Critical thinking and effective reading share many of the same practices
Everything you've read so far has been about reading. But even more than that, it's been about asking questions. Knowing the questions to ask is key to being a critical thinker. Critical thinking is one of those terms that has been used so often and in so many different ways that if often seems meaningless. But critical thinking actually does mean something. The Association of American Colleges and Universities usefully defines it as “a habit of mind characterized by the comprehensive exploration of issues, ideas, artifacts, and events before accepting or formulating an opinion or conclusion.”6
Here's a helpful anecdote. An art teacher asked his class, “What color is the ceiling?” The class answered, “White.” He then asked, “What color is it really?” The class turned their eyes upwards, and eventually began to offer more accurate answers: “Ivory?” “Yellow-ish tan.” “It’s grey in that corner.” After finally getting a few thoughtful responses, the teacher said, “Making good art is about drawing what you see, not what you think you’re supposed to see.” The AAC&U definition, above, essentially amounts to the same thing: taking a good look and deciding what you really think rather than relying on the first idea or assumption that comes to mind.
The critical thinking rubric produced by the AAC&U describes the relevant activities of critical thinking in more detail. To think critically, one must …
(a) “clearly state and comprehensively describe the issue or problem”,
(b) “independently interpret and evaluate sources”,
(c) “thoroughly analyze assumptions behind and context of your own or others’ ideas”,
(d) “argue a complex position and one that takes counter-arguments into account,” and
(e) “arrive at logical and well informed conclusions”.8
College Assignments & the Cognitive Domain of Learning
This chapter presented you with a range of questions that can help you become a better reader. Do you remember the first two questions?
What assignments are associated with this reading? What will your professor expect you to know about this reading?
Knowing the kind of work you need to do will help you to do the kind of reading you need to do. Teachers at all levels use the terms from Bloom's taxonomy to define the kinds of work they assign you. Benjamin Bloom was a educational psychologist best known for his clarification of the stages of learning. His divided learning into into six main learning-skill levels, or learning-skill stages, which are arranged hierarchically—moving from the simplest of functions like remembering and understanding, to more complex learning skills, like applying and analyzing, to the most complex skills—evaluating and creating. The lower levels are more straightforward and fundamental, and the higher levels are more sophisticated.
Find "analyze" on the taxonomy. It sits at the bottom of the higher-order skills. It is the foundation for any work at the higher levels. If you don't understand how to analyze the texts you read, you don't understand how to use them to evaluate or create.
Consider these two assignments
"Quote from the story and analyze how the growth of the main character."
"Explain your first two weeks of college through the concept of socialization from Chapter 5 of the textbook."
The first is very straight forward and uses a term from the taxonomy.
The second is less clear. This assignment could be asking to to apply: how does the concept of socialization give you language to explain how you feel about your first week of college? Or it could be analysis: how can the parts of your first week of college be understood as part of a whole process of socialization? Or, you could do higher order thinking by evaluating the effectiveness of the concept of socialization itself when applied to starting college. If in doubt, higher order thinking is better.
Figure 1: The New Version of Bloom's Taxonomy
The following table describes the six main skill sets within the cognitive domain.
Table 2.2: Main Skill Sets within the Cognitive Domain
|MAIN SKILL LEVELS WITHIN THE COGNITIVE DOMAIN||DESCRIPTION||EXAMPLES OF RELATED LEARNING SKILLS (specific actions related to the skill set)|
|Remembering||When you are skilled in remembering, you can recognize or recall knowledge you’ve already gained, and you can use it to produce or retrieve or recite definitions, facts, and lists.
Remembering may be how you studied in grade school or high school, but college will require you to do more with the information.
|identify · relate · list · define · recall · memorize · repeat · record · name|
|Understanding||Understanding is the ability to grasp or construct meaning from oral, written, and graphic messages.
Each college course will introduce you to new concepts, terms, processes, and functions. Once you gain a firm understanding of new information, you’ll find it easier, perhaps later, to comprehend how or why something works.
|restate · locate · report · recognize · explain · express · identify · discuss · describe · discuss · review · infer · illustrate · interpret · draw · represent · differentiate · conclude|
|Applying||When you apply, you use learned material (or you implement the material) in new and concrete situations.
In college you will be tested or assessed on what you’ve learned in the previous levels. You will be asked to solve problems in new situations by applying understanding in new ways. You may need to relate abstract ideas to practical situations.
|apply · relate · develop · translate · use · operate · organize · employ · restructure · interpret · demonstrate · illustrate · practice · calculate · show · exhibit · dramatize|
|Analyzing||When you analyze, you have the ability to break down or distinguish the parts of material into its components, so that its organizational structure may be better understood.
At this level, you will have a clearer sense that you comprehend the content well. You will be able to answer questions such as what if, or why, or how something would work.
|analyze · compare · probe · inquire · examine · contrast · categorize · differentiate · contrast · investigate · detect · survey · classify · deduce · experiment · scrutinize · discover · inspect · dissect · discriminate · separate|
|Evaluating||With skills in evaluating, you are able to judge, check, and even critique the value of material for a given purpose.
At this level in college you will be able to think critically, Your understanding of a concept or discipline will be profound. You may need to present and defend opinions.
|judge · assess · compare · evaluate · conclude · measure · deduce · argue · decide · choose · rate · select · estimate · validate · consider · appraise · value · criticize · infer|
|Creating||With skills in creating, you are able to put parts together to form a coherent or unique new whole. You can reorganize elements into a new pattern or structure through generating, planning, or producing.
Creating requires originality and inventiveness. It brings together all levels of learning to theorize, design, and test new products, concepts or functions.
|compose · produce · design · assemble · create · prepare · predict · modify · plan · invent · formulate · collect · generalize · document combine · relate · propose · develop · arrange · construct · organize · originate · derive · write · propose|
The following video from the Center for Learning Success at the Louisiana State University discusses Bloom’s taxonomy learning levels with regard to student success in college.
- "Respond" is not part of Bloom's taxonomy. Where would you put it? Why?
- Overall, how to do the ideas presented in this chapter match up with what you expected to learn about the first week of this course?
[Adapted from Amy Guptil Writing in College: From Competence to Success and Reading and Writing for College Success by Athena Kashyap & Erika Dyquisto]