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2007 Pre-Conference Workshops

The 27th Annual International Conference on Critical Thinking
At the DoubleTree Berkeley Marina

Pre-Conference Workshops 
Overcoming the Barriers to Critical Thinking

It is important to learn the fundamental conceptual sets in critical thinking – the elements of reasoning, the intellectual standards, and the intellectual traits of mind. These will be the focus of the international conference sessions. 

 But it is also essential to understand the barriers to:
    • the development of reasoning, and
    • effectively foster critical thinking in teaching and learning.

All of this year’s preconference sessions will focus therefore on some of the significant barriers to critical thinking. These preconference sessions are strongly recommended both for those new to the conference and returning attendees.

Choose one of the following workshop options for each day:

July 21, 2007

Taking Ownership of the Fundamental Barriers to the Development of Human Reasoning:
Focusing on the Problem of Human Egocentricity . . . Dr. Linda Elder

To reason well, we must understand, not only how to take our thinking apart and assess it, not only, in other words, the tools and concepts that critical thinking offers, but also the powerful barriers, that exist naturally in the mind, to good reasoning. This session will target some of those barriers. We will focus, for example, on self-deception, bias, prejudice, distortion of information and ideas, intellectual arrogance, intellectual hypocrisy, narrowmindedness, and stereotyping. We will offer a theory of mind which can help you, and your students, become more aware of the native egocentric tendencies that operate in the mind and that keep you from reaching your potential as thinker.

Overcoming the Barriers to Critical Thinking:
The Mistake of Separating Content from Thinking . . . Dr. Richard Paul

Helping students see content as systems of meaning understood through thinking

A key insight into content (and into thinking) is that all content represents a distinctive mode of thinking. Math becomes more intelligible as one learns to think mathematically. Biology becomes more intelligible as one learns to think biologically. History becomes more intelligible as one learns to think historically. This is true because all subjects are: generated by thinking, organized by thinking, analyzed by thinking, synthesized by thinking, expressed by thinking, evaluated by thinking, restructured by thinking, maintained by thinking, transformed by thinking, LEARNED by thinking, UNDERSTOOD by thinking, APPLIED by thinking. If you try to take the thinking out of content, you have nothing, literally nothing, remaining. Learning a unique system of meanings is the key to learning any content whatsoever. This session explores the intimate relationship between content and thinking.

Overcoming the Textbook as a Barrier to Critical Thinking . . . Dr. Gerald Nosich

In this session, Dr. Nosich will focus on strategies for overcoming the textbook as a barrier to critical thinking, based on his book, Thinking Things Through: A Guide to Critical Thinking Across the Curriculum. Participants should bring at least the table of contents, as well as one chapter from one or more textbooks they currently use, along with their course syllabus. Dr. Nosich will teach participants ways of using their current textbooks in conjunction with Thinking Things Through, so that students better learn to understand the discipline or subject as a mode of thinking. This session, then is intended as a guide for learning to think critically in a discipline, a subject matter, an area, or field of study. 

July 22, 2007

Overcoming the Barriers to Critical Thinking:
Bad Habits of Teaching and Learning . . . Dr. Gerald Nosich

As humans we are creatures of habit. Good habits lead to success. Bad habits lead to failure. Institutional bad habits lead to institutional failure. The teaching profession at every level is plagued by bad habits:

    • The habit of covering too much content
    • The habit of talking too much
    • The habit of giving students answers to questions they have never asked
    • The habit of covering too many concepts
    • The habit of thinking that knowledge can be acquired by saying back to the teacher what the teacher said to you in precisely the same words
    • The habit of teaching concepts disconnected from other concepts
    • The habit of teaching as if understand came from memorizing bits and pieces of fragmented information
    • The habit of teaching concepts disconnected from real life contexts.

This session will target these bad habits and focus on the good habits that should replace them. 

Taking Ownership of the Fundamental Barriers to the Development of Human Reasoning:
Focusing on the Problem of Human Sociocentricity . . . Dr. Linda Elder

Many of the most deep seated habits that humans acquire come from the process of being socialized or enculturated. Almost everything we think or do, we have been taught to think or do by the social groups that have shaped us. Those who want to free themselves from indoctrination, to become intellectually emancipated, must understand this problem as a significant barrier to their development and begin to see its influence on their daily thinking.

Living a human life entails membership in a variety of human groups. This typically includes groups such as nation, culture, profession, religion, family, and peer group. We find ourselves participating in groups before we are aware of ourselves as living beings. We find ourselves in groups in virtually every setting in which we function as persons. What is more, every group to which we belong has some social definition of itself and some usually unspoken “rules” that guide the behavior of all members. Each group to which we belong imposes some level of conformity on us as a condition of acceptance. This includes a set of beliefs, behaviors, and taboos.

For most people, blind conformity to group restrictions is automatic and unreflective. Most effortlessly conform without recognizing their conformity. They internalize group norms and beliefs, take on the group identity, and act as they are expected to act—without the least sense that what they are doing might reasonably be questioned. Most people function in social groups as unreflective participants in a range of beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors analogous, in the structures to which they conform, to those of urban street gangs.

This conformity of thought, emotion, and action is not restricted to the masses, or the lowly, or the poor. It is characteristic of people in general, independent of their role in society, independent of status and prestige, independent of years of schooling. It is in all likelihood as true of college professors and their presidents as students and custodians, as true of senators and chief executives as it is of construction and assembly-line workers. Conformity of thought and behavior is the rule in humans, independence the rare exception.

This session will focus, then, on the problem of sociocentric thinking in human life, and its implications for living a rational life, as well as for teaching and learning.

Advanced Session: Understanding the Barriers to Effectively
Fostering Critical Thinking in the Classroom . . . Dr. Richard Paul

This session, designed for returning registrants and those with an initial understanding of the fundamentals of critical thinking (specifically how to analyze and assess thinking), focuses on dealing with the common barriers we face in fostering critical thinking in teaching and learning. We will deal, for example, with:

    • the problem of “covering content”
    • The problem of incomplete understanding of critical thinking.
    • the problem of teaching students the use the elements of reasoning
    • the problem of teaching students to use the universal intellectual standards.
    • the problem of modeling the thinking we are hoping to foster
    • the problem of reconceptualizing content as a mode of thinking.
    • the problem of teaching students to read closely and write substantively.
    • the problem of motivating students to learn the content.
    • the problem of working important ideas into student thinking
Participants will work their way through each of these problems, using their knowledge of critical thinking concepts and tools to do so, and, in the process, deepening their understanding of critical thinking and how to foster it.