He warned us, too, of the opposite problem: Sloppy papers that nonetheless demonstrated more critical thinking than the carefully penned essays did. high school seniors testing at advanced levels on the National Assessment of Educational Progress reading test—demonstrating the ability to not only comprehend text, but also to analyze and evaluate it—has hovered at around 5 percent (National Center for Education Statistics, 2011).
Although that was more than 20 years ago, not much appears to have changed in terms of high school graduates' critical-thinking ability. Conventional wisdom holds that one of the best ways to improve students' criticalthinking skills is to teach them to write (Quitadamo & Kurtz, 2007).
The researchers also found, however, that the writing assignments most benefited students who had stronger critical-thinking skills in the first place.
In other words, the analytical writing exercises seemed to have the same sort of Matthew effect that researchers have observed in reading—students who start with better skills increase their abilities at a faster rate than students who start with weaker skills (Stanovich, 1986). How writing shapes thinking: A study of teaching and learning.
In hindsight, had I a few years later provided my own students with the same benefits of direct instruction in syllogisms, logical fallacies, and Venn diagrams, they might have found it easier to demonstrate critical thinking in their writing.
Tragically, the "Thinking and Writing" course was widely known across campus as a weed-out class because many students struggled to construct and support sound arguments. To determine how these conditions affected higher-order thinking, students also took the California Critical Thinking Skills Test before and after the intervention. In one quarter, students in the writing group improved their average critical thinking from the 45th to the 53rd percentile, whereas students in the nonwriting group declined from the 42nd to the 40th percentile. Learning to improve: Using writing to increase critical thinking performance in general education biology. Yet the paradox of well-written, poorly reasoned student papers might lead us to wonder, What exactly, is the link between critical thinking and writing?To answer this question, it's useful to know that as far as cognitive psychologists are concerned, critical thinking doesn't come easily for anyone. A study conducted by Nobel Prize—winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman (2011) found that fully 50 percent of undergraduates at Harvard, MIT, and Princeton and 80 percent of students at other colleges answered this problem incorrectly.What may be more useful is to explicitly introduce students to the language of logic and reason, providing them with an approach to analyze their own and others' thinking. As University of Melbourne professor Tim van Gelder (2005) observes, "Instead of saying, 'That argument sucks,' the critical thinker can say that she does not accept the conclusion, even though she grants the premises, because the inference is an example of the fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc" (p. In my own first semester of college, I enrolled in a logic course that turned out to be a fortuitous complement to freshman composition. This research suggests that some kinds of writing may help students develop their critical-thinking skills, but writing does not necessarily teach critical thinking. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English. In fact, the best way to help students learn critical thinking may be to actually teach it. Retrieved from National Center for Education Statistics. Nation's report card: Grade 12 reading and mathematics 2009 national and pilot state results. When answering study questions, students engaged in fragmented, low-level recognition and recall. Teaching critical thinking: Some lessons from cognitive science. When taking notes, they focused on larger concepts but still failed to make their own sense of the content.