An Analysis of the Use of Critical Thinking Skills in Reading and Language Arts Instruction

By Law, Christopher; Kaufhold, John A. | Reading Improvement, Spring 2009 | Go to article overview

An Analysis of the Use of Critical Thinking Skills in Reading and Language Arts Instruction


Law, Christopher, Kaufhold, John A., Reading Improvement


This study was designed to compare teachers' and administrators' perceptions of teachers' ability to promote critical thinking skills and students' abilities to use critical thinking skills in the Reading and Language Arts instruction. Teachers' methods for teaching reading and language arts curriculum were surveyed. Data from third grade teachers from various levels of performance on statewide end of grade reading testing were collected and analyzed.

An analysis of the data revealed students who engage in regular activities that promote the development of critical thinking skills performed higher on tasks that required higher-order thinking skills. Additionally, the study confirmed previous theories that emphasize educator expectations. When educator self-expectations of ability to promote critical skills were higher than those where than those where expectations were lower, expectations of students ability to use critical thinking skills was also higher.

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According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the fastest growing job markets in the United States will require critical thinking skills of all employees. In spite of this need, however, it appears that this is a skill that is lacked by large numbers of students who graduate from American high schools. Results of a national work force survey, created to collect employer's views on the readiness of recently hired graduates from high schools, two-year colleges or technical schools and four-year colleges, reported that the traditional skills (i.e., reading, writing, arithmetic) are necessary, yet the work force is ill-prepared to meet the current demands (Critical Thinking Community, 2007).

In 2006, the American Science Board released a report stating that if the United States is to maintain its economic leadership and compete in the new global economy, the nation's schools must prepare students for tomorrow's changing work requirements. These changing work force requirements mean that new workers will need even more sophisticated skills in science, mathematics, engineering and technology. Scientific and engineering occupations are expected to continue to grow more rapidly than other occupations in general, with a projected seventy percent increase by 2012. In the America's Pressing Challenge--Building a Stronger Foundation report (National Science Board, 2006), it was shown that support exists for the idea that future emerging workforces must begin developing complex mathematical and science thinking skills early in their schooling. The report emphasizes that even those students who do not pursue careers that are technologically driven will still need to have a grasp of critical thinking, due to the increasing demands of technology in our society in general.

Unfortunately, the current thrust in American education appears to be in the opposite direction of fostering critical thinking skills. The extent to which teachers focus on critical thinking skills can vary predictably based upon their experience levels. Torff (2005) noted that novice teachers tend to use lower order thinking skills which typically focus on direct instructional techniques with little explicit instruction in metacognitive strategies. Teacher beliefs at the novice level are consistent with the notion that learning is equivalent to memorization. Approaches of this type tend to be curriculum centered and fail to optimize the use of critical thinking skills.

But it is not just the novice teachers who restrict their teaching expectations to simple rote learning or memorization of facts. Due to the increased accountability movement fueled by No Child Left Behind legislation, teachers are focusing their instruction to carefully mirror the content of state-mandated standardized tests.

The emphasis on teaching activities that require critical thinking has been severely cut down by the growth of the high-stakes testing movement currently in vogue in the nation's schools. …

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