WIC Fall Workshop at OSU Cascades

By Vicki Tolar Burton, WIC Director

We are taking the WIC show on the road! On November 2, 2017, nineteen OSU Cascades faculty gathered on the Bend campus for an all-day WIC workshop presented by WIC Director Vicki Tolar Burton. Many of these faculty are already teaching WIC courses or designing new WIC offerings for the OSU-Cascades curriculum. The faculty were highly engaged with discussions of what constitutes a WIC course as well as best practices for assignment design and critical thinking. A winter follow-up workshop is planned.

Attendees included:

  • Yong Bakos (Computer Science)
  • Pat Ball (Biology)
  • Nicholas Dahl (Communication)
  • Karen Ellis (Art)
  • Kiel Fletcher (Art)
  • Flexner, Lisa (Kinesiology)
  • Seth Ganzhorn (Natural Resources and Environmental Science)
  • Jenna Goldsmith (Writing)
  • John Griffis (Math)
  • DeAnna Hellwich (department not provided)
  • Maeve Perle (Hospitality)
  • Jen Roddick (Tourism, Recreation, and Adventure Leadership)
  • Ellen Santasiero (English)
  • Bruce Seal (Biology)
  • Kristina Smith (Biochemistry and Biophysics)
  • Amy Watson (Marketing)
  • Becca Webb (Energy Systems Engineering)
  • Kyle Webb (Energy Systems Engineering)
  • Kara Witzke (Kinesiology)

Snapshots of the WIC Workshop:







WIC Fall Seminar Faculty Recognized

By Ruth Sylvester

The WIC program and staff would like to congratulate the 17 faculty participants of the Fall 2017 WIC Seminar.

WIC Seminar Fall 2017 Participants
Clockwise from top left: Ruth Sylvester, Dana Reason, Beau Baca, Randy Moore, James Stevens, Nate Kirk, Meta Landys, Elise Bradley, Linda Richards, Deborah John, Lisa Ellsworth Becky Haddad, Deann Garcia, Liz White, Vicky Tolar-Burton, Jennifer Anderson, Mohana Das, Natchee Barnd, Megan MacDonald

This fall, the seminar brought together faculty from such disciplines as economics, music, biology and design, among others. Over the five weeks of the seminar, faculty participants explored pedagogical nuances of WIC through their engagement with numerous informal writing-to-learn exercises. Following last year’s interest in peer review of WIC assignments, the seminar focused in on varied approaches for responding to student writing, including strategies for administering feedback for Ecampus students. Participants also reviewed assignments for each other, discussed ways to guide students through the drafting process, and shared rubrics for long graded writing assignments.

In evaluating the seminar, faculty showed their enthusiasm for teaching writing and learning new writing strategies. They appreciated “idea sharing among like-minded faculty members” and “the collegial environment…invaluable for generating ideas and building a network of resources.”

During Winter Term, the WIC program will offer a new workshop, Intersections of Critical Thinking and Assignment Design. This workshop will be held on Wednesday, February 21, 2018, from 2-4pm in Milam 215, and refreshments will be provided. Sign up for it here.

It was a privilege and pleasure sharing the learning space of the WIC Fall Seminar. This year’s participants were:

*Jennifer Anderson – Education
*Beau Baca – Academic Advising/College of Liberal Arts
*Natchee Barnd – Ethnic Studies
*Elise Bradley – Education
*Lisa Ellsworth – Fisheries and Wildlife
*Deann Garcia – Graphic Design
*Becky Haddad – General Agriculture
*Deborah John – Kinesiology
*Nate Kirk – Integrative Biology
*Meta Landys – Integrative Biology
*Deanna Lloyd – Crop and Soil Sciences
*Megan MacDonald – Kinesiology
*Randy Moore – Fisheries and Wildlife
*Dana Reason – Contemporary Music
*Linda Richards – History of Science
*James Sterns – Applied Economics
*Liz White – Education

Some snapshots from the seminar:

Liz White and Randy Moore
Jennifer Anderson and Linda Richards
Deanna Lloyd and Elise Bradley
(L to R) Natchee Barnd, Beau Baca, and James Stevens
Writing Values Exercise
L to R: Beau Baca, James Stevens, Meta Landys, Deborah John, and Megan MacDonald


























Thanks to Teagan Lochner and Caryn Stoess for the photographs.

excerpts from Critical Thinking: Multiple Models for Teaching and Learning

By Aubrae Vanderpool and Tracy Ann Robinson

“A great truth wants to be criticized, not idolized.”


The development of critical thinking skills increasingly is being identified not only as an essential component of writing courses but even more broadly, as a desired outcome of an undergraduate education. In this article, adapted from a paper by Aubrae Vanderpool that focuses on critical thinking in first-year writing classes, we take a look at what critical thinking means, offer some strategies and suggestions for incorporating critical thinking pedagogy into subject-matter courses, and comment on assessment issues and strategies.

Critical Thinking Defined…Or Not…

For some critical thinking has a lot to do with understanding one’s own perspective and those of others. Another model [of critical thinking] is dialectic, an idea or work is critiqued in a way that produces a counter-perspective and ultimately leads to a synthesis. For some critical thinking evokes a synthetic or inductive model based on testing evidence and making arguments. The exercise of reflective judgment is also a form of critical thinking.  (“Critical Thinking and Broad Knowledge”)

While widely accepted as an educational imperative, critical thinking, as the above statement (excerpted from meeting notes for a Critical Thinking dialogue group at Western Washington University) indicates, is quite variously conceived and described. . . . Clearly, however, how an institution or department defines this intellectual practice will influence where in the curriculum critical thinking is taught, how it is taught, and, equally importantly, how it is assessed. For those in the process of formulating a working definition, familiarity with the following widely utilized models may serve as a helpful starting point.

Bloom’s Taxonomy

According to Benjamin Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives (1956)—a cross-disciplinary model for developing higher-order thinking in students—learning how to think critically involves the mastery of six increasingly complex cognitive skills: knowledge (i.e., possession of specific facts or pieces of information), comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. See sidebar for details.

Bloom’s Taxonomy conceives critical thinking mastery as a sequential process, that is, one cannot move to the next cognitive tier without successfully negotiating the previous level.  (“Teaching Critical Thinking”). Thus, some view the taxonomy as “a set of microlevel skills which may be used in critical thinking but do not represent critical thinking” (French and Rhoder 195). Philosopher Richard Paul objects to the taxonomy’s product-oriented conceptualization of thinking as a “one-way hierarchy” as opposed to thinking being a process that involves the recursive use of interrelated skills (French and Rhoder 195).  Nonetheless, Bloom’s Taxonomy has been and continues to be an influential model for those developing critical thinking programs, as its inclusion in the Dartmouth College Composition Center’s critical thinking web page attests (Gocsik).

Knowledge: the remembering (recalling) of appropriate, previously learned terminology/specific facts/ways and means of dealing with specifics (conventions, trends and sequences, classifications and categories, criteria, methodology)/universals and abstractions in a field (principles and generalizations, theories and structures). defines; describes; enumerates; identifies; labels; lists; matches; names; reads; records; reproduces; selects; states; views.

Comprehension: Grasping (understanding) the meaning of informational materials. classifies; cites; converts; describes; discusses; estimates; explains; generalizes; gives examples; makes sense out of; paraphrases; restates (in own words); summarizes; traces; understands.

Application: The use of previously learned information in new and concrete situations to solve problems that have single or best answers. acts; administers; articulates; assesses; charts; collects; computes; constructs; contributes; controls; determines; develops; discovers; establishes; extends; implements; includes; informs; instructs; operationalizes; participates; predicts; prepares; preserves; produces; projects; provides; relates; reports; shows; solves; teaches; transfers; uses; utilizes.

Analysis: The breaking down of informational materials into their component parts, examining (and trying to understand the organizational structure of) such information to develop divergent conclusions by identifying motives or causes, making inferences, and/or finding evidence to support generalizations. breaks down; correlates; diagrams; differentiates; discriminates; distinguishes; focuses; illustrates; infers; limits; outlines; points out; prioritizes; recognizes; separates; subdivides.

Synthesis: Creatively or divergently applying prior knowledge and skills to produce a new or original whole. adapts; anticipates; categorizes; collaborates; combines; communicates; compares; compiles; composes; contrasts; creates; designs; devises; expresses; facilitates; formulates; generates; incorporates; individualizes; initiates; integrates; intervenes; models; modifies; negotiates; plans; progresses; rearranges; reconstructs; reinforces; reorganizes; revises; structures; substitutes; validates.

Evaluation: Judging the value of material based on personal values/opinions, resulting in an end product, with a given purpose, without real right or wrong answers. appraises; compares & contrasts; concludes; criticizes; critiques; decides; defends; interprets; judges; justifies; reframes; supports.

SOURCE: http://faculty.washington.edu/krumme/guides/bloom.html (no longer available)

Beyer’s evaluative thinking model

Barry Beyer, a prominent contemporary thinking skills theorist and teacher, interprets critical thinking as a more specifically evaluative activity than Bloom’s Taxonomy would imply:

Critical thinking is not making decisions or solving problems. It is not the same as reflective thinking, creative thinking, or conceptualizing. Each of these other types of thinking serves a specific purpose. We make decisions in order to choose among alternatives. We solve problems when we encounter an obstacle to a preferred condition. We engage in creative or conceptual thinking to invent or improve things. Critical thinking serves a purpose quite different from these other types of thinking. (Beyer 1995, 8)

For Beyer, the crux of critical thinking is criteria: “The word critical in critical thinking comes from the Greek word for criterion, kriterion, which means a benchmark for judging” (Beyer 1995, 8-9). Thus, critical (or, to use Beyer’s preferred term, evaluative) thinking provides the means to assess the “accuracy, authenticity, plausibility, or sufficiency of claims” (Beyer 1995, 10).

Beyer asserts that critical thinking involves 10 cognitive operations, which can be employed in any sequence or combination as needed for the thinking task at hand:

  1. Distinguishing between verifiable facts and value claims
  2. Distinguishing relevant from irrelevant information, claims, or reasons
  3. Determining the factual accuracy of a statement
  4. Determining the credibility of a source
  5. Identifying ambiguous claims or arguments
  6. Identifying unstated assumptions
  7. Detecting bias
  8. Recognizing logical fallacies
  9. Recognizing logical inconsistencies in a line of reasoning
  10. Determining the strength of an argument or claim (Beyer 1988, 57)

Further, Beyer argues that successful critical thinking requires “complex and often simultaneous interaction” of the following six elements:

o Dispositions. Critical thinkers develop habits of mind that “guide and sustain critical thinking”, including skepticism, fairmindedness, openmindedness, respect for evidence and reasoning, respect for clarity and precision, ability to consider different points of view, and a willingness to alter one’s position when reason and evidence call for such a shift.

o Criteria. Critical thinkers know about and have the ability to construct appropriate benchmarks for judging the issue at hand.

o Argument—defined as “a proposition with its supporting evidence and reasoning.” Critical thinkers are skillful at constructing, identifying, and evaluating the strength of arguments.

o Reasoning—the “cement that holds an argument together.” Critical thinkers determine the strength and validity of a conclusion by examining the soundness of the inductive or deductive process through which the conclusion was reached.

o Point of View. Critical thinkers are aware of their own point of view and capable of examining other points of view in order to better evaluate an issue.

o Procedures for applying criteria and judging. Critical thinkers have a repertoire of strategies appropriate to the subject matter and type of judgment to be made (Beyer 1995, 10-20)

In other words, critical thinkers habitually question the authenticity of anything that confronts them to ascertain exactly the extent to which it is an authentic instance of what it purports to be. In addition, they make judgments based on certain standards or other measures that serve as criteria for plausibility and truthfulness. And they pay special attention to the reasons and reasoning that undergird conclusions and claims.” (Beyer 1995, 22)

Critical thinking as a divergent process

While Beyer depicts critical thinking as a “convergent,” narrowing process, others prefer to view it as a divergent, expanding, exploratory practice (French and Rhoder, 184-85) —a way to open  up new solutions as well as evaluate those that have already been identified.  For example, consider this statement from Peter Taylor of the UMass/Boston Graduate College of Education’s Critical and Creative Thinking Program. (In February, 2001, Taylor led a critical thinking workshop at OSU, sponsored jointly by the College of Liberal Arts’ Center for Excellence in Teaching, Learning, and Research, the Center for Water and Environmental Sustain-ability, and the Office of Academic Affairs; and organized by Anita Helle [English] and Denise Lach [CWest].)

My sense of critical thinking […] depends on inquiry being informed by a strong sense of how things could be otherwise. I want students to see that they understand things better when they have placed established facts, theories, and practices in tension with alternatives. Critical thinking at this level should not depend on students rejecting conventional accounts, but they do have to move through uncertainty. Their knowledge is, at least for a time, destabilized; what has been established cannot be taken for granted.

This view suggests a much closer connection between critical and creative thinking than Beyer, for instance, would subscribe to. However, many of the concerns that underlie the current interest in furthering college students’ critical thinking skills recognize and affirm this connection.

Teaching Considerations and Strategies

. . .  B. Lehman and D. Hayes propose the following strategies for promoting critical thinking in the classroom:

o Help students recognize what they already know about a topic. [For suggestions, see next section.]

o Help students learn to recognize their biases and keep an open mind about the topic. Have students list and share opinions on the subject, but postpone evaluation until more information is gathered.

o Formulate open-ended questions to help students analyze, synthesize, and evaluate the topic.

o Guide students in finding and using diverse sources to explain and support their ideas.

o Have students check the validity of sources and qualifications of authors.

o Help students see there is no single, final authority. By reading several sources on the same topic, students will discover that information is often conflicting and contradictory.

o Help students develop criteria for evaluation. As students learn to support their opinions with logical thinking and comparison of sources, they [develop] critical thinking skills. (Smith 350) . . . .

 The Writing–Critical Thinking Connection

For centuries, the rhetorical assumption about language was that “one first finds knowledge and then puts it into words” (Bizzell, Herzberg, and Reynolds 1)—in other words, thinking always precedes writing or speaking. Today, however, we recognize that “knowledge is actually created by words” (Bizzell, Herzberg, and Reynolds 1) and that writing and thinking are recursive, interdependent processes that promote and enhance one another.

James Sheridan  points out that “the act of generating written discourse is not merely a result of critical thinking but also a stimulus to new thinking and new discoveries” (52). This claim echoes Linda Flower’s assertion that “writing is a generative act—a process of not just ‘expressing’ but ‘making’ meaning” (193-94). The fact is that “when students write, they cannot remain passive players in the learning game” (Gocsik-source no longer available). As Peter Elbow suggests, “writing helps us achieve the perennially difficult task of standing outside our own thinking” (27). Hence, the concept of “writing to learn,” which has become so integral to Writing Across the Curriculum courses and programs.

Using writing to uncover knowledge

As well as using writing to reinforce and integrate new information, writing can be a way of discovering existing knowledge. Many critical thinking experts advocate beginning any new learning unit by identifying what students already know (but often don’t know they know) about the topic.  This strategy promotes critical thinking and active learning by allowing students to “establish a context for new information and share ideas with others” (Smith 350). Two writing strategies that can assist in this discovery process are freewriting and the “write-and-pass” exercise:

Freewriting. Describing freewriting as an activity that “helps students break the writing-is-grammar chain [, which] stultifies the freedom and risk-taking necessary for innovative critical thinking” (53), James Sheridan suggests the process has only two requirements:

(1) “You cannot stop writing during the 10-minute exercise.” (2) “You are forbidden to think. [. . .] Write whatever comes into your right (or left) hand. You must keep on writing. Even if you say ‘I don’t know what to write,’ write that. You cannot scratch your head. You cannot gaze pensively at the ceiling. Just write. You are not responsible for what you say; your hand is doing it all. Say anything. Say ‘This is the worst exercise I ever heard of and I can’t believe they’re paying this guy good bucks to have us do it.’ Yell, scream, shout, kick (in written words). Say anything, but keep writing” (52)

With unfocused freewriting, students write about whatever they want. With focused, or directed, freewriting, students are given a topic or question to write on.

Write-and-pass.  Another informal writing assignment that helps students discover what they already know is to ask them to spend a few minutes writing everything they can think of about a given topic or question (for example, “What is critical thinking?”). After several minutes, students pass what they’ve written to the person next to them, and that person reads and expands on the original response. The process is repeated a few more times; generally, with each pass, adding new information becomes more challenging..  The exercise provides a way both for students to focus their thoughts on a particular topic and to benefit from one another’s stores of knowledge.


Assessing Critical Thinking: Current Models

[A]n informed choice of an approach to assessing critical thinking can be made only after faculty have [asked and answered] these questions: What do we think critical thinking is? How do the critical thinking skills, processes, and strategies work together, and what aspects or combinations of them do we wish to assess? What are our students like? What are their motivations [and] environments? What are our assumptions relative to the knowledge and abilities that students need prior to engaging in college-level critical thinking? (Carpenter and Doig 34-35)

Carpenter and Doig’s observation comes from a 1988 review of assessment instruments developed for specific critical thinking courses and programs. Alternatively, the  rubric developed in 2002 by Washington State University’s Critical Thinking Project can be used in subject-matter courses across the curriculum that focus on critical thinking. This rubric includes the following criteria for student writing:

  1. Identifies and summarizes the problem/question at issue.
  2. Identifies and presents the student’s own perspective and position as it is important to the analysis of the issue.
  3. Identifies and considers other salient perspectives and positions that are important to the analysis of the issue.
  4. Identifies and assesses the key assumptions.
  5. Identifies and assesses the quality of supporting data/evidence and provides additional data/evidence related to the issue.
  6. Identifies and considers the influence of the context (e.g. cultural/social, scientific, educational, economic, technological, ethical, political, personal, and so on) on the issue.
  7. Identifies and assesses conclusions, implications, and consequences. “Critical Thinking Rubric” no longer available online.

Each item in the rubric includes a description of what would be considered “scant” vs “substantially developed” coverage of that item. The Washington State Critical Thinking Project website is no longer available online.


A Final Note

In this article, we have focused on what Kerry S. Walters describes as the “logicistic” model of critical thinking—that is (according to Walters) “the unwarranted assumption that good thinking is reducible to logical thinking” (1). In Re-Thinking Reason: New Perspectives in Critical Thinking, Walters explores an alternative model being forwarded by an emerging “second-wave” of critical thinking research and pedagogy. Second-wave advocates argue that while “logical skills are essential functions of good thinking, […] so are non-analytic ones such as imagination and intuition, and the good thinker knows how to utilize both types” (2).  This reconception of critical thinking is grounded in current scholarship in the fields of philosophy, psychology, education, feminist theory, and critical pedagogy; Walters’s book serves as an introduction to and dialogue among some of the proponents and practitioners of this alternative. While beyond the scope of this article, the second-wave perspective on critical thinking deserves our serious attention and consideration as well.


This article was previously published in entirety in Teaching with Writing, Winter 2004.


Works Cited (some sources no longer available)

Beyer, Barry K. Critical Thinking. Bloomington, IN: Phi Delta Kappa Educational Foundation, 1995.

________. Developing a Thinking Skills Program. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1988.

Bizzell, Patricia, Bruce Hertzberg, and Nedra Reynolds. The Bedford Bibliography for Teachers of Writing. 5th Ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2000.

Carpenter, C. Blaine, and James C. Doig. “Assessing Critical Thinking Across the Curriculum.” Assessing Student’s Learning 34 (Summer 1988): 33-46.

“Critical Thinking and Broad Knowledge Meeting Notes.” 2 Nov. 2001. Center for Instructional Innovation, Western Washington University. 4 March 2003.  http://pandora.cii.wwu.edu/gened/dialogue/critical_notes_nov.htm Source no longer available.

Elbow, Peter. “Teaching Two Kinds of Thinking by Teaching Writing.” Re-Thinking Reason: New Perspectives in Critical Thinking. Ed. Kerry S. Walters. Albany: SUNY Press, 1994. 25-31.

Flower, Linda. “Taking Thought: The Role of Conscious Processing in the Making of Meaning.” Thinking, Reasoning, and Writing. Ed. Elaine P. Maimon, Barbara F. Nodine, and Finbarr W. O’Connor. NY: Longman, 1989. 185-212.

French, Joyce N. and Carol Rhoder. Teaching Thinking Skills: Theory and Practice. NY: Garland, 1992.

Gocsik, Karen. “Teaching Critical Thinking.: 1997 Dartmouth College Composition Center. Source no longer available.

Scriven, Michael and Richard Paul. “Defining Critical Thinking.” Draft Statement for the National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking. Foundation for Critical Thinking. 27 Feb. 2003. <http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/definint-critical-thinking/766>

Sheridan, James J. “Skipping on the Brink of the Abyss: Teaching Thinking Through Writing.” Critical Thinking: Educational Imperative. Ed. Cynthia A. Barnes. New Directions for Community Colleges, No. 77. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1992. 51-61.

Smith, Carl B. “Two Approaches to Critical Thinking.” The Reading Teacher 4.4  (Dec. 1990): 350-51.

Stewart, Ruth. “Teaching Critical Thinking in First-Year Composition: Sometimes More Is More.” Teaching English at the Two-Year College 29 (Dec. 2001): 162-171.

Taylor, Peter. “We Know More Than We Are, At First, Prepared To Acknowledge: Journeying to Develop Critical Thinking.” 12 March 2003 <http://www.faculty.umb.edu/pjt/journey.html>

Walters, Kerry S. Re-Thinking Reason: New Perspectives in Critical Thinking. Albany: SUNY Press, 1994.

Teaching and Learning Genres in the Disciplines: An Interview with Chris Nelson

By Ruth Sylvester, WIC Intern

Last winter, we featured an interview with Dennis Bennett on the new undergraduate Writing Studio. In this issue, we talk with Chris Nelson, director of the graduate Writing Center. We asked Chris to share his ideas about teaching genre.

WIC: The second WIC learning outcome addresses students learning about how to write in their field: “Students in writing intensive courses shall demonstrate knowledge/understanding of audience expectations, genres, and conventions appropriate to communicating in the discipline.” Why is it important for students to learn to write in a variety of genres?  What kinds of assignments do you think are effective in teaching genre?

Chris Nelson: Genre allows us to define the ways groups of people communicate—not just the conventional forms that we use but also the values and perspectives that form those groups. The genres that we find in scholarly fields also tell us important things about how each field builds knowledge. When students first enroll in a writing class at a university, they are exposed to important, conventional ways of communicating ideas in academic settings. This exposure is important, because it is necessary for becoming familiar with the norms of academic writing: summarizing, paraphrasing, arguing, analyzing, synthesizing. We often encounter these tasks on their own—in exercises, activities, or even formal assignments.

But the purposes these tasks serve can seem unclear to many students when separated from the knowledge-building activities for which they are used. Instead, when we recognize genre, we understand that writing plays specific roles in exploring and communicating ideas in a field—that there is a social function that writing plays. In short, genre takes us from the commonly understood situation of writing for an individual teacher (not to mention for a grade) and allows us to consider the more rhetorical purposes that a document must accomplish if it is to be a worthwhile or useful piece of work for other scholars who share your interests. For example, when we see a white paper in engineering, we know that the writer is synthesizing current information about a given research direction to query other engineers whether that research direction is worthwhile. The function of that document is to prompt the evaluative expertise of the community to decide whether a research idea has merit—so it is ultimately the writer of the white paper who benefits from the genre, assuming the writer has done their job of meeting the conventional expectations of that white paper.

Students who learn to write a variety of genres, then, have the opportunity to learn about, and become part of, a larger community of knowledge builders who not only share similar interests but also communicate their ideas in expected ways. So, genre allows us to become acculturated to both the knowledge and the discourse of a given field.

This becomes a bit of a trick for any writing teacher, because assignments must require students to implement conventional forms of communication (which themselves can indeed be interrogated as the writer gains proficiency, but that is another conversation) while at the same time enable them to experience communicating ideas meaningfully. For me, any assignment that engages students in writing for specific audiences can be effective at promoting genre, but a teacher who is able to welcome students into conversations about the roles that document plays for specific audiences helps them to see that an assignment has purposes to accomplish, rather than being an arbitrary exercise for a grade only. That can be quite a tall order, but to me seems to be the role that a teacher in any discipline plays—answering the question of how to guide students into the standard practices of our fields so that they, too, become knowledge builders.

WIC: How do writing tutors address genre in the Graduate Writing Center?

Chris Nelson: Like all writing center tutors, Graduate Writing Consultants are trained to identify the rhetorical purposes of a given document: purpose, audience needs, formal conventions, and so on. The Graduate Writing Center takes that training a step further by working with what we might consider to be the professional academic forms of writing: scholarly journal articles, conference posters and presentations, funding proposals, and of course theses and dissertations. Ideally, a writing consultant would be familiar with writing and knowledge conventions in each discipline, but that is knowledge that would take years to accumulate—if it even is possible! Genre allows us to prompt writers to teach us about content and communication expectations in various fields. Their awareness of research writing conventions allows consultants to define formal expectations and allow writers to determine whether those conventions operate similarly to or different from the types of writing they encounter in their own fields.

In some respects, genre allows us to explicitly define with students the codes, so to speak, of writing—codes that many scholars absorb and learn to implement over time as part of their own graduate education, even though they may not have learned to name these codes directly. These are important conversations, since graduate students are very adept at identifying conventions in their fields, but may remain unaware of the reasoning or purposes behind these conventions. By enabling us to identify explicitly the expectations of content and communication, graduate students not only learn, but also show consultants, ways of communicating in their fields. So, consultants learn about writing in various fields just as much as students do. By virtue of that learning, consultants can then ask more substantive questions about content or the ways that content is conveyed in a given document.

Pre/Views: This is Critical Thinking

By Vicki Tolar Burton, WIC Director

Critical thinking is desired by employers, acclaimed as one of the OSU “Learning Goals for Graduates,” and required in every course in the Baccalaureate Core, including Writing Intensive courses. However, my observation of hundreds (thousands?) of OSU syllabi and assignments across the Baccalaureate Core suggests that critical thinking is one of the least explicit aspects of most college courses. From Skills level Mathematics and Writing to Science and the Arts to advanced Synthesis, Difference, Power, and Discrimination and WIC, teachers appear to assume that students know what critical thinking is and when they are being asked to do it. I’m not sure about that.

The Bacc Core Committee (BCC) has wisely refrained from imposing a generic definition of critical thinking across all general education courses, asking instead that faculty in the disciplines define for themselves and their students what comprises critical thinking in their discipline or field. We often see syllabi that never mention critical thinking, much less articulate what it might look like in the subject area of that course or where in the course students will practice it.

My modest proposal is this: Let’s start talking with our students about critical thinking, helping them understand what it is in our discipline. Let’s identify on the syllabus assignments that promote critical thinking (CT, like a menu’s chili pepper alert?), and let’s share with students criteria for evaluating critical thinking. Let’s introduce assignments by saying, “This assignment is going to challenge your critical thinking because you’ll need to x, y, and z.” After a good class discussion, we can ask students to call out the critical thinking they heard and then fine tune their findings. We can make it okay for students to ask, “Was that critical thinking?” Answering that question requires critical thinking!

There is, of course, debate about the definition of critical thinking, and there are multiple meanings in circulation as well as multiple teaching strategies.

The OSU Learning Goals for Graduates defines critical thinking like this: “As an OSU graduate, you will evaluate and synthesize information from multiple sources and perspectives to make informed decisions and solve problems; you will exhibit intellectual curiosity, including the disposition and ability to engage in evidence-based reasoning and critical thinking.”

Barry Beyer identifies ten cognitive operations that can be used individually or combined for critical thinking:

  1. Distinguishing between verifiable facts and value claims
  2. Distinguishing relevant from irrelevant information, claims, or reasons
  3. Determining the factual accuracy of a statement
  4. Determining the credibility of a source
  5. Identifying ambiguous claims or arguments
  6. Identifying unstated assumptions
  7. Detecting bias
  8. Recognizing logical fallacies
  9. Recognizing logical inconsistencies in a line of reasoning
  10. Determining the strength of an argument or claim (Beyer 57)

As teachers of Writing Intensive courses as well as other courses know, formal and informal writing can be a powerful tool for critical thinking. The 2014 document Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing includes the following discussion and suggestions for teaching critical thinking through writing, reading, and research.

“Critical thinking is the ability to analyze a situation or text and make thoughtful decisions based on that analysis. . . .

Teachers can help writers develop critical thinking by providing opportunities and guidance for students to

  • read texts from multiple points of view (e.g., sympathetic to a writer’s position and critical of it) and in ways that are appropriate to the academic discipline or other contexts where the texts are being used;
  • write about texts for multiple purposes including (but not limited to) interpretation, synthesis, response, summary, critique, and analysis;
  • craft written responses to texts that put the writer’s ideas in conversation with those in a text in ways that are appropriate to the academic discipline or context;
  • create multiple kinds of texts to extend and synthesize their thinking (e.g., analytic essays, scripts, brochures, short stories, graphic narratives);
  • evaluate sources for credibility, bias, quality of evidence, and quality of reasoning;
  • conduct primary and secondary research using a variety of print and nonprint sources;
  • write texts for various audiences and purposes that are informed by research (e.g., to support ideas or positions, to illustrate alternative perspectives, to provide additional contexts); and
  • generate questions to guide research” (Framework)

To further the discussion of critical thinking across the curriculum, we include in this issue excepts from, “Critical Thinking: Multiple Models for Teaching and Learning,” an article published in this publication in 2004 in which Aubrae Vanderpool and Tracy Ann Robinson provided an overview of research on critical thinking at that time. Apologies ahead of time for the fact that some of the internet links cited are no longer active. Nevertheless, the article provides helpful models and suggestions.

I propose that we make 2017-18 the Year of Critical Thinking. You will see more about critical thinking in this publication and in WIC events ahead. What would help you in teaching for critical thinking? In using writing to teach critical thinking?  Please send your ideas to vicki.tolarburton@oregonstate.edu .

Works Cited

Beyer, Barry. Developing a Thinking Skills Program. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1988.

Council of Writing Program Administrators, National Council of Teachers of English, and National Writing Project. Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing. 2011. https://www.nwp.org/cs/public/download/nwp_file/15188/Framework_For_Success_in_Postsecondary_Writing.pdf?x-r=pcfile_d