Remodeling English Language Instruction to Achieve Critical Thinking
The question of integrating critical thinking into English language instruction assumes great significance in the official Lebanese curriculum. Grounded in the Plan for Educational Reform and the New Framework for Education proclaimed respectively in 1993 and 1994, the official English language curriculum of 1996 adopted critical thinking, cultural awareness, and study skills, alongside with communication for social and academic purposes as the main goals of English language teaching and learning in the country.
The English language curriculum of 1996 in Lebanon was designed according to the principles and procedures of theme-based instruction. These principles and procedures reflect current trends as well as some pedagogically-sound best practices to enable learners acquire a language other than their own. Instruction is organized around themes that are considered interesting, motivating and developmentally- appropriate for learners, both from the cognitive and linguistic point of view. Authentic written and spoken language from a variety of text-types such as magazine articles, short stories, poems, news reports, debates, as well as expository, narrative, and literary selections are exploited to achieve the learning objectives and demonstrate the performance tasks of the curriculum. These objectives and performance tasks were designed according to the pedagogical implications of the theoretical views (models) of the four language skills (listening, oral fluency, reading, writing), as well as cultural awareness, study skills, and critical thinking.
The purpose of this article is to present a contemporary model of critical thinking as well as explicate how instruction can be remodeled in order to achieve critical thinking curricular goals and objectives in the affective and cognitive domains.
What is Critical Thinking?
There are many definitions of critical thinking in the extant literature on the subject. These definitions share a number of common threads that cut across them, particularly in the context of language instruction. These threads include making inferences, drawing conclusions, reflecting on own learning, reading between the lines, perspective taking, and assessing information accuracy, relevance, timeliness, bias, and so on and so forth.
The Critical Thinking Society has recently proposed a detailed and multifaceted model that includes numerous dimensions in the affective, cognitive, and meta-cognitive domains. Chief among these dimensions is thinking independently; avoiding egocentric and sociocentric behavior; fair-mindedness; understanding the thoughts underlying feelings and the feelings underlying thought; intellectual humility, perseverance, and courage; integrity; and confidence in reason.
Critical thinkers also refine generalizations, avoid simplifications, compare analogous situations and transfer gained insights into new contexts. They develop their own perspectives and beliefs; as well as clarify issues and conclusions; and assess arguments, actions, and solutions based on sound evaluation criteria and credibility of information sources. Finally, critical thinkers read and listen critically; make interdisciplinary connections; explore consequences and implications; and practice dialogical and dialectical reasoning by comparing and evaluating perspectives, interpretations, or theories.
The idea behind remodeled instruction is that teachers can be given opportunities for professional development in integrating critical thinking into their teaching through reading a “standard” lesson plan, critiquing it, and then selecting and integrating relevant dimensions of critical thinking. Below is an example of integrated grammar that explicates the preceding steps: Details of this example can be found at the following link:
http://ed-lessons-6-9/463:Retrieved on Dec. 16, 2012
Objectives of the Remodeled Plan
The Students Will:
- Explore their ideas about language through Socratic discussion.
- Analyze a written passage and distinguish author’s grammatical usage in terms of style.
- Evaluate a written passage.
Standard Lesson Plan
The traditional pattern is based upon a format which explains the lesson, gives examples, and then provides drills for students on such topics as the following: parts of speech, verb tenses, active vs. passive verbs, dependent and independent clauses, punctuation. The simplicity or complexity of the lesson depends upon the grade level of the text.
Grammar was chosen as a lesson because it seems the least likely to be included in a discussion on critical thinking. Indeed, the traditional method utilized in grammar texts does discourage reasoning about grammar.
The facts of English are presented in a raw fashion and the student simply is expected to accept them. Some grammar texts attempt to be innovative by making grammar “fun” - using graphics and clever sentences for examples, but the message is the same: Grammar is a subject that students must learn. Soon they get the message that it is boring and worse than that, difficult and irrational. Students learn each distinction and skill in such a way that they only “know” it when specifically asked to look for it in the directions. They do not learn the details in any useful context, whether reading or writing. Students need to use grammatical analysis in order to see its importance and meaning.
Integrated Grammar is a method which was presented at a California Model Curriculum Conference. The premise is that if grammar is taught, it should be within the context of the literature that is being taught. Grammar is not a genre and it is something that we would have no use for if we didn’t have something to communicate. It makes sense then to have students learn about grammar from literature and other writings. Most teachers would prefer to teach something else when given the choice. How
then does a teacher who wishes to incorporate critical thinking into all areas of the curriculum teach grammar?
Strategies Used to Remodel
- Thinking independently
- Practicing Socratic discussion: clarifying and questioning beliefs, theories, or perspectives
- Reading critically: clarifying or critiquing texts
General Discussion of Language
Before teachers attempt an integrated grammar lesson, the class should be divided into groups of three or four and asked some critical questions about the structure of their language. Ask one or two questions at a time, and ask one student in the group to volunteer to record the group’s answers.
- What are some rules a person would have to know to speak English?
- How do humans acquire language? At what age? Explain exactly how it is done. What do you remember about your own language acquisition?
- Are all people taught grammar and, if so, at what age do they learn it? If there are younger children at home, how are they learning (did they learn), and what mistakes did they make? Why did they say that? Why was it a mistake?
- Who determines what correct English will be? What implications does this have for society?
- What is the definition of syntax? (OK to use the dictionary.) Does word order matter in English? (For example, does the sentence, “Help my dog eat,” and the sentence, “Help eat my dog,” mean the same thing?) If someone in your group speaks another language, find out if word order is important in the construction of their language.
- What are the implications for a person who cannot speak at all? How do they communicate? How important is language of any kind to a person?
- What are some things you would like to know about language that you were never taught?
By this time, you have involved students in thinking deeply about the importance of language. This process awakens intellectual curiosity instead of deadening it with grammar drills. The teacher may spend as much time as he/she likes exploring fundamental assumptions about language.
You may want to assign a writing project in which one group writes a paragraph then changes the word order in each sentence. For example, ask each group to collaborate on a short paragraph about the way children learn language. A partial response might be: Children learn language at a very young age. Their parents are the main teachers, but sometimes children just repeat things they hear. Then ask the group to mix up the syntax using the same words: Very young language learn at a children age. Teachers sometimes but main parents repeat just the children are their things they hear. Groups exchange papers and try to decipher each other’s paragraphs to make sense. Students could share their methods of approaching this problem. It soon dawns on students that language has a rigid structure and that although they may not be able to recite the rules governing syntax, they know them. Students that speak a non-standard variety of English could compare their syntax with standard
English and generate rules for translating.
Grammar in Literature
First, choose a short passage that is exceptionally descriptive, exciting or well written. Then ask students to write down the passage while you dictate it. This improves their listening and note-taking skills. Students could later compare different ways of using punctuation to write the passage.
The following passage is from John Steinbeck’s The Pearl:
The scorpion moved delicately down the rope toward the box. Under her breath Juana repeated an ancient magic to guard against such evil, and on top of that she muttered a Hail Mary between clenched teeth. But Kino was in motion. His body glided quietly across the room, noiselessly and smoothly. His hands were in front of him, palms down, and his eyes were on the scorpion. Beneath it in the hanging box Coyotito laughed and reached up his hand toward it. It sensed danger when Kino was almost within reach of it. It stopped and its tail rose up over its back in little jerks and the curved thorn on the tail’s end glistened.
Because students have written the passage, they are more prepared for the analysis you will ask them to do. Place them in groups to work on the following questions: List some things that you notice about the writing style of this author (Independent Thinking). Go through the passage and write down some verbs that worked especially well. Go through the passage and write down some nouns with their adjectives that made the passage more vivid. How do the adverbs contribute to the passage? List some positive and negative criticism you have of this author’s writing style (Analyze and Evaluate Text).
This lesson will have students thinking about the way the grammar works in the passage. Students will develop a sense of what is powerful in writing and be able to generalize rules that will improve their own work. As a closing exercise, ask students to write a paragraph in which they imitate Steinbeck’s style. They should be encouraged to invent their own fiction and not write a passage about a scorpion. These models of Steinbeck’s style can be shared with the class and analyzed for points of comparison.
This article has underscored the importance of critical thinking in English language teaching. It introduced a multi-faceted model of critical thinking and proposed remodeling standard instruction as a mechanism to achieve the various affective and cognitive dimensions of critical thinking. Finally, the article concluded with a remodeled integrated grammar lesson.
http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/strategylist- 35-dimensions-of-criticalthought/466:Retrieved on Dec. 16, 2012
http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/remodelled-lessons-6-9/463:Retrieved on Dec. 16, 2012 .