Never read a 5-paragraph essay again!

PUBLISHED: Jan 23, 2018

In This Episode.

Three alternatives for any class. Having blamed all the world’s problems on the 5-paragraph essay in the previous episode, Steve and Dave offer three alternatives to the 5-paragraph form.  These are tested, easily implemented essay structures that emphasize critical thinking and foster stronger content acquisition.  News of the week explains why critical thinking can’t be taught (but it can) and covers a letter to educators from subject matter itself!

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Podcast Transcript

Voiceover: Welcome to the Critical Thinking Initiative podcast, we bring you research driven solutions to critical thinking education. Why? Because as Bertrand Russell said, most people would sooner die than think. In fact, they do so. And now your hosts Steve Pearlman and Dave Carillo.

Steve Pearlman: So welcome back to the critical thinking initiative. Thank you for joining us. I’m Steve Pearlman.

Dave Carillo: I’m Dave Carillo,

Steve Pearlman: And you probably are joining us after our last episode where we blamed all of the world’s problems, basically on the prevalence of the five paragraph essay. I don’t know if that was entirely fair, but there is a grain of fairness to that.

Dave Carillo: It’s slightly fair. It’s slightly fair. But it’s twenty eighteen now. So happy New Year, and we’re going to try to remedy all the world’s problems in the next forty five minutes.

Steve Pearlman: Forty five minutes by providing alternatives to the five paragraph essay, which is really the only thing standing between twenty eighteen in world peace.

Dave Carillo: World Peace, Space Travel. You know all the good things I think,

Steve Pearlman: I think even folding space folding space, we would need some spice.

Dave Carillo: We need, we would need. The site, apparently, from what I understand, its spice is absolutely necessary for that. So at least world peace, for starters.

Steve Pearlman: Well, it’s a humble goal.

Dave Carillo: I agree. I agree with with that goal.

Steve Pearlman: So again, let’s get back into this. We won’t reiterate some of the issues that we talked about last time in terms of the five paragraph essay, but we do want to provide alternatives. And one of the things that we want to stress at the outset here is that these could be five paragraph essays in the sense that they might have five paragraphs. And we respect the fact that there are many of our listeners who are contending with large swaths of students, high numbers of students and timelines that may not permit for much longer pieces of writing. So even though what we’re going to suggest here are potentially also suited to longer formats, they’re also equally suited to five paragraphs or four paragraphs or seven paragraphs. The the point is that the exact number of paragraphs isn’t actually the issue. Our central concern about the five paragraph essay is more of its structural obstruction to the thinking process. And if we want to identify a theme going forward, I think for everything that we’re going to propose here, it’s allowing students to explore that thinking process and as well as, I think, maybe as a central tenet, allow paragraphs to speak to one another and not exist in isolation to one another is probably one of the first central things you want to think about as we move out of the five paragraph form.

Dave Carillo: Well, yeah, I mean, in another way of thinking about this is the five paragraph essay as it’s been taught, as it sort of represents itself within academia forces students to do two or three things over and over and over again. These three alternatives are going to ask students to do different things, and that’s and that’s what we what we want to help all our listeners with. If you are stuck thinking about how to get students to do different things in their writing, these three alternatives are right up your alley.

Steve Pearlman: And of course, these are really just three out of many different possible. Oh, sure, absolutely. Yes. We’re just picking three that we think are easily adapted by faculty and as well sort of easily adapted by students.

Dave Carillo: And you’re going to see some overlap here, too, because I mean, we’ve picked three distinct ones, we feel. But there’s still some overlap in terms of some of the moves that an author might make in doing any one of these three. And so again, it comes back to what Steve was saying before. What we’re driving at is asking students to do different intellectual things, and some of those intellectual things will spurn some of these other things. And that’s where you’ll probably see the overlap. But we still think we picked three fairly unique methods to sort of bypass the five paragraph essay and move students towards stronger critical thinking.

Steve Pearlman: The first one kind of turns, in a sense, the five paragraph essay on its head and again could be any number of paragraphs in which the students are doing this. We call it the evolving question driven essay or the OECD. And instead of asking students to start with a thesis statement, which is not how most of us begin a thinking process, we don’t necessarily really begin with an answer. We begin our thinking process with a question. And so this naturally mirrors where thinking begins, which is the question of some kind. So this system does with this structure does is it simply asks students to use the first paragraph. Graph or sometimes paragraphs, if it’s a longer piece, but one paragraph can do it to establish a question and to establish a basis for the question, so it would look at something in a text or it would look at something in a source and just note something that’s happening in a source and ask a question about it. So if Person X in their source says this, it makes me wonder about the following. So all we’re doing is creating some relationship between what the students are seeing going on within that particular source and then some question they have about it. What’s nice about this as well is that it’s the student who has the onus of generating the question, and hopefully therefore the student generates a question that’s of interest to the student, which more deeply engages them in their work to begin with. Of course, it’s also possible for you, the educator, to provide the student with the particular question that you want them to engage. If you want to have some kind of comparative, look at how different students engage the same question, and there’s nothing wrong with that either. But either way, the nutshell here is that what starts this process is a question, which is how most of us begin a thinking process.

Dave Carillo: You know, what are the important things about this particular alternative to the five paragraph essay is that it immediately asks students to contend with the text. Oftentimes, I mean, at least it’s been, in my experience, the five paragraph essays that I’ve read from students in the past that I see have this introduction that talks so generally about a subject that the students often feel compelled to begin at the beginning of time. So right in the beginning of time, there was crime and punishment.

Steve Pearlman: Many people from the dawn of history enjoyed food.

Dave Carillo: Yeah, exactly. Like, we have always loved to love people. And so the introduction becomes this useless paragraph where the student just sort of generally talks about whatever the subject is that their thesis is dealing with and in the OECD. What we’re asking students to do immediately is engage with a specific source like the question comes from a source.

Steve Pearlman: I love that you’re bringing this point

Dave Carillo: Out, right. So like that that automatically asks them to do a few things that the five paragraph essay doesn’t. One. It’s to summarize a specific text for a specific reason. Show some element of this there. You know, the student has to show some element of their thinking about the source because they’re drawing a question from the source and it asks them to now develop an introduction that actually functions as this sort of first foray into their thinking through the subject right?

Steve Pearlman: And it makes them realize that they have to ask a question about something a specific something, right? And not just some abstract topic. There is no abstract topic. There’s a text. There’s something that’s saying something in material form, and they have to be able to react to it and work with it in some way. So it teaches them an important lesson right away about the importance of evidence and and source material. So I love that you bring that forward because I wasn’t going to do that. That’s great. Mm hmm. So then the paper goes forward, and the way the paper goes forward is really just in layers. They could have three body paragraphs. They’re going to have nine body paragraphs. That’s irrelevant. What’s happening is that the student will formulate that question, or at least most typically by referencing a source, might be the same source from which the question emerged. Or it might start to be a different source or a different sources might come in later start to form an answer, but the operative word that I just use there is start to form an answer, not definitively answer the question. So the student might answer a question about a particular text in the first paragraph by saying, I’m going to introduce this other piece of evidence now relative to the question that I asked, this piece of evidence takes me so far. It leads me so far to think that the answer would be X. But the point is that at the end of that paragraph, or it could be the end of a couple of paragraphs of discussing that. But if we want to keep it simple, at the end of that one paragraph, the student is going to say, based on this piece of evidence that I’m introducing, it appears as though the answer is moving in this direction.

Dave Carillo: Yeah, and that’s and that’s that’s the evolving part of the OECD is that you know what the assignment asks of students is to recognize that there’s going to be no source that provides a total answer. And no, you know, if the question is a decent question, there isn’t going to be necessarily a complete answer at all. And so the student now needs to articulate. And Steve, you? You used the term so far, and I think that’s a really great way to do it, and I wanted to add an aside here because if you are thinking about doing any of these and you are concerned with how you’re going to work your way through them or how are you going to read them or how much work it might take for, you know, students to sort of, you know, recognize some of these moves. I would say, like one of the things that you can do and one of the things that we have our students do is bold, their thinking boldface. You’re thinking underlying your thinking, put your thinking in some sort of brackets like as they’re writing. Make them more aware of when they’re kind of doing these moves, including this statement so far. I think it’s this right so far based on this evidence, I think it’s that and that’s a key move for students to start to recognize that, you know, they need to do. It’s also something that that allows them to see that they’re not in any way responsible for coming up with a complete answer to any of these questions. And oftentimes, like a good question is not going to have a complete answer.

Steve Pearlman: And I love that point that you’re bringing out because it teaches them that they can ask a question about what color was the conch in. Sure, right in Lord of the Flies, because they can’t ask a question to which there’s an easy, definitive answer. They have to ask a question that allows for thinking, process and ambiguity as they go forward.

Dave Carillo: I mean, in this and this is where I mean, if anything, you can start to play with this assignment or any assignment as the teacher you can model for them what that kind of question looks like. Here’s like a rich, complex question that’s not going to happen either or answer. You can provide the source where they, you know, they have to come up with a question from any number of ways that you can sort of pace them through the act of formulating a good question.

Steve Pearlman: And I like what I like about that as well, and I think you’re implying it. Look, this is giving them a paradigm on the world where they’re supposed to question the world. Yeah, instead of, say, such a state something about the world and defend it as a as we talked about in the five paragraph essay for Right instead, question the world and even younger kids can ask complex questions about the world or toddlers who have asked about death, and they’ve asked about complex things about life. And we have to explain it to them in simple ways. But they’re certainly able of asking questions about very complicated matters.

Dave Carillo: They are. And you know, if anything, we want to act as guides for their the process of their developing, the ability to come up with complex answers, which is something that I’m going to I’m going to sort of butcher this whole thing. But Richard Miller out of Rutgers says the same thing when he says he sort of argues that, you know, at this point, like pretty much all the information is that they’re the student’s fingertips via Google or databases or all these other things. The job of the teacher is no longer to present answers. Right? They can find all manner of answers. The job of the teacher is to act as like the guide for what to do with the answers they find. You know how to ask the right questions of the information that is now at their fingertips and those kinds of things.

Steve Pearlman: So playing off that let me return to the form. Let’s do it. And the form now generally just repeats, but with just a couple of important caveats. So they’ve formulated an initial question. They introduce a piece of evidence which might be a quotation from a text or something a symbol. What have you? If it’s a literary text or a statistic, it doesn’t matter. They’re introducing some piece of evidence from a source. They’re talking about how far that starts to get them to an answer, or where that starts to direct them in terms of an answer. Next section, next paragraph or a couple of paragraphs. They are introducing another piece of information, the other piece of evidence, either from the same source or another source that speaks back to that where their answer was at the time. If it’s a 10 to negative 10 spectrum, they could say after paragraph one, I’m roughly out of six after introducing this now second piece of information in my second body paragraph to this. It draws me back away from a six, and I’m kind of at a negative one for an answer. I’m leaning in the opposite direction or toward toward a different conclusion. Or this is pulling me up to an eight now because it’s reinforcing in some way that previous conclusion that I had made. So what this forces them to do is to use subsequent pieces of information to speak back to a previous piece of information so they’re starting not to exist in isolation.

Steve Pearlman: All of these body paragraphs, they’re starting to speak to one another as they go forward. And then you can extrapolate this out for as many continuous paragraphs as you want. For them to do that, paragraphs can speak back to much earlier paragraphs, or they can always just speak to directly to the. Paragraph directly above, which is the easiest way for them to start to approach it, and then you get to a conclusion, and the concluding paragraph is ultimately trying to establish based on all of the reasoning that’s been done so far, where ultimately now are we in terms of what’s most compelling? Where does that land us on our spectrum? And what we don’t want is for the students to be at a 10 and what we don’t want is the students to be at a negative 10. We want them to be at a two or a three point eight or a six point four. It doesn’t really matter. We want them to be able to say roughly the answer to the question, as best I can tell, falls in this arena. And it may not be a perfect answer, but it seems to be leaning to us in this direction.

Dave Carillo: And again, these are the kind of moves that you can build into. You know the the assignment specs, right? So one way to move students in the direction that Steve was talking about is to simply say, you know, you cannot come up with a conclusion that exists in some binary framework. Right? Right, wrong. Agree or disagree, you know, left or right. Put that into the assignment. Your goal is to come up with the best conclusion you can that also avoids all right or all wrong or, you know, all black or all white and talked about this in the past. Like, if you make it clear the type of thinking that you want your students to do, they’ll be able to approximate that thinking. If it’s unclear, right? Or if they’re, you know, students are left to their own devices, you’re not necessarily going to get the kind of complexity that you would want or the kind of complexity that this particular assignment can produce from your students.

Steve Pearlman: And of course, and we want to move on to the next one. But and Dave mentioned this before, I’ll just reiterate it. Model this for students, work through examples of them, work through mentor texts about this. Show them yourself doing it. Show them how you wrestle with ambiguity. Show them how you introduce new, new sources. Practice model. Let them work through it a number of times. Give them opportunities to fail forward with it. All those things are all.

Dave Carillo: Yeah, and there’s like a lot of little mini lessons here when you model the idea. So, for instance, you want to get your students to understand what represents sort of a binary conclusion or an either or conclusion, as opposed to a complex conclusion mock up a binary conclusion. And in the end, the death penalty is is entirely wrong for this reason and that reason in this reason why has a complex conclusion might be and in the end, you know, within this context or, you know, the death penalty seems wrong unless we start to look at it from this point of view, in that point of view and those kinds of things. And that’s a bad example of giving you off the top of my head. But the point is that you mock that up. And suddenly, not only do they see the difference between binary thinking and complex thinking, you can point out, Well, here’s how we use language to produce complexity. Suddenly, you’re giving them a mini lesson on transitional adverbs like, however, and although and because the things that you know, the language tools that we use every day to form these complex ideas or to think complexity isn’t necessarily always apparent. So modeling gives you all sorts of opportunities to teach students all sorts of things as you are showing them through this particular assignment or any particular assignment because it gets you that much further ahead of the game.

Steve Pearlman: So let’s move into the next one, which is the critical

Dave Carillo: Conversation I was going to say. We’re going to do the conversation when next, because you sort of already provided that kind of overlap, right? Yes. This next one is the conversation model. Or you might have heard the critical conversation, and that metaphor has been floating around a lot if you want a pretty good workup of this particular type of assignment. Ellen Carillo in the article. Engaging sources through reading writing connections across the disciplines has a really good discussion about the critical conversation. I just want to give you sort of the overviews of what this means. Essentially in this assignment, you sort of take that idea in the OECD. What Steve was saying is this this evolution depends on how one source sort of affects another source or one element of a source affects another element of a source, and the student is responsible for articulating moments like that.

Steve Pearlman: If I could jump in. Yeah, I think I think because this will help the distinction in the OECD, looking at how the adding of an additional source affects the writer’s thinking about the central question. And I think that’s going to be an important distinction for the conversation because it’s not only the writer’s thinking on the central question that becomes at play in the critical conversation. So maybe that’s

Dave Carillo: Now that’s that’s that’s a good distinction. Well, it’s it’s it’s a beginning distinction because you are kind of doing the same things, but essentially the critical conversation of the conversation assignment takes that to the next step, and this can work with two sources that can work with eight sources. Two sources is a perfectly good place to start, but essentially the writer in this paper is responsible for pointing to how one. Sauce would speak to another sauce, and by that it means essentially the thrust of the critical conversation assignment is that a student is now almost playing rath between two sources. And what that means is essentially the student is responsible for locating a unexpected similarity between the sources and opening that up for some sort of discussion or an unexpected, you know, difference within the sources. A student looks for different ways that a set of sources might handle a particular problem or come to a particular solution. And as such, the student is writing a paper that has them engaging and dealing with and working through these kinds of differences and similarities. And here’s where the assignment becomes important. The critical conversation is different than a compare contrast argument, where all the all the author is basically on the hook for is to list a bunch of similarities or list a bunch of differences and move on in the conversation. Assignment students need to build into their discussion their own thinking about what a similarity between two sources might mean. What a difference between, you know, between two sources might mean. How one source deals with a problem might be significant in relation to how another source deals with a problem, and it puts them center in the middle of this conversation between the two sources. For instance, we have sources say that talks about red sneakers being so great because they let someone run fast. And another source says, You know, red sneakers are so great because people notice you more in school and an author in this assignment needs to find something along those lines and then talk about the implications of that difference.

Steve Pearlman: And one of the things I love about this is, well, there are two things. The first is that, as you said, it moves students beyond that compare and contrast. But in doing so, and this is what you’re saying, it makes students locate points in texts that have to talk to one another about the same thing. So you can’t just have a text that says sneakers are great for running. And then my next text that I’m going to bring into the conversation is, well, sneakers are great because they get you noticed because that’s not having the same conversation unless one of the authors is going to be able to speak to the fact that look man running isn’t the important factor when we consider the sneakers at school. The most important factor is this, and the authors themselves are in some way hashing out that topic. Even implicitly, this is forcing the students not to bring disparate pieces of information into the same discussion that really have nothing to do with one another. Other than the fact that the student found them and wants to bring them into the same paper because they were the sources most available on Google or have you? This forces the students to find something where Author B actually has something to say in response to something that author said. Rather than just author, be saying something that’s of their own interest. That has nothing to do with what author A-Z.

Dave Carillo: Right. And so all of a sudden you have this student needing to negotiate like two different ways of thinking or two or three or four different ways of thinking about a particular subject. Right? If a student’s chosen to focus on how to sources answer a specific question in different ways, they need to talk about how and why they think what they’ve noticed is key is significant is important, right? The next move is to take that conversation somewhere. Oftentimes, the compare contrast is done as an end in and of itself, the conversation paper that asks students to say, Hey, you know, I noticed these two sources are kind of trying to answer the question in a different way. You know, Source A is telling us that no, this is an economic issue. While Source B is saying actually economics aren’t that important, it’s more along the lines of a social issue. I think what’s important here in looking at how they both answer this question is the fact that by looking at how they’re both trying to sort of wrestle with this, this particular question, we can start to see the implications of looking at it from a socioeconomic kind of point of view.

Steve Pearlman: What I love about this as well is that what it prevents and we talked about this in the five paragraph is we don’t let the students reference and run not to say you’re not allowed to ever do this, but frowned upon in this format is only introducing a source once letting it say something in the paper and then giving it no opportunity to speak back to the other source. So after I introduce Source A and it says something, and then I introduce what Source B has to say back to source a one of the things we encourage students to do is say, Well, what would source a say back? To Source B, why does Source B just because you introduced it second, nevertheless, get the last word, you might have several interactions of conversation points back and forth between Source A and Source B, where source gets to say something, Source B kind of introduces an idea. Source A might some in some other place and source A or in some extrapolation from sources point, have a retort to a certain extent and then you go through that until you’re till you’re satisfied. And then maybe it’s time to introduce Source C.

Dave Carillo: Yeah, right. And that’s actually a really good point. One of the things that this speaks to, and this is one of the sort of central, you know, moves that is overlapped is is that it’s active, it’s not passive. You know, we’re asking students these assignments, ask students to actively do something with sources. You know, in the five paragraph essay, the

Steve Pearlman: Source basic

Dave Carillo: Information you can just form is asking for a passivity body. Paragraphs one through three are all in support of my thesis, so I have to do nothing other than to say, here’s a source, and we know that it supports my thesis. End of story. Right. So as whereas in the OECD, one of the the active moves is showing how each source complicates or evolves an answer to the question. Right. And this one, the active move is to constantly look be looking for moments where the two sources interact with each other in terms of how they deal with a subject, how they answer a question. Evidence they used to grapple with with some sort of issue. And the student is constantly needing to be in place to point that out to the audience, to the readers of it.

Steve Pearlman: So both of these make the students more active agents, the more active intellectuals in the process, rather than just people who say that they found something that says something that relates back to the thing that they want to say exactly thesis. And both of those are doing similar things, but they approach it in a different way. You can see the overlap, but it’s allowing for slightly different ways and lenses through which to approach text and critical thinking. Mm hmm. Should we move on to the third?

Dave Carillo: Let’s go to the third.

Steve Pearlman: So the third model is what we call the metacognitive essay or the self interrogative essay. And it’s a little it’s a little more meta than some of the others, but it’s a great task for students to become more self-aware of their own thinking. And I think of the three this is maybe I guess, I think some students would challenge me on this. I think it’s maybe one of the more challenging ones. But then I always have students who say that this is actually was easier for

Dave Carillo: Them can be it can be tricky, but it’s definitely worthwhile.

Steve Pearlman: So the student might introduce a point. Maybe they introduce an introduction, they introduce a thesis, or maybe they’re introducing a question. It can be driven either way. And then they start to introduce like they might in the OECD. They start to introduce some information that’s starting to drive them toward an answer. And then we go back to one of the great things Dave said earlier, which was have students in their own text go back and highlight moments of their own thinking they’re going to go into paragraph three. And the point that they made in paragraph three, and they’re going to underline something or bolded or whatever you highlight it, signify it in some way. And it’s a point where they made an assertion. They made a claim, they used a piece of evidence, they made an interpretation. They had an assumption that they were working off of or something. It doesn’t matter. They’re finding something where they produced an idea or they produced a thought, and they’re going to use the subsequent paragraph to in some way speak to the degree to which they did sound intellectual thinking in that previous thought. And the critical aspect of that is telling students that the only rule is you can’t say that your thinking was perfect and we don’t really care that your thinking was good. It’s not really about advocating for how good your thinking was. It’s much more about looking at what you did and trying to articulate to the reader what’s an assumption I was making? They might start off with simpler ones.

Steve Pearlman: I just assume that other people have read the text in the way that I described it, and that’s fine. But then they might get into. I realize now in looking at that that I made a connection to something else that was said in class about the nature of symbolism in this text. I’m from a literary standpoint, but it doesn’t matter. Translate this across your your disciplinary spectrum. I realized that I was also thinking about this, that this other thing was in my head, and I didn’t mention that there. And the inclusion of this other piece of information strengthens or undermines or at least adds more color to the point that I was trying to make and helps my reader and myself grant more insight into the thinking process that I’m working through here. And then they can either go ahead and underline a piece of that and move on into another metacognitive move. Or they can say based on that, the next point that I think that I have to bring light to in the text out of source is the following, and they’re able to explain why they’re making a move into a different source based on trying to fill a gap for something that they had assumed. We’re trying to fill a gap for something that they had interpreted or trying to fill a gap for something where they had. Used a piece of evidence or a piece of knowledge that wasn’t necessarily driven out of the source.

Dave Carillo: Yeah, and this is, I mean, it does. Admittedly, it gets tricky. I mean, as soon as you ask a student or anybody to articulate an assumption they were making in order to come to some conclusion, that’s going to take a little bit of time for the individual to get their head around. What an assumed everything. Anything this is like, perfectly logical, right? But after after a while, what students get out of this is just like a much better understanding of how they’re reading evidence, how they’re interpreting evidence, how they’re valuing evidence on their way to coming to some kind of conclusion. And it gives them it gives them the space to start to look at the limitations, which is wholly nonexistent. Well, in too many places in academia, I would say, I mean, certainly in the five paragraph form, but I don’t want a lot of places you don’t want to overly generalize, but we’ve talked about this before. We know that students feel like they have to pick a point and argue it. And if they if they look at any sort of like limitation in their argument, they’re weakening their argument.

Dave Carillo: And that’s why they’re not going to do it and they’re going to issue any evidence that complicates those kinds of things. And what this assignment does is actually open up a dedicated space for them to do just that and that that helps students in a lot of different ways. And one of the key ways is just developing a stronger, metacognitive framework for how they think about anything in school. One of the sort of side notes here is that, you know this this can be its own paper, or you can put this over into sort of mini assignment where you ask students to annotate a piece of writing that they’ve done yes and talk about. Here’s my idea of limitation could be this limitation could be that here’s the assumption I was making and that either, you know, can work on its own. Or if you’ve got the opportunity to allow students to rewrite or revise, you could ask them to annotate their work along those lines and then build in some of that thinking into their paper the next time around.

Steve Pearlman: And it would like to add one magic trick for making this work, because if you’re like me, the first time I considered way, way back and I started to think about integrating the sort of metacognitive work I thought by a man, students are going to struggle with that, and they and they do a little bit at first, and we want to give them the opportunity to work from simpler, metacognitive positions into deeper, metacognitive positions because reflection takes practice like anything else. But here’s the big trick. If they do it to each other’s work and you give them that time to look at somebody else’s paper and say, Hey, here’s a limit to the point that you’re making. You’ve just assumed something about your reader or you just assume something here. They can see it in each other’s claims much easier than their own, but it is training for them to see it in there. Yeah. So when they do it to their peers three times, then they can start to do it for themselves more often. And by the way, if you think they don’t like doing it for their peers, it’s very engaging for them. They like being able to pick things apart. We obviously want it to happen in a constructive way, but it’s it’s typically something that engages them fairly well.

Dave Carillo: Can I? I’m just going to add this as a side note to students need to see that this strengthens their thinking. Right, right. I mean, and there there are some people have made some really lousy assumptions, you know, in their lives, well, I don’t hear any bears in that caves that might not be bears in that cave. I’m going to go into that cave. But there are some decent assumptions and we have to make assumptions to allow us to function in everyday society. Sometimes we make assumptions based on context based on evidence. We know this. Students can start to see that contextualizing their thinking around, Well, here’s what I was assuming. This is why I was assuming that is not something that necessarily weakens their thinking the same way. Look, here’s my idea, but there are some key limitations to this idea, and I want to articulate them is not something that weakens their thinking, that strengthens their thinking. And students need to see that making an assumption isn’t necessarily always bad, but they need to be aware that they have a limitation to an idea isn’t always bad, but they need to be aware of their limitations.

Steve Pearlman: The whole thing is, can we help students to become, in this sense, this paper? Can you be much more self aware of the cognitive moves that you’re making when you’re making them? And why are you making them? And to the extent to which you should make them? And Dave’s right? He’s absolutely right. We all make assumptions. You have to make assumptions, and sometimes you even have to make assumptions that aren’t perfectly safe ones. And that’s OK. Can we just be aware of it? And making students aware of that thinking process is is a gift to itself. So I think there are two other points I would bring in about all of these in totality to wrap up. And Dave, if you have others, of course. Yes, sure. First, if you’ve typically experienced an issues where, gee, it’s hard to get my students just to even write that five paragraph essay. My students don’t like to write. They don’t like trying to fill out the words, you know, and so on each of these forms, not on categorically not without exception, but each of these forms on the whole spur more writing rather than less. You will find students doing more writing than you ever thought in engaging in more deeply why they’re asking an interesting question and their reasoning their way through how different sources start to implicate an answer for that. It starts to get more interesting. They start to have more to say rather than less.

Steve Pearlman: The five paragraph essay restricts the amount that they can actually say because they’re not engaging text as deeply as they could. Now they’re starting to engage text, and their thoughts become more of the fabric of the piece. So that expands in any of these forms, right? The critical discussion, they start to look at how these authors could start to speak to one another and where the gaps are and where they want to fill in what they have to say. All of these things start to increase it. The other point I want to make, and I’m sure it hasn’t escaped our listeners, but it’s worth putting out, right? Anyway, is these three forms obviously don’t have to be separate forms ultimately. Each of these can be stepping stones into a form that merges all of these things together. Your semester, a first quarter of it is on the first form, the second quarter of it’s on the third second form and the third quarter of it’s on the third form. And then the last one is put them all together, do something that synthesizes all these. It’s an evolving question with a critical conversation and some metacognitive work all wrapped together. And so and that might be for some of the more advanced students. Maybe that’s later in their academic career, depending upon where you are and with whom you’re working. But nevertheless, you obviously said these are overlapping and you can see how they complement one another.

Dave Carillo: I think those are two great takeaways. The third is maybe not entirely off of what you were saying, but I just want to emphasize it. We want our students to engage with the material of the course to see the significance of the content. These are all ways for them to do that. They are not just writing to write anymore. They are not just reading to read. They’re now engaging intellectually with the content of your course. And even if you can only get through one half of one of these forms, it’s going to pay dividends much more than any five paragraph essay that you ever assigned. Even if you never assign any of these, you can take these forms and use them to model discussions in the class. You can take these forms and use them to model reading assignments that you give them to take home. Hey, tonight you’re going to read text and text B. When you do so, look for moments where they would quote, speak to each other. How are they speaking to each other in terms of their conclusions, in terms of their evidence or their reasoning? Can we understand about the conversation around the Titanic now that we see how these sources are speaking to each other and so on and so forth? So even if you don’t assign any of these writing assignments, you can use them to where you can work them into class discussion, you can use them as reading assignments. There’s a lot of different ways that you can take what we’ve talked about here and put them into your classroom. And again, in the end, students are intellectually engaging the material. They’re not passively trying to take it in and memorize it for no reason. They are now actively involved in the class, and that’s and that’s a great thing for everybody.

Steve Pearlman: And the only word of warning we’d give you is that if you’re an educator and you want to start to bring some of these into your classroom, please remember that your students probably have been more reared on other forms for a while and that the first effort in this and the second effort at the some of these new forms, they’re not going to come at these easily and they’re going to struggle a little bit because they’re used to doing other kinds of writing. They might be used to a five paragraph essay that doesn’t invalidate the forms. It doesn’t invalidate your teaching. It just means you’ve got to give them a little time, a little prep and an expectation that this is going to be a process for them and we want to make them aware of that as well. It’s going to be a process to move into this other kind of writing, and that’s OK. And it’s going to take a little while. So we just don’t want you to have if your students are coming from a five paragraph place or even a place where they’re just used to doing anything else that they’re immediately going to just jump right into this and and meet it with great success on the first draft.

Dave Carillo: That’s a good point, but they will start to, you know, take it seriously when you show them that what you’re valuing is, is their thinking process. They do respond to that, even if it is tough for some of them, even if it’s tough in the beginning, you know, stick with it, model it, talk about it and make it explicit and they will respond.

Steve Pearlman: So after that, we’ll we’ll go back into our news as a week right after this shameless plug. Yeah.

Voiceover: The critical thinking initiatives handbooks are on sale at the Critical Thinking Initiative dot org. The teachers version of the handbook not only walks you through everything in the student handbook, it also provides you with research synopsis for the. Critical thinking initiatives, framework and the turnkey exercises, you need to bring critical thinking into any class and any discipline high school through graduate school for wholesale orders for your students, just contact us at the Critical Thinking Initiative Dawg free downloads of the Critical Thinking Initiatives Infographic are also available on our site, where you can also contact us with questions or comments for Steve and Dave. Elementary and junior high versions are coming soon, so check back to our site for updates.

Steve Pearlman: All right, it’s time for news of the week. Go Dave.

Dave Carillo: Oh man, you totally surprised me. I thought you were going to want to go first. All right, so here’s my news of the week I had to. I had to pull this. As you know, I get Google alerts for things like critical thinking, cognition, metacognition. Yeah, UFOs. Yeah, Bigfoot, Bigfoot, not Bigfoot yet. But I should probably add that you don’t have the Bigfoot one. The Google alert is a really fantastic tool for keeping abreast of where your topics of interest show up in the news and

Steve Pearlman: The paranormal

Dave Carillo: And the paranormal. Exactly. This one is by Stuart Wrigley. It’s in the times higher education. It’s an opinion piece, and I think the Times is unaffiliated with The London Times. Stuart Wrigley is the he’s a teaching fellow at Royal Holloway University of London, and he works in the centre for the development of academic skills. And I knew I needed to pull this because I thought I was going to totally go nuts while I read it. The title of this article is there is no such thing as critical thinking, and he starts what? Yes, exactly. And I was like, I was like, All right, it’s on. We’re a

Steve Pearlman: Whole podcast

Dave Carillo: Is no.

Steve Pearlman: Well, yeah. So wait, did he engage? Did he think his way into that title or he’s not?

Dave Carillo: He is what happened here. Let’s just say he starts by saying, like many university teachers, I’ve had numerous students asking me what critical thinking is, and he mulls over that. He mentions, you know, the most universities want better critical thinkers. And you know, we as educators, we lecture on better critical thinking. We have workshops on critical thinking. And he says, quote. So we in learning, development and academic skills, much try harder. And he’s mentioned to try harder to teach critical thinking. Or must we as I struggled to satisfactorily answer the latest student to ask me what critical thinking was, I was suddenly minded to subject critical thinking to some, well, critical thinking. And he says, it occurs to me that perhaps there is no such thing as critical thinking at all. The concept is a tautology. Oh, so I’m kind of ready to pounce, right? Because blown my first well, my first impulse right was to say, that’s no people are running around thinking and say they’re thinking critically all the time, but all they’re really doing is just making like major generalizations, right? Operating on assumptions and so on and so forth.

Dave Carillo: This is where the article turns. For me, though, this is this is why I’m happy I continue to read, right? He says. You sort of to follow up on his point. In a sense, you can’t teach critical thinking because it doesn’t really exist as a distinct entity if you’re, you know, he says, most sentient human beings think well enough, and our students are mostly no exception. They think critically all the time. This is when I was like, Hmm, this is interesting. We too have mentioned that students think critically all the time. He goes on to give an example of this. He was in line in the cafeteria, I think, and he overheard a discussion between three newly arrived 18 year olds as to the best method of commuting to and from the nearby town, right? He goes on to elaborate. The conversation was quote in effect, a cogent cost benefit analysis of various possible forms of transport. And this is where I thought you got into our heads a little bit, right? Evidence was weighed against evidence. Conclusions were drawn. And you’re right.

Steve Pearlman: I’ve heard some of that before.

Dave Carillo: I so have I right? This is what students do all the time. So he said, you know, they reached a conclusion based on weighing of evidence, and they did it. He Harrah, he thought. Then he goes on, Ask, though quote, if these students are doing such a good job of thinking critically, why do they feel the need to ask me what critical thinking is? Why do they need workshops and self-help books? His answer is and why I brought this in because it’s not controversial. I think we actually just need more people to say this, as we’ve been saying on and on. He says. I think the answer is that they struggle to express their critical thinking in accordance with academic conventions, right? Which is a version of what we’ve been saying. In other words, they can walk the walk, but not a last talk to talk. This is what we need to teach them, and here’s where it gets uncanny. He says this is what we need to teach him, and it means paying explicit attention to writing at university and being prepared to talk about that writing. So that’s exactly, you know, this is and this is to some extent where we’ve been coming from all along. Students think critically all the time, but then they get into their classes and they write these papers and they’re not thinking, they’re not right. They’re just some. Rising rate is the basic benchmark we’ve been working with.

Dave Carillo: He goes on to say as well attested in the pedagogical literature, talking ideas through and writing them down helps to foster clear and logical thinking. So he makes that argument right. Writing is a powerful tool for developing sharp arguments yet, and the UK at least it is woefully underused. His argument goes on. Unlike in the US, little overt attention has been historically dedicated to teaching writing. All too often, essays are written with little or no feedback between drafts and with detailed comments given only when it is too late for students to act on them. This is both ironic and puzzling, considering the sheer quantity of written work produced by the average degree student. I will say, though it’s interesting that he says, unlike in the US. But I guess, you know, I guess I would have to do some more research as to sort of how writing is taught or talked about in classes in the UK because I guess we do have at least in terms of like English 104 as the most offered and taken class in junior college writing, right? Yeah, I use one oh, four, because that’s that’s our numerical English 101, one hundred one thousand one hundred two, you know, two point five. Basically, any first year student has to take a composition class. It’s it’s I think it’s the most heavily matriculated class on anywhere,

Steve Pearlman: But we even know that. And first of all, I love this guy because he’s saying what we’re saying. He’s saying what we’re saying. Obviously, that makes us writer. Even though we have composition classes, we don’t necessarily see critical thinking growth or strong or critical thinking outcomes as a direct result. And that’s one of the things that we’ve been taking on.

Dave Carillo: No, absolutely. And he makes the kind of argument that we’ve been making essentially now he’s stopped short of offering specific solutions the way that we’ve dedicated the last eight years of our lives to. But he’s on point in terms of the best way to strengthen critical thinking is through writing. The best way to work on thinking and writing is to talk about that writing. And he also says something else not in the same way we have, but that is very important, which is if critical thinking is not made explicit in the class in terms of defining it, in terms of asking for it, teaching it, working with it, assessing it, it’s not going to happen. So is he right that there is no such thing as critical thinking? I don’t know, but I love the title, but he’s he’s right on point with where we want to be.

Steve Pearlman: I like his central premise, like, we’re getting texted and it’s just good to hear some affirmation. Exactly, exactly. I kind of have a little more for us.

Dave Carillo: Yeah, good. Great. More affirmation. Yeah, get out of town. I don’t think I can handle any more affirmation.

Steve Pearlman: We’re not used

Dave Carillo: To it like one piece per month.

Steve Pearlman: Well, it’s it is. It makes me uncomfortable, right?

Dave Carillo: All right. Well, I’ll try to power through your news of the week.

Steve Pearlman: This is by Victoria P. Maiorana, and it’s from Education Week and the title is your teaching subject matter wrong and open letter to educators from the material they teach. Wow.

Dave Carillo: So I do think I was just going to ask, but I was going to say, Do you think the material actually wrote it? Yeah, I think

Steve Pearlman: I think I’m pretty sure she’s I’m pretty sure she’s a history

Dave Carillo: Textbook. She’s a textbook. Exactly. That’s my point.

Steve Pearlman: I’ll have to check on that.

Dave Carillo: I’m going to have to set up a Google to see whether, like textbooks coming alive is like an ongoing thing.

Steve Pearlman: Well, with the HTML, maybe.

Dave Carillo: True.

Steve Pearlman: Anyway, I love the title. I love that she’s personifying subject matter and coming out from that perspective, and I like the point that she makes overall about this in the grand scheme, at least. And what she says. There’s something I must tell all educators and education leaders. You’ve been hurting my feelings. Of course, she’s speaking as subject matter for a very long time. You think of me as just static and serial collection of facts and ideas to be memorized. That is not the real me. Hmm. For more than 50 years, you’ve tried to reform schools and schooling by addressing issues of organization, management, finance, access standards and assessment. But these efforts have often overlooked the essence of teaching, practice and student learning, critical thinking, reading and writing directed at me the subject matter and quote. So I love it, right? So she’s saying, Look, you’re the acquisition of subject is really not what education should be about and you guys are missing, it’s the engagement. And she goes on to make this point sort of that when you’re engaging subjects for the first time, certainly there’s a serial nature to it, which is that, you know, you’re going to read one text that you’re going to read another text and there’s a certain amount of things that are going to happen in a particular sequence. But then she writes, quote here is the problem with such conventional practice. It is based on serialism or the practice of treating all my facts and ideas at the same one dimensional level.

Steve Pearlman: This deadens, you’re critically disposed mind. Nice, right? And so and this is a great point, because it actually plays back to what we were saying about the five paragraph essay, yeah. All information is traded treated relatively equally. Yeah. And how in sequential learning, all information is treated relatively equally. You’re going to learn this fact. Then you learn that fact. You read this chapter, you’re going to read that chapter. All the chapters are of equal. All the subjects, all the classes you go to are of equal theoretical importance, right? Everything happens at this one dimensional level, as she calls it. I call it a dead level. Everything’s the same, and I really love that she’s approaching it that way. She says we need to move into what we call, she says, the grammar of the mind. For me, I think it gets a little vague. And granted as a commentary piece like your was and she only has a certain amount of opportunity to engage it, but she doesn’t quite get into exactly what she means by what the grammar of the mind is. She does offer a little bit on it. She says quote, as a human being, you already possess the ability to reason critically. You were born with it and which that’s what we say.

Dave Carillo: We’re just it’s been echoing over and over in like, you know, the article last week to rethink infants can tell if you’re lying there. They look at you.

Steve Pearlman: And then she does sort of offer this grammar. And and what I like about it, of course, is because it reinforces what we say. The grammar of the mind is to use our term. And it echoes what we do in our resources and our in our book. But she says your conscious mind has its own innate informal grammar for thinking this grammar of mind always seeks intent, identifies the activity needed to achieve intent and when thinking, fully considers the consequences that follow. Nice. And you may use this throughout the day. So she’s pointing to this idea that again, we are built with this reasoning capacity that looks at what you know in some way looks at the situation and in some way figures out what we need to achieve. Figures out a way to achieve it and potentially hopefully is wise enough to consider the ramifications or the consequences of what it is that we’re doing, which is what we’ve been saying as the central message of what we’re doing. And the issue is making that the valued aspect of education rather than something else, which is what

Dave Carillo: She’s advocating and making it explicit, right? You know, this is, you know, this is this is suddenly like front and center in the classroom.

Steve Pearlman: That’s for what she’s advocating as well. And yeah, she doesn’t maybe have the time or doesn’t go into it with the specificity that might be as most valued. But she makes such a compelling case from the subject matter standpoint, vocalizing herself as a subject that I think it’s a unique take on how to conceptualize it. That’s sort of lamenting that me as a subject, I’m not being engaged as much as I’d like to be right because you’re not allowing your students to engage me with their full mind. And I love that perspective.

Dave Carillo: I love it, right? Hey, look, you know, the more perspectives on this we can get, you know, the better. So if the textbooks need to rise up to, then so be it. When the time just I’m still just going to assume that it was written by a textbook and

Steve Pearlman: Ok, bad name textbook

Dave Carillo: Revolt, textbook revolt. That’s not bad. It’s not bad.

Steve Pearlman: I’d see textbook approval.

Dave Carillo: I would probably see it once I’d be skeptical. But you know, look, if they’re going to rock me, they’re going to rock me. So.

Steve Pearlman: So anyway, that’s her piece, and I don’t know if it’s introducing a tremendous amount of new information. Love the term grammar of the mind, but do you think that the perspective on it is really valuable? Well, I think it’s another lens through which,

Dave Carillo: You know, and I think it’s really interesting, too, that we did both randomly choose affirming articles.

Steve Pearlman: But I think this will be the only time in podcast history.

Dave Carillo: No, seriously. But they do speak to a lot of what we’ve been saying, and it is good to hear other people starting to speak that way, too. I mean, I’m sure there’s plenty of folks we just have to connect with everybody. You speak the same way,

Steve Pearlman: Which reminds us, please feel free as we wrap up here to reach out to us at the critical thinking initiative. Morgue info at the Critical Thinking Initiative Morgue. Bring us your questions. Bring us your concerns. Bring us your complaints, your criticisms, whatever you got. We’d love to engage with here. Share, share and thanks again for listening. We’ll see you next week.

Dave Carillo: Take care.

Voiceover: Thank you for listening to the Critical Thinking Initiative podcast. Got questions for Steve and Dave? Just send them to info at the Critical Thinking Initiative dot org. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter and find us at WW W Dot The Critical Thinking Initiative. Org.


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