How to be Critical presentation
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STAY AHEAD AUTUMN PROGRAMME 2011
How to be critical Sara Steinke
Aims of the session • Introduce a range of skills to help you be critical in your thinking, reading and writing
• Opportunities to put critical reading and writing skills into practice • Reflect upon your present strengths in critical thinking, the areas for improvement that you are hoping for and the strategies that work best for you
Think about the following 1. What do you think is meant by critical thinking?
2. In which learning and teaching situations have you used critical thinking in your first term at Birkbeck? 3. Think about the feedback that you have received. What are your strengths in critical thinking, and what are the areas for improvement that you are hoping for?
Definition of a ‘critical thinker’ • Intellectually independent • Distinguishes between theory, facts and opinions The Thinker (Auguste Rodin, 1902)
• Recognises and resists manipulation
• Reads ‘between the lines’ • Distinguishes between emotive and neutral vocabulary • Sees connections between subjects
Critical thinking at university • Takes place across a variety of study skills and learning/teaching situations for example, reading, note-taking, writing essays, exams, revision, presentations, learning styles, lectures, seminars, presentations
• Involves thinking analytically about yours and other peoples work/ideas • Critical thinking is ‘messy’, topics are not seen as ‘black or white’
Consider the following What factors were involved in your decision to study a particular course at Birkbeck?
a) Job opportunities /promotion b) Desire to return to learning c) Financial concerns d) Time constraints e) Course subject f) Other reasons
S = What are the strengths of the/your writing? Is there an understanding of the soundness of the key arguments? W = What are the weaknesses of the/your writing? Is there a consideration of the flaws of the key arguments? O = What opportunities does the/your writing suggest for an the topic? How do the key arguments provide a further insight into the topic? T = What threats does the/your writing pose for the topic? How do the key arguments challenge the existing understanding of the topic?
Critical reading You have been asked to read an article in preparation for a lecture. What questions might you ask of the article in order to undertake a critical reading?
1. What is the main argument of the article? 2. What are the reasons given to justify the argument? 3. What evidence has been used? 4. What do you know about the author? 5. What audience is the author addressing? 6. What sources has the author used?
Academic writing styles • descriptive / instructional • analytical / evaluative • argumentative / persuasive • personal / own experience
1. What do you think is meant each of these writing styles? 2. Rank them in order of importance for critical reading and writing
See Cottrell (2008: 210-216)
What is wrong with this piece of critical writing? From Cottrell 2088: 209 Mount Pepe is going up – it’s going to take everything with it when it goes. And I mean everything – villages, farms, trees, the lot. It’s frightening to think of how powerful a volcano can be. Think of the damage they cause! Remember Pompeii and Mount Etna!
What is right with this piece of critical writing? In order to assess whether it is necessary to evacuate the villages on Mount Pepe, three main factors need to be taken into consideration. The first, and most important, of these is the element of safety. According to seismic experts currently working on the volcano, there is likely to be a major eruption within the next ten years (Achebe 2007) According to Achebe, the eruption is likely to destroy villages over a radius of 120 miles (Achebe 2008, p.7).
Critical writing Write one paragraph (6-8 sentences, containing a topic sentence, supporting sentences and concluding sentence) using critical writing skills.
Discuss the consequences of the increase in university tuition fees for students?
Reflective/active learning 1. Write down the three most important things that you have learnt/thought about in this session? Why were they important to you? 2. Are there any areas of improvement that you need to take action on? If so, what are you doing to do to improvement this aspect of your learning?
Recap of the session • Identified a range of skills to help you be critical in your thinking, reading and writing • Practiced critical reading and writing skills
• Reflected upon your present strengths in critical thinking, the areas for improvement that you are hoping for and the strategies that work best for you
Cottrell, S. (2008) The Study Skills Handbook, 3rd Edition (London, Palgrave) chapter 12 ‘Critical analytical thinking’ pp.275-292 Cottrell, S. (2005) Critical Thinking Skills (London, Palgrave)
http://www.palgrave.com/skills4study/ pdfs/critical%20analysis%20.pdf (transcript of the audio file) http://www.bbk.ac.uk/mybirkbeck /services/facilities/support/criticalthinking (several online resources available on the Birkbeck Library website)
http://www.bbk.ac.uk/mybirkbeck/ http://www.palgrave.com/skills4 get-ahead-stay-ahead/skills/criticalthinking study/mp3s.asp#Critical (a 12 minute audio file based on (a 5 minute interactive tutorial Cottrell’s Critical Thinking Skills supporting this Get Ahead Summer programme)