Using 'The Wall Street Journal' to Stimulate Critical Thinking

By Roever, Carol | Business Communication Quarterly, September 1998 | Go to article overview

Using 'The Wall Street Journal' to Stimulate Critical Thinking


Roever, Carol, Business Communication Quarterly


Critical thinking skills are essential for success and for solving problems: "Critical thinking skills are very important to job performance and career mobility" (McEwen, 1994, p. 102); "The best companies have made critical-thinking skills part of their culture and reward the behavior every day" (Peak, 1997, p. 6). While critical thinking is not the only skill an employee needs, it is certainly an essential skill.

These skills are teachable: "Critical-thinking skills can be learned, and management can help teach them" (Pascarella, 1997, P. 38). As business communication instructors, however, we should not defer teaching critical thinking or analytical skills because our students may learn them from their managers. We have a responsibility to introduce assignments which encourage analytical skills. Doing so will give our students a competitive advantage because "critical skills are routinely used in areas such as strategic planning and development, quality management, and marketing" (Muir, 1996, p. 79).

Teaching critical thinking skills within a business communications course will enhance the class as well as benefit our students. This course should not be presented or viewed as one which focuses exclusively on external skills: oral and written communication assignments and competencies. These skills are important; however, the course should have a broader focus which includes a more "theoretical approach to management communication... an approach that situates practical 'know-how' in a framework of theoretical 'know-why'" (Reinsch & Shelby, 1997, P. 23).

What aspects of critical thinking can be successfully addressed in a business communications course? Even though we may acknowledge that "there is no definitive definition of critical thinking" (Sormunen & Chalupa, 1994, P. 172), we can focus on developing analytical skills which can reveal relationships between concepts. Analysis and inference are commonly accepted as part of the critical thinking process (Lauer, 1996-97, P. 377). Therefore, our courses should include assignments that foster these skills. These intellectual properties will create valuable employees who will be able to solve problems and make decisions using their abilities to analyze concepts and to understand and clearly express relationships.

One additional comment about assignments in a business communications course: The many concepts and skills which are the focus of the course dictate assignments which serve multiple objectives. Therefore, an assignment to develop critical thinking or analytical skills should address other goals as well.

The Wall Street Journal assignment which I use in my class has multiple objectives that require students to

* Understand major concepts discussed in class

* Read and understand chapters in the textbook which were not discussed in class

* Read The Wall Street Journal

* See relationships between current business-related articles and events described in the Journal and the business communications class

* Write topic sentences which explain the relationship between concepts or events in an article and the concept from the business communications class

* Write clearly

* Practice appropriate sentence and paragraph development

* Use highlighting techniques in a report

* Work in teams to complete a complex assignment

* Cite evidence to support a particular assertion or point of view

* Be creative

The main thrust of the assignment is straightforward: Student teams construct portfolios with articles from the Journal which reflect concepts discussed in class, in the textbook, in videos, and in handouts. Portfolios must include copies of the articles (with publication date and page number) and paragraphs explaining the relationships the team sees. The key to success in this assignment is understanding and clearly expressing how the article relates to class. …

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