Can “good thinking” be taught?
What do students think?
How can teachers promote critical thinking of text and the world around them?
Educators ponder these questions often. A few recently published books tackle student thinking and give insight.
Erik Palmer’s Good Thinking: Teaching Argument, Persuasion, and Reasoning (Stenhouse, 2016) focusing on teaching argument and debate. An educational consultant, Palmer uses examples from classroom teachers to highlight and promote teaching reasoning and thinking “that will lead students to the habits of good thinking.” Right in the beginning of his book, Palmer addresses where thinking appears in the Common Core Standards and emphasizes that good thinking is necessary for success in life. Palmer argues that the basis of good thinking is argument. By argument he means “a collection of sentences that have a special relationship with one another, designed to lead us to a conclusion, to prove something.” Palmer makes it clear that argument and persuasion are not the same things. An argument is a group of statements, persuasion is the appeal and rhetoric that sells the argument.
To help students build an argument and explain their thinking, Palmer uses offers these prompts:
How did you get that result?
Give me three reasons to support your position.
What were the premises that led to that conclusion?
What is the author’s argument? What conclusion is offered, and what statements lead us to that conclusion?
Do the statements made really lead us to the conclusion? Is each statement correct?
What is your evidence for that? How does that prove what you are saying?
Throughout the text Palmer uses examples across content areas and illustrates his ideas with classroom practices and “ideas in action.” Additional topics are covered as they apply to building arguments; these include different types of evidence, ethos, pathos, and logos, common persuasion techniques, and rhetorical devices. Palmer argues, “We want our students to think well everyday of their lives, and we want them to be able to critique the thinkings of others. That involves being able to demonstrate good thinking.”
Thus, good thinking is taught. We cannot expect our students to build arguments clearly and articulately in writing or in a debate/discussion without teaching students how to think and reason well.
Kyle Beers and Robert E. Probst’s Disruptive Thinking: Why How We Read Matters (Scholastic, 2017) argue that “we need students who can do more than answer questions; today’s complex world requires that our next generation of leaders be able to raise questions . . . they need to be flexible thinkers who recognize that there will rarely be one correct answer, but instead there will be multiple answers that must be weighed and evaluated.” It is important for students to read a text and understand what is going on in the text. Just as important as what the text says is for the reader to be responsive and react to the text. The premise of their thinking is that students need to be “responsive, responsible, and compassionate readers.” Three big questions for reading that are repeated throughout the book:
- What surprised me? What did I wonder?
- What did the author think I already know?
- What changed, challenged, or confirmed my thinking?
Beers & Probst state, “The reading experience becomes a catalyst for change in our lives. . . .The ultimate goal of reading is to become more than we are at the moment; to become better than we are now; to become what we did not even know we wanted to become. . .We want them to realize that reading should involve disruptive thinking, changing their understandings of the world and themselves.”
As a reader, I know when we read a great book it has an impact on me. As a teacher, I want reading to be meaningful to my students as well. Through read alouds, choice reading, focused silent reading during class time and reading workshop I am able to give my students access to books and reading that is meaningful and purposeful.