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Using Non-Fiction as a Critical Thinking Exercise. Jayne Braman, CSU San Marcos and Palomar College Leanne Maunu, Palomar College Martha Stoddard-Holmes, CSU San Marcos Sue Zolliker, Palomar College Strengthening Student Success Conference October 4, 2007 San Jose. Background on our Group.

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Using Non-Fiction as a Critical Thinking Exercise


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    1. Using Non-Fiction as a Critical Thinking Exercise Jayne Braman, CSU San Marcos and Palomar College Leanne Maunu, Palomar College Martha Stoddard-Holmes, CSU San Marcos Sue Zolliker, Palomar College Strengthening Student Success ConferenceOctober 4, 2007San Jose

    2. Background on our Group • First meeting February 2005 • Initial focus on areas of misalignment • Group goal: a more effective transition for our students as they move from one level to the next

    3. “The Emperor’s New Clothes” Project • Last year’s project • Working on critical thinking skills • Story was not as representative as we had hoped it would be for what our students have trouble with • Also wanted to explore what kinds of texts our students need to learn to read non-fiction

    4. Group Focus • How do our students react to a difficult piece of prose? • At what grade level should we expose our students to challenging non-fiction texts? • Does repeated exposure to the same text make a difference in our students’ ability to analyze non-fiction?

    5. Terry A. Breckenridge Sullivan Middle School Bonsall, California

    6. Participants • Two classes of 6th grade English Language Art students • A.M. core includes students who are performing from below grade level up to grade level • P.M. core consists of a mixture of below grade level, at grade level and GATE students

    7. Purpose • Expose 6th grade students to a high level text to determine their ability to analyze, annotate, think critically and become involved in a discussion concerning the text • Create questions which would encourage and promote critical thinking • Show increased understanding of text after discussion

    8. Initial Analysis of the Process • Sixth grade students had great difficulty with the vocabulary and thus had difficulty managing the text • Questions reflected the knowledge level indicative of most 6th graders • Discussion of the “deeper meaning” gave way to the lack of basic vocabulary knowledge

    9. Student Responses • The highest rating given to a sixth grader based on the rubric used, was a two..…a four was the highest rating • This first two responses represents the highest level of responses for the sixth grade group. • Questions • 1. What does “prejudice” mean? • 2. What does it mean when they refer to people “asserting heat”? • 3. How do opinions turn into prejudice? • Before our discussion I didn’t know what a prejudice was and now. A prejudice is an opinion made without knowing the facts. I also now know what it means to do something with passion or rage. I also now know that people can be very prejudice now and always.

    10. Student Response cont. • Questions • 1. What was the entire point of the passage? • 2. Why is it fashionable to respect prejudices? • 3. How does everything tie into the title The Rights of Women • Response • This paragraph was confusing. There were some things I completely understood, some I knew the basics of, and some that completely stumped me. Like the whole thing about asserting heat. I only knew that that meant to do something strongly. I had no idea about the whole passion and opinions. I also was confused abot opinions turning to prejudices. But I found out that a prejudice is an opinion formed without the facts. So, now, I am more the wiser about this particular excerpt.

    11. Student Responses cont. • The next two responses were rated at a 1.5 and a one • Questions • 1. I thought this was about women’s rights, but to me it’s about opinions, why is this? • 2. What does prejudice mean? • 3. What is mental activity? • Response • At first I didn’t understand what prejudice meant. I now know the definition. It’s kind of like an opinion. For example, men thought that women were only good for cooking and cleaning. That’s a prejudice. To me it’s not true.

    12. Student Responses cont. • Questions • 1. What are mental and bodily activities? • 2. What is a fundamental principle? • 3. What does prejudice mean? • Response • I learned that bodily activity is being active and using your body. I also learned that prejudice is like a rumor or opinion that usually insults someone. We learned how different prejudices will affect different people in different ways. We also learned of women’s rights, that we are just as good as men. Maybe even better!

    13. Reflection/Conclusion • Critical thinking about high-level pieces of literature was greatly impacted by vocabulary skills • As is the reality at all grade levels, there were students who asked questions that were beyond the basic vocabulary level, but for sixth graders their numbers were few • With sixth graders, the concept of annotation had to be taught before proceeding with the text • Although it is important to continue to challenge students by exposing them to high-level text, it is also important to consider the level of difficulty • We must build upon the skills of annotating, and thinking critically, with continued exposure to materials of this nature

    14. Reflection/Conclusion cont. • As reflected in the overall results, the level of critical thinking and active discussion looks different at various grade levels thus reflecting a typical developmental process • Not using the same rubric to score may need to be given some thought for future endeavors • I was hoping for higher level questions and discussions with my sixth graders, and the abundance of basic needs seemed to just zap the energy needed for the higher level interactions • Less difficult pieces of literature should be used to begin and develop the process of analysis and critical thinking with sixth graders

    15. Rosella Childers Sullivan Middle School Bonsall, California

    16. Course participants: • 3 classes of 8th grade English

    17. Course Objectives: • We were hoping to learn if 8th grade students would be able to: • Read/annotate high level text for main ideas, obscure meanings, new vocabulary • Paraphrase Wollstonecraft’s main ideas and supporting evidence • Create questions to stimulate critical thinking and discussion • Show increased understanding of piece in post-discussion follow-up writing.

    18. Student Response(3 on a 4 point scale) (High level from 8th grade English class) Now I understand that people state their opinions with great anger when they doubt their opinions. I also understand that some people are lazy and can’t think of their own opinions so they are pressured to believe in someone else’s opinion because they think that it’s cool. I understand that when you have a discussion you must give reasons for your opinion so that you are not prejudice. People take out their anger in opinions when they are insecure and that is prejudice. Opinions that people strongly believe can be prejudice if there is no reason for the opinion. People try to make others believe their opinions so they don’t doubt them.

    19. Low Response(1 on a 4 point scale) Before asking questions I didn’t understand anything about this article. When I read the title, I knew it would be something about women. But when actually reading it, I couldn’t understand anything. After asking questions, I then knew the article was about people’s thought and how people argue about it. Some people are also prejudice to others just because of thought. Today whatever people say, most don’t say anything because they are lazy, or don’t want to look dumb. But people can still say what they want, no matter what they think or who they are.

    20. Reflection After taking the Holt Publishing Company’s Entry Level Test, this 8th grade class of twenty six students at Sullivan Middle School proved to have the most balanced range of results: there were 10 Advanced there were 9 On-Level there were 6 Having Difficulty there was only 1 Intensive (Below 50%) Therefore, I chose to use this class as a representative group of 8th graders to score Mary Wollstonecraft’s “The Rights of Women”. I told the students they were going to read a college-level essay, discuss it, and then write about it. They were told that their work would be read by high school and junior college teachers and university professors.

    21. Reflection continued The students took the assignment very seriously and worked diligently on their responses. When I scored it, using the rubric, the results for that class of 24 was the following: 11 scored a 1 7 scored a 2 6 scored a 3 0 scored a 4 Considering the difficulty of the material I felt a number of the students showed surprisingly good insights. I was pleased with all of their attempts. This exercise also drew my attention to some important facts: 1. Many students at 8th grade level are ready for very challenging reading. 2. It is important to have students respond to what they read in open essays. 3. They like discussing questions they had generated.

    22. Conclusion • Students need exercises such as this to become thinkers. • This format is a great platform for the GATE student to use when dealing with informational essays. • This format can lose the below level or low average student who relies on factual questions and answers.

    23. Heidi Paul Mission Hills High School San Marcos, California

    24. Course participants: • 2 classes of 9th grade College Prep English • 1 class of 9th grade English Honors

    25. Course Objectives: We were hoping to learn if 9th grade students would be able to: • Read/annotate high level text for main ideas, obscure meanings, new vocabulary • Paraphrase Wollstonecraft’s main ideas and supporting evidence • Create questions to stimulate critical thinking and discussion • Show increased understanding of piece in post-discussion follow-up writing.

    26. Student Response (High level from 9th gr. C.P. English class) What she is saying is that, first of all, a lot of times people adopt other peoples opinions and ideas because they respect that person or like the idea. When you state that something is true, you should use your own ability to reason to question or improve the idea. Sometimes, ideas must change because the situation changes. A prejudice is a simple feeling or liking, one that cannot be backed up, while if you can prove an idea can be true then it is no longer a prejudice. She says that in order to to learn or improve, you must doubt, that straight yes or no’s won’t solve things as thoroughly. You must understand and back up your

    27. High response continued Principles or thoughts. What I think she means when she says “Principles are sometimes true in theory, but false in practice” is that some things are hard to prove, or cannot be given an example. She also says that many times pride drives people to argue all the harder for their cause when they begin to doubt it themselves. However, this doesn’t say much as, by this point the argument will have driven them to try harder no matter what they think.

    28. Low Response (2 on 4 pt. scale) People make opinions about others that are not prejeduce in your mind but might be on the opposing end. She talks about reasoning and if what people call prejeduce is really prejeduce or just is what they believe because it is what the person had grown up hearing. She talks about fact on your side and the others in arguments. Are they really just what you know as facts. And do you have faith in your argumentive so called facts or do you doubt your own thought, so is it really she is saying to think of the words you speak and the responds you make.

    29. Reflection Comparing grade levels First, the only major difference between the Honors and regular levels of 9th grade English was the former’s level of commitment to writing a complete and coherent response. They also seemed to taking the question-writing portion more seriously, given the number and level of q’s produced.There was little difference in the level of understanding, however, and most students scored low (1 or 2) on the rubric.

    30. After reading some powerful responses from Beth’s 11th grade AP classes, I wondered if those students were once on the level of most of the present 9th grade honors students.

    31. Reflection cont. Follow-up writing The follow-up writing rarely showed an increased post-discussion understanding of the piece. Perhaps students said it all in the first writing and felt obligated to tack on the extra piece of writing. Or…perhaps students glommed on to something in the discussion and made a tangential point rather than adding a new understanding.

    32. Considerations • Whether or not our background info helped the students to respond (e.g.,who Wollstonecraft was). • Whether or not our prompt shaped their answers. What if we asked about tone and audience, for example. And at what grade should they already be considering that in their questions for discussion? • Did the quality of annotations determine the level of the response?

    33. Conclusions • Many exercises similar to the Wollstonecraft exercise must be practiced with 9th graders before we can see rewards. • We need to start 9th grade students off with documents that are simpler to analyze. Less lengthy reading and more discussion will increase students’ confidence in their analytical ability. • More difficult pieces should probably be started at the beginning of the 11th grade year.

    34. Beth McNalley Mission Hills High School San Marcos, California

    35. Course participants: • 2 classes of 11th grade AP Language and Composition • 1 class of Honors 9th grade English

    36. High Level Response (11th grade AP) Scored a 4 The assertion Wollstonecraft makes is that many people are content to take the opinion of others and modify and claim it as their own. Then, that person will argue their prejudices, even though they don’t truly understand the opinion they are trying to convince others of. Because they are not convinced of their opinion, they often cling to these opinions in a way that would surprise the one who first came up with the idea. These types of people use round it out logic in an attempt to convince others the reason why this opinion (and often prejudice) is a thing to listen to and respect. When the person is confronted with the simple principles behind their logic, as well as the flaws and the realization that it isn’t an opinion, but rather a prejudice they are expressing, they will bluster and blow to cover their lack of knowledge and their own doubts. [response continues on next slide]

    37. High Level Response (11th grade AP, cont.) • If the practice of something is true in theory, how can it be false in practice? • Why is it that the person ignorant of the true nature of a specific prejudice will defend it and with more passion than the person who actually created it? • An opinion is a prejudice, until it is given reason, then which it becomes and error. Logically, wouldn’t the opinion be termed and error in thought, until reason convinces us that the logic is not flawed, rather it is prejudice instead of a mistake?

    38. High Level Response (11th grade AP, cont.) A person will often accept the opinion of one of the loved die as straight out truth, and they will defend that opinion out of respect for the person instead of true belief. Because they do such things like that, their arguments will be weak. They will not listen to the opinions, and even facts, of others against their opinion, because what they believe is, in their own mind, right (cognitive dissonance). When Wollstonecraft refers to “the simple principles which precede the prejudice,” she could be referring to an older practice used by our ancestors that gradually formed the prejudice the person is now defending. It could be something like: men and women cannot do all the same things, so they split work tasks. This could turn into a prejudice.

    39. Teacher Commentary on High Level 11th Grade Response • The student gives a full paraphrase of the Wollstonecraft excerpt. • The student’s questions probe underlying issues raised by the excerpt, such as how a fundamental principle could be true in theory and false in practice. • The student draws on new information from the discussion (a student familiar with psychology brought up the term “cognitive dissonance”) and integrates this new information into the ideas from the passage.

    40. Low Level Response (11th Grade AP) Scored a 2 In the piece by Mary Wollstonecraft, she makes many claims. She claims to what people believe to be “a woman’s reasons”. She supports her claim in how some believe women say they love someone or believe things just because, without reason. But in other parts in the writing she doesn’t support her claims….. • Why does individuals tend to have prejudice opinions? • Why do some humans give our ancestors blame for our prejudice? • What is the differences between fundamental and simple principle? I now understand now from the first time reading how a prejudice opinion can be passed on from generation to generation. I also understand the different meanings of prejudice.

    41. Teacher Commentary on Low Level 11th Grade Response • The student shows a partial understanding of one of Wollstonecraft’s claims: that women may say they love someone or believe something but cannot give a reason. • The student’s questions grapple with decoding the passage rather than probing its ideas more deeply. • The students after discussion reflection does reflect more understanding of the passage (not a trend we saw overall in the student samples).

    42. High Level 9th Grade Response Throughout her writing, Wollstonecraft makes a point that a lot of people don’t even know what they’re saying. Rather, they just say something stated by a respected person without actually knowing its purpose or the reason behind it. Then she speaks about when a person knows the phrase is wrong but refuses to believe anything else and gets vicious because they don’t want to let go of it. She backs up her points by drawing out people’s actions. • Why would someone go on believing something if they know it’s not true? • How long must we sing this song? • What drove the author to write such a piece? After discussion, I feel the same. A clear article has been made no different for me. There are parts I may be a little shifty about, but I have no desire to have my opinion challenged or discussed.

    43. Teacher Commentary on High Level 9th Grade Response • The student shows a clear understanding of at least two of Wollstonecraft’s main claims: that people repeat the opinions of others without understanding them and that people become defensive when said opinions are challenged. • The student puts these observations into his own words. Many of his classmates chose to quote Wollstonecraft rather than to paraphrase her ideas. • The first of the student’s questions probes a fundamental issue in the piece. The second is a bit cryptic, but may suggest that the student sees the issues raised in this piece as ongoing. The third question cries out for a historical explanation that, sadly, we did not really address in our discussion. • The class discussion, as he notes, did little to add to his original understanding of the passage.

    44. Low level 9th grade response—1? 2? “It is now fashionable to respect prejudices.” I think Mary means if you respect other people’s beliefs and thoughts, then many other people will do the same. • What reasons did our ancestors base their opinions on? • Why do people believe something, when they don’t understand? • Why don’t people think for themselves? I now understand why people have doubts in their own opinions from this Wollstonecraft selection.

    45. Teacher Commentary on Low Level 9th Grade Response • The student’s initial understanding reflects a misreading of a citation. One of the trends we saw across the student samples was that students tended to quote Wollstonecraft rather than paraphrase her because quoting her was easier. • The student’s questions actually reflect a stronger understanding of the passage than the initial writing (the part we actually scored) did. • The student’s post-discussion comment also reflects more understanding of the passage than the initial response.

    46. Sue Zolliker, Palomar College

    47. Course information • First-semester composition course • English 100/English Composition • Transfer-level • Expository and argumentative writing based on analytical reading and critical thinking

    48. Selected Learning Objectives • To read critically for main and supporting ideas • To draw inferences from the text regarding the meaning of key terms • To analyze and interpret the claims made in the selection • To apply the ideas expressed in the selection to situations beyond the text: students’ own ideas, behavior, and experience as well as broader issues

    49. Selected Samples of Student Responses

    50. Student #1 What Mary Wollstonecraft is saying is that many people do or think things without good reason. For example, someone might have a belief or opinion but have no good reason at all for believing it. It’s like a building with no foundation. Though it can seem good, there is no foundation for it upon close examination. When a person realizes their opinions don’t hold water, they become angry and try to convince others of their validity. This is because there is comfort in numbers, if more people agree with you, a weaker mind might think that this makes their opinion or belief more true.