The Routledgefalmer Reader in Higher Education

By Malcolm Tight | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3

STUDENT, CRITIC AND LITERARY TEXT

A discussion of 'critical thinking' in a student essay

Mary Scott

Teaching in Higher Education, 5, 3, 277−288, 2000


EDITOR'S INTRODUCTION

In this article, Mary Scott provides a detailed analysis of one essay by one student of English literature − a student she has never met. It is an example of how a small-scale, focused piece of research can nevertheless yield much of interest and use, provided it is harnessed to theory and/or practice, and handled with clarity and reflection.

Scott's concern is with the notion of critical thinking, a commonplace expectation in the evaluation of student essays in the humanities and social sciences, yet one that is rarely explained by lecturers with clarity. She explores one student's understanding of critical thinking through an examination of one of her essays. She notes that the student's tutor judged that this essay was not sufficiently critical, and thus awarded it a poor mark. Scott argues, however, that it does display critical thinking of a sort, but that it could not have satisfied the tutor's expectations because of the student's evident lack of knowledge of a significant literature.

Scott provides a theoretical framework for her analysis of critical thinking through her use of Bakhtin's concept of dialogic text. Trends in literary criticism are referred to in the text, in particular what is called modern theory, as well as feminist critiques. Scott concludes her article by indicating some of the pedagogical implications of her argument for tutors, and by offering some self-reflexive comments.

The main higher education literature which offers a context for Scott's analysis is clearly, as she indicates, that focusing on student writing (e.g. Campbell et al. 1998, Cook 2000, Lea and Stierer 2000, Lea and Street 1998, Lillis 2001, Read et al. 2001, Torrance et al. 2000). There is a more practical, 'how to', element of this literature (e.g. Fairbairn and Winch 1996, Thomson 1996). There is also a parallel literature, however, on academic writing, of which the article by Grant and Knowles (2000) included in this Reader is an example.

This article was categorised in the introductory chapter as adopting a critical perspective on course design, though it also clearly includes elements of biographical analysis.


References
Campbell, J., Smith, D. and Brooker, R. (1998) 'From Conception to Performance: how undergraduate students conceptualise and construct essays', Higher Education, 36, pp. 449−469.
Cook, I. (2000) 'Nothing can ever be the case of “us and them again”: exploring the politics of difference through border pedagogy and student journal writing', Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 24, 1, pp. 13−27.

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