3. Practicing CT

The practice your students get and the ways you evaluate them depend on  the types of exercise a textbook provides.

  • Where do you want students to be able to apply the skills you are teaching? The exercises should lead in that direction, with some examples and plenty of exercises drawn from that context (even if they start with artificial examples):
    • Ordinary discourse, civic or political discourse, philosophy, or scientific reasoning;
    • The nation and societies in which the students live and will mostly work. (It would be great to offer CT in a multi-cultural fashion, and I hope some day we can do that.)
  • Look for adequate exercises:
    • If the exercise style demands students to justify and explain their analysis you’ll be teaching a separate important skill: defending the application of an analysis, and that is where criticism demand robust thought. Don’t shy away from from these “soft” vaguaries of interpretation.  Students’ subjectivity has to be addressed one way or the other, and directness can be easier as well as more effective.  It can also ease your workload as explanation demands time and care from students and there will be less pressure on you to produce dozens upon dozens of practice questions.
    • Look for a good number and range of exercises in the text or instructors’ guide, which may be on-line.  Some exercises you may assign as homework and use for skill testing; others may be valuable in class. Exercises organized by progressive difficulty help guide students from easier through more challenging practice. Of course you may draw exercises from other similar texts, or find them on the web, but that is a lot of work for you as an instructor and full of pitfalls.  Providing good exercises is one of the most valuable services of a textbook author.
    • An answer key is not necessary and may encourage dogmatic and authoritarian pedagogy, which can be a big mistake in assessing real examples that tend to be complex and ambiguous. Yet, suggested answers from the textbook author can help to assuage instructor anxiety and relieve some of the stress of teaching this sort of course. Figure out what you need given the types of question.

black and white image of critical thinking textbooks packed tightly on a shelf