Critical Thinking Skills: Can They Really Be Taught?
In fact, the students should be encouraged to search for whatever they're interested in and the teacher should help that person find that information. Hi there, Steve Kaufmann here. Can critical thinking be taught, and how does that relate to language learning? So remember, by the way you enjoy these videos, please subscribe, click on the bell for notifications.
Those of you who follow my videos know that I'm a great believer in listening and reading. I believe that the language has to come into us from outside. We have to listen and read and acquire words before we can start speaking. Uh, at some point we have to start speaking. At some point, we have to speak a lot.
Uh, when we do start speaking, obviously we want to work on improving, uh, our ability to speak,our accuracy and the use of words, our pronunciation, and so forth, but we first have to get the language into us. Well, I think much the same is true when it comes to our ability to reason, okay. And I have been on, what's known as list serves.
In other words, email communities with teachers, and very often teachers are very interested in the subject of teaching critical thinking or what they call higher order thinking. I have always been very suspicious of the ability of the average teacher to teach critical thinking skills or higher order.
If in fact, such a thing exists, thinking skills. The assumption there is that their students have a lower order thinking, these are teachers of English. Uh, and so rather than focusing in on how do I get my students to read more? How do I get my students to listen more? Uh, how do I provide them with content of interest, things that are relevant to them, things that they're familiar with, that they're going to want to engage with?
How do I stimulate them? How do I create that, that thirst for reading and listening rather there is this sort of what I call a myth that they can teach a set of skills that will enable their, in this case these were English teachers teaching, uh, you know, English as a second language that these foreigners might be, um, immigrant from Iran or from Poland or from Nicaragua that somehow because they didn't speak English well, somehow their, uh, critical thinking skills weren't, uh, as developed as, as, as the skills of the teacher, I have always felt that the most important sort of prerequisite for critical thinking is knowledge of the subject matter. You cannot judge because part of this whole critical thinking is that, uh, people need to be better equipped to, uh, you know, uh, judge, uh, what's true or not true in the media and, and so forth, which is all fine and dandy.
We should be, uh, a little, uh, skeptical about what we read and, and we should be trying to read through and see what we agree and what we don't agree with. However, in most cases, the positions that we hold are based on our emotions, we jump to a conclusion and then we try to justify that conclusion. I do that.
Everyone does that. If we didn't all do that, we'd all arrive at the same conclusion because we've been follow some irrational method of critical thinking and, you know, objectively evaluate all the information and we'd arrive at the only correct, uh, conclusion, but there is no only correct conclusion.
There's lots of different conclusions, but generally speaking, the more knowledgeable a person is about a particular subject the more I value their opinion. I don't think you can, uh, somehow skip the stage of just as in language learning, acquiring words and phrases. You can't speak before you have a lot of words and phrases in you until you have good comprehension.
You're not going to speak well. Well, until you have read a lot on a subject or experienced that situation, acquired a lot of information and knowledge and experience about that subject, your opinion is perhaps not that important. And there's no amount of theoretical, you know, critical thinking skills that are going to substitute for solid knowledge of the subject matter.
And the way to get knowledge of the subject matter is to read a lot, to read well. And so rather than, with these ESL teachers trying to teach critical thinking, if you encourage those learners to read a lot, to read widely initially, to read on subjects of interest to them, they will find different sources of information because the chances are the teacher who's teaching critical thinking wants to sort of direct the learner in a certain way direction so that the learner will come to the same conclusion as the teacher. And so that this whole teaching of critical thinking in effect becomes a way of controlling what the learner thinks. And I think there's already too much control by teachers. In other words, this is the book you're supposed to read.
This is the newspaper you should read. This is a subject matter you should read is sort of the teacher directing the student. In fact, the students should be encouraged to search for whatever they're interested in and the teacher should help that person find that information just as I'm doing with Sahra.
I tell her what I'm interested in. I'm interested in history. So she gives me this wonderful series on persian history. Um, this again stimulates me to not only read on in Persian, which I'm limited in my ability to do, but also to look up books in English on Iranian history. And so I'm constantly, through reading I'm acquiring more information, not with a goal that I'm going to think critically, but obviously if I read a book on iranian history and then I read a book on Turkish history and, and then the Arabic history and written by different people. Or when I was doing a Ukrainian and Polish and Russian, then I would listen to a, you know, a Russian version of Ukrainian history, a Polish version or Ukrainian version.
And out of all of these different bits of info, based some extent on my, you know, um, conclusions I arrived at because of say a, a degree of sympathy for the Ukrainians, underdogs. Uh, but someone else who is more sympathetic to the Poles or to the Russians might find that the Polish or Russian version is, is closer to the truth.
Uh, but I don't think it's any particular critical thinking skill that's going to take us to those conclusions. It's more a mindset that we have. We've arrived at for whatever emotional, uh, whatever emotion-based reason. Of course, we use reason to try and justify our position. And hopefully we're open-minded enough to listen to other people present, you know, the justification for their position using reason.
But ultimately I think, I mean, it's very difficult to persuade people, uh, to give up a point of view that they have. That's been my experience. Uh, it can be interesting. And if we're open-minded enough to accept the, the fact that people can have different points of view and that doesn't necessarily make them a bad person.
That doesn't mean that I have to agree with them because I asked for their opinion. Uh, they don't have to agree with me. We can just share our views and continue to disagree and that's fine and dandy. But, uh, I say this because so often I think that teachers are prone to pursue certain fads, like teaching critical thinking, higher order thinking or this learning styles myth, which has been largely debunked by which a whole bunch of teachers pursued that the, you know, are you a kinetic learner?
Are you a visual learner? And of course, Uh, cognitive scientists, uh, assure us and, uh, all kinds of tests have demonstrated. This is not the case that the learning styles is, is a bit of a, a bit of a red herring. So I just thought, I'd mentioned that my view on this whole subject of critical thinking, uh, it's possible that there are people who are expert at critical thinking.
Who are, you know, methodical and follow the scientific method and, uh, pursue a variety of different sources of information and then apply very, uh, you know, consistent, uh, uh, rational methods for arriving at their conclusions. I still suspect they're going to be, you know, it'll be flavored by their, uh, prejudice going, preconceived idea going in, but that people who can do that is a small minority.
The vast majority of people don't have those skills. And therefore the vast majority of teachers are not in a position to teach those skills. And I don't really think those skills exist outside of what we call domain knowledge, knowledge about the subject matter and to get that good knowledge of the subject matter, you have to read a lot.
So the focus should be on getting students to read more. Anyway, that's just a bit of a rant there off my normal subject yet related because as with language learning it's input that helps us grow whether in language or in discovering more about the world. Thank you for listening. Bye for now.