Critical thinking, deeply understood, provides a rich set of concepts that enable us to think our way through any subject or discipline, through any problem or issue. With a substantive concept of critical thinking clearly in mind, we begin to see the pressing need for a staff development program that fosters critical thinking within and across the curriculum. In a related article, Richard Paul details a substantive, deep concept of critical thinking. The concept as he presents it, and that is only briefly outlined here, must be built into any high quality educational program, and therefore into any professional development program.
As we come to understand a substantive concept of critical thinking, we are able to follow-out its implications in designing a professional development program. By means of it, we begin to see important implications for every part of the college –redesigning policies, providing administrative support for critical thinking, rethinking the college mission, coordinating and providing faculty workshops in critical thinking, redefining faculty as learners as well as teachers, assessing students, faculty, and the college as a whole in terms of critical thinking abilities and traits. We realize that robust critical thinking should be the guiding force for all of our educational efforts.
Critical thinking is foundational to the effective teaching of any subject. Whenever we think through any subject whatsoever, we can do so only through our own capacity to reason and make sense of things. We can think through any subject well only when we reason our way effectively through problems and issues within the discipline.
Critical thinking, rightly understood then, is not one of many possible “angles” for professional development. Rather it should be the guiding force behind any and all professional development. It reminds us that:
Key Components of a Professional Development Program
Throughout the 30 years of its existence, the Center for Critical Thinking has designed critical thinking staff development programs and workshops for more than 60,000 college faculty from the U.S. and abroad. In this chapter, I focus on the insights gained throughout these 30 years. I lay out essential components of any effective professional development program.
- What is an educated person?
- What are the skills and abilities of educated persons?
- What are the dispositions of educated persons?
- What are educated persons able to do in their thinking that uneducated persons cannot do?
- What is an ideal college?
- What is an ideal learning environment?
- What intellectual skills, abilities and traits would we like to see all of our graduates have when they leave the college?
- What are the standard teaching practices at the college?
- How do these practices aid or hinder intellectual development?
- What can we do as a college to bridge the gap between the ideal and the real (what we would ideally like to see happen and what is actually happening)?
- What political realities affect the college’s ability to place thinking at the center of teaching? How can we best take these realities into account as we move toward the ideal?
- What skills do our faculty now lack (which they need if they are to foster disciplined reasoning)?
Administrative Commitment to Critical Thinking
Fall Semester: Two days of critical thinking training in which all faculty are required to attend. Three additional days of training for the Leadership Team (for 5 days in all for the Leadership Team).
Content focus: Foundations of Critical Thinking.
Spring Semester: Two days of critical thinking training for all faculty who wish to attend. Three additional days of training for the Leadership Team (for 5 days in all for the Leadership Team). Content focus: Applying the Foundations of Critical Thinking Across the Curriculum.
Fall Semester: Two days of critical thinking training for all faculty who wish to attend. Three additional days of training for the Leadership Team (for 5 days in all for the Leadership Team). Content focus: Understanding Content as a Mode of Thinking.
Spring Semester: Two days of critical thinking Training for all faculty who wish to attend. Three additional days of training for the Leadership Team (for 5 days in all for the Leadership Team). Content focus: Fostering Students’ Abilities to Read Closely and Write Substantively.
The same structure as in the Second Year, with some combinations of the following possible topics (or others in keeping with faculty/staff interests):
- Socratic Questioning Through Critical Thinking
- Learning How to Analyze Thinking Within Any Discipline
- Learning How to Assess Thinking Within Any Discipline
- Understanding the Traits of the Disciplined Mind and How to Foster Them In Students
- Ethical Reasoning
- Scientific Reasoning
- Reasoning Within the Social Sciences
- Historical Reasoning
- Mathematical Reasoning
- Professional Reasoning (in a variety of fields)
- How to Detect Bias and Propaganda
- How to Read Closely
- How to Write Substantively
- Teaching Students to Assess Their Own Reasoning
- Teaching Students to Take Command of Their Emotional Lives
- A monthly newsletter inviting faculty and staff to share thoughts and insights about critical thinking (including ways to teach for it in a variety of subject fields)
- A web forum wherein faculty and staff can routinely engage in dialogue with colleagues on critical thinking
- Regularly scheduled round table discussions that all faculty and staff can attend, with ever-evolving topics on critical thinking and interrelated subjects
- Pre-designed foundational seminars for new faculty facilitated by the leadership team, but designed by experts in critical thinking (after the first year)
- Faculty access to publications and other resources in critical thinking that dovetail with their subjects and interests.
Substantive Concept of Critical Thinking
Be Inclusive From the Start
Surry Community College: A Work In Progress
- A major revision by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) that affected the accreditation process for Surry CC.
- Surry’s participation in the first open administration of the Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE).
According to Atkins and Wolfe (Sept. 2003), when the Surry CC student survey results were compared with faculty objectives for students, “the comparison depicted a discrepancy between student reports and faculty perceptions regarding our students’ engagement in higher order/critical thinking skills. Overall results indicated that faculty believe students should be engaged in critical thinking skills to a much greater extent than levels reported by students.
- The recognized mission of the college is student learning
- The institution accepts responsibility for student learning
- Supporting and promoting student learning is everyone’s job
- Planning and operational decisions are made with consideration to their potential impact on student learning
- Transforming a college into a learning institution requires a systematic and systemic review of the organization and its people, structure, policies, and processes.
- The college will thoroughly assess its organizational culture to determine features that support or hinder the move to a more learning-centered college
- College leaders, both academic and administrative, will substantively support learning-centered initiatives
- The College will provide academic policies to reflect an emphasis on learning
- The College will create decision-making structures to ensure involvement of all key stakeholders
- The College will revise the language in all appropriate documents (e.g. mission statements, program descriptions, job descriptions) to reflect the new emphasis on learning.
- Improve Student Engagement Through Critical Thinking
- Assess Learning Outcomes
- Reform Organizational Culture
- How to teach all content as a powerful mode of thinking
- How to integrate Socratic questioning into instruction
- How to teach students to assess their own thinking using fundamental intellectual criteria
- How to teach students to work effectively with basic dimensions of thought
- How to teach students to read, write, speak, and listen critically, that is, with intellectual command of the processes in which they are engaged.
- How to teach so that students transfer what they learn from one context to another, as well as to the problems in everyday life.
- How to teach so that students take increasing responsibility for their learning
- How to teach so that students master the fundamental concepts and principles of a subject
- How to teach so that students take charge of their emotional lives
- How to organize programs, majors, and curricula so that critical thinking is emphasized throughout
- How to design an assessment program around critical thinking
- Using Critical Thinking as a Tool for Teaching Concepts
- Remodeling Assignments for Critical Thinking
- Students’ Abilities to Self-Assess: Fostering an Important Critical Thinking Skill
- Promoting Critical Thinking in the Learning-Centered Classroom
- Fundamentals of Critical Thinking
- Integrating Critical Thinking on a Daily Basis
- The program began with the commitment of the President and the Vice President for Instruction and Chief Academic Officer
- The Vice President for Instruction and Chief Academic Officer has not only spearheaded the project, but has taken time to learn critical thinking (having, at present, participated as a learner in 14 days of training in critical thinking). Moreover, he is taking a lead role as a facilitator in the pre-designed workshops for faculty and staff
- The top-level administrators at Surry have committed significant resources and time to the process
- An advisory council was formed to guide and integrate the process
- Early in the process, faculty were asked to identify important learning outcomes for students
- Faculty and staff work together on the various committees Surry has established to bring critical thinking into every part of the campus culture
- Experts in critical thinking are providing workshops in critical thinking over several years
- A leadership team is learning critical thinking to serve as facilitators in pre-designed workshops for faculty and staff throughout the year
- Critical thinking is tied to assessment through an Institutional Portfolio. This includes randomly selecting student papers from across the campus, and then assessing the papers using critical thinking concepts and principles
- Faculty assessments are tied to critical thinking. Faculty are required to submit sample assignments demonstrating that they are fostering critical thinking in their classes. These assignments are then evaluated, and faculty are given feedback from the Teach for the Advancement of Critical Thinking (with suggestions for improvement where necessary)
- A series of roundtable discussions are offered throughout the year which focus on critical thinking theory and classroom application
- A newsletter has been developed which highlights progress in critical thinking
- A website has been developed which provides a forum for updates and discussions
No college will ever reach the ideal. Some faculty will go further than others in fostering intellectual skills. And, certainly, some faculty teaching for deep acquisition of knowledge is better than none. Several is better than a few. Many is better than several. And most is better than many. Only in an ideal college will we ever see all the faculty teaching critical thinking for deep learning.