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Toolkit

Below can be found a set of resources designed to help students develop academic skills.


Critical Thinking

This is a flow chart to help students think through issues, develop deeper questions,

review their writing for essays and finals and practice mindful habits of thought.

Helpful Guidelines

  1. Don’t assume you know. - The things we take for granted are often where we are blind, do your best to articulate your thoughts and write them down so you can read what they really look like.

  2. Think Twice. - When you think you’ve come to your conclusion, try again. Review your answer as if you were judging another person. This is a good practice to develop since we struggle to judge ourselves and our own beliefs but we find it ever so easy to judge the ideas and beliefs of others.

  3. You are not alone. - When you get stuck or lost, practice celebrating that as a signal that you can grow. You’ve reached the place where you now know you don’t know and that is a huge step! Now you can get to finding out what your mystery looks like with some research that other people have done to see if what they say fits for you.

  4. Just because it makes sense doesn’t mean its true. - Beware your lazy assumptions about the world. Test yourself and your thoughts because you can’t escape your life. Trying to do so will only hurt those around you because eventually when you are needed, you won’t have the skills to help and you will need more help because you haven’t made yourself more skillful.

HOW to USE chart

 

A flow chart is the outlining of a series of steps one should (or can) follow in order to achieve an end.

 

This flow chart is intended to aid students in reviewing their ideas/beliefs/thinking and can be used to aid in writing essays or papers.

 

So how is the chart to be used?

 

First consider what question or item you are interested in reviewing.

Then you can write that down as if it is in the Input/idea box.

 

Example: Tree

 

Then the next step, step one, would be to consider what that word means to you, personally, emotionally and simply by what comes to mind when you think of it.  

You can do a simple word association for this:

ex: tree = green / tree = beautiful / tree = falling smashed car

And you can elaborate further on the idea with free association writing exercise.

ex: There was a tree in my grandmothers backyard that I was too afraid to climb when I was younger. My big siblings would climb it and I was always afraid for their safety but at the same time I was impressed by their strength and fearlessness.  The tree made me feel…

In the autumn the tree looked…

My grandparents always said the tree…

 

In doing this you are exploring your associations with the idea that you are examining. 

In doing so pay attention to how each idea makes you feel and what other ideas emerge in the process of your consideration.  What is the intensity of the feeling?  How does it relate to your life and the stories that form the person that you are?

By this you will be able to judge more accurately what biases you may have relative to your inquiry. 

This is an important step because our thinking is so strongly influenced by the way we feel about a given topic.

Ideally though, our analysis of any topic would be as clearly rational and objective as possible. The best option here is to at least come closer to the terms that underlie our own ideas about the item(s) in question.  In this we practice honest self-appraisal and clarify our emotional blockages.  

We have emotional structures that channel our thinking towards conclusions that support the emotions themselves.  Getting around these influences is important to be able to think more accurately and honestly.  

 

This is an incredibly difficult thing to do but as with so many aspects of the Critflow chart practicing each step in your own thinking will develop your ability to think about the world, arrive at more justifiable conclusions and develop stronger arguments.

 

Having better comes to terms with our personal relation to the inquiry we can more clearly approach step two: Analysis.

 

Developing your ability to analyze will open up the world to your intellect.  You will improve your ability to understand other people, to see purpose in things that otherwise appeared pointless and build your understanding of the mechanisms in the world as a whole.  

 

A simple fist step in analysis is to break the item down into parts.

1.    Identify

ex: tree – has leavesthat are attachedto branchesthat growfrom a trunkthat penetratesthe top of the groundbeneathwhich the rootsgrow

 

In this example I’ve underlined the key identifying markers in the description.  

 

These are items that you could develop further descriptions about as is noted in part 

2.    Describe

ex:  Leaves are the photosynthesizingorgansof the tree.  They are also what make the tree green in the summeror colored in the fall.  Their absence changes the character of the tree in the winter.  They growback in the spring.

 

Notice how in describing a single word from the identity segment we can develop a much richer idea of the item in question.  

 

When we get to the third segment of our analysis module:

3.    Organize

 

We can take the items that we saw in our identification and description and being to put them together through the relationships that we see.  

What have we described?  

What kinds of items have we focused on?

How do they relate to one another?

 

Try to read what you have written as if another person has written it. 

 

ex: I began with identifying the parts of the tree in order form their upper most parts down to the bottom.  

I described the leaves firstly by what they do for the tree and then how they change in the seasons.  My description had  a lot to do with how I saw the tree and it came from the affect the leaves had on its appearance.  

 

In doing this we can examine what we’ve focused on while going through our descriptions.  We can then ask more questions about what we may have left out and whether what we’ve described is important to our inquiry.

 

·     The next step is to review what we have come up with.

 

We can use our Logical Standards module to review 

Learning how to review our own work is one of the most difficult skills any of us will have to contend with in our lives.  The process includes developing an understand of the standards we need to be in line with.  Example of a standard: You will have a sense of how clean you prefer your kitchen to be. When you live with others and they do not clean as well as you are accustomed to the standard flags start waving!  The same holds for most aspects of life and we have to learn what standard is acceptable in our field and what is considered acceptable by the people we are working with.  It is generally best to aim at a very high standard so that you will be capable of achieving it even if you find it is unnecessary or not possible at the time.  Again, like everything that is a skill, it will take time and effort to achieve a change in your own abilities. 

 

First we can verify that the information we’ve written is clear; can we understand what we’ve put down?  If not this gives us an important clue as to where we may need to do research or think more about that specific area.

 

Are the things we’ve written valid? 

 

Are the things we’ve written true?  Are they facts that pertain to the inquiry with specificity?  

 

Are the things we’ve written relevant?  Are you able to build an argument around how they influence and are influenced by you’re inquiry?

 

Has our writing worked together?  Are the statements coherent?  Where are the places we may have gone off track or begun to consider something that doesn’t obviously work with the item at hand.