Reasoning as a Key Component of Language Arts Curricula

Article excerpt

Abstract

One of the central purposes of education is not only to provide students with the information they need to face and understand the world around them, but also to provide the skills they need in order to analyze that world and manage the various types of issues and problems they will encounter. Considerable debate exists in education as to whether and how critical thinking should be taught and encouraged in schools. Among the many existing models of thinking, Paul's (1992) elements of reasoning stand out as a strong foundation for careful consideration of issues in and out of the classroom. The model represents a strong core of higher level thinking that can be embedded within content areas, especially language arts and social studies, so that students have the opportunity to recognize and assess their thinking processes as part of their central content, rather than as a disconnected piece unto itself Applications of the model to specific learning activities in existing language arts curricula include question ing strategies, persuasive writing, and research.

Issues and questions are the stuff of life--the basis for learning, thinking, developing understanding, and interaction among people and groups. In every area of life and every discipline of study, questions provide purpose and a basis for action, and these purposes and actions carry implications and consequences that lead us back to new questions and issues. Our attempts to grapple with these questions, to find direction and support for our actions, are the very processes of reasoning that makes us human. Thus, reasoning forms the substance of how we face our environment and learn to live within it.

As educators, our underlying purpose is to provide students with the tools they will need to face the issues and questions that confront them inside and outside the classroom. Consequently, we ourselves are faced with the question of how best to accomplish this purpose. If we accept the assumption that our lives are a series of issues and questions to be addressed and that reasoning is the process by which we address these questions, the implication is that education should involve the development of reasoning skills. On this premise, the issue then becomes how such skills should be taught in schools.

Critical Thinking: To Teach or Not to Teach?

Critical thinking, the global phrase commonly used within education circles to include various forms of reasoning, is a category of varied definitions and interpretations of the processes that go on in the mind when it is faced with a question or problem requiring more than simple recall. Programs for gifted students have often been designed to support advanced thinking abilities through structured teaching and practice of models for thinking (Feldhusen, 1994). However, there is considerable debate as to exactly what critical thinking represents, whether it can be taught, and how and to whom it should be presented. Smith (1990) has argued persuasively that critical thinking is nor a skill reserved for the highly intelligent or well-educated, but rather that it is a process constantly ongoing in each of our lives; that is, that thinking and learning are a part of who we are in every conscious moment from birth until death unless we fall victim to unusual brain injury or illness. Critical thinking, in Smith's view, is employed in our everyday actions and decisions, ranging from the decisions of what clothing to wear in the morning to highly intellectual discussions of global issues faced now and throughout history. in this view,

Descartes' famous statement "I think, therefore I am can be converted to "I am, therefore I think."

Nevertheless, critical thinking is considered by many educators to be an area of great weakness among students in the United States. Halpern (1996), for example, attributed poor performance by U.S. students on international comparison tests to limited skills in critical thinking. …

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