Frequently Asked Questions

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS REGARDING CRITICAL INSTRUCTION PRACTICE

Why can’t teacher–educators, school and college faculty, and professional developers continue to instruct the way they always have?

They can, but they will continue to unwittingly undermine their own best efforts. Teaching is a profession built on thinking directed at subject matter. Yet as a profession, teaching is practiced without a critically cognitive foundation in either thinking or subject matter. Since thinking is the first language art, this means there is no cognitive foundation for reading or writing critically. Without a core body of knowledge for critical instruction, teachers will continue self-defeating conventional practice.

Conventional practice is based on using self-defeating serialism as an instructional strategy. Serialism denies the mind’s innate ability to think critically using our innate grammar of mind. This is so because serialism does not represent a critical reasoning strategy for connecting and integrating facts and ideas. The result is rote learning.

When engaging new or revisited subject matter, serialism provides no cognitive basis for the development of critical thinking, reading, listening, writing, speaking, and observing abilities in students. To achieve a full appreciation of the serialism issue and to see its negative consequences for the profession and students at all levels, see Fixing Instruction: Resolving Major Issues with a Core Body of Knowledge for Critical Instruction (Maiorana, 2016a).

So rote learning is of limited value?

Let’s start by establishing what is commonly meant by rote learning. According to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (2007, p. 1084), rote learning is “the use of memory usually with little intelligence . . . unthinking routine or repetition . . . a joyless sense of order [i.e., serialism].”

All learning is of value. However, our aim as teacher–educators, teacher-candidates,and school and college faculty is to lead all students at all levels to think, read, and write critically. Rote learning is a weak, unthinking, and joyless intellectual dead end. However, the issue is not that rote learning itself is of limited value.

Here is the issue. The use of rote-inducing serialism-based instruction—beginning in the early grades and continuing on through college—denies teachers the ability to lead students to use their innate grammar of mind to think critically. This in turn defeats the ability to read and write critically when engaging new and revisited subject matter.

Therefore, the main drawback of rote learning is that it prfrustration and high rates of early departure from the profession and for students, poor academic achievement and high dropout rates in schools and colleges.

To think, read, and write critically when engaging new and revisited subject matter, one needs a critical reasoning strategy. Humans have the gift of an innate grammar of mind. That gift provides the basis for a formal critical reasoning strategy when engaging subject matter. That strategy is called mind grammar. The power of mind grammar strategy is that it allows both teachers and students at all levels to formally

(a) connect and integrate critically facts and ideas already in their possession into a subject matter display (or its equivalent), (b) connect and integrate into a display facts and ideas encountered when reading new or revisited subject matter, and (c) use a display as an outline to write critically. See Preparation for Critical Instruction: How to Explain Subject Matter While Teaching All Learners to Think, Read, and Write Critically (Maiorana, 2016b).

How do I know whether to use an MG1 or MG2 subject matter display?

Which one to use depends on the grade level of your class, the nature of your students (disadvantaged, ELL, regular, special, or blended), the difficulty level of the subject matter topic, the importance of the topic, and the class time you wish to devote to the topic.

In a typical course, some topics are considered more important than others. For those topics, you will want a deeper level of engagement. Use a three- or four-stage MG2 subject matter display. For difficult topics, start at the MG1 level and then move on to an MG2 discussion. For other topics, you can limit the discussion to two- or three-stage MG1 displays.

Can I bypass a subject matter display and go straight to writing an MG1 or MG2 narrative and then use the narrative as a basis for designing an instructional set?

Yes. At some point you will internalize formally and use fluidly the MG1 and MG2 strategies. You will be able to visualize a subject matter display and write accordingly.

Can mind grammar be used in special education classes?

Yes. Do not assume that special education students cannot be engaged critically with mind grammar. They can, because like all students, it is part of their nature.

Start with logical thinking exercises. Base these on the discussion of logical thinking in Chapter 3, Thinking: The First Language Art, in Preparation for Critical Instruction. Then transition to modest two-stage MG1 displays. Then move to threestage MG1 displays and then on to MG2.

When moving to MG2, consider starting with a two-stage MG2 display that contains only a subject matter objective and consequences. Then add activities as the bridge between the two to arrive at a three-stage MG2 display. Based on your sense of the class, you can then move to a four-stage MG2 display.

How do I engage in differentiation in my blended classes when using critical instruction?

Differentiation is using different learning approaches with different students within a class. For example, with critical instruction, different itechniques can be used within a class. Students can work on some version of an MG1 or MG2 display. Some students develop a two-stage MG1 display and the others a three-stage MG1 display.

Differentiation can also be achieved by pairing or grouping students with a good knowledge of mind grammar with those still learning the mind grammar strategies. The process can start by having students develop an MG1 display. They can then move on to an MG2 in a similar manner. Some of the first ten itechniques described in Chapter 3 lend themselves to differentiation, as do others described in the chapter.

How do I use mind grammar with English language learners?

English language learners have a twofold challenge. At the same time, they must learn a new language and deal with meaning-defeating and language arts–defeating serialism.

All humans share the same mind grammar thought structure of intent-processconsequences. All languages share the same subject-verb-direct object structure of the sentence. Like the sentence, mind grammar is the innate, systematic, and patterned way the human mind repeatedly encounters and reflects on the world. These ideas, as a basis of learning both a new language and the subject matter at hand, makes moving between languages natural and predictable. For examples of how this is done, refer to the ELL-based instructional sets in Chapter 4. Note that all the itechniques described in Chapter 3 can be used with any language.

How does critical instruction address critical reading?

Reading approaches, such as close reading, are inherently weak because they are based on serialism thinking strategy. Serialism does not represent a critical reading strategy. Therefore, it has no power to represent subject matter text critically. For a discussion of the great limitations and drawbacks of serialism and conventional approaches to reading for comprehension, see Chapter 2, Instructional Practice Is Inherently Weak:

The Hidden Story, in Fixing Instruction. Without an explicitly shared critical reasoning strategy in play, teachers—regardless of discipline—cannot effectively assess the degree of student comprehension of textual material.

To read critically, students must be taught a critical reasoning strategy. Only when they possess such a strategy will they be independent critical readers. Mind grammar represents a reasoning strategy not only for critical thinking but for critical reading and writing as well. Mind grammar is a systematic, reproducible, and transferable way to read for critical comprehension. It provides the ability to connect and integrate ideas critically. Critical reading for understanding is the application of MG1 mind grammar to textual material. Critical reading for comprehension is the application of MG2 mind grammar to textual material.

How students can learn to read critically can be found in Chapter 7, Read for Critical Comprehension, in Preparation for Critical Instruction. See instructional sets in Chapters 4 through 7 in this book for application examples of critical reading assignments.

When reading critically, must I mark the text for the elements of mind grammar?

In a learning situation, the common approach to reading textual material is to mark the material through underlining or highlighting. The thought is, “This sounds important, I’ll underline it now and come back to it later.” Underlining is serialism. It represents the serial marking of facts and ideas without a reasoning basis for connecting and integrating them critically. See the answer to question 9 above.

If you are just learning to use MG1 and MG2 for reading critically, then it is necessary to mark the text in some way. Rather than just underlining material that seems important, you can develop your own mind grammar–based marking system. For example, if a line of text contains an activity, mark the line in the margin with an “a” or simply make an entry in your notebook. So, yes, when first learning to use mind grammar when reading, you should mark the text. You can use the marking approach given in Figure 4.7 on reading for critical comprehension or develop your own marking system.

Is it important that you comprehend deeply a given subject matter topic? The answer is again yes, although the degree to which you mark text (as opposed to taking notes) is up to you. When reading critically has become second nature to you, there will be little need to mark the text. Instead, you can take notes as you read, writing down key mind grammar elements. You can then use your notes to summarize the text in subject matter display format or in some other format. Remember, if you are using MG2 and the textual material lacks a discussion of consequences, then you will need to develop them yourself.

How does critical instruction address critical writing?

When given a writing assignment, students are encouraged to use a writing plan. A typical plan includes the preparation of an outline that includes an introduction, body, and conclusion. In the introduction they are to state their topic and thesis. In the body they are instructed to write paragraphs. Each paragraph is to have a topic sentence supported by facts and ideas. In the conclusion, they are to summarize what they discovered or now understand or believe about their topic.

The main weakness with the typical outlining process is that the very things students are asked to do are the very things they have great difficulty with. How, explicitly, do they develop an outline? How do they use the outline to write topic sentences and associated paragraphs? How do they draw conclusions? The standard outlining process is largely ineffective because it does not address these issues. This is shown by state English Language Arts exams that ask students to write an essay. Such exams often provide a topic theme, but they also provide an outline of the issues to address and considerations for the conclusions to be drawn. In other words, with such mental prompts, the exam writer provides the necessary thinking. The student follows the prescription. When placed in situations where such mental supports are absent, such as in a school or college or on the job, they are essentially lost.

Mind grammar provides students with a critical reasoning strategy that has long been missing from the typical writing plan. Consequently, students have the independent means to engage in the necessary critical thinking that outlining and writing for explanation requires.

Say a subject matter display is developed in class. I then ask my students to write a narrative based on that display. If students use the same subject matter display as an outline for writing, won’t all their narratives be similar?

Initially, yes. Keep in mind that your aim is to teach students how to write critically of your discipline’s topics. If they do write similar mind grammar–based narratives, you will have succeeded, and they as well. Initially, this is what you want to happen.

Their narratives will be similar in this way: They will write of a topic’s objective, activities, consequences, and resources. In other words, their narratives will be critically organized because you have taught them to explicitly and formally think critically. You will also have taught them to write sentences that cohere in paragraph form. This is a major achievement that can be accomplished only if students base their writing on the use of critical reasoning strategies such as MG1 and MG2.

As students gain confidence in their critical writing abilities, they are free to experiment and apply their creativity. They can write their narratives in any order they see fit and in ways that reflect their individual uniqueness. They can also include related information in the narrative that is not in the display. The only requirement is that the elements of mind grammar be integrated into the discussion.

For more on writing narratives, see the discussion on The Subject Matter Narrative, earlier in this chapter. For an example of how students can progress from writing “similar narratives” to unique ones, see Text Boxes 8.1 through 8.3 in Chapter 8, Write for Critical Explanation, in Preparation for Critical Instruction.

How does critical instruction address the idea that teachers must adapt their instructional activities to the different learning styles of students?

Students do have individual and different sensory and media preferences for taking in information. Once information is taken in, different students may have different reactions to that information. They may think of different questions to ask. They may see things that others do not. They may apply the information in uniquely creative ways. Their curiosity may be stimulated in different ways. So, yes, students are very different in the ways just described.

However, do they have different ways of processing the information to arrive at initial understanding once information has entered the mind? No, not when it comes to gaining understanding and comprehension. For a given topic we are all disposed in some way to use our innate mind grammar pattern. That is to say, gaining understanding and then comprehension of subject matter is eventually the result of identifying intent, ordering the activities needed to achieve the intent, and evaluating the consequences that ensue. When it comes to how the mind understands and comprehends, this grammar of mind is shared innately by all.

The mind must eventually process information no matter the form in which it is received. The innate elements of mind grammar are always at work and respond to all forms of information reception.

Don’t you have to know some facts and ideas concerning a topic before you can think critically of it?

When the topic of critical thinking comes up, those engaging in the discussion must first agree on what they mean by critical thinking. There are three modes of critical thinking. Mode 1 concerns understanding, comprehending, and explaining a subject matter topic critically. Mode 2 concerns argumentation. Mode 3 concerns situational resolution (e.g., problem solving). For full discussions of these three modes, see Chapter 3 in Fixing Instruction and Chapter 3 in Preparation for Critical Instruction.

If you are concerned with thinking critically for understanding, comprehension, and explanation (Mode 1 of critical thinking and the main concern of teachers), knowing facts and ideas in advance is helpful, but not necessary. What is necessary is having possession of an explicit critical reasoning strategy (e.g., MG1 or MG2). You can obtain facts and ideas on any given topic by using the critical reasoning strategy itself as the basis for asking questions of the subject matter. See the topics Subject Matter Speaks and The Mind Grammar Interview Procedure, on pages 41 and 48, respectively, in Preparation for Critical Instruction. You then take the facts and ideas elicited (whether new to you or not, and no matter how they are gathered or presented), and connect and integrate them critically. That same mind grammar reasoning strategy provides the basis for critical reading and writing (see Chapters 7 and 8 in Preparation for Critical Instruction).

Based on mind grammar reasoning strategy, the subject matter display is a way to connect and integrate facts and ideas critically (again, whether new to you or not). For more on this, see the Mind Grammar Interview Procedure in Chapter 4 in Preparation for Critical Instruction.

If you are interested in modes 2 and 3 of critical thinking (argumentation and problem solving), mere possession of facts and ideas is again of small value. To engage effectively in argumentation or problem solving, you must first critically comprehend, or at least critically understand, the issue being debated or the problem requiring resolution. In other words, you must first engage in mode 1 of critical thinking. You can then go on to mode 2 and/or mode 3. Accordingly, it is not necessary to first memorize facts and ideas as a prelude to thinking critically. This widely held belief is based on the profession’s long-held reliance on serialism-based instruction.10 This belief puts the cart before the horses. With the advent of mind grammar, the horses are placed before the cart. The leading horse is mode 1 of critical thinking. The two following horses, hitched side by side, are modes 2 and 3. The cart contains the facts and ideas, whether new or revisited. Without the critical horses you cannot pull the facts and ideas into a state of criticality. You have only crystallized information waiting for someone to come along and warm them up critically. With mind grammar as an instructional strategy, that someone is you, the professional teacher, a teacher who, by practicing critical instruction, can lead students to think, read, and write critically while simultaneously engaging new and revisited subject matter.

How can I cover the required material and do the extra work of teaching students to think, read, and write critically?

This question is related to question 14. It assumes that the teaching of subject matter is something apart from simultaneously thinking, reading, and writing about it critically.11 Again, this idea is tied to the conventional practice of serialism-based instruction (see the heading Examples of Istrategies in Chapter 1 and endnote 13 in this chapter).

Although this is the traditional view, teaching students to think, read, and write critically is no longer a matter of “extra work.” With mind grammar, teaching and learning critically is a matter of “right now” and “concurrency.” Teaching critically is a chorus, not consecutive solos.

Mind grammar provides the means to think (and read and write) of subject matter critically. It provides the basis for moving the profession into far more effective practice.

It paints on a different, critical, canvas than serialism-based instruction. It does away with the idea that new and revisited subject matter facts and ideas are something apart from critical thinking, reading, and writing. Once mastered, critical instruction and learning saves time. The instructional sets in Chapters 4 through 7 show how this is accomplished.

It takes time—but surprisingly little time—for both teachers and students to grasp and use critical instruction and learning. It is a matter of weeks, not months. One reason is that mind grammar is rooted in our innate ability to think critically. Such thinking is applied constantly in day-to-day life.12 Another reason is that, for the first time, teachers and students can now share critical reasoning, reading, and writing strategies. Such sharing makes classroom assignments easier to understand and quicker to be completed. Consequences for teachers include greatly improved preparation and practice and for students, critical thinking, reading, and writing abilities and greatly improved achievement.

Must an instructional set (classroom assignments) be developed for every topic I teach?

To begin reading an answer to this question, see the answer to question 3 on subject matter displays and then return here. To continue, the mission statements of schools, colleges, universities, and programs often state that a primary goal is to show students how to think critically. The same is true of standards for faculty and students.13 This makes teaching for critical thinking, reading, and writing the essential responsibility of teachers at all levels and in all disciplines. But the institution, its programs, and its faculty must go beyond critical thinking, which is the first language art. Whether in or out of classrooms, critical thinking is conducted primarily in the context of reading, listening, writing, speaking, and observing. Therefore, regardless of your discipline and the educational level at which you practice, it is your professional responsibility to have students develop, use, and practice the language arts for topics in your discipline.

For example, you can design reading and writing assignments that pair itechniques with mind grammar strategy. When this is done, you provide students not only with the opportunity to engage in critical thinking but in critical reading and writing as well. So how often should you design critically conceived classroom assignments?

The answer lies in knowing how well your students in your school, college, or program can practice all five language arts in the context of engaging new and revisited subject matter.

Which parts of an instructional set do my students see?

Usually, students see only the classroom assignments. However, when the instructional set includes teacher resources, such as a display or narrative, students may be given those at the completion of assignments.