Critical Thinking: Teaching Students How to Study and Learn (Part III)

By Paul, Richard; Elder, Linda | Journal of Developmental Education, Spring 2003 | Go to article overview

Critical Thinking: Teaching Students How to Study and Learn (Part III)


Paul, Richard, Elder, Linda, Journal of Developmental Education


In the previous column we introduced some of the intellectual skills, abilities, and dispositions essential to the development of the educated person as articulated in our Miniature Guide for Students on How to Study and Learn (Paul & Elder, 2002, Dillon Beach, CA: The Foundation for Critical Thinking). All the ideas in this miniature guide are designed to help students think deeply through content and develop intellectually. In this column we focus on the analysis and evaluation of reasoning.

To analyze thinking, we focus on its parts. In other words, we focus on the purpose of thinking, the questions the thinking is pursuing, the information being used, the assumptions and inferences being made, the concepts and point of view guiding the thinking, and the implications of the thinking.

To evaluate or assess thinking, we apply intellectual standards to the parts of thinking: standards such as clarity, accuracy, relevance, logic, precision, justifiability, significance, depth, and breadth. For example, we ask whether the purpose and question are clear, the information relevant and accurate, the inferences and implications logical, the assumptions and concepts justifiable, and the point of view relevant.

When students can analyze and assess reasoning, they have skills essential to the educated person. In this column, we provide templates for students to use in analyzing and assessing reasoning in written form, the reasoning, for example, embedded in an article, essay, chapter, or textbook. Each of the sections in this column is written in the form of directions for students.

How to Analyze the Logic of an Article, Essay, or Chapter

One important skill for understanding an essay, article, or chapter is through the analysis of the parts of the author's reasoning. Once you have done this, you can then evaluate the author's reasoning using intellectual standards. Here is a template to follow.

1. The main purpose of this article is ________________________. (Here you are trying to state as accurately as possible the author's purpose for writing the article. What was the author trying to accomplish?)

2. The key question that the author is addressing is _____________________. (Your goal is to figure out the key question that was in the mind of the author when he or she wrote the article. In other words, what was the key question that the article addressed?)

3. The most important information in this article is _____________________. (You want to identify the key information the author used, or presupposed, in the article to support his or her main arguments. Here you are looking for facts, experiences, and data the author is using to support conclusions.)

4. The main inferences/conclusions in this article are _____________. (You want to identify the most important conclusions that the author comes to and presents in the article.)

5. The key idea(s) we need to understand in this article is (are) ________________________. By these ideas the author means ______________________________. (To identify these ideas, ask yourself: What are the most important ideas that you would have to understand in order to understand the author's line of reasoning? Then elaborate briefly what the author means by these ideas.)

6. The main assumption(s) underlying the author's thinking is (are) _____________ (Ask yourself: What is the author taking for granted that might be questioned? The assumptions that the author does not think he or she has to defend in the context of writing the article are generalizations, and they are usually unstated. This is where the author's thinking logically begins.)

7a. If we take this line of reasoning seriously, the implications are ______________. (What consequences are likely to follow if people take the author's line of reasoning seriously? Here you are to follow out the logical implications of the author's position. You should include implications that the author states, if you believe them to be logical, but you should do your best thinking to determine what you believe the implications are. …

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