Introducing Critical Thinking into the Classroom

by Rose Mary Foncree

(the below is an introduction to the webinar Rose Mary led on this subject which can be found HERE.   The webinar presents the argument for introducing critical thinking into the classroom and provides examples and ideas for doing so.)

For many of us who teach college students, we have likely found ourselves surprised at the lack of critical thinking among our students, especially as reflected in essays and classroom discussions.  When first considering the topic of critical thinking in the classroom, I began to reflect on my own college education and discovered that the courses I had taken for granted as basic requirements for the freshman and sophomore years had vanished from the required curriculum of most colleges and universities.  For example, I had not realized that an introduction to philosophy and a required course in logic had virtually disappeared as required courses.

At the high school level—where many of our interests and abilities are discovered, shaped, and formed—I learned that there is now a dearth of speaking and debate instruction—a consequence of budget-cutting as well as the desire to avoid introducing controversial political topics.  In my own case, I learned almost everything I know about thinking and argumentation from serving as a debater in high school and in college.

Here at Belhaven, we have a faculty mandate to integrate the Christian faith throughout the curriculum.  Foundational to this integration is the understanding that education (in its primary sense) is the acquisition of knowledge by which, secondarily, one becomes wise.  “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7, English Standard Version).  As John Patrick of St. Augustine College has written, a liberal education “is an apprenticeship  in wisdom.”

But how to introduce critical thinking into the classroom remains a challenge for everyone in higher education.  We can certainly teach our students how to identify and avoid logical fallacies.  We can introduce them to inductive and deductive reasoning.  But perhaps more importantly, students must be taught how to find evidence for their assertions and arguments.  We must teach them to take charge of their minds by basing their beliefs and ideas on facts, logic, and reason.

A Perspective on Student Engagement

by Dr. John Song, Full-time Bible Faculty, Atlanta

In our recent webinar, we had a panel of great instructors share some of their best teaching practices. The goal was to discuss how we can better engage our students. My personal contributions consisted of some basic but hopefully helpful principles. The three principles were: (1) relationships, (2) relevance, and (3) reflection.

First is relationship. While this seems obvious to many, it remains as a key component in increasing student engagement. Students tend to stay engaged in the classroom when they intuitively sense that their instructor cares about their success and overall well-being. This is a biblical form of shepherding. I suggested during the webinar that there were some key indicators that can help us gauge whether we have established sufficient rapport with the students. One of those indicators was whether the student felt comfortable asking the professor for prayer. As we all know, personal challenges can be serious obstructions to learning. Building trust and praying for our students, then, can make us better shepherds who can keep our students engaged. Trust can be built by sharing a moment of laughter and making conversation during breaks. These moments may hold more value than we surmise.

The second is relevance. During the webinar, I shared a brief anecdote about my personal experience in college. Before the dawn of the information revolution — the internet — I learned in my finance classes how to calculate loan payments. This required an expensive Hewlett-Packard finance calculator. To make a long story short, by applying what I learned I realized that I was being overcharged in my car loan. The moral of the story is that when instructors make the material practical students tend to become more engaged.

The third was reflection. Beyond the attempts at minor quips in the second principle, I tried using a more concrete example with this last point. I used the analogy of a “cup.” Our students, I argued, were like cups and over time these cups were filled with, to name a few examples, (1) elements of Christianity, (2) family and cultural values, (3) postmodern assumptions, (4) Nietzsche’s me-centered “will to power,” (5) hedonism, (6) nihilistic depression and so forth. What is interesting about this syncretistic mixture is not only the elements that have been inserted into this cup but the fact that after unconsciously swirling these worldviews together we label it “Christianity.” This again may seem obvious to those who study theology like myself but many don’t realize that from this we do what Ludwig Feuerbach has accused Christianity of doing all along — we take from this admixture (and because we have labeled it Christianity) we then project an image of “God.” In other words, our understanding of God is affected by what has been placed into this cup. This also, in turn, affects the way we live. Our job as faculty, then, is to help our students discover what is in this cup. By doing so, we keep our students engaged.

I personally enjoyed this webinar. I certainly learned a lot from my colleagues and I thank them for their valuable ministry at Belhaven.

If you would like to view the webinar it can be found at this LINK

 

 

Exit Tickets – Are you doing this????

According to an article just published in Educational Technology and Mobile Learning, titled: 8 Great Exit Ticket Tools for Teachers:

Exit tickets or cards are informal assessment tools teachers can use to assess students understanding at the end of a class. They can also be used for formative assessment purposes to help teachers design better instructional content based on students feedback. Exit tickets can take the form of a prompt or a question related to what have been taught in the lesson. Here are some examples of questions and prompts to use in your exit cards as featured in Brown University:

 “Name one important thing you learned in class today.
What did you think was accomplished by the small group activity we did today?

READ MORE

I think this makes a lot of sense.  I think you could set this up as a discussion question in Canvas, or simply use paper and pencil at the end of the class session.  I definitely encourage you to check out the article for the other prompts that are being used at Brown University.  These prompts can mine for information about student learning and open up avenues for further discussion or instruction.

So, if you aren’t using Exit Tickets, why not give it a go???

Webinar: Best Practices to Inspire Student Engagement

by Dr. Warren Matthews, Mrs. Kim Priesmeyer, Dr. Ray Smith, & Dr. John Song

Four of Belhaven’s full-time faculty came together to share their ideas on how to increase student engagement in the classroom.  Their ideas are bulleted below but the real value will come when you take the time to watch this WEBINAR.  Each one brings new insights to the subject, applying their ideas both to online and on-site courses.  If you are like me you will be taking notes practically from the first word.  This was a great webinar with some take-away for everyone.  It will also be available in the Faculty Resources area of this Blog, under Webinars

John Song, Full-time Bible Faculty, Atlanta

“My personal contributions consisted of some basic but hopefully helpful principles. The three principles were: (1) relationships, (2) relevance, and (3) reflection.”

Kim Priesmeyer, Full-time English Faculty, Houston

  1. Send out a reminder announcement sent out each week through Canvas regarding what’s due next class meeting.
  2. Spend a few minutes each night with each student giving feedback on writing (require that students bring some writing to class to review before a paper is due)
  3. List nightly objectives/agenda on the whiteboard with approx time to spend (ex:  peer review with first draft, 30 mins)
  4. Show APA videos from Resources during class so we’re all on the same page about APA

Warren Matthews, Full-time Business Faculty, Houston

  1.  Effective feedback is very important, not only in grading but also in class discussion
  2. Socratic questioning is important to add value in the classroom.
  3. In an online class, be visible on a regular basis in the classroom
  4. Share our professional experience and insights.  Give examples from real world situations that are relevant to the course.
  5. Refer to current events as appropriate to apply the theory of the classroom to the real world.
  6. Inspire students by recognizing excellence in discussions and assignments.

Ray Smith, Full-time Business Faculty, Chattanooga

  1. Use of Wall Street Journal
  2. Current movie clips representing text topics
  3. CWV – use of entire books or topics that follow the full course
  4. Technology or mobile devices – turn them into assets rather than distractions
  5. Use small groups (2 or 3) to respond to questions instead of instructor merely quoting text or giving opinion

After the webinar was over, I received this addition from Nick Walters, Adjunct Instructor

Dr. Upchurch – Thank you for setting up these monthly webinars.  Even though many of us have the spiritual gift of teaching, it doesn’t mean we have cornered the market on how to do it.  These webinars have been very helpful.

Setting the Table . . . Insights on Andragogy from IWU

There are a lot of resources available for Instructors to draw from to improve their ability to achieve student learning both in and out of the classroom.  At this LINK you will find an excellent resource from Indiana Wesleyan University Faculty Development Blog.  This particular session deals with group work within the classroom and how to organize and manage group work effectively.

In this series on “Setting the Table” from Indiana Wesleyan you will find other presentations which will hopefully inspire you to try something new and see your role in a fresh light.

Related Webinars

Avoiding Dysfunctional Team Project Groups

An effective Team Project Group can be a valuable experience.  Student are enriched by enhancing their teamwork skills and can find the experience rewarding.  However, it seems for every successful team project group, there are as many which are dysfunctional in one way or another.

As harsh as this may sound, if a team project group is dysfunctional YOU as the Instructor may be to blame.

An effective team project group is a learning process which is guided by the Instructor.  The establishment of the group and facilitating their ability to work together toward a goal is an aspect of the learning outcome for the course which is just as significant in many cases as the content being studied.

So, how do you take ownership for avoiding, as much as humanly possible, a dysfunctional project team?

  1.  Make sure you take the time in the first class session to establish the Team Project Charter.  There is a good post on this HERE.  Establishing the Charter is the starting point for a high performance team.
  2. Take responsibility for facilitating the Team by providing a short period within each class period to meet with each team, working on the content AND the dynamics of teamwork.
  3. Employ the tools available for effective teamwork outside of the classroom.  This can be through Canvas (see post HERE in this Faculty Blog that explains how to do that) or through use of Google Docs (see post HERE in this Faculty Blog that explains how to do that) or some other resource.   Your guidance and assistance here can make the difference in practical, pragmatic functioning of the team.

Finally, I encourage you to pray with and for your project teams and encourage them to pray for each other.  Amazing things can happen when we remember to introduce the Holy Spirit into the team dynamic.

 

A Call for “Good Writing”

by Dr. Kotina Hall, Dean – Belhaven, Atlanta

Effective communication is a buzz word that remains the topic of discussion in every business and learning sector as the concern for writing proficiency continues to plague society. The command for effective writing should be still be held in the highest regard.  Professional dialogue and academia have discussed in great detail how the absence of “good writing” lessens the opportunity for the demonstration of clearly-organized thought, earnest critical thinking development, and strong problem-solving. Regardless of the subject matter, understanding how to articulate clearly and concisely is necessary for high academia and career advancement. As such, we must act urgently in our resolve.

While tuition reimbursement is an attractive academic magnet, the return for excellent writing extends well into its possessor’s career and civic engagement as well. “The National Commission on Writing estimates that the nation’s top companies spend more than $3.1 billion a year on remedial training. The NCW estimates that states spend $221 million on writing training each year to bring employees up to level” (teachthought, 2012).

What variables have led to the decline in effective writing? Is it because we have become comfortable speaking into devices that we disregard misspelled words or proper punctuation, all because we want to communicate expeditiously? “Have we allowed the advancement of technology to compel us to shorthand?” Perhaps we accept human mediocrity, giving way to allowing machines to do the work which we previously took pride in completing. Technology will continue to advance, so what are we left to do?

It is proposed that we take our concerns by the reigns and do what we do best – elevate through instruction. Have we forsaken the beauty and fluidity of words properly and intentionally positioned on a page? Surely we have not. But if one has never explored such beauty, then one cannot imagine the power of penning such work. Resolution begins with two words: offer assistance.  It is a disservice to students when we know their writing is not acceptable, but yet we push them along. Constructive dissent must rear her head. The problem will not correct itself. Good writing is the culmination of repeated “good” practice.

This task will not be a simple one. It will require instruction to be consistent, rigid, and accompanied by high expectations to yield greatness. We must ready ourselves! Our change will create uneasiness and reveal accusations that we are harnessing a fossilized culture. Such expressions must strive to make our instruction even greater.  We must be diligent to show that “good writing” fosters dedication, strong work ethics and moral aptitude.  Balance must exist, too. Even so, while writing is necessary, we must be ever so careful to make it appealing and fun.

History has shown that the legacy of “good writing” never dies. “Good writing” shapes learning and invites critical thinking, leaving room for transformation. So when do we begin? The time is now. We model by offering our assistance. In doing so, our immediacy will solidify and re-establish writing as the ultimate model of erudition.

How to Read Old Testament Laws – Part 1

by Dr. John Song, Full-Time Bible Faculty – Belhaven, Atlanta

Many of our students at Belhaven may struggle to understand the relevancy of the Old Testament laws. Are they mere cultural rules for an ancient civilization or do they apply to us today? As faculty, how do we train our students to become better readers of this genre of the Old Testament?

Alec Motyer lists three ways one can interpret these Old Testament laws (Motyer, 2009, pp. 26–27). For the sake of economy, I will only list two since these are the more popular lines of interpretation. First is the cultural interpretation where one reads the Old Testament laws as primarily belonging to the culture of their day. This view tends to mitigate the relevancy of the Old Testament laws for the present believing community. The second is to look for the underlying spiritual principle that governed these laws. While certain practices were cultural the underlying spiritual principle remains. I personally advocate for the second view. Let’s take a look at some examples:

Leviticus 19:28 prevented the Israelite community from cutting their bodies and placing tattoo marks on themselves. Many well-intentioned Christians quarrel over the relevancy of this verse. The argument may mistakenly focus on whether believers are allowed tattoos. Some argue that if Lev. 19:28 still applies to us then so should the preceding verse where there is a prohibition of cutting the hair at the sides of the head and the trimming of the beard. Whether Christians should get tattoos or not we will leave for another day. The immediate context of Lev. 19:28 is the prohibition of participating in certain pagan “customs which involved physical disfigurement” (Wenham, 1979, p. 272). The cutting of the hair on the sides of the head, trimming the beard, cutting the body, and placing tattoos on oneself (usually emblems of pagan deities) were pagan ways of mourning for the dead. The main underlying principle was that God was calling Israel to a different way of life that was distinct from their pagan neighbors. This spiritual principle still applies to us today.

Exodus 23:19 gives us the prohibition of not cooking a young goat in its mother’s milk. This prohibition also appears in Exod. 34:26 and Deut. 14:21. The repetition of this prohibition is not insignificant. While the cultural interpretation seems to fit well for most city dwellers who don’t raise goats, it is actually a law that applies to all believers today. In short, this was a Canaanite fertility potion where its broth was believed to have magical characteristics to make the flocks more fertile. The underlying principle was that Israel was not to trust in pagan superstitions.

As a final example, in the Old Testament welfare system (e.g., Deut. 24:19) when one dropped a sheaf while harvesting the land the Israelite was not to go back for it; rather it was to be left as a provision for the foreigner, fatherless, and widow. While we may not all harvest crops this law does, nonetheless, apply to all of us whether one is a farmer or not. The common denominator of the foreigner, fatherless, and widow was that they were all disadvantaged in that society. The disadvantages of the fatherless and widow are plain to us but what about the foreigner? Foreigners may not have known the culture, practices, and the laws of the land and therefore could have easily been mistreated. God called Israel to love the foreigner as themselves (e.g., Lev. 19:34). The underlying principle was that God’s people were to care for those who were disadvantaged.

Many of these underlying principles find continuity in the New Testament (e.g., 1 Cor. 6:20; Gal. 5:20–21; Jas. 1:27). A fuller conversation on the continuity and discontinuity (e.g., food laws and sacrifices) between the Old and New Testaments require a separate discussion.

For now, it is important to train our students to think about what these laws meant in the culture of that day. Exposing our students to the history and context of the ancient Near East will help them become more sophisticated readers of the Old Testament.

References

Motyer, A. (2009). Roots: Let the Old Testament Speak. (J. Stott, Ed.). Scotland: Christian Focus.

Wenham, G. J. (1979). The Book of Leviticus. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

 

Mind Maps for Enhanced Student Learning

To my way of thinking, mind maps are probably one of the most effective and least used tools for instruction.  I base this on the fact that most people are visual learners who validate the quote “a picture is worth a thousand words” day in and day out and who speak in terminology that reference a visual perspective, e.g. “I see” meaning “I understand.”

A mind map is a representation of information arranged in a visually stimulating format which sparks creativity and retention.  For instance, if I wanted to start a conversation about Communication, I might begin by framing it with a mind map identifying the basic types of communication.  This has the added benefit of providing structure and organization of thought to the instructional process and allows for the ability to focus on specific satellite groupings individually as well as to think about the links which might exist between different nodes.  An expansion of just one of the satellites begins to spark creativity.  Now I’m beginning to see connections within the subject and how different pieces fit into the overall concept.

The really nice thing about using mind maps in the classroom is their versatility as small group work around a table with 2-4 people, or with the entire class on the whiteboard, or even as an assignment to make sense out of a reading assignment.  Mind maps make a great test preparation tool whether used by an individual or in a group.

The images for the mind maps included in this post come from Mind Mup which is part of the Google App family and easy to install from the Google Web Store from inside Chrome.  It is free and easy to use.    This is software which keeps things organized, easy to print and share.  There are various YouTube tutorials for MindMup and other mind map applications.

Another nice thing about mind maps, however, is that you don’t have to use any software to get the benefit of what this tool has to offer.  You can have a student go to the white board and create a basic mind map of a subject and then have other students add to the mind map or explain the linkages between different satellite groupings.

It is great for note taking, it inspires creativity, is an effective tool for student engagement, fosters collaboration, enhances retention of the subject matter, and is just plain fun.  I strongly encourage you to consider using a mind map in one of your classes soon.  Let me know how it turns out.

Grit “in psychology is a positive, non-cognitive trait based on an individual’s passion for a particular long-term goal or end state, coupled with a powerful motivation to achieve their respective objective.” (Wikipedia) Angela Duckworth has made a career out of studying grit; how grit affects success, where it comes from, how to get it, and why we should seek it. She has presented a powerful TED talk on the subject that is worth the time to view. She has developed a Grit survey and scale for evaluating your own level of grit and compiled a lot of research around the subject of grit.

In Duckworth’s research she has been able to correlate an individual’s grit with their ability to meet and overcome challenges in life. For her, “Grit has two components: passion and perseverance.” (p.56) Hence the subtitle of her book. What this translates into is recognizing purpose in some activity, be it playing the piano, serving others, compiling research, finishing an education, etc., and then pursuing that goal in spite of challenges and set-backs over a long period of time. She writes, “…here’s what science has to say: passion for your work is a little bit of discovery followed by a lot of development and then a lifetime of deepening.” (p. 103) For Angela, how you see your work is more important than the job title (p.152).

Grit is a factor for students returning to school.  The more grittier the student, the more likely they are to complete their program of study.  Although you can complete the Grit survey and determine where you fall on the Grit Scale, that really is only a starting point. Grit can be developed. It develops from practiced and determined effort from the inside out as you find purpose and passion, and then begin to bring commitment into the picture. She states, “The point is that you can, in fact, modify your self-talk, and you can learn to not let it interfere with your moving toward your goals. With practice and guidance, you can change the way you think, feel, and most important, act when the going gets tough.” (p. 193)

Grit also develops from the outside in, which is just as important or even more so.  Here is the connecting point for the Instructor.  As the course Instructor you have the ability to influence and strengthen a student’s GRIT.  According to Duckworth, “…there’s a hard way to get grit and an easy way. The hard way is to do it by yourself. The easy way is to use conformity – the basic human drive to fit in – because if you’re around a lot of people who are gritty, you’re going to act grittier.” (p. 247) It really does matter whom we associate with; associate with gritty people and you become grittier yourself, associate with individuals who never seem to quite commit and are constantly bouncing from one thing to another and you will find yourself being influenced by that example. “If you want to be grittier, find a gritty culture and join it.” p. 245.  In the classroom this translates into building a gritty culture.  You might think this is impossible, especially in the five-week courses, but it can start with the choices you as the instructor make and the words you use from the first email you send the week before the class starts and the first words you speak on that first night of class.

 

I encourage you as you begin this new year that you take up the challenge of being more gritty yourself, and helping your students to develop this important trait.

Blessings,

Rick

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