How often have you found students' comments such as these frustrating?
Stage 1: Knowledge as facts. As some of the comments above show, many students believe that knowledge is a collection of discrete facts that one simply acquires from the teacher or text and articulates on papers and exams. To them, teachers are authorities who should provide the right answers. For such students, the concept of interpretation is puzzling; furthermore, they have no awareness of the complexity of the world.
Stage 2: Knowledge as opinion. Students advance to Stage 2 when conflicting theories, points of view, and interpretations have convinced them that one cannot always know what is right. But since they do not yet truly understand the reasons behind different points of view, they attribute them solely to personal opinions, all of which they see as equal: as one student interviewed for Perry's study put it, "I mean if you read them [critics], that's the great thing about a book like Moby Dick. [Laughs] Nobody understands it!" (Perry, 1981, p. 84). Students at this level believe that giving one's opinion is enough and that teachers have no right to call students "wrong" on matters of "opinion" (Perry, 1970, p. 97).
Stage 3: Knowledge as reason. By dint of teachers' and peers' assertions, most students eventually realize that there are indeed reasons why some opinions are better than others and that people use logic and evidence to support their points of view. In studying people who have progressed this far cognitively, Perry (1970) and Belenky and associates (1986) find different ways of understanding another's way of thinking, probably because they interviewed different groups: Perry and colleagues interviewed Harvard University male undergrad-uates in the 1960s; in the 1980s, Belenky et al. interviewed women students and women parents not in school. In Perry's developmental scheme, reasoning is primarily objective analysis and argument, a perspective that reflects traditional academic values. In addition to this reasoning style, Belenky and her colleagues found that some women focus on trying to understand the reasons for another's way of thinking (hence, the term "connected knowledge"). In either case, a student at this level realizes that "you've got to have some facts under the opinion, I guess" (Perry, 1981, p. 86).
Stage 4: Knowledge as commitment. At this final stage, individuals recognize the complexity and uncertainty of knowledge while realizing their need to make commitments to reasoned positions. Perry's imaginary student sums up this stage: "I must be wholehearted while tentative, fight for my values yet respect others, believe my deepest values right yet be ready to learn" (1981, p. 79). Also described by Belenky and colleagues as "constructed knowledge," this stage for some people consists of integrating knowledge they learn from others with knowledge they feel intuitively is personally important: "Once knowers assume the general relativity of knowledge, that their frame of reference matters and that they can construct and reconstruct frames of reference, they feel responsible for examining, questioning, and developing the systems that they will use for constructing knowledge" (Belenky et al., 1986, pp. 138-39). In the end, critical thinkers continually question received knowledge and their own assumptions, approaching life with a spirit of inquiry.
Although our understanding of critical thinking depends to some extent on our academic disciplines, we can generally agree on several aspects of it, including many, if not all, of the following:
Students to Think Critically
Encourage students' interest and their awareness of complexity by highlighting problems, issues, and topics that experts wonder about. By showing them that all is not known, you invite students to engage their minds; their own questions will open new avenues of thought to them (Meyers, 1986).
Design assignments that require students to argue positions not their own. Those who have difficulty understanding others' positions gain new understanding. Students who are cautiously considering embracing a position can "try it on" without taking the responsibility inherent in actual commitment.
Create activities that enable students to juxtapose their current model of understanding with a better one. For instance, students who have learned an Aristotelian view of the universe will not forego it for a Newtonian model until they see their theory fail (see A Private Universe).
change as inherent to the learning process. For instance, ask
students to write briefly about how and why their perceptions about
a certain issue have changed since the beginning of the course.
and encourage each student. Students considering abandoning their family's
world view may consider you a role model and need to know that you will
stand by them, even if they lose familial support. Students who do not
yet trust their own thinking process (and would prefer indisputable
external evidence about "truth") are heartened by knowing that someone
they respect trusts them to embrace the right position. In contrast,
attacking students' positions (no matter how narrow-minded these seem)
may make them cling to biases even more tightly, impeding their intellectual
acknowledge the assistance of Marjorie Lindner Gunnoe (PhD, Psychology
'93, a former TRC Graduate Student Associate) in gathering many of the
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Paul, Richard. 7-Part Series on Teaching Critical Thinking. Videocassette. Foundation for Critical Thinking, 1993.
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---. "Different Worlds in the Same Classroom: Students' Evolution in Their Vision of Knowledge and Their Expectations of Teachers." On Teaching and Learning (May 1985): 1-17.
---. Forms of Intellectual and Ethical Development in the College Years: A Scheme. New York: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston, 1970. Introd. L. Lee Knefelkamp. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1999.
A Private Universe. Videocassette. Pyramid Film and Video.
Lee. "Group Inquiry Handouts." January 1995 (available in TRC library).