Mind Grammar – Theory, Principles, and Practice

Critical Instruction is the formal and explicit explanation of how to connect and integrate the facts and ideas within the three dimensions of subject matter, which are: intent (objective), processes and consequences. It is practiced in ways that contextually and simultaneously develop critical thinking, reading, and writing abilities in all students.

Critical instruction pedagogy is based on two concepts. The first is called mind grammar, which is based on the natural science of the human being’s innate, informal, and critical grammar of mind. The second is called subject matter universals. This discussion addresses mind grammar, the natural science of the conscious human mind. For a discussion of subject matter universals, click here.

Theory of Mind Grammar

In our conscious daily life, we frequently if not always first identify our intentions and then act on them. Many of our intentions become implicit (e.g., to clean our teeth, to get dressed, to go to work), and so become habits. Other inten­tions are explicit (e.g., obtain toothpaste, replace an old pair of shoes, arrange a special meeting). So, if we were to follow ourselves around, we would see that cer­tain actions (processes) are taking place (e.g., brushing one’s teeth), because they are needed to achieve some effect(e.g., clean teeth).

Notice that our daily actions are preceded by intent, which cause those actions. Accordingly, the conscious human mind has its own innate, informal grammar for thinking critically. This grammar of the mind represents a natural science of thought in the form or pattern of intent – activities – consequences. You use this critical pattern repeatedly throughout your conscious day. You cannot escape it. Just as the grammatic pattern of the sentence is innate, you were born with mind grammar and its informal use matures with age and experience. It is the first mode of critical thinking.

The other two modes of critical thinking are argumentation (Mode 2) and situational resolution (Mode 3 – e.g., problem solving). For a given topic, in order to engage effectively in Modes 2 and 3, one must first have a grounding in Mode 1. Mode 1 critical thinking with mind grammar also provides the cognitive basis is the basis for critical reading and writing.

Principles of Mind Grammar

The principles of mind grammar are that for the conscious mind: (1) It is natural for humans to think critically. (2) Humans are driven innately by intent. They have purpose or ends-in-view or otherwise seek meaning in all their endeavors. (3) Intent is the starting point for critical thinking. Once intent (an objective) is established, it is natural for the human mind to seek the means to achieve the intent. To think more deeply, one goes on to consider the consequences of an intention.

Introduction to the Practice of Mind Grammar

The Mind Grammar Interview
  1. Select a topic. Draw on your existing knowledge of the topic to  complete the interview. If needed, it is alright to refer to references. In essence, as an expert, you are speaking critically for the subject matter.Select a topic in your discipline. The topic can be broad, such as “Trees.” It can be more specific such as “Planting a Tree, Pruning a Tree,” “Trees and the Environment,” or “The Life Cycle  of a Tree.”
  2.  Ask first, What is the end-in-view or effect or meaning or importance or purpose or function of the subject matter topic at hand?  The answer to this question represents the subject matter objective. This is the first and most important question of all because it sets the cognitive direction of the interview.
  3. The subject matter objective sets the premise (i.e., the critical reasoning direction) for the rest of the subject matter interview. The answer must not be rushed. You must understand and state it clearly.
    — The objective must directly address the topic under consideration.
    — Limit the subject matter objective to stating one end-in-view or effect or meaning or importance or purpose or function of the topic.
    — Be sure that the objective statement does not include a consequence.
    — The answer to this question must be written in one complete sentence.
  4. Ask, What activities take place within the subject matter? Or ask, What is the process that allows the subject matter objective to be accomplished? The activities must be listed in logical order.
  5. Ask, What are the positive and negative consequences of achieving and not achieving the subject matter objective? What good things happen when the subject matter objective is achieved? What bad things can happen if the subject matter objective is not achieved?
  6. Ask, What are the resources (persons, places, things, and ideas) required to carry out each of the activities? Often, the resources appear directly in a stated activity. Otherwise, they need to be inferred.
  7. After the interview, connect and integrate your information by preparing a subject matter display based on the answers to your questions. Start the display by writing out its topic. Then address the subject matter objective,  activities, consequences, and resources,.

The completed display becomes, for example, your critically conceived outline for developing classroom assignments, writing an essay, or writing a textbook chapter.

Developing Classrooms Assignments: For how to use a subject matter display as the basis for developing classroom assignments, see Chapters 2 through 7 in, Teach Like the Mind Learns – Instruct So Students Learn to Think, Read, and Write Critically (2017).

Writing an Essay: When writing an essay, you need not follow the order of the display. You can write in any order. You can begin and end as you see fit, weaving back and forth among the display’s elements. It is alright to add new material that occurs to you as your essay unfolds. Just be sure to include all the entries that appear in the display. For more on writing for critical explanation, see Chapter 8 – Write for Critical Explanation in, Preparation for Critical Instruction – How to Explain Subject Matter While Teaching All Learners to Think, Read, and Write Critically (2016).

Writing a Textbook Chapter: When writing a textbook chapter, you need not follow the order of the display. You can write in any order. Although, for textbook chapters in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, it is a good idea to state the subject matter objective upfront. You can begin and end as you see fit, weaving back and forth among the display’s elements. It is alright to add new material that occurs to you as your chapter unfolds. Just be sure to include all the entries that appear in the display. For examples of how to write textbook chapters critically, see the chapters in, Preparation for Critical Instruction – How to Explain Subject Matter While Teaching All Learners to Think, Read, and Write Critically (2016); and Teach Like the Mind Learns – Instruct So Students Learn to Think, Read, and Write Critically (2017).