Explained: Critical Thinking, Reading, and Writing
for Curriculum Subject Matter
– A Primer on Critical Thinking
– The First Mode of Critical Thinking
– School and College Programs in Critical Thinking, Reading, and Writing
– The Mind’s Palette
A PRIMER ON CRITICAL THINKING
Recent research on critical thinking (Maiorana, 2015), reflects the views of eighty-seven experts. The research starts with early philosophers (Thales of Miletus, c.620 – ?540BC), and continues down through the 20th century (John Dewey, 1859 – 1952), and into present-day 21st century. The research shows that in Western civilization critical thinking is viewed mainly as falling into one of two modes: argumentation or problem-solving. This view is also popularly taken by educators, researchers, textbook and academic authors, administrative leadership, and writers in the education and popular press.
Developing the ability to think, read, and write critically is the widely-expressed and primary goal of education. However, there is strong evidencethat after centuries of practice this goal is yet to be achieved by the education profession. In the context of engaging new and revisited curriculum subject matter in the classroom, argumentation and problem-solving do not lend themselves to critical thinking, reading, and writing across disciplines. Furthermore, to engage effectively in argumentation and problem-solving for an issue at hand, one must first comprehend critically the subject matter related to the issue.
There are two major reasons why critical thinking, reading, and writing is still not a natural and integral day-to-day part of teacher education, professional development, and school and college classrooms in all disciplines. (1) Professional practice at all levels and in instructional materials continues to be defined by entrenched roteism instruction instead of critical instruction. Roteism instruction does not utilize a critical reasoning processes as the means to explain new and revisited subject matter. This makes it inherently incapable of supporting critical reading and critical writing. Critical instruction does both. (2) The profession does not prepare, assess, certify, practice, develop, and prepare instructional materialsbased on a now available core body of knowledge for critical instruction pedagogy.
It is essential to bear the following in mind. Thinking is the first language art. Therefore, any reading and/or writing literacy program needs to be based on formal, explicit, systematic, and reliable critical reasoning processes that underpin the reading and writing. If not, then the program will prove of small life-long learning value as students continue their educational progress, engage in social media, enter the workplace, and in life. For example, programs that feature rote-inducing graphic organizers, and those in close reading, fall into this category.
All subject matter in all disciplines owes its intellectual existence to the human mind. Critical instruction pedagogy is based on the natural science of how the human mind – starting early in life – innately, critically, and informally encounters the world and its subject matter. Mind grammar provides the profession with the long-missing critical and formal cognitive foundation to understand, comprehend, and explain new and revisited subject matter in all disciplines.
THE FIRST MODE OF CRITICAL THINKING
The three modes of critical thinking are: (1) understanding, comprehending, and explaining a subject matter topic; (2) argumentation; and (3) problem solving.
It is essential to first understand, comprehend, and explain (to one’s self or others), the subject matter topic at hand before engaging in fact-based and rational argumentation or problem solving. This makes Mode 1 the first and necessary responsibility of a critical thinker. This discussion emphasizes Mode 1 of critical thinking.
Here is a general definition of critical thinking: “Critical thinking is thesystematic questioning or inquiry we engage in when seeking to comprehend and explain subject matter, argue a position, or solve a problem” (Maiorana, (1992); updated (2016)].
Here is a definition of Mode 1 critical thinking: “To understand, comprehend, and explain (to one’s self or others), any given topic critically is to engage in the formal, explicit, systematic, reproducible, transferable, reliable, and valid identification, connection, and integration of the facts and ideas associated with the intent, processes, and consequences of the topic” (Maiorana, 2016).
Mode 1 – Engaging New or Revisited Subject Matter Topics Critically
Two reasoning processes support Mode 1. They are called Mind Grammar 1 and Mind Grammar 2. The intent or objective of MG1 and MG2 is to provide all learners, teachers and students, with the intellectual basis for learning or explaining any subject matter topic in any discipline.
MG1 and MG2 represent the critical reasoning foundations to identify, connect, and integrate the facts and ideas universally present in all subject matter.The three universal elements inherent in all subject matter topics are: (1) intent or objective of the subject matter topic, (2) associated processes to achieve the objective, and (3) the positive and negative consequences that follow.
The consequences of the MG1 and MG2 critical reasoning processes and their variations include the following. Mind grammar critical pedagogy provides teacher educators, teacher candidates, school and college faculty and their students, researchers, instructional designers, textbook and academic writers, and administrative leaders with the ability to: (a) Internalize and take intellectual control of subject matter no matter the medium encountered or the discipline studied. This is accomplishedished by making formal, explicit, systematic, reproducible, transferable, reliable, and valid their innate ability to think critically. (b) Use mind grammar pedagogy as the cognitive basis to read for comprehension and write for explanation. (c) Apply critical thinking, reading, and writing simultaneously with engaging new and revisited subject matter through design of student-centered and student self-taught classroom assignments. There are many more consequences of mind grammar pedagogy, and they can be found here.
Mind Grammar 1 and 2 for Critical Learning
MG1 uses the reasoning pattern “objective-process” for subject matter understanding and critical reading and writing. MG2 uses the deeper reasoning pattern “objective-process-consequences” for subject matter comprehension and for critical reading and writing. For the instruction and learning difference between understand and comprehend, see here.
Mind Grammar 1 and 2 for Critical Instruction
The MG1 and MG2 reasoning patterns are used to explain new and revisited subject matter while simultaneously developing critical thinking, reading, and writing abilities in all students.
SCHOOL AND COLLEGE PROGRAMS IN CRITICAL THINKING, READING, AND WRITING
As an educator, you may be planning to design or run or are now running a school or grant-funded program in critical thinking, reading, and writing (i.e., critical language-literacy). Your students may include preservice teacher-candidates in teacher education programs, inservice faculty in professional development programs, or school and college students.
If so, such programs must be based on the use of formal and explicit critical reasoning processes for classroom discussion, reading, and writing when engaging new and revisited subject matter.
Otherwise, understand that these consequences will occur:
- Students will not learn to think, read, and write in ways that are internalized, reproducible, and transferable to other classrooms and grades, all disciplines, social media, the workplace, and life.
- As an educator, you will not have a valid and objective basis for assessing how well students are developing their critical language-literacy skills.
- As an, educator, you will have little basis upon which to compare prospective programs or re-direct a program choice already made.
This means you must ask the following of any teacher education, professional development, grant-funded, school or college, or off-the-shelf packaged program that claims to develop higher-order (i.e., critical) thinking, reading, and writing.
- As applied to engaging new and revisited curriculum subject matter, identify and describe the formal and explicit critical reasoning processes that underpin cognitively your program.
- Show explicitly how the reasoning processes are applied to a topic in each of these STHEAM disciplines: science, technology, humanities, engineering, arts, and mathematics.
- Show explicitly how the formal and explicit critical reasoning processes are applied to reading for comprehension and writing for explanation.
If the first cannot be answered, then the second and third become immaterial.
In conclusion, you will want to look closely at the instruction and learning materials for the reading and writing programs you are considering. They must describe the critical thinking processes and how they are formally and explicitly used to support reading and writing development. Otherwise, you will need to proceed cautiously with the foregoing discussion in mind.
THE MIND’S PALETTE
Critical thinking is one of four categories of conscious thinking. The other three are recall. logical. and creative. Taken together, they comprise the conscious mind’s palette.
Cogeracy: The Mind’s Palette – The Four Categories of Thinking
- Logical (Serial) Thinking
To list persons, places, things, or ideas in some orderly sequence where the concern is the internal serial logic of the list itself and not the meaning, function, or purpose served by the subject matter of the list.
III. Critical Thinking
Reasoning processes for (a)understanding, comprehending, and explaining subject matter; (b) argumentation; and (c) problem solving.
- Creative Thinking
To discover something new; to be imaginative.
- For the conceptual, declarative, and procedural use of critical instruction pedagogy for critical thinking, reading, and writing in the context of curriculum subject matter see: Critical Instruction – How to Explain Subject Matter While Teaching All Learners to Think, Read, and Write Critically(Maiorana, 2016).
- For an greatly expanded view of each of the four categories of thinking shown in the table, see Chapter 3: Thinking: The First Language Art, in: Critical Instruction – How to Explain Subject Matter While Teaching All Learners to Think, Read, and Write Critically(Maiorana, 2016).
- The research referred to at the top of this page appears fully in: Chapter 2: The Critical Thinking Movement Has Not Overcome Serialism, in Fixing Instruction – Resolving Five Major Issues with a Core Body of Knowledge for Critical Instruction(Maiorana, 2015).
- For a discussion of the great teaching and learning limitations of conventional close reading, the conventional writing plan, graphic organizers, and conventional classroom questioning, see Chapter 2: The Critical Thinking Movement Has Not Overcome Serialism, in Fixing Instruction – Resolving Five Major Issues with a Core Body of Knowledge for Critical Instruction(Maiorana, 2015).
- For classroom examples of how critical instruction pedagogy addresses reading and writing across grades and disciplines see, Maiorana, V.P. (2017). Teach Like the Mind Learns – Instruct So Students Learn to Think, Read, and Write Critically. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
- Critical instruction pedagogy is based on the natural science of how the human mind – starting early in life with the child’s unprompted “Why?” question, – innately, critically, and informally encounters the world and its subject matter. Based on his doctorate work in curriculum and instruction that won two research awards, Dr. Victor P. Maiorana has further conceptualized, developed, and made practical the basis for formalizing and making explicit this innate critical grammar of mind. He calls it Mode 1 of critical thinking, or mind grammar. Mind grammar is a part of critical instruction pedagogy, and it provides the profession with the long-missing formal and critical cognitive foundation to understand, comprehend, and explain new and revisited subject matter in all disciplines.