Three Critical Thinking Exercises

PUBLISHED: Oct 11, 2017

In This Episode.

Struggling to find ways to integrate direct critical thinking instruction into your courses?  In this week’s episode, Steve and Dave offer some modified versions of three exercises straight from The Critical Thinking Initiative handbook, exercises you can easily adapt into your coursework regardless of subject, discipline, or even grade level.  Also, learn about a mysterious “mental gremlin”!

Episode Archive

Three Critical Thinking Exercises

October 11, 2017

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: Welcome back to the Critical Thinking Initiative podcast. I’m Steve Pearlman.

Dave Carillo: I’m Dave Carillo. Thanks for being with us today.

Steve Pearlman: And today we’re going to take a slight turn here. The Critical Thinking Initiative podcast after our initial two episodes, some of the feedback we’ve gotten from our listeners is that what they’d really like us do is take a moment, especially now, when some of them are in the thick of the semester to offer a couple of concrete, critical thinking exercises that everybody can do, which we understand because we’re at that point in the semester now where everybody is feeling frustrated with the work that’s coming in from the students, and we want to see more critical thinking

Dave Carillo: In some of the positive feedback we’ve gotten. The negative feedback was just don’t do it anymore.

Steve Pearlman: Please, please, for the love of

Dave Carillo: God, for the love of God. No more podcast. But we are going to continue to do this because we believe in the message. So today we’re going to talk about three of the numerous exercises we’ve come up with that we’ve put into our Critical Thinking Initiative textbook to help students start to engage material more critically, to engage their own thinking more critically and, you know, to open them up to just a larger world of critical dialogue, as it were.

Steve Pearlman: We’re going to reference our book and sort of our framework on critical thinking here, but these are techniques or lesson plans that you can put in any framework or you can do in your class. You don’t need our system for it. We are proponents of critical thinking, regardless of whether or not you find the way we’re approaching it to be the one that’s right for you.

Dave Carillo: Yeah, no. Actually, we picked some of our favorites, but they they all do come kind of from the beginning of the book where we’re just really working on more of a sort of metacognitive framework for students. We don’t really even necessarily get into our system until later. So this is this is perfect for literally anyone. And as usual, across the disciplines, this applies to just

Steve Pearlman: Happen in any classroom exactly anywhere. Yep. And even I think a lot of these exercises, there are cognates that can be adapted at any level of education.

Dave Carillo: Yeah, in fact, you know, and these days too, as we’re starting to think more and more about how to bring our work to as many people as possible, we’re actually starting to think about elementary schools, you know, the younger grades where you get to get to the kids before before it’s too late as it were.

Steve Pearlman: All right. So let’s jump into the first idea here and we call this the metal log.

Dave Carillo: Yes, the metal

Steve Pearlman: Log ET a meta and log metal log. And here is the idea whatever framework for critical thinking you might use with the students, or even if you want to do it a little more informally without a specific framework, the metal log asks students to take a number of days of their life. Usually I do it over the course of a week, and what we’re asking students to do in this is simply to write a reflection every day on a decision that they had to make and reflect on what the components were that went into that decision making process for them. What was the evidence they used? What were the factors in the decision? How do they weigh those factors out and our framework, of course, we’re looking at first talking about an understanding of what’s happening, then going into clarifying what the problem is out of the understanding of the situation, working into how we weigh out evidence recognizing the complexity of that evaluative move, where it’s great, what’s left to be considered and then finally moving into a conclusion. But you can use any framework that you want or even just ask students to reflect with some different kinds of prompts for this. And the big goal here is that we want students to become self-aware of how they think and how they process information, because we know that for students, so much of the thinking that they do is subconscious. And the whole idea of this metal org assignment is to develop that metacognitive move for them and let them at least be aware of the kind of thinking they do when they’re doing it.

Dave Carillo: And I think that, you know, one of the things that we try to emphasize is to the students we work with is that that metacognitive framework is really, really important. But there are a couple other ways that this becomes a really useful exercise. First and foremost, it allows students to start to develop a language to describe what they’re thinking, how they’re thinking, why they’re thinking that. And that’s really huge. If there’s any sort of writing in your class and formal writing, we know that a lot of times students really, really have the language to summarize. So the minute they’re able to start to grasp new phrases, language words that describe how they’re coming to conclusions, you can start to point that out. To them, and that becomes really valuable when they start to write on the material in your class. So that’s one of the things that I always think and you know, we talk a lot about modeling when we work with faculty, and this is one way you can start to model the metal objects, give them phrases for these different moves now again. You know, Steve said, you know, we don’t we don’t advocate necessarily that you use our system, you can use any system you want. But we do provide language and a lot of language tools in our textbook about for students to get a grasp of how to describe their reasoning process for an audience.

Dave Carillo: But you can do that with literally anything. So I just wrote down in my notebook as an example. Make sure that students know. Here’s what I observed. Here’s what I evaluated. Here’s how I drew my conclusions. This is what’s significant. Just modeling a little bit of the language helps it along, but you’ll find again, as students come to write for your class, they’re going to be a little bit more articulate about how they’re engaging the material. The other thing too, and this is something that I think a lot of people see is that it eliminates the assumption that people can read their mind. So stay with me. Essentially, a very popular mode of using a quotation in a paper would be to use the quote and then say something along the lines of therefore X, Y and Z, or this quote means X, Y and Z. And there’s something missing generally between the student using the quote and exactly why they think it’s valid or why they think it’s reasonable, or to what extent it’s going to add to their

Steve Pearlman: Discussion or something that they might be interpreting in a certain way. They’re not aware that they’re making an interpretation.

Dave Carillo: Exactly, exactly. I mean, and you see that or we see that often in student writing or at least earlier student writing before they start to kind of grasp the sort of language they need. And so this is another reason why we love the catalog because it starts to prep them for engaging the material. So you’re going to find that the writing is a little bit more articulate as they do this exercise. But then again, if you want them to use sources, this is a perfect way to get them sort of in the mode of describing to the audience how they’re reasoning about those sources. Two really big moves that you can make with this menulog after the students get used to doing it.

Steve Pearlman: And I think Dave’s point about language here is critical because as you said, students don’t have the terminology even to be aware of some of the intellectual kind of work that they’re doing. It’s this big, amorphous jumble in their brain and the ability for them to ascribe some language to specific intellectual work or different kinds of intellectual work is critical for them. But then at the same time, right as I was saying as well, it’s so important that they even just become self-aware of their thinking that if you think about it, if you’re an educator right now and you want to see more thinking from your students or your students, even aware of the thinking that they’re doing, and if they’re not aware of the thinking that they’re doing, if they can bring that to the surface, if they can articulate those intellectual moves outwards, if it’s all subconscious for them, how can they possibly bring it to you? So the metal helps the students become aware of the kinds of intellectual moves that they’re doing. As you said, maybe just even when they’re observant of something versus when they’re trying to make a decision about something or looking at a foundation of where their decisions come from and what they’re valuing when they’re valuing things. All of this metacognition is critical. If we want them to eventually be able to think about any given subject matter or thinking a disciplinary way, it’s useful first, just to at least let them become aware of what they’re doing when they’re making a decision on the daily lives.

Dave Carillo: Yeah, and in the middle of two becomes this sort of key that you can use when students are working with the materials. So if they’re already somewhat familiar, gaining familiarity with their thinking process via this metal, next time you introduce a reading or next time you’re telling them to use the source, you can just simply say, now make sure you met a log this out and they’ll get a they’ll understand what you’re trying to say, which is essentially, I need to articulate my reasoning process this time, not about what I’m seeing in the how I’m choosing an ice cream flavor, but this time about what I think about the Iliad or what I think about this particular, like why this particular like biolab went wrong. It becomes a sort of key, a stand in for the kind of, you know, method we eventually want them to have automatically when they engage materials.

Steve Pearlman: And we got to say to build on that that it’s amazing when students go through this process. I do it for a week. And at the end of the week, the seventh day entry for the log is a reflection on what they got out of it. And what we always hear from them is a three part response, basically, or what’s typical as we look at them, at least in broad strokes. At first, they all say they don’t really know why they had to do the assignment, and they couldn’t really necessarily even fit their thinking into this structure or figure out how do you apply these concepts to their own thinking process? Then they say. They could apply the thinking process into these categories and become more self-aware, and they sort of get it, and the third stage of this is that they can’t go into a cognitive situation without now being self-aware of how they’re making these different actual intellectual moves that we outline for them in the process of making any decision. And what they say is, you know, I never realized how much thinking I actually do when I decide what I’m going to wear in the morning or whether or not to go to a movie with some friends. These simple things that they do in their lives that are everyday occurrences are actually the product of nevertheless a complex thinking process, and they become self-aware of what those intellectual movements are and when they become aware of how they can make a decision about what they’re going to wear in the morning, which is something seemingly so trivial, they can there also become aware of what they’re going to do when they are a sociologist or how they’re going to evaluate a source and writing a paper, or how they’re going to act as a student in your class relative to a given assignment. And all of this starts to become more self-aware for them. And then as a consequence of that self-awareness, you get to see more of it as a faculty member, as a teacher.

Dave Carillo: One of the reasons why we find it so valuable is because you don’t actually have to make up any of the material for them to work through the initial seven entries. They just that’s just whatever they’re doing. Yeah. And there is usually this sort of like growing self-awareness, and there may maybe they’re starting to see that like they’re making assumptions left and right on the first day and maybe like by the third day, they’re not making so many assumptions and so on and so forth. But going from an action using an exercise that literally requires no material other than like a set of directions to those initial moves to start to transform into into intellectual moves within the classroom in terms of the material is just it’s just great. So this is low, low stakes and the payoff is huge, especially if as as they move through a week or two of this assignment, you start to make them more aware of how they need to be doing the same thing with the material class.

Steve Pearlman: And then you can take that and you can do a second layer to the metal log, which is not looking generically at their thinking process about trivial things. But you can also then bring that same thinking process into your discipline, provided it’s one that overlays right, which is one of the reasons why we push for an interdisciplinary conception of critical thinking so much. But you can bring this into your discipline, so you are able to say, All right now, how do you apply this if you were a psychologist looking at this situation? They can go through that same reasoning process, but they can do it on a psychological basis. Looking at the data that’s available or a psychological theory, they can do it as a biologist looking at an experiment. The whole point is that once that reasoning process becomes self-aware outside of your discipline, you can bring that same self-awareness into the disciplinary construct.

Dave Carillo: All right, so OK. So that was that was the metallurgy. And if you want to learn more about it, go to our website. It’s really easy one to do, and the payoff is just huge. So yeah,

Steve Pearlman: Maybe we’ll post the prompt for that up on the website.

Dave Carillo: Well, if not that one, at least one, one of the ones that was one of the ones you’re talking about. Ok, so do you want to do report or attorney jury or opinion thoughts versus let’s do opinions and thoughts? Ok, so all right. So the next one is opinions and thoughts. And like we said, this is an exercise that we try to do as soon as possible with students, especially when we have an eye on eventually engaging actual academic material. Essentially, what we do is we draw a distinction between opinions and thoughts, and the basic distinction is that an opinion is like a personal opinion. It can come from literally anywhere. A thought, on the other hand, needs to be linked to some sort of validated evidence.

Steve Pearlman: So one thing I want to add in here is just I want to clarify a little more. Our distinction between an opinion and a thought. An example we give to students a lot is that your favorite color is your opinion. You’re allowed to have any favorite color that you want, and that’s not up for debate. We can’t debate your favorite color, but which color is best for camouflage is not a matter of opinion. Running around a jungle in chartreuse is probably not the best idea if you don’t want to get shot, I guess in Moore or what have you. But the idea is that what we’re trying to get students to understand is a very simple breakdown between what’s just something that’s somebody spewing off and something that’s actually grounded in evidence and that we can test the thought that thoughts are testable against each other relative to the evidence and the reasoning. Whereas opinions are not testable to each other. And when you have students who are saying to you, you can’t grade my opinion, what we are able to say back to them is you’re right, and we have no interest in grading your opinion, and we really have no interest in hearing your opinion. What we want, though, is to be able to examine your thought and then that distinction starts to make sense for them and what’s great about it. Is that the complaints that we hear from students like you can’t judge my opinion diminish because we understand and we’ve all talked about how your opinions aren’t in play here. Your thought is and your thought has to do with your reasoning and your evidence.

Dave Carillo: And there’s a lot of ways you can compound this exercise. One of the things that we do do is we like to take the opinions of distinction on the road, generally by bringing in one or two readings from either a magazine or something along those lines. And we ask students to annotate and just be able to discern between what seems like an opinion and what seems like a thought to compound that they need to explain their reasoning as to why they think it’s opinion, why they think it’s a thought and not usually gets to looking at issues of evidence and reasoning within the article itself. But you can also turn that back on them. Sometimes we ask them to bring in old writing and annotate that for opinions and thoughts, and that’s always eye opening for them. You can do it with literally any material, whether it be a new segment. You can bring in videos, you name it. Once they get the idea of what an opinion is, what they’re looking for or what a thought is, what they’re essentially looking for. You can start to spot it everywhere, and that’s huge and once they can start to spot it anywhere. One of the ways you translate this is to simply say, All right, now we’re going to write on X, Y and Z. I’m not looking for opinions here. I’m looking for thoughts, and they know that means

Steve Pearlman: One of the ways that that plays out is that they actually start to call one another on it in class

Dave Carillo: Discussions. Yeah, or

Steve Pearlman: They do look at it and they start to say, you know, Well, what’s your evidence for that? Or you’re making a certain interpretation of something because they’re recognizing the extent to which thoughts need to be present and thoughts need to be grounded in some kind of rationale in some kind of evidence play. And at some point after you do this exercise, we promise you we’ll hear some students say, I’ve looked at all my friends posts on Facebook, and they’re all just meaningless opinions, and none of them are thoughts. And then that’s a victory for the world.

Dave Carillo: Yeah, it ought to be a victory for everyone. We’d like to think that it’s a victory for the world.

Steve Pearlman: All right. So should we move it to the third? Let’s blow into our third

Dave Carillo: Year into the third exercise.

Steve Pearlman: Third exercise is called reporter, attorney jury, and one of the things that we are constantly struggling with students about is obviously trying to get them to move beyond merely summarizing what’s in a text, regurgitating what’s in a text and moving into more complex modes of thought. So one of the things that we do in the book is we spend a lot of time talking to them about what their role would be if they were in a courtroom, and we take them through this basic idea. First of all, there’s the reporter the reporter does is obviously report on what is happening. It’s observation and report.

Dave Carillo: So the attorney has to look at a lot of evidence. But the attorney also has to argue for their client and as and as such, they have to choose all the evidence that seems to best support their single side. And they have to oftentimes ignore the evidence that seems to suggest that their side might be wrong. And so what the attorney is basically doing and what the attorney’s responsibilities is just to choose everything that supports their side, argue that side disavow anything that doesn’t argue for their side. And basically, that’s it. So that’s the attorney’s responsibility.

Steve Pearlman: It’s attorneys mandated role, and the attorney has a personal stake in a particular side, an argument. The jury, on the other hand, is ultimately tasked with observing all of the arguments that are being made, which typically is to in a courtroom. But there might be multiple attorneys, and

Dave Carillo: They’re also looking at all the evidence to

Steve Pearlman: So examining all the evidence and reasoning their way through those arguments and those evidence have this piece of evidence toward a rational conclusion. And that conclusion, as we know, is beyond a reasonable doubt. But that doesn’t mean that it’s actually a perfect conclusion, just a conclusion that’s reasonable enough for that point. When we asked students about this and we confront them with this situation, we say, Well, what role are you supposed to play? What we most often hear from students is that they are supposed to be the attorney. They are supposed to take something and argue for it, take that perspective and then sort of lock in and go as hard as they can at that particular line of reasoning

Dave Carillo: And oftentimes even though they say they’re supposed to be the attorney. A lot of what you get is court reporter, right?

Steve Pearlman: In fact, if we ask them, what have you done most sometimes in your educational experience thus far, what role did you play? A lot of them will say mostly we’ve just done reporting, but we realize that we’re supposed to be the attorney and that’s where this flips on them because we don’t want them to be the attorney. We don’t want them to pick a side and then find a bunch of evidence that they can to support that side and try to ignore or downplay or diminish the evidence for the so-called opposing side. But we want them to do as good critical. Thinker’s is really to be open minded to hear any arguments that are being made to look at all the evidence that is being put forward and then to come to a conclusion, hopefully beyond a reasonable doubt, but maybe in this case, maybe with some reasonable doubt.

Dave Carillo: Sure, absolutely.

Steve Pearlman: And so what we try to do is get students into this mode of thinking like a jury instead of going into something with predetermined need to make an argument or a predetermined position.

Dave Carillo: And again, there are a lot of different ways for you to work through this with students, but my favorite one really is is to again pull an example from the quote outside world, an article from a magazine, pull an article from a newspaper and have them annotate. Have them read carefully and come to some conclusions about what is going on in this paragraph. What is going on in that paragraph? The last time I did this was just about a week or half a week and a half ago. I had them go line by line, and I told them that at certain points, maybe you’ll see some attorneys or the bleeding into jury or jury and reporting or those kinds of things. But one of the things that I love about it is that suddenly students are not reading that article for a main idea anymore, right? They’re not reading that article or that sample for what it’s saying, which is generally a lot of what students read for just what it’s saying. And oftentimes they’ve been trained for a long time just to be able to summarize the article suddenly when you’re asking them to annotate using reporter attorney jury, they’re reading the article for not just what the article is saying, but how and why the article is saying that what it’s doing to say those things and that really opens their eyes to to a lot of what’s going on in terms of their reading material and a lot of what’s going on in terms of how people generally do make it. And you get out of it. I think I pulled an article from a very reputable source and they found a lot of attorney and a lot of reporting, but there wasn’t a lot of jury going

Steve Pearlman: And given today. You know, I think it’s worth noting at least that everything now, there’s so much argument going on in our society. There’s so much attorney going on in that respect, where there’s one side, there’s the other side, and neither side will listen to the other side to really encourage students to take that jury mindset. Be open minded here and observe or read and absorb the spectrum of material that’s available where the spectrum of argumentation, a spectrum of data, whatever it is, before coming to a conclusion about it. Because students will certainly tell us that when they go to write a paper, what do they do? They come up with a thesis and then they go and find things to support the thesis, which is the back ass words way of approaching that they should look at what’s available and see what needs to be said and then reason their way through a conclusion on that, rather than putting the argument before the evidence, which is the cart before the horse. In essence,

Dave Carillo: Yeah. And you know, and again, you don’t have to adapt our system, but that’s one of the reasons why we built into our assessment or critical thinking. Our definition and assessment of critical thinking, the idea of complexity. We want to reward or show students that we value the fact that they’re looking at a particular issue from multiple perspectives that they’re working to locate moments of or areas of gray or moments of certainty in their own, in their own thinking. And that pays off huge dividends in terms of how they eventually do come to conclusions. But it starts with this sort of small kind of exercise where, hey, we’re just defining this is what you do when you report, this is what you do when your attorney, this is what you do when you’re a jury. Let’s go look at how that fleshes out. Let’s go look at who’s doing what and how they’re doing it and what that looks like on the page.

Steve Pearlman: When we talk about what, what they’re jeering about and where the what the data pool is, it could be differing interpretations of a poem to different ways to look at a philosophical idea or how to compare different philosophers, right, that those philosophers are each the attorneys making the case. And you are able to be the jury and starting to think about those different arguments and the evidence that they’re presenting and so forth and survey that landscape before drawing your own conclusion to whatever the prompt might be. But I think what’s also great about this is hearing students then lament when they encounter source material that’s only being reporter or only being attorney.

Dave Carillo: That’s always a beautiful moment when they when they start to become critical of the source material because it starts material isn’t doing enough thinking that’s perfect.

Steve Pearlman: Certainly, if you want more on any of these exercises, we’ll put one up on the website and you can also order the book and we’ll be back with the podcast after the shameless plug.

Voiceover: This episode of the Critical Thinking Initiative is brought to you by the Critical Thinking Initiative. Org Visit the Critical Thinking Initiative. Org For an ever expanding resource of books, syllabi, videos and other resources on critical thinking, the critical thinking initiative is always seeking out other people in education who want to work towards raising critical thinking outcomes locally and nationally.

Steve Pearlman: Ok, so should we get into question that we

Dave Carillo: Have to do the question of the week?

Steve Pearlman: And this comes from. Someone who is at the cheer conference this year, just keynoting along with Peter Arthur, yeah, it was

Dave Carillo: Great to meet. Exactly. If you’re wondering, Cheer is the Center for Higher Education Retention

Steve Pearlman: Excellence, and we want to say big. Thank you to Alan Kramer, David Johnston for having us down there.

Dave Carillo: We had a blast, a good time.

Steve Pearlman: It was great to meet everybody down at the conference and made a lot of made a lot of great people who are really committed to this field and to helping students make it through college when they’re not the students who necessarily would have the easiest time making that transition. So the question is thanks for your presentation, yada yada yada and so forth. I was glad to see you drawing out the relationship between grit and a growth mindset and critical thinking. One of the things I struggled with on the way home was how to balance introducing a critical thinking assessment without making my students feel demoralized. Any thoughts? All right. That’s a great

Dave Carillo: Question. That is a great question, and it’s a challenge, but it’s not one that can be overcome.

Steve Pearlman: One thing is that we like to emphasize, and I have to say, it’s one of the things I do like about our construct, but it’s that one of the central messages to students is that they can already think critically. It’s a matter of making that more self-aware and translating that into the academy than it is a matter of actually learning how to think critically. So we tell them that they already do that process, and we talked about that with the metal log. That is just a matter of making them become aware of what kind of critical thinking they are already doing in their lives and becoming self-aware of the parts of that process. But once the students realize that they can already do it, that they do already do it, then it’s at a less intimidating factor for them. It doesn’t make it easy per say, but it makes it easier.

Dave Carillo: Another thing that you can do is just if you’re going to start to assess their critical thinking in relation to whatever material you’re using. Start with low stakes assignments. Start with with assignments that you’re going to give a grade two, but that grade won’t count or they’re smaller so that the students can get used to what you want them to do without having to take on some monumental project. Ease them along into this. And as a side note, one of the things you can do also is at least for the first few assignments. If you’re going to grade them, grade them on a curve, let them know where they stand, but then give them an extra half a grade step or two grade steps and then slowly sort of wean them off the curve. In that way, they always know what they need to do to get better, but they’re not so afraid to fail as they move forward because it’s either low stakes or curved grades that allows them to take the kind of intellectual risks that we talked about in the conference,

Steve Pearlman: And we should be clear about this. We are staunchly anti grade inflation, in fact, and we have rigorous approaches to how we assess our students. But because of that, what we’re saying here is that when students confront our critical thinking assessment for the first time, they are scoring very low on it. So we don’t want that initial grade to have a lot of impact. And so when we say curve that grade, the reason we’re saying is not because we’re curving a b plus up to an A. We’re trying to curve a very potentially low grade until I become familiar with it until they learn how to translate their thinking into the academy. We’re starting with what is a very, very low grade, and we don’t want that to be demoralizing. Nor is it fair to students to confront them with the standard that we know initially they might not had, even though that we know eventually they can hit. So I just want to be clear about that is really what we’re talking.

Dave Carillo: An excellent point to clarify.

Steve Pearlman: And I think the other thing is that once students start to move and get some traction in critical thinking, here’s the cool thing their work in academia becomes more engaging for them. So if we’re worried about losing them, if we’re worried about demoralizing them, the counterweight to that is that they actually become far more engaged in their work because suddenly it’s not just either memorizing and regurgitating stuff, or it’s not this. I’m going to come up with an idea, and I just got to research to find some stuff to support something that I already believe. And I’m just going to say something to get a good grade, but they become genuinely, intellectually engaged in what they’re doing and right. And one more thing about this is that you don’t have to confront them with deep, complex assignments or you can look at just try to focus on an aspect of the Critical Thinking Act. We talk about how to do that as well to focus on one intellectual kind of work and not the whole process at a time. So are there ways to move them into this and focus on different aspects of it or pick pieces of it that are more easily digestible than suddenly confronting them with the entire requirement of critical thinking as a totality?

Dave Carillo: Yeah, something you know, we like to call the turning point, which is actually something you can get into in another podcast. But just the really sort of like quick overview, is it? Yeah, if students start to see they can think critically in this small assignment or in a small way or with a single source, they can do it in 10 paragraphs with 10 sources. It’s just it’s a matter of scale. At that point, you just want them to get the framework for which they understand. Why they need to be doing with the material, and you can give them as many sources as you want after they get used to that, and that’s that’s a great intellectual point, that intellectual engagement that Steve was just talking about. It’s that sort of intellectual engagement that comes once they know they can do it. If you can get them to know, they can do it early on with a really small assignment and pretty much the sky’s the limit. It’s actually very empowering. Yeah, it is very much so.

Steve Pearlman: All right. So let’s get into the news of the news of the week. I think it’s my turn to go first.

Dave Carillo: I don’t remember. Well, I’ll go first. Do it first. I’m sure you have a much more engaging article.

Steve Pearlman: No, I really don’t. My article comes from Scientific American. It’s entitled Why do smart people do foolish things? Oh, excellent. And the thing I loved about this immediately, of course, is that I feel like, well, I’m doing foolish things all the time. So maybe this will give me some explanations I don’t know. Are you assuming? I don’t know. No, I’m not. I.

Dave Carillo: I read somewhere in that comment the assumption that

Steve Pearlman: No, no, I’m not making that assumption, but at least it might. It might give me an insight into nevertheless why I do foolish things anyway. And it’s by Heather A. Butler. This is from October 3rd Twenty Seventeen. You can find this article on the Scientific American website. Great. And the subtitle is And This is where I think it really applies to what we’re doing here. Intelligence is not the same as critical thinking, and the difference matters. Excellent. So you can see where this is probably going already, but it starts off with the line quote. We all probably know someone who’s intelligent but does surprisingly stupid things. End quote. And again, I don’t know if the intelligent part applies to me, but that does surprisingly stupid things. Part is like, that’s the story of my life.

Dave Carillo: That’s that’s more of an accurate descriptor.

Steve Pearlman: You know me well enough to know how true that.

Dave Carillo: Absolutely. Nevertheless.

Steve Pearlman: All right. So the premise of the article by Heather Butler, who talks about some of the work she’s done and some colleagues have done at looking at the difference between intelligence and critical thinking ability, especially as it applies to real life problems. Now, the measurement that they reference in the article with respect to critical thinking is the Halpern critical thinking test. All right. Very well known. Yes. And inarguably, I think measuring some things that would contend with critical thinking abilities. But she notes that quote, several large scale studies have failed to find evidence that IQ impacts life satisfaction or longevity. Grossman and his colleagues argue that most intelligent tests fail to capture real world decision making and our ability to interact well with others. Interesting. So this is amazing because we find, of course, that critical thinking is a teachable skill, whereas intelligence is often considered to be something more innate. Now, I don’t actually think that pans out to be true with all the research that’s on neuroplasticity.

Dave Carillo: Sure, absolutely. Growth mindset, those kinds of things come to mind.

Steve Pearlman: Sure. But certainly we know some people, just like some people, are faster than others sort of more. Naturally, some people might be inclined to be able to think in certain ways, at least more easily than others. They get certain things or certain things make sense more than others. Iq tests typically are measuring more things like some spatial recognitions or shape or analogies and things like that, but it’s not the same, and she establishes this distinction perhaps better in the article than I’m doing it. It’s certainly not the same as actually being able to reason one’s way through a situation toward an end. Those are perhaps overlapping to a degree, but not identical. So what they did was they measured how well critical thinking based on their analysis on the Halpern test. Critical thinkers also encountered problems in their lives. So let me give you an example of what they mean. Quote The inventory of negative life events captures different domains of life, such as academic e.g., I forgot about an exam health e.g. I contracted a sexually transmitted infection because I did not wear a condom legal e.g. I was arrested for driving under the influence.

Steve Pearlman: Interpersonal e.g., I cheated on my romantic partner, who I had been with for over a year. Financial e.g. I had over five thousand dollars of credit card debt. Repeatedly, we found that critical thinkers experience fewer negative life events. End quote. What I love about this is obviously what it’s showing about the importance again of bringing critical thinking work into education. Because if we want to look at not just the extent to which our students are successful in academia, the extent to which we can engage academic topics more deeply and richly with them, which is certainly. Important, if we want to look at the extent to which employers are valuing critical thinking, that’s certainly important. But if we’re starting to be able to show that people who are critical thinking actually can live a more fulfilling life, or at least live a life less fraught with certain potential travesties or problems, then that’s the greatest efficacy I think we could have for what it is that we’re trying to do here and what all the educators who are devoting themselves to critical thinking work are trying to do.

Dave Carillo: Yeah, I know, and it strikes me as like the biggest challenge too, because when we think about these kinds of decisions, we’re thinking about these long term effects or long term after effects. And one of the things that I’ve always found challenging is convincing students that the challenge now in developing their critical thinking is going to pay off over and over again in a variety of different ways. That said, it’s never necessarily as concrete as specific grade or specific test score or even the kinds of scores that IQ test would render and so on, but does make it that much more urgent and add to the payoff of the challenge of trying to tell students that the kind of critical thinking they want to teach really will affect their entire lives. The new term now is soft skills, right? Suggesting these kinds of nebulous or ongoing or constantly in flux skills that constantly adding to and strengthening, but also trying to transfer and apply to different situations rather than these concrete sorts of skills like I know how to do this, if it’s something else, I don’t know how to do that, something else. So it is really interesting that they’re starting to see those kinds of distinctions between the critical thinking, which I think a lot of people would at times mistakenly conflate with with intelligence.

Steve Pearlman: So and we certainly don’t want to view, as we said, intelligence as as a fixed.

Dave Carillo: No, not at all

Steve Pearlman: Skill set, but not so critical thinking can be taught and developed. And as we look at pedagogy focused more on content or even pedagogy like experiential learning, which may envelop students in wonderful experiences in their lives. It’s not the same thing as really cultivating in them reasoning process, and it brings me back almost right back to the metallurgy assignment, right? Which is go through your life and become self-aware of the decision making processes and the factors in that process that are thoughtful and learn how to be self aware of that and therefore learn how to better apply that to all the situations you face, which hopefully leads us right back to where this article is in terms of and we hope we don’t know personally for our students, but we hope it leading them toward this direction of a life less complicated with some of these poor decisions.

Dave Carillo: Yeah. Also speaks to why you and I, but others are starting to look earlier and earlier into the school experience for these kids. We don’t have to start teaching them critical thinking in high school because that’s when they’re ready. We can start teaching it to them when they’re in third grade or second grade or first grade. Let’s get them started sooner rather than later on this.

Steve Pearlman: All right, so let’s go to your news of the week.

Dave Carillo: Absolutely. So this is from Forbes. It’s not news of the week. It’s from September twenty fifth, but same year, close enough. Close enough. It’s called the cause of your worst mistakes. Question mark a psychological gremlin you’ve never heard of. And it’s worth noting that on the cover of this, if you’ve got Anthony Weiner looking really sullen as he leaves Manhattan Federal Court on September 12, 2017, after being sentenced to prison for twenty one months for making, let’s just say, making bad decisions. But everybody, I’m sure everybody’s familiar with these bad decisions, but essentially it’s an interesting article. The author, I guess she writes. This is by Prudie or Gentian. I can’t pronounce her last name. I should have said

Steve Pearlman: That’s a serious

Dave Carillo: Name. You argue n. And she’s writing about this idea of a psychological defense mechanism called disavowal. And I thought that was interesting because, you know, I’ve heard the word and I’ve heard the word used. But this is apparently also a psychological term, which was interesting. And she draws a distinction between disavow and denial. She sort of discusses, you know, have we ever wondered what’s behind career ending mistakes or really bad investments? Or Anthony Weiner sexting someone who was under age? And she says it’s less denial than it is disavowal. She basically says quote denial allows you to dismiss a painful reality so that you can go on acting as if it is not true because you generally don’t believe it’s true. That’s what denial is now. The difference between denial and disavowal is different, she calls it. She says it’s more sneaky and dangerous, and she draws a distinction between denial, which is dismissing a painful reality and truly believing that it’s gone to disavow. She says it’s sneakier. A more dangerous. And the way she describes disavows this quote. Here’s how a low level of disavowal operates as an essential, she says.

Dave Carillo: It’s a protective mechanism in low levels. None of us would get in a car if we had clearly in our minds all the risks involved getting in an accident, losing control, hitting a pedestrian. We know these things can happen, but that knowledge is split off. It is not banished and thoroughly buried, as with denial, but it is disconnected from feelings, motivation and meaningful assessment so that it does not materially affect our decision making. So that’s that’s what disavowal means. I kind of see the distinction because denial, you don’t believe that any of this can happen and disavow you sort of recognize that there are these issues, but they don’t come into your decision making process now. Maybe what she’s trying to say is to some extent, you know that these things are there and maybe that your mind in some way through the process of disavow gives them a value, right? But you only value them enough to know they’re there, and then you sort of move them to the side so you can make whatever decision you wanted to make anyhow.

Steve Pearlman: So we are disregarding, would that be a synonym in some way for this?

Dave Carillo: That kind of, she says, disavowal. I want to move forward here because I kind of see the distinction. But again, I wish it were a little clearer because it’s probably happening to me all the time and I want to know about it. But she goes on to say quote disavowal is the psychological mechanism behind willing suspension of disbelief, temporarily letting go of critical faculties. End quote.

Steve Pearlman: All right, so if I’m if I’m watching a sci fi movie or a superhero movie, am I in disavowal because I am willingly accepting putting aside my disbelief in order to enjoy the film? And then if I am also confronted with a situation where other things might be presented, I’m going to disavow them. If I have a stake in taking a particular course of action.

Dave Carillo: Yeah, that’s kind of, you know, it’s it’s weird. I’m interested in this article. I’m going to go read more about it because of the way she describes it as this sneakier sort of thing. So I think to some extent, there’s this sort of rationalization process goes on where we sort of fool ourselves into thinking that we’ve assessed all these aspects that are potentially bad consequences for our bad decision. But all we’ve done is just recognize that they’re there and then we push them aside. Whereas denial is like, nothing’s bad. Nothing’s bad, nothing bad is going to happen to me because nothing bad could happen, and that might be the difference. And so she goes on to describe disavowal as things that are known but not allowed into this quote mental room. Therefore, absolutely critical bits of information do not affect the decision taken or change the course of action, which is why I brought it in. Because if disavowal is as sneaky as you says and if disavowal can be more dangerous because if we’re not in denial, then we think that we’re engaging all these potential outcomes. But we’re really not. We’re just pushing them to us, to the side, right? Which sort of speaks to this framework that we were talking about with a metal on, you know, where like, let’s let’s see if we can get students to become aware of everything and how they’re making decisions. And I wonder if we went back to some of our students monologues and looked to see whether they were engaging the sort of disavowal like, OK, here are the things that I know could happen, but I really want this. So I’m just going to push them to the side when maybe in a more thoughtful framework, they might take more of these things into the mental room,

Steve Pearlman: So it’s disavow. What would you say? Disavowal is when I know I have to study for a test and I’m not studying for the test. That’s not denial that it’s going to impact me. It’s disavowal because I know it’s going to have an impact on me, but something else is superseding kind of.

Dave Carillo: I think that’s what it is. Yeah, we are aware of these things, but there is a sort of like move to sort of push them to the side. So I don’t know to what extent there’s a relationship between this sort of like general idea of rationalization. That said, she goes on at the end of the article to bullet a list of things that you can do. Ok, great. To mitigate the danger to damage of disavowal. And again, this goes back into cataloging a lot what we were saying. Let’s become more aware of whatever framework we’re using and try to apply it as many different ways as possible. So she says, don’t assume you are immune to it. Steve, you’re not. And she actually uses, she says, Steve in this article.

Steve Pearlman: That is

Dave Carillo: Weird. I’m going to just go ahead and say, she’s talking to you. I would don’t assume it can happen again. It can’t happen again because it will learn about your own overall vulnerability to this. She calls it a mental gremlin if it’s high. Make sure you have a trusted advisor, one that will actually listen to to tell you to stop, identify situations where you most likely do set up walls in your mind to dismiss aspects of reality that are inconvenient at the moment. So again, do you really is sort of pushing for like just a much more sort of robust metacognitive framework to try to weed out this sneakiness? And I guess that’s the point. I mean, denial is just as sort of. Elimination of possibility where this one is like, well, I know the possibilities are there, but I’m not going to help allow this to affect my assessment. The last thing she says, quote critical thinking and the best decision making that follows from it depend on searching for and reintegrating aspects of reality that our own minds have managed to isolate.

Steve Pearlman: So that’s fascinating because if we think about what we were talking about earlier today with the attorney mindset, that is effectively what that mindset is, right? I’m going to take a stance and the other stuff that might be confounding information to my position. I’m going to diminish. I’m going to straw person and I’m going to exactly exactly.

Dave Carillo: What she’s pushing for are the same kinds of things that I would argue that these three exercises can get your students to start doing, which is just developing a substantive metacognitive framework, starting to think more about their thinking. And, you know, maybe in the process they can stop disavowing so many things on their way to better decision.

Steve Pearlman: Not only that, she gave us the term mental gremlin

Dave Carillo: Mental gremlin, which is good, and I

Steve Pearlman: Think I’m going to steal that. And I in some ways would probably think of of myself as just like a largely embodied in every negative way, largely embodied mental gremlin.

Dave Carillo: We could potentially post this article or Lincoln, where are we going to say, yeah, we were going to link the article at some point or one of the last ones? We should probably link some articles on the

Steve Pearlman: Website, so we’ll link this. And then maybe we could have. Listeners can chime in on helping us to understand this and think about the implications of this concept.

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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