledge only. Teaching is a complex construct that encompasses several dimensions, including knowledge production, student’s encouragement and several concepts that should get included in the classroom such as diversity. But how to achieve such challenge? It sounds like a difficult task, but critical pedagogy and critical thinking provide a guide to be followed within the higher education context.

Critical pedagogy should be promoted in the classrooms in order to allow students not only to receive information but also to reflect and analyze the topics covered during the class. We should stop giving students a lot of information to memorize. Instead, we should incentive them to relate the class’ concepts or topics with their career practice or why not, with what is happening in today’s world.

Critical pedagogy involves the participation not only of the students but also of the professors. This is an interactive process where both groups can learn. But, how to incorporate critical thinking in the classroom? We should come back to the basics as Bell Hooks mentioned in his book “Teaching Critical Thinking”. We should encourage students to interrogate all the time what they are learning. Children’s learning is a great illustration. Children are not afraid of asking “why” all the time. And taking into account that in our daily lives we don’t know the answer to many questions, asking questions is a practice that should get encouraged in the classroom. Because if we don’t know the answer, someone in the classroom may do, which is why diverse environments are a lot more beneficial for the learning process. Additionally, everyone will understand and perceive the concepts/ideas/or issues in different ways. For that reason, we have to show them not only the positive side of a specific topic but also its contradictions. As Paulo Freire described in his article “The Critical Pedagogy Primer”, we can incorporate in the class thought experiments where we can ask students “what would happen if”.

Here is an example given by Armani. There was a student who has the difficulty of moving his hands and legs, such that he needs a writer to help him do homework. He came to the homework help session held by the TA every week. For his convenience, the TA tried to become his writer and guide him to solve the problems on the whiteboard. But gradually, it seemed that the student became very dependent, paid more attention to the final answer rather than the procedure, and did not think about problems by himself before coming to the help sessions. These behaviors also reflected on the grade of his first exam. In engineering, critical thinking is significant for learning not only in the classroom but also when they are practicing applying the concepts and principles to homework problems by themselves. Typically, we can ask students to show their calculation and explain what they think to us. However, because of the special conditions of this student, the general strategy seems not working. Also, when the educational systems and educators try to accommodate their inconvenience, sometimes it might discourage them to become independent learners. Recently, inspiring from the reading of GEDI materials, it was found that for this type of students, we actually need to spend even much more time on asking them questions (e.g., “Why?”, “What do you think?”, “What is next?”, “Does this remind you anything you learned in class?”) and give them even much more time to think.  This is the way not only to teach them how to think critically but also help them to internalize the knowledge and develop their own logical ways to solve the problems.

In summary, these are some illustrations of how Critical Pedagogy’s strategies can contribute significantly to the learning process. These theories and strategies lead to a practice that can get applied in the different fields of knowledge, both in the social and technical ones. Incorporating a process of analysis and synthesis, providing a safe space so questions and discussion are encouraged, and acknowledging the potential of diversity in the classroom; lead to a better learning process and contribute to the creation of critical thinkers all around us.

24 thoughts on “Won’t We Need to be Able of Critical Thinking Ourselves?

  1. I really like the idea of it being an interactive process where both or all parties are engaged. This allows everyone to have a goal in learning and to be invested in the process. What I find to be tricky in the implementation of this, is how much each party participates and when has one participated too much? Too much to the extent that there is only one participant. In theory, we can have guidelines to prevent, but in practice, I often wonder if we can do this in an effective way that allows the learning to continue flowing.

  2. Helping students to learn to think critically is a process – one that some students catch on to quickly and others do not. Adding in a disability sometimes can add steps to the process and a great deal of patience and work can be involved. I once taught algebra to a blind student. The process was long, different and required great patience, but on the flip-side, when the student showed progress, solving equations on her own, we both experienced a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.

  3. Thanks for your thoughts on critical Thinking, which is obviously an skill that needs to be paid attention in education. I would like to add that teaching, is a way to continuously learning, and critical pedagogy plays a role in making the goal of the class to acquire certain knowledge by the end of the term, rather than the instructor providing the knowledge tot he students. This way to see education, allows for students to critic and think deeper about the constructs build in class. .

  4. I appreciated the article, engagement with the authors, and the elegant flowchart. Yet I wonder if one useful concluding addition would be: “what are the implications of the perspective on offer?” While this question of wider implications is absolutely essential for any social science research (I don’t know about in the hard sciences, but I assume it’s similar), it should apply to all disciplines and fields. I claim this, because this question goes beyond intentions to focus on the tangible impact of the research or perspective.

  5. “Critical pedagogy involves the participation not only of the students but also of the professors.” This is a great point. I think in the learning process, both the students and teachers are active subjects and learn from each other is an vital factor.

  6. Great illustrations! The “Questions a Critical Thinker Asks” is really helpful when understanding and applying critical pedagogy. I think the most difficult question on that graphic is “What don’t I see?”. This question also challenges us in the best way because often times, we take in information without wondering what’s missing. We take it at face value, and as a result, we could miss out on so much. I think it can also be embarrassing to ask what’s missing because we worry that others see it, so we remain quiet. I don’t know how to solve that issue, but it’s so important to encourage these questions. We say this all the time – chances are if you have the question, someone else does to. So ask away!

  7. Thanks for the post! It reminds my experience of being a TA. For the first couple office hours, students came in with their homework done and asked me questions about ones that they’re struggling with. But I realized that some of them started to became “lazy”. Sometimes I can tell that they didn’t think through the question before coming to the office hour. Instead of telling them how to solve the problem all at once, I’d give them some hint and let them try to figure it out themselves.

  8. I am totally stashing that infographic! So clear and complete. And thank you for the specific example, Armani, of how CP applies in a real-life situation. It requires a constant and conscious effort to approach teaching and learning from a CP perspective: it can be so easy to revert to ‘filling a bucket’ rather than demanding that students create their own learning and meaning – relevance – from what is being taught.

  9. This was a great post and there are so many great comments! I love this idea of engaging students in the process of thinking critically, connecting material from a classroom to things that are happening in students’ lives, and making learning relevant. When I taught a first-year engineering course, I found myself instinctively wanting to provide an answer when students asked a question. I had to be really intentional about asking students what they thought and why they thought that and getting students to see a variety of perspectives related to a topic. I loved Bethany’s comment about strategies that she uses to help students during office hours such as letting them make mistakes and encouraging them to explain their thought process. Because, as Qichao said, “there are many things that are too beautiful to skip.” I just love that idea and think it is so relevant to learning!

    • I also really responded to Bethany’s strategy for encouraging independent work in office hours and to Qichao’s lovely expression that “there are many things that are too beautiful to skip.” At some level we all know that the process is as important and meaningful as the result or answer. And so I’m wondering if it would make sense to swap out the concept “convenience” for “help” in the example Armani cites here. Having a physical disability involves so much more than inconvenience. By offering to write for the student, Armani was trying to make an accommodation that would help the student, but inadvertently this kind of help encouraged the student to rely too heavily on her and not try to think through the problems himself. The terrific strategies noted above (and in the comments) for encouraging critical and independent thinking are also modes of helping.

      • I agree, when we realize that teaching is about becoming a learning facilitator, rather than an expert that teaches information, we start creating learning communities within our classrooms, a community that emphasizes collaboration between classmates. I wonder what would have be the case if in the Armani example the professor would have not only adequate learning strategies to all the needs of the students, but also if how would have re-directed help to the class, calling on students to create an environment of mutual collaboration.

  10. Thank you for the cartoon, it’s so cute! I think “Why is it important” is a really important part. of learning. When I was a student , I had a big difference in my learning attitude when I knew the reasons of my learning. I hope I can show enough my future students their reasons of learning and give motivations.

    • Armani’s example is such a tricky situation. Clearly the lack of critical examination of the problems is hindering the student, but accommodating such disabilities is one of the most significant roles for a teacher. How was it resolved?

  11. “Why” is the first word in learned as a child. It is important for the high education and for the educator,” We should encourage students to interrogate all the time what they are learning.” It means, in the class, the teacher is not the only person to transfer the knowledge. Students also would display the positive and negative attitudes towards the information and ideas that teachers demonstrate in class. The voice of students are even essential for the teacher and peer to offer diversity in the class and promote the development in specific scholarly circles.

  12. So much good stuff here, thanks guys! I was struck by the comment about how we can be tempted “accommodate their inconvenience”, and how this can “discourage them to be become independent learners”. It makes me think about how we ask (require) students to submit assignments. If we given them very prescriptive forms and formats, I think we are at risk of limiting critical thinking. In my class there is a big project with lots of calculations and the professor created a excel spreadsheet with drop down menus that the students just have to click and fill-in. But I worry that when they do this they don’t really understand what they are doing and why. While I does make it easier to grade, I don’t think I want to use this spreadsheet in my class next year because I want students to think through these steps for themselves.

    I have the same experience Armani had with most of the students in my classes, who, as far I as I know, do not have any disabilities. But this type of behavior has prompted me to adopt several strategies for my office hours for help on problem set calculations assignments. First, I will not work with any student until they have tried the problem for themselves. If they show up without any work attempted on their own I will send them to the empty desk in my office or the table in the hall to work on the questions first. Second, I never tell students the answers to questions. I frequent start by asking the student what they did and why. Almost always, I find some misunderstanding or incorrect assumption or missing units in their problem solving approach. The third thing I do during office hours is, after helping them understand what they were confused about, I have them try to solve a problem and I let them make what I know is a mistake. After multiplying instead of dividing or using the wrong unit conversion in step one, they will get to step two and realize that something isn’t right. And then I can step in and explain what happened and how they can avoid making this mistake in the future. Most of my office hour visits last between 15 and 30 minutes, because it takes more time to let students do critical thinking, but I have seen significant improvements in student understanding and critical problem solving from one week to another after coming to my office hours. I have been thinking about how I can take these techniques and incorporate them into a classroom setting with 30-60 students because I see so much benefit.

  13. “when the educational systems and educators try to accommodate their inconvenience, sometimes it might discourage them to be become independent learners.”
    I agree with the statement above. I think as educators, it is our responsibility to address the need of every individual, however, in doing that we should also be aware of not making it “too easy” on them. There has to be a balance between what we “teach” them and what we leave for them to learn and figure out on their own so that they can exercise their brains to develop critical thinking.

  14. I think you’re right about allowing students to reflect and analyze content learned in the classroom – I think it’s crucial that we encourage, allow, and even incentivize/reward students for drawing connections between the material they’re learning and their own lives. The best way to learn and remember content is by putting it in a context, and a context that is salient and meaningful to the learner.

    Another component you mention—encouraging interrogation and questioning—is one way of achieving this very end. Opening up an inclusive and encouraging environment where people feel comfortable asking “why” will help everyone, even the students who are not comfortable asking “why”, to contextualize the information even more. If at first, the students are not comfortable asking questions (everyone is afraid of sounding stupid, or asking a stupid question), this could be facilitated by the teacher leading by example. If the teacher shows students, rather than telling them, that it’s important and valuable and smart to ask these questions, then maybe that will catch on with the students as well.

  15. Practicing critical pedagogy in higher education is definitely quite important, and just like the post mentioned, we should not be afraid to ask questions to promote “critical thinking” in the classroom. As a kid, we are so curious about the world around us and try so hard to get deep down to unveil the principles. When we gradually grow up, we have more experience and tend to learn new things based on what we previously know to enhance learning efficiency. But these empirical knowledge/experience may become the largest obstacle for critical thinking. I know it is quite difficult to practice this in our daily life, but we can definitely try this in a 50-min class. Student can be an open and clean book entering the classroom and enter a “kid” mode. Once the class is over, each of us can even compare what you learn from the class with your past experience once stepping out of the classroom.

    • I love this idea of entering the classroom with a mindset that is primed for engagement. Children do possess a special type of eagerness and enthusiasm for learning and experiencing new things. I think it is equally important to make time for reflection, so you have brought together two very strong ideas here. Enter the class with a child-like openness for learning and leave the class with a mindful attitude that helps you tie what you’ve just learned into practical or applied knowledge in your field.

  16. Armani’s story was indeed very interesting. I also love the gif used at the end of the post. I think we need to place more emphasis on open ended problem solving in engineering education, where students spend more time finding a “good” solution rather than “the” solution. The problem solving process captures critical pedagogy because it involves obtaining and evaluating different alternatives/perspectives, cooperating among various parties, and considering broader impacts on society. I think a lot of students feel uncomfortable dealing with the uncertainties in open ended problem solving, but it is a reality that engineers must deal with by exercising their judgment and finding ways to better understand the problem.

    • Good observation, Grace. This ties back into the Paul Silvia reading “Knowledge Emotions: Feelings that Foster Learning, Exploring, and Reflecting” where confusion (discomfort) puts us in a frame of mind for learning. I think you could expand these ideas to many (all??) other fields and disciplines, though. I don’t think it’s just the engineering students who are uncomfortable with open-ended problem solving. It’s so much easier to just “take” the right answer as it is given (wrote memorization), but memorizing what we already know isn’t necessarily going to help us solve the complex problems of today (and tomorrow!) Learning to think critically is a process all students/everyone must undertake; if not, then society is filled with a work force and an electorate that are ill-equipped for addressing societal issues.

      It’s great to hear that in engineering you work to help students with developing critical thinking skills. We definitely help our landscape architecture students through the same process, using the discomfort to help the students grow.

    • We would have to be careful though about where we allow “good” vs “the” solution i think. Freshman engineers probably need a foundation in the correct solution for the basics before they are allowed to make back of the napkin approximations and use the good enough approach

  17. Interesting story from Armani! I found students tend to use the easy route. Go directly to the answer and try to avoid the process is definitely one of the easiest routes. Actually, in some cases, we all want to skip the “unnecessary” and get the targets. If I can skip the work and get the salary, I won’t refuse it. It’s a good strategy to me. I view this mindset as problem-oriented learning/engineering/strategy. However, there are many things that are too beautiful to skip. I don’t want to skip to the end of a movie when I just start to watch. I don’t want to become a grandpa without experiencing dating a girl and getting married. I think our job as educators are to making the processes become the students’ “problems” and fun experiences.

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