Throughout high school, my strongest subject was English. I never challenged myself in math or science but I always took pride in how well I did in English class. As I entered my senior year, I was excited to take AP Literature because I believed I would be taking a course that demanded more of me as a writer and as a student. During the first class session, my teacher explained what our year looked like according to the works we were going to read. The class was great and I was confident coming into this critical thinking course because I thought I had been well-prepared for the college workload.
I soon came to find out that I was not as prepared as I hoped to be when my first essay score came back and my classmates had gotten such higher grades than me. The difference for me between high school writing and collegiate writing was at an all-time high when I first came to this university and that prompted many questions for me including, why is there such a difference between high school writing and collegiate writing? Are our high schools lowering their expectations for students? And why is it that most of my classmates are more prepared for this level of writing over me?
These questions have all lead me towards the answer that in collegiate level writing, you have to be a critical thinker and you have to be able to critically think no matter what task you have been given. After researching what critical thinking is, scholars say that it is the main stepping stone to higher education and that teachers have failed to teach critical thinking whereas students say that critical thinking should not be demanded of them and that they should only be expected to learn and understand what they have been taught.
In all simplicity, there is a disconnect in beliefs between the students and scholars. My main focus going into this essay was what it meant to be a critical thinker and why critical thinking is important. I wanted to approach this from an unbiased standpoint, not agreeing with students opinions and not refusing the belief of scholars. The best way for me to create this situation was through a survey. In my survey, I included these main questions: what is critical thinking? Is it one’s ability to analyze, comprehend, or simply regurgitate information? Is the measure of critical hinking dependent upon on a test or should it be? What do you believe holds students back the most from becoming critical thinkers? I sent this survey out throughout my dorm and asked the students to put their answers in a box. Because I wanted to keep this survey anonymous, I asked them not to put their name on the paper so that I couldn’t have an impact on their answers. After all my final results came in, I noticed that most of my responses were very similar and vague, as if my peers that filled out this questionnaire did not know exactly how to approach these questions.
Yet, after stifling through many papers, I found a couple answers that stood out to me. When responding to the first question a student said, “I think of critical thinking like characters in a children’s storybook, you’re going to have one dominant character that is smart, athletic, charming, and basically possesses all the qualities one might want to have. And then you’re going to have another character that isn’t as athletic, or outspokenly smart. But this character is going to have a lot of underlying potential, potential that not many people are going to see.
I say that this relates to critical thinking because although someone may already be the typical “critical thinker” someone else may be just as capable to critical think as the other, they just have to find it within themselves before they become that dominant character” (Student one). Student one is the one and only response that had a positive outlook on critical thinking, believing that everyone has the opportunity to become critical thinkers and that teachers have the capability of teaching students what it means to be critical thinkers.
Although most of my responses believed that critical thinking could not be achieved, it is seen that students feel that they do not reach “critical thinking potential” because they are not academically capable instead of believing their teachers did not do the right thing for them. On the contrary, scholar Nicole Stedman explains her theory that teachers do not know how to correctly and efficiently teach critical thinking. She states, “Most teachers use a lecture format in their classrooms, but this popular approach does not encourage critical thinking by the students.
To encourage critical thinking, the passive receipt of information must change; teachers must give up the perception that students cannot learn unless a teacher covers the material. This being said, it is important to consider how much influence a teacher’s perception of critical thinking has on the student’s ability to learn and think critically. ” Stedman implies that part of the reason why students are not critical thinkers is because of their teachers. She believes that teachers think they may be encouraging or teaching critical thinking when in fact they are not.
Stedman then poses the question, “if teachers are failing to teach students to think critically, what else have they failed to teach them” (Stedman)? As seen in Writing About Writing, Mike Rose talks about his study on college students and how writers block is created. In his article, “Rigid Rules, Inflexible Plans, and the Stifling of Language” Rose states “the students who experience blocking were all operating either with writing rules or with planning strategies that impeded rather than enhanced the composing process. He describes how the students who were blocked do not lack skill and that they have been given too many limitations by previous teachers that constrain them from effectively getting their point across. In his article, Rose specifically focuses on the two different types of writing rules, algorithms and heuristics. He describes how algorithms are fact based and have a definite answer such as a math problem whereas heuristics are the fairly general rules of writing. Rose talks about how heuristic rules become the most functional rules available to students, encouraging the writer to let loose because of the lack of precision demanded of them.
His study clearly proves to his audience that writing rules can hold students back from being critical thinkers and successful with their writing. As I continued my research, I purposely asked the question of what do you, as students, think holds you back the most when it comes to writing. The second response that I received to this question was able to sum up into two sentences what most high school and college students go through in writing but have such trouble stating.
He says, “I think what holds students back the most from being critical thinkers is that we haven’t been expected to be critical thinkers from the start. If from day one our teachers proclaimed that we should be critical thinkers by the time we are out of high school, students would have higher expectations for themselves and shoot for nothing less” (Student 2). Although this question was not focused solely on critical thinking, I believe that a students’ response says a lot about them as a riter and determines whether they are able to become critical thinkers by accepting their weaknesses and turning them into their strengths. In Sondra Perl’s article, The Composing Processes of Unskilled College Writers,” she talks about how unskilled writers have been referred to as “beginners” implying that teachers can start anew and that they don’t need to punish students for making mistakes. Instead that they need to not assume their students have already been taught how to write and teach them the appropriate style of writing.
She finds that “their lack of proficiency may be attributed to the way to which premature and rigid attempts to correct and edit their work truncate the flow of composing without substantially improving the form of what they have written. ” Perl breaks down the thought process for college students by stating that from the beginning teachers have worked on creating a specific way for students to write instead of giving them the opportunity to “write as it goes and flows” and because of this it has impeded their writing process.
Despite the students I surveyed not attributing their lack of critical thinking to their teachers, Mansoor Fahim believes that most of the blame falls on the teachers. He begins his article by describing his view of critical thinking as a person who asks appropriate questions, collects relevant information, reasons logically from this information and comes to reliable conclusions. As he continues, he points out that “the main purpose of education to address the teaching of thinking rather than the only teaching of subject matter.
Therefore, educators emphasize the importance of developing thinking skills but have not taken the next step to challenge their students to critically think” (Fahim). He further believes that thinking ability should be a primary goal of education and the development of critical thinking skills empowers students to generate new ideas and helps them provide reasoning and explanation of everyday events. Fahim is able to summarize how critical thinking cannot be taught at a collegiate level and that from the beginning we need our educational system to involve critical thinking in every day lesson plans.
Throughout my study, I realized more and more that students don’t attribute their lack of critical thinking to their teachers and that most of them are open to learning more about it. But because teachers have failed to teach them these skills, they only care about regurgitating information that they have been given. As one can see, the gap between scholars and students needs to be closed. Stedman and Fahim focus their articles on the lack of critical thinking being taught in secondary school and what needs to happen to change this for the future.
Although Mike Rose and Sondra Perl have two different focuses in their article, they both contribute to the overall meaning of critical thinking by describing how students can be held back if they have too many structures around their writing. It comes to the conclusion that by the time students are finished with high school, they are expected to be critical thinkers because of the significance critical thinking possesses in our society. If students are able to become critical thinkers before leaving for college, the gap will close between high school writing and collegiate writing and students will reach their highest level of enrichment.