Origin of Critical Instruction

The instructional theories, principles, strategies, and techniques that show how to explain subject matter critically while concurrently teaching all learners how to think, read, listen, write, speak, and observe critically are the result of Victor P. Maiorana’s original research, development, and practice.

His concepts address the use of reasoning strategies based on formalizing our innate ability to think critically (referred to as mind grammar) and the universal structure of subject matter. These concepts provide the basis to understand, comprehend, and explain new and revisited subject matter through critical development of the language arts. Taken together, these abilities constitute the basis for critical instruction and critical learning. His explicit and practical methods for critical instruction represent the antidote to the self-defeating practice of conventional rote-inducing instruction,

His professional experience with the issue of roteism instruction and the rote learning it induces began in his first week of college teaching. He did what many beginning instructors do. For each course, he outlined the first textbook chapter, added some notes based on his experience with the subject matter topic, and then entered the classroom. After the first week he felt very uneasy. All he had done was essentially replay the mind-dulling material as presented in textbooks. He asked himself, “What was I doing for the students that the textbook author was not already doing?” As he was to discover, conventional textbooks treat serially all the facts and ideas within subject matter as if they were on the same mental level. This hides the critical relationships of facts and ideas that are inherent in all subject matter – hence, rote learning.

In the second week, he started an informal research project with his students. Its intent was to find out how students studied their textbooks and how much time they devoted to the activity. The research showed that students simply underlined passages and spent less than three hours per week studying. This led to his first book, How to Learn and Study in College (1980). A chapter in the book contained the theoretical kernel of what is now referred to as critical instruction.

Dr. Maiorana based his award-winning doctorate research in curriculum and instruction on an insight he had while writing his first book.  After considering many ways to view subject matter as more than a serial collection of facts and ideas, he had an insight that revealed the universal and critical nature of all subject matter. This led to his origination of mind grammar for subject matter understanding, comprehension, and explanation. To support this insight (an early version of which appears in his first book), his dissertation committee advised him to examine the writings of others, including John Dewey. The examination provided support for Dr. Maiorana’s theory of mind grammar and subject matter universals and their application to new and revisited subject matter.

The research won two awards: the 1985 Paul S. Lomax Scholarship and Leadership Award and the 1985 NYU Delta Pi Epsilon Research Award.

Based on his dissertation and classroom application, he next wrote Critical Thinking Across the Curriculum: Building the Analytical Classroom (1992). Of this work, the Journal of Reading (Ruddiman, J., April 1993) said: “Offers new methodology to counteract the negative effects of older methods [that are] used even by those who teach students pre- paring to be teachers . . . a valuable method to push critical thinking behaviors into all classrooms for all learners—teachers and students.” However, the work was criticized because it did not go far enough in providing theoretical foundations and explicit and practical instructional strategies and techniques.

This led to his Fixing Instruction: Resolving Major Issues with a Core Body of Knowledge for Critical Instruction (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015). This work establishes the core knowledge needed for the professional preparation and practice of critical instruction. It establishes the bases for a language of instruction, subject matter universals, mind grammar, standards for thinking, and critical instruction.

A second work, Preparation for Critical Instruction: How to Explain Subject Matter While Teaching All Learners to Think, Read, and Write Critically (R&L, 2016), expands on the ideas regarding critical teaching and learning introduced in Fixing Instruction. To teach critically, one must first know how to learn critically. Therefore, this book clearly provides the profession with the theories, principles, and practices for learning critically when engaging new and revisited subject matter. The book formally applies mind grammar reasoning strategies so all learners can think, read, listen, write, and speak critically when engaging new and revisited subject matter in all disciplines. Of this work, Global Education Review (Tobin, K.A., March 2017), said:

  • “Maiorana argues convincingly…that the nation severely lacks preparation in critical instruction. [This means] the problem is even greater given the current weight assigned to the value of critical thinking [and reading and writing] in our schools [and colleges.]” p. 104
  • “… he makes two very important points [regarding the practice of critical instruction]… First, [school and college] instructors should acknowledge that it is natural for humans to think critically; this is not something alien or complicated that needs to be imposed or forced on students. … instructors should view their students as ready to think [critically] and acquire skills needed to foster this with relative ease. Second, critical instruction can be accomplished more effectively when it is subject-based…This takes critical instruction, …more freely beyond the limits of academic pedagogy and into the hands of teachers in an array of areas.
  • “…very importantly – Maiorana reminds us that thinking lies at the basis of all learning. It need not be detached from the essentials of reading, writing, listening, speaking, comprehension, or calculation” p. 104
  • “Mind grammar, says Maiorana, is the “innate, systematic, and patterned way that the human mind develops and encounters the world and all its subject matter,” and it provides the means to critically understand it (p. 5). [This] simplifies the ways in which we … [can practice critical instruction] … in our teaching. Maiorana is correct [when he says] …that this kind of thinking is innate, [which makes] the task of getting our students to think [and read and write critically [feel] much less daunting.
  • “Chapters 7 and 8 of Preparation for Critical Instruction encourage teachers to revisit ways in which we approach the use of reading and writing—essential across the disciplines—by infusing critical comprehension and critical explanation…For example, written material should not be read passively and simply for information; rather, the reader should take intellectual [critical] charge of textual material (p. 89). Writing need not take a conventionally logical form that may be chronological, comparative, hierarchical, or taxonomic; [rather, it can] include an analysis of subject matter objectives and consequences.”
  • “In all, Preparation for Critical Instruction is thought provoking and particularly useful for instructors at secondary and post-secondary levels … It has become increasingly important to include critical instruction in the classroom and devise ways to assess critical thinking [and reading and writing] among students, so any assistance from experts is appreciated. [Reading] Maiorana’s… perspectives [and] work may well be a step in the right direction.”

[Note: Preparation for Critical Instruction is a comprehensive update of and builds on the mind grammar-based mental foundation for engaging subject matter as described in: Critical Thinking Across the Curriculum – Building the Analytical Classroom by Victor P. Maiorana (1992).]

These works set the foundation for practicing critical instruction in the classroom, which brings us to Dr. Maiorana’s Teach Like the Mind Learns: Instruct So Students Learn to Think, Read, and Write Critically (2017). This work contains descriptions of over ninety mind grammar–based instructional techniques. Many of these itechniques are applied in over twenty-five instructional sets, which are collections of classroom assignments. The sets illustrate the application of mind grammar in K through college classrooms. The sets address topics in the English language arts; the humanities; mathematics, science, engineering,  and technology; and the social sciences.

For more information on Fixing Instruction (2015), Preparation for CrItical Instruction (2016), and Teach Like the Mind Learns (2017),    please visit www.bn.com, www.amazon.com, or www.rowman.com and search by book title.