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«Критическое мышление на уроках английского языка» |
(«Critical Thinking at the Lessons of English”)
Островерхова Лариса Карловна
учитель английского языка
КГУ «Средняя общеобразовательная школа-лицей №7»
ГУ «Отдел образования г. Семей»
Many ELT experts believe that the inclusion of critical thinking skills in English classes is necessary to improve students’ English competence. Students’ critical thinking skills will be optimally increased if meaningis prioritized in English lessons. Those two inter-related elements can be implemented when teachers do collaborative activities stimulating students’ thinking process and meaning negotiation. Yet, the realization might be counter-productive if they are applied without careful consideration of task purposes and of students’ roles. Based on the consideration, this paper is focused on presenting how critical thinking skills and meaning should be properly incorporated in an English lesson.
Critical thinking has been a well-established subject and a debatable research
field across disciplines for a very long time. It was first introduced by Greek
philosophers and has been used since the Greek Empire era up to now, obtaining
a significant, influential status during its extensive travel all over history.
Many historians believe that the roots of critical thinking can be traced from
Socrates’ teaching practice and vision 2,500 years ago. He brilliantly revealed a
probing questioning method that individuals could not logically justify their assertive claims to knowledge.
Critical thinking is the intelligently self-controlled process of actively and
skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating
information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection,
reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action. It is based on
universal intellectual values that excel subject matter divisions: clarity, accuracy,
precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence, good reasons, depth,
breadth, and fairness (Scriven & Richard, 1987). In short, critical thinking is
that mode of thinking - about any subject, content, or problem - in which the
thinker improves the quality of his or her thinking by skillfully taking charge of
the structures inherent in thinking and imposing intellectual standards upon
them (The Critical Thinking Community, 2002).
At university level, critical thinking skills are essential abilities in using
intellectual tools by which one appropriately assesses thinking. In this case, by
utilizing critical thinking skills, students can use the intellectual tools that critical
thinking offers – concepts and principles that enable them to analyze, assess,
and improve thinking. They will be able to work diligently to develop the
intellectual virtues of intellectual integrity, intellectual humility, intellectual civility, intellectual empathy, intellectual sense of justice and confidence in reason.
To put it briefly, critical thinking skills are self-improvement in thinking
through intellectual tools that assess thinking (The Critical Thinking Community,
Critical thinking skills play significant roles not only in learners’ academic
achievements but also in their dynamic life of workforce after graduation. Hirose
(1992) claims that numerous large corporations all over the globe deal
with the lack of basic thinking skills performed by recent college graduates in
their companies. He says that, “Many of today's youth lack the basic skills to
function effectively when they enter the workforce. A common complaint is
that entry-level employees lack the reasoning and critical thinking abilities
needed to process and refine information” (Hirose, 1992:1).
In the context of higher education in Indonesia, especially in English Department, the limited use of critical thinking skills and the lack of meaningful
activities are assumed to be the reasons why students in Indonesian universities
are often ineffective in exchanging ideas and writing in English critically. They
tend to accept opinions, especially on the current news of politics, corruption,
and education, without evaluating them appropriately. Therefore, expressing ideas in English both communicatively and critically is not always easy for English Department students.
Based on what have been stated above, this paper will focus on presenting
how critical thinking skills and meaning should be implemented in English
Language Teaching. To begin with, the writer will first discuss English Language
Teaching in Indonesia in general perspectives and then clarify the reasons
why critical thinking skills and meaning should be prioritized in English
classes. From this point on, the writer will suggest practical teaching stages incorporating critical thinking skills and meaning in an English lesson.
Development of communicative competence—the ability to use English
for communicative purposes—which covers all four macro skills: reading,
listening, speaking, and writing; efforts should be made to strike a good
balance among the four-macro skills.
Mastery of linguistic aspects is to be used to support communicative abilities
in both oral and written forms.
The English syllabus represents an amalgam of various forms of syllabi:
functional, situational, skill-based, and structural; given the nature of the
syllabus, the basis for the organization of the materials is not linguistic aspects
but topical themes and functional skills.
Assessment is integrated (covering more than one language components)
and communicative (not exclusively on linguistic elements).
Not all instructional objectives are measurable using a paper-and-pencil
test (e.g., reading for enjoyment).
The fundamental points of communicative approach above are then elaborated
in the four basic qualities should be achieved by the students when learning
English. More specifically, students who are communicatively competent are
those whose qualities as described below.
When speaking, the students are able to find what is appropriate to say,
how it should be said, and when, in different social situation in which they
When listening, the students can use all contextual clues to get the meaning
of what is being said and how the message is being conveyed.
When reading, the students are able to construct the meaning based on the
messages provided by the text and in transaction with genres and their own
When writing, the students are able to formulate their ideas into acceptable
written English language in accordance with the writing situation and their
own writing purposes. (Musthafa, 2001, pp. 3-4).
Following the current trend of English language teaching in the world, the
curriculum designers in Indonesia decided to adopt the Contextual Teaching
Learning Approach in the 2004 Competency-Based Curriculum. The similar
communicative approach was then modified in the updated 2006 School-Based
190 TEFLIN Journal, Volume 22, Number 2, July 2011
Curriculum. It has been implemented in primary and secondary school levels
up to now. Furthermore, Renandya (2004) argues that the purpose of English
Language Teaching in Indonesian education system is actually to provide
learners with advanced reading skills that enable them to read and comprehend
science-related texts in English. Although other language skills are not ignored,
reading ability has always been the primary objective of English Language
In today’s higher education in Indonesia, many lecturers complain that Indonesian
university students do not use their critical thinking skills sufficiently
when they are doing both oral and written assignments. Based on his teaching
experiences at English Department, the writer often finds students unenthusiastic
to exchange ideas critically and tend to accept experts’ ideas without analyzing
them properly. Again, this is probably because some of them previously
studied at secondary schools which typically did not apply learner-centered approach and did not develop students’ critical thinking skills optimally. Concerning on a similar problem, Cromwell (1992) argues that the main purpose of advanced education is the enhancement of student thinking. This is in line with
today’s concern that most graduates at all education levels do not perform
higher level of thinking abilities.
In the national scope, the Indonesian government has nationally implemented
the Competency-Based Curriculum in university level throughout Indonesia.
This curriculum has been welcomed enthusiastically, in particular by
English teachers, as it is claimed that this new curriculum will be more effective
in improving students’ academic, life, and thinking skills. Although the
curriculum has been changed, English teachers’ ways of teaching have not
changed significantly. English teaching is still teacher-centered and deals mainly
with complex grammar, long reading passages, and other activities that are
far from the real purpose of the latest curriculum. Consequently, students are
not given adequate opportunities to do meaningful collaborative tasks in which
they should discuss, share, and challenge ideas communicatively and critically
(Sukono, 2004; Masduqi, 2008).
The facts above show that there is an inconsistency between the principles
of the curriculum and the actual implementation in classrooms which is still
dominated by teacher-centeredness. No wonder Indonesian university students
Masduqi, Critical Thinking Skills and Meaning in English Language Teaching 193
still have difficulties in revealing ideas in English communicatively and critically.
Students’ critical thinking skills will be optimally enhanced if meaning is
treated as the first priority in English classes. Those two inter-related elements
can be more optimally implemented when teachers do collaborative activities
(pair work and group work) which stimulate students’ thinking process and
meaning negotiation in their classroom discussions.
In order to activate students’ critical thinking skills, English teachers need
to present alternatives, different ways of interpreting texts and different conceptions of the world. The importance of thinking in today’s education requires
the main concept of critical thinking in which there is always more than one
way to see things and that it is always up to the individual to judge just where
the truth lies on any given issue (Mason and Washington, 1992).
Regarding the flexible nature of critical thinking, the writer proposes a
teaching practice that can be modified in different ways. This is because the
implementation of critical thinking skills and meaning in language teaching is
not new and an absolute format has not been recommended so far. The underlying
principle is that language learning is improved through increased motivation
and naturally seen in meaningful contexts. When learners are interested in
a topic and are given chances to negotiate meaning, they will be motivated to
discuss things critically and at the same time, acquire language to communicate
(Darn, 2006; Rfaner, 2006).
As stated in the introduction, both critical thinking skills and meaning can
be incorporated when teachers do collaborative activities, i.e., pair work and
group work. Therefore, the writer would illustrate teaching stages of an English
lesson that essentially integrate critical thinking skills and meaning. For practical
reasons, the writer would apply a series of teaching stages in a reading lesson
(adapted from CELTT 1 Handbook, 2008). The teaching of Reading is
chosen as an example since it provides ample opportunities to exploit students’
skills in English learning arise through reading texts. In this case, the proposed
reading lesson draws on the lexical approach, encouraging learners to notice
language while reading followed by activities involving meaning discovery and
critical thinking skills. Accordingly, teachers can flexibly diversify methods
and forms of classroom teaching and learning, improve learners’ overall and
specific language competence, introduce learners’ to the wider cultural context,
and increase learners’ motivation (Darn, 2006; Lewis, 1997; Thornbury, 2006).
More specifically, the teaching stages of the reading lesson are in the following:
(1) Eliciting ideas.
Give students one or two pictures which can be interpreted in various ways (see some alternative pictures and activities in Doff, 1998).
Ask students what the pictures are about (Let the students speak freely in
Dictate key words from the reading text.
The objective of this stage is to introduce the topic of the story to students and
to give them an opportunity to express their ideas openly. This is expected to
be an initial chance for the students to activate their thinking process and encourage
them to exchange ideas critically. In doing so, the teacher needs be tolerant
with any ideas or interpretations proposed by them as an adage says, "A
picture is worth a thousand words". Then, by dictating the key words, the
teacher is indirectly fostering the learners to relate more easily to the characters
and actions in the text later.
(2) Highlighting lexis and their meanings/vocabulary
Check the words dictated (ask them to exchange their work with their partners
Check meaning of any words that may cause difficulty.
The purpose of this stage is to focus attention on meaning of key words in order
to prepare students for the next prediction task. In this stage, the teacher
should use guided discovery and contextual guesswork to discover meaning of
the dictated words. Guided discovery involves asking questions or offering examples that guide students to guess meanings correctly. In this way, the learners
are engaged in a semantic process that helps vocabulary learning and retention.
Then, contextual guesswork means using the context in which the word
appears to derive an idea of its meaning, or in some cases, guess from the word
itself, as in words originated from Latin or Greek (Moras, 2001; Thornbury,
(3) Giving the title of the story.
Give students the title of the story they are going to read
(Prompt them to the title).
This is an extra stage which is also aimed at assisting the students to do the following prediction task. The teacher can simply write the title on the white
board without giving any information about the text. It is expected that the students
will be curious and triggered to predict the text topic by relating the title
and the dictated key words. In this way, the teacher prepares the students’ mind
gradually before dealing with the whole text. Metaphorically, it is like a motor
cyclist warming up his motor cycle before riding it on streets.
(4) Predicting text
Put students into small groups and ask them to predict the story based on
the title and key words given.
Ask few students representing their groups to tell the class their predictions.
Encourage other groups to ask questions, share ideas and even criticize
each other if necessary.
The goal of this stage is to prepare students mentally to read the text by creating
a version of the text first in their minds and give the second chance to exchange
ideas critically. In this stage, it is important that the teacher should not
judge whether they are right or wrong as the judgment might hinder the students
to speak up and reveal their opinions openly. Let them freely predict what
the text is about and discuss it in groups. Furthermore, discussing their predictions
in class is also a good chance for them to communicate and challenge
other people’s ideas. This collective interaction is necessary to stimulate their
critical thinking skills for the more challenging tasks later.
(5) Ordering jumbled paragraphs/Skimming
Hand out cut up version of the text (the students are still in groups)
Ask students to skim the story and order the paragraphs
Ask them what they looked for to help them decide on the order of the paragraphs.
196 TEFLIN Journal, Volume 22, Number 2, July 2011
The objectives of this stage are to apply group work in order to negotiate meaning
and to do skimming. Working in groups help fostering learning independence,
and especially in ordering jumbled paragraphs, the students can exchange
information and negotiate meaning when discussing new vocabulary items and
ambiguous sentences. It is also expected that group work will be a motivating
element, as students skim the text together, share ideas, and argue with each
other constructively. This is a crucial stage of polishing up students’ critical
thinking skills in which the teacher should only monitor and not interfere much
in their classroom discussions.
(6) Listening for the right order
Play a cassette telling the right order of the story.
Ask students whether or not their prediction is correct.
This stage is aimed to provide the correct order and a reason for gist reading.
While students are listening to the cassette and matching their paragraphs order,
they are indirectly reading the whole text and paying attention on pronunciation
and grammatical forms in the text. This introduces the pupils to correct
pronunciation and grammatical constructions without making them a conscious
focus. This kind of ‘inductive learning’ is more interesting, meaningful, and
natural than ‘deductive learning, in which learners are presented with rules with
which they then go on to apply’. It ‘pays dividend in terms of the long-term
memory of these rules’ (Thornbury, 2006:102).
(7) Reading comprehension
Ask some short questions based on the story
The purpose of this stage is to focus on overall meaning and main ideas in the
text. This is a usual teaching stage in which the teacher commonly uses Whquestions
to check whether or not the students are able to find out and understand
main ideas and specific information in the text. In other words, Whquestions
are utilized to make sure that the students grasp the overall meaning
of the text. It is advisable for the teacher to ask short questions that make students
find the answers in and beyond the text. The teacher should not spend
Masduqi, Critical Thinking Skills and Meaning in English Language Teaching 197
much time on this task since the final task is also aimed at measuring students’
(8) Acting out the story/Speaking
Put students into groups of 3, one person for each character in the story.
Ask them to act out the story or do a mini drama.
The objective of this stage is to measure students’ comprehension in a fun,
non-verbal way. In this final productive stage, the teacher can ask the learners
to discuss the most practical ‘scenario’ before acting out the story. This extra
oral practice potentially strengthens the previous collaborative activities in a relaxed,
enjoyable way. This is in line with Lightbown and Spada’s ideas (2003)
that the more the students are provided with extra oral practice in a target language,
the more they will be able to speak it communicatively.
By applying the eight teaching stages above, the writer expects English
teachers to consider that the realization of critical thinking skills and meaning
is feasible when teachers apply pair work and group work in which students
think actively and negotiate meaning. The stages of pair-work and group work
are also useful the students’ communicative competence. In the productive
stages, the students have more opportunities to get more language exposure and
practice (Moon, 2005). It would engage the learners talking to one another to
exchange information communicatively and critically. They talk in order to
communicate, activate thinking process, and exchange arguments, not just to
practice the language (Spratt et al., 2005).
The realization of critical thinking skills and meaning in English Language
Teaching is worth doing to improve students’ English competence. Those two
important elements can be incorporated in English lessons as long as teachers
do collaborative activities providing students sufficient exposure to thinking
process and meaning negotiation. The variety of classroom activities does not
only cater students’ communicative competence, but also create lively learning
atmosphere. Indeed, this is not an easy task because the teachers have to make
sure that the English lesson, involving both critical thinking skills and meaning,
is reasonably inter-related and suitable to the level and needs of their students.
198 TEFLIN Journal, Volume 22, Number 2, July 2011
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