March 1 issue of LITERAL Spanish e-zine
The March 1 issue of LITERAL is finally ready for download!! We spent Thursday in the ER (me and all five kids…). Once I get off schedule with work, it’s hard to get back on track! (Grading, anyone?! I’m sure you can relate!) Anyway–we had more than 50 submissions to LITERAL this month!! There are…Read More
Common Core Critical Thinking Cross-Content Reading activities
Today in history: engage students with a simple critical thinking activity in the target language
I first heard the idea for “Today in History”; or rather, “NOT Today in History” by reading a blog post from Justin Slocum Bailey on the Indwelling Language blog back in 2014. Click here to read the first post: and here to read the second. Recently, I have been looking for new kinds of ‘puzzles’ that…Read More
March Music Madness: Advice from the experts
Have you heard whisperings of March Music Madness, but aren’t quite sure what it is or how to implement it? You have come to the right place! While I left the classroom before I learned about March Music Madness (MMM), I am a huge fan and will absolutely implement when I return to the classroom. This tournament-style…Read More
Where is the dog? Game for language classes
Last night, we had our third meeting of our local PLC (Northern NY & VT – sign up here if you live in the area and want to connect!). Our guiding question was, “Describe a recent lesson in which students were engaged?” I am really inspired by the creativity of the teachers in our group…Read More
25% off my favorite things: today and tomorrow!
Are you new to CI and trying to find out where to begin? This #LoveTpTSale is the perfect time to get resources from me and from other teacher-authors that are going to allow you to focus your ‘extracurricular’ time and your energy on honing your skills in this new way of teaching. Today and tomorrow,…Read More
$17 Online Professional Development–available NOW!
Stop what you are doing and READ THIS NOW! I can’t believe that I haven’t posted about it yet (face palm). Paulino Brenner (@paulinobrener) has put together an INCREDIBLE online conference–and it began on Sunday! From February 11-24, you can tune in for LIVE and recorded talks on the topic of language teaching and…Read More
HUGE ANNOUNCEMENT from The Comprehensible Classroom
What is this ^^??? I’ll tell you. It is a photo of THE STARS ALIGNING. That’s right–the stars have aligned: I have finally made my entire Spanish Level 1 curriculum available as a single product. In order to do this, I have moved all of my curriculum bundles to Google Drive. If you have previously purchased…Read More
This is part five (the end) of a rebuttal to this article. Part one can be found here.
There are just two more points I need to address in Hendrick’s article before I am done with my rebuttal. I know, all two of you readers have been waiting with bated breath to see what I’d write next.
In my first post in this series, I mentioned that the very existence of the skeptical movement disproves Hendrick’s arguments that skills cannot transfer and that critical thinking (and dispositions in general) cannot be taught. I’ll elaborate with an anecdote.
The first time I was ever introduced to critical thinking in any real way, it was in a subject-specific situation — exactly what Hendrick thinks is the best way. I did learn to think critically about that subject very well, but just that subject. Years passed and I continued to believe a whole lot of nonsense because the only kind of critical thinking I knew how to do only came up when I was thinking about that subject. As Hendrick rightly argues, cognitive skills do not easily transfer.
Then, I downloaded a skeptical podcast, never having heard of the skeptic movement before. The podcast talked about a variety of different claims, involving: physics, history, biology, religion, chemistry, marketing, conspiracies, medicine, environmentalism, paranormality, and the supernatural. Each episode dealt with a really different subject, but the one common thread running throughout was that the host was applying critical thinking to all of them. The same critical thinking.
No matter what the claim was, or the specific subject, it could be analyzed using the same set of skills. There were underlying principles at play, such as “before investigating how something happened, first establish that it happened,” and “look for the original source of the information to see if it is reliable” and “consider multiple explanations before jumping to conclusions.” These, and many more, are general critical thinking skills that can be applied to any subject.
As I learned more about the skeptical movement, I discovered a diverse multitude of people who were applying (or trying to apply, because we can never escape our cognitive biases) these general critical thinking skills to a huge variety of situations and subjects. I saw that people without a background in astronomy could debunk UFO claims, non-biologists could dismantle intelligent design, and people who’d never cracked open a philosophy textbook could pick apart dogmatic arguments. They could do this because they had a set of generalized critical thinking skills. The same logical fallacy could exist in any domain, and one doesn’t need to be an expert in that domain to recognize it, one could be an expert in critical thinking instead.
Hendrick asserts that critical thinking is not a skill, by quoting Daniel Willingham:
critical thinking (as well as scientific thinking and other domain-based thinking) is not a skill. There is not a set of critical thinking skills that can be acquired and deployed regardless of context.
If they are right, the skeptical movement really couldn’t exist. First, because its aims (at promoting “critical thinking”) would be self-contradictory. Second, because all the skeptics who do apply critical thinking to a wide variety of topics could not exist.
If this assertion is correct, and “critical thinking” is not a skill and cannot be taught:
The one thing that Hendrick gets right is that transfer is hard. Pretty much all educational research supports this. I was going to cite a bunch of articles here, but I realized that I may as well just point to the entire body of educational studies. This is a much bigger problem than the topic at hand, and it would probably need a serious reworking of the entire educational system to address (but that’s out of the question, because we clearly don’t want evidence-based policies).
The real problem that Hendrick failed to address is that teaching critical thinking is really, really hard. Instead of giving up after repeatedly telling students to “look at an issue from multiple perspectives” and concluding that teaching general critical thinking skills is impossible (as Willingham says), perhaps we should try looking at the ones who actually succeed at it and look for ways to overcome the problem of cognitive biases.