Developing Meaning-Making to Promote Critical Thinking

Developing Meaning-Making to Promote Critical Thinking

Sarah E. Schoper, Craig E. Wagner
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8411-9.ch009
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Promoting critical thinking is a demand today's teachers are asked to meet (Association of American Colleges and University [AAC&U], 2005; Hart Research Associates, 2013), yet doing so requires that teachers themselves are critical thinkers. In order to critically think, teachers must have the capacity to make meaning complexly. Making meaning complexly allows for individuals to consider experiences from multiple perspectives and make responsible, ethical decisions for the common good. In other words, complex meaning making allows for critical thinking. Thus, a method for promoting critical thinking is to develop complexity in how meaning is made, and one way to do so is to implement the learning partnerships model (Baxter Magolda, 2004). This chapter explores using the learning partnerships model in the classroom to engage in the development of how one makes meaning, so as to develop critical thinking.
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Perhaps more than in the past, today’s teachers are asked to develop their students’ abilities to think critically (AAC&U, 2005; Hart Research Associates, 2013). Yet, a recent article in the Huffington Post indicates that institutions of higher education are, “not preparing graduates for the kinds of interdisciplinary critical thinking roles they will be asked to play in the work force or as citizens” (Kerry, 2013, para 6). Additionally, a report produced by Northeastern University (2013) stated that 62 percent of respondents said colleges were only doing a “fair” or “poor” job of preparing graduates for the work force (p. 8). In spite of the preparation graduates are receiving from institutions of higher education, employers continue to look for, “skills of communication and critical thinking, innovation and collaboration, integrity and responsibility” (Krislov and Volk, 2014, para 13). Thus, while today’s teachers are being asked to develop critical thinking skills within their students, it does not appear as though the teachers themselves are prepared as critical thinkers. Assisting others in developing an ability to critically think requires that those who do so are also critical thinkers. Kegan (1994) raised this point by asking, “Are we willing to support people’s moves to places we ourselves have already been? Are we able to be good company on the path to fresh discoveries no longer fresh to us?” (p. 292-293), which highlights that individuals helping develop others need themselves be already developed. Zull (2002) also builds upon the claim that teachers must become critical thinkers in order to cultivate critical thinking in others by discussing the connection between the physical brain and the learning process. Zull speaks about the importance of teachers showing their students what it is that teachers hope students will learn, saying, “People see what we show, and when they truly see, when their eyes are opened, they will not need our explanations” (p. 147). This is not to mean that teachers should do the work for their students, but, rather, identify and explore examples that effectively illustrate and role model the points deemed most important. Zull asks, “What do we really want our students to learn? … We should show what we hope our students will eventually be able to do themselves” (p. 147). Successful teachers must have the capacity for critical thought and then demonstrate that ability for their students. Hence, the process of preparing students who desire to become teachers must intentionally develop critical thinking ability if the goal is to have them develop critical thinking within their own students. Developing greater capacity to critically think requires a greater capacity to make meaning complexly, which is discussed next.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Meaning Making Structure: A structure comprised of the cognitive, interpersonal, and intrapersonal dimensions of development that an individual uses to make sense of their experience through a subject object balance on a continuum that develops from simple to complex.

Epistemological: How one has come to know what one knows.

Learning Process: The completion of the learning cycle that includes active testing, concrete experiences, reflective observation, and abstract hypothesis.

Interpersonal Dimension: One developmental dimension within the meaning making structure that pertains to how one sees oneself in relation to others.

Self-Authorship: The mindset one needs to reach in order to begin the process of critical thinking.

Intrapersonal Dimension: One developmental dimension within the meaning making structure that pertains to one’s internal beliefs and values system.

Cognitive Dimension: One developmental dimension within the meaning making structure that pertains to how one makes sense of information.

Critical Thinking: A way of thinking in which an individual successfully navigates through complex problems with competing perspectives by determining relevant information.

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