Critical thinking is a very important skill for the development of students. Its importance has been highlighted by many writers in the education literature. However, the literature on English language teaching (LET) is short of publications that establish a link between English language and critical thinking and highlight the importance of English language as a fundamental tool for acquiring a vital skill like critical thinking.
Thus, while LET in Qatar has been suffering from planning and implementation drawbacks over the past four decades or so , the incorporation of critical thinking has been more or less missing from the Qatar LET classrooms for different reasons. Four factors are considered to impede using English and thinking about it critically in the Qatar LET context. These are the teachers, syllabus, assessment, and the non-LET system.
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This chapter will offer a critical discussion of these factors and attempt to propose solutions. BACKGROUND Critical thinking is rooted in history (ancient Greek 2,500 years ago) and in different cultures such as the Indian, Chinese, and Islamic culture, for example, where it has appeared in some verses of the Holy Quern, which was revealed to Prophet Mohammed (peace and prayers be upon him & his Rogers) over 14 centuries ago.
Islam calls upon its followers to observe, ask questions, reflect, and ponder about Allah’s creations and different aspects of life in order to affirm their faith, learn, raise their awareness, develop some kind of wisdom, and become educated, as “education involves questioning, researching, forming opinions, verifying ideas and thoughts and then reaching a sound conclusion” (Mazda, 2003). Mazda blames Muslims nowadays for failing to understand Islam through losing their ability to respect the search of knowledge, although knowledge does not have limits ND is ever-changing and developing.
He further blames them for accepting blindly what is thrown at them. In other words, Mazda accuses Muslims of being ignorant and lacking development and success due to failing to think critically. Mazda argues that Muslims nowadays have given up asking good and effective questions and seeking knowledge in the age of information explosion, rapid technological changes, and complex social and political problems. In brief, Mazda firmly believes that Muslims today lack the ability to make decisions and make good judgments due to lacking critical thinking kills.
Several writers (for example, Chance, 1 986; Faction, 1990; cockchafers, 1991; Breakwater, 1993; Buyer, 1995; scrivener & Paul, 1996; Kaplan, 2000; Halverson, 2005; & Logout, 2007) thus attempted to define critical thinking. There is a consensus across the literature that critical thinking/inquiry, or else known as “higher-order” intellectual skills, is the ability to make reasoned judgments and decisions through clear, rational, and independent thinking.
In other words, it is a mode of thinking in which the thinker attempts to improve the quality of his/her own thinking through skilful analysis and assessment using effective communication and problem- solving skills (Paul, 1995). According to Paul (1995), critical thinking is independent thinking, where one thinks for one-self. Paul argues that we acquire many of our beliefs at an early age, which can be based on irrational reasons. Critical thinkers, therefore, use critical skills and insights to reveal and reject beliefs that are irrational; try to figure things out for themselves.
Independent thinkers strive to incorporate all known relevant knowledge and insight into their thought and behavior. They strive to determine for themselves when information is relevant, when to apply a concept, or when to make use of a skill. They are self-monitoring of their own mistakes. Cockchafers (1991) argues that parents (homes) and teachers (schools) condition children to follow authority figures and not to question their pronouncements.
He argues that a wide variety of positive and negative reinforcement techniques are used to achieve this conditioning, which continues to impact them until adulthood. Cockchafers argues that this way of conditioning produces members of society who lack curiosity and cannot hind for themselves, but rely on others to think for them. These “others” are figures of authority in the society, who claim special knowledge of insight, like politicians, for example. This, according to Cockchafers, leads most people to indulge in wishful thinking and relinquish critical thinking.
Thus, critical thinking is not acquired, but individuals and students are taught to engage in unbiased, reflective, informed, systematic, analytical, evaluative, deductive, organized, rational, rigorous, independent, purposeful, and open-minded thinking to become better people and learners. Critical thinking has six developmental stages – “Unreflective”, “Challenged”, “Beginning”, “Practicing”, “Advanced”, and “Master” thinking (Elder & Paul, 1996). Each stage has its features, knowledge of thinking, skills in thinking, and significant intellectual traits.
While Unreflective thinkers lack the ability to reflect on their thinking and fail to see thinking as a complex and deep practice, Master thinkers have developed deep levels of thought and have a systematic control and power over their thinking and are contain ally improving their thinking via monitoring and revising it. Elder and Paul (1996) argue that reaching the Master thinking stage, or even the Advanced thinking stage, is extremely difficult and challenging when taking into consideration the way contemporary education is structured.
Elder and Paul (1996) argue that a major breakthrough will be achieved, when schools can graduate students who are Practicing thinkers – thinkers who are actively and systematically analyzing their thinking in different domains and have skill to critique their own thinking thinkers who have developed habit of focusing on purposes, questions, information, inferences, assumptions, concepts, points of view, and implications .
Critical thinking, therefore, is difficult and complex and requires time and effort and is about reasoning and questioning ? ask questions that probe information and experience; questions that call for reasons and evidence; questions that lead individuals to examine interpretations and conclusions, pursue their basis in fact and experience; questions that help individuals to discover their assumptions; questions that stimulate individual alls to follow out the implications of their thought, to test their ideas, to take their ideas apart, to halogen their ideas, and to take their ideas seriously (Paul, 1995).
However, Paul (1995) argues that most people are not skilled questioners, and accept the world as it is presented to them. Paul further argues that when most people ask question, their questions are often ‘Superficial” or “loaded”, which do not help them to solve their problems or make better decisions. He argues that good thinkers question the status quo, due to the fact that things are different from the way they are presented.
Paul argues that if a student becomes “a student of questions”, s/he can learn to ask powerful, essential, ND deep questions that lead to a deeper and more fulfilling life. When considered within education, critical thinking refers to teaching students how to think and be in command of their minds. In other words, it is about empowering the students to evaluate and reflect on the content of the subject matter they are learning, rather than merely transmitting it to them.
Put differently, critical thinking is about promoting a learner-centered and active inquiry and learning approach to education, which engages students in activities that require “application”, “analysis”, “synthesis”, and “evaluation” Bloom, 1956), while minimizing dependency on the teacher as the ultimate provider and controller of and authority over knowledge. Students develop critical thinking via acquiring the right methods, and not just (the “right’) information or knowledge through passively accepting, accumulating, memorizing, and recalling it. Critical thinking is important for academic success and success in life.
The prime aim of education today should be to prepare students for a world that is different from now. Critical language learners, according to Moore and parker (1986), should be able to carefully ND deliberately determine to accept, reject or suspend judgment about a claim. Critical language learners should also be able to identify and cite good reasons for their opinions and answers, correct themselves and others’ methods and procedures, and adapt to uniformities, regularities, irregular circumstances, special limitations, constraints and over-generalizations (Layman, 1988).
Diphthong and Jones (2004) thus describe the critical language learner as someone who functions within the language learning and teaching communicative paradigm. The critical language learner to these two authors is someone who thinks freely and accepts new experiences with an open mind and heart and looks at things from different perspectives and angles. In a discipline like LET and in contexts where English is a lingua franca and taught as a foreign language, as it is the case in Oman, students need a very important tool to practice critical thinking.
Students who are articulate in oral and written language have an indispensable tool for all school learning, because the ability to give shape to thought through language is a necessary skill. Language, thinking, and learning are inseparable (That’s, 1984). Knowledge exists in the minds of knower, and students do not develop or acquire knowledge until they can put information into an ordering which has meaning. Language is the means that students generally use to bring order and meaning to facts and experience, either by speaking or writing.
It IS largely by means of language that the school expects learning to take place. One of the aims of education is to help students achieve full potential as language users. Language development is enhanced by the opportunity to SE language in many different situations in order to deal with a wide variety of tasks. Students hence need competence in English, as competence in English assists them to use the target language for achieving multiple genuine purposes.
Competence here is not associated with understanding grammar rules, memorizing some vocabulary items, and knowing how to pronounce some words, although this is what most learners of English as a foreign language in Qatar and other similar contexts round the world are usually concerned about. Competence is rather associated with being engaged in reality” (Diphthong & Jones, 2004), which is complex. Reality requires possessing knowledge about the use and usage of the target language grammatical and sociolinguistic systems of the language (Homes, 1974), which differentiate an effective language user from otherwise.
However, Gaur and Gaur (2001 ) argue that the kind of English taught and evaluated in secondary school is different from the kind of English the students need for entry to an English medium college or university. In other words, the vast majority of students in Oman graduate from secondary school lacking the ability to think tit clarity, accuracy, relevance, and logic (think reflectively) in English and about English . These are characteristics of unreflective thinking and thinkers.
Facts and figures about LET show that students who leave Class 12 and join different post-secondary institutions such as Qatar University , College Of Banking and Financial Studies, Institutes of Health Sciences, Colleges of Higher Technology, Colleges of Applied Sciences, and the different private colleges and universities, possess limited functional and interactive knowledge of English – 4. 5 on LILTS . The same largely applies to the undress of students who are awarded scholarships to English-speaking and non-Arabic speaking countries every year to read for their First Degree.
These students learn English in their foundation program to pursue their undergraduate education, acquire science and technology, and find a white collar-job after graduation in an information explosion, science and technology-governed age, rapidly changing and evolving era, and highly challenging and demanding world . English is further important for many of these students for other additional purposes such as everyday immunization, traveling, and cultural analysis and understanding. These are genuine uses and values of English language, which require higher-order intellectual skills.
Not to mention English is important for” Categorization process which aims at replacing the expatriate skilled force with a national one – especially in the private sector, which is largely dominated by foreign labor force. These foreigners have an edge over their Oman counterparts in terms of adequacy in English language. Categorization is playing a vital and dynamic role in the country’s economic development, as stressed by His Majesty the Sultan and the government (AY-Assai, 2002, Bibb). In short, English, the only official foreign language in the Sultanate, is important and essential for national development and modernization purposes.
It has been receiving political, economic, and legislative support from the government (AI- Assai, 2002, Bibb) and has institutional domains like business, education, and the mass media (AY-Busied, 1995, AY-Assai, 2002). Critical thinking is thus a central component for different activities incorporated within different undergraduate program majors including report and assignment writing resenting a topic, reading different texts, conceptualizing and synthesizing information, evaluating and assessing a program or a course or an event, discussing and debating a point of view, identifying and solving a problem.
These are activities that further take place almost on daily basis in our life and determine the depth and breadth of our knowledge and our higher-order intellectual skills and which are not found in mandated textbooks, but which are missing from the Oman LET curriculum. Such activities redefine the concept and roles of the teachers, syllabus and assessment in the educational yester. THE ISSUES Competence in English is hence pivotal for achieving critical thinking in an LET context. There are four important factors that determine the practice and development Of critical thinking within the Oman LET environment.
These are the teachers, syllabus, assessment, and the non-LET system. Training Teachers, through their instructional techniques, knowledge, skills, and attitudes, play a central role and have a great responsibility in training their students to become efficient critical thinkers. English teachers have a special ole in the teaching of thinking skills, precisely because of the centrality of language (Borer, 1983). Carr (1990) stresses that teachers are responsible for helping students to develop as critical thinkers.
Reading deeply, questioning, engaging in divergent thinking, looking for relationships among ideas, and grappling with real life issues are some ways that Carr suggests for creating a critical thinking atmosphere in the classroom. It is important that teachers create a supportive classroom environment and motivate their students to learn. Through this process, students will develop into individuals with self- aspect, self-direction and self-determination, and be better able to effectively participate in society and interact reflectively with rapid social change.
However, different factors, such as training colonization, and certain aspects of the LET system, can impede teachers from training their students to become critical thin Kerr. Teachers of English today at the pre-service and in- service levels are trained to become competent in the subject matter and the target language (AY-Assai, Bibb). However, teachers who are poorly trained in the subject matter and the target language fail to critically think about and fleet on the content of the mandated textbook and its prescribed ways of teaching. Critical reflection and recursive thinking are substantial parts of critical thinking.
Competent and confident teachers, hence, should focus on the given materials and resources and the entire LET situation. They should be able to analyze and understand the existing problems and make informed decisions and launch positive change accordingly. There is no textbook that presents all the knowledge in the world, as much as there is no single way to teach a particular lesson. Teachers, who fail to see this, fail to launch any radical thinking initiatives in their students and continue to feed them endless content to remember. They fail to help their students to adopt new and different learning and thinking habits.
They adhere to the textbook to the letter and to “safe” teaching routines and uninspired didactic teaching due to their inadequate preparation. They, therefore, fail to design thought- provoking activities and tasks and give their students any thought-stimulating homework. Such activities and homework should give genuine interactive and communicative use of the target language an edge over memorization and petition. They should further give language learning and use meaning and life and encourage students to think critically about and evaluate the different aspects of their language use and deduce answers that are not found in the textbook.
Answers that are way beyond the traditional short straight forward robot-like answer from a given text or in response to a teachers questions, which test surface knowledge and elicit answers about an obvious event of information. Fire (1970) strongly objects to the pedagogy of answers whereby teachers provide answers and solutions to learners. Thinking is not river by answers, but by questions – deep, complex, and thought- stimulating questions. They require students to imply, define, predict, analyze, interpret, assume, evaluate, discriminate, reason, and examine, which reflect their active and dynamic thinking and learning.
The pedagogy of answers reduces learners to mere receptacles for “pre-packaged” knowledge. Fire feels that this pedagogy lacks profundity of thought and cannot stimulate and challenge learners to question, to doubt and to reject (Brush & Macedon, 1985) and trains students to sit in silence and put their minds to rest. Furthermore, this practice of “feeding” the learners robs them of the opportunity to take responsibility for their action and behavior (Costa & Maroon, 1987). Instruction, therefore, plays a pivotal role in helping students to do well at thinking, reasoning, analyzing, predicting, and problem solving.
Teachers should advocate quality thinking and learning and teach in such a way that students are regularly required to state and explain goals and purposes, clarify the questions they need to answer and the problems they need to solve, gather and organize information and data, explicitly assess the meaning and significance of information give to them by the teacher, demonstrate that they understand concepts, identify assumptions, consider implications and consequences, examine things from more than one point of view, state what they say clearly, test and check for accuracy, stick to questions, issues, or problems; and not wander in their thinking, express themselves precisely and exactly, deal with complexities in problems and issues, consider the point of view of others, express their thinking logically, and distinguish significant matters from insignificant ones (Elder & Paul, 1996).
As a result of such instruction, students learn content at a deeper and more permanent level, are better able to explain and apply what they learn, are better able to connect what they are learning in one class with what they are learning in other classes, ask more and better questions in class, understand the textbook better, follow directions better, understand more of what the teacher presents in class, write better, apply more of what they are learning to their everyday life, become more motivated learners in general, and become progressively easier to teach (Elder & Paul, 1996). AY-Assai (ICC, 008), however, documented and discussed different ideologies constructed by different Oman SQL LET student teachers about different problems and drawbacks associated with their training and preparation.
Examples are the insufficient time allocated to the practicum and college-based encroaching, lack of coordination between SQ and the cooperating schools which host the student teachers’ practicum training, pressure exercised by the trainers on the student teachers to religiously adhere to teaching the national textbook during the practicum, and styles of training adopted by some of the rainier, which emphasize spoon-feeding the student teachers with what and how to teach. AY-Assai attributes these problems to a conflict between the ideological and socio-cultural stances of the Oman student teachers and their mufti-nationality trainers. AY-Shish (2003) investigated different aspects of the training program SQ LET student teachers. She examined four aspects; the academic training, the pedagogical training, the organizational aspects and the teaching and evaluation techniques used by the university professors. She found that the teachers perceived the pedagogical courses ND the specialization courses that the trainees took as being useful, while general education and university elective courses as not useful.
The teachers rated the teaching practicum as being inadequate to moderately adequate. Also, AY-Doubt (1998) found that time allocated to teaching practice in the SQ LET program is insufficient as opposed to exposure to theory. Furthermore, most of the Oman English language teachers found in the public schools today are graduates of SQL, who have completed a four-year Bachelors degree program. It has been found that these teachers lack adequate engage competence to help them deal with the classes (1 1 and 12) they are assigned to teach after graduation from SQ (AY-Assai, AAA). This can have implications for their confidence and their ability to meet their students’ demands (Lafayette, 1993).
If teachers lack confidence and the ability to use language in real-life contexts for both social and professional purposes (Peyote, 1 997), one questions their ability to help their students to achieve these uses. Sheehan (1996) and Braking (2001 ) acknowledge that teachers with a poor level of language proficiency find themselves forced to depend on he content of the textbook, which can result in limiting the students’ language input, and hence using the language for critical thinking purposes. Good and effective teachers do more when they teach than act according to prescribed texts and roles. The problem of linguistically (and methodologically) incompetent teachers and the role of initial teacher education in this emerge when considering another category of English teachers.
Over 1000 Oman graduates of Grade 12 decided to join Jam Private University over the past ten years to pursue their undergraduate education in LET. Unfortunately, these teachers were taught English and LET methods at the Department of LET at the College of Education through Arabic. This in turn has affected their acquisition of English language and can have negative implications for their students’ acquisition of English language and critical thinking skills (AY-Assai, AAA). Thus, these teachers were asked by the Oman Ministry of Education to take the International English language Testing System (LILTS) test to determine their level in English. However, none of them could score 6 on the LILTS band score.
It is noteworthy that the Ministry of Education has set 6 as a benchmark for Oman English teachers graduating from different universities, which determines their suitability for teaching English. Colonization Theories about early experiences and the quality of relationship held between the child and the significant adults in the child’s life, such as teachers, for instance centre round “psychoanalysis” (Foeman-Nester, 1983). Teachers, therefore, are powerful colonization agents. The roles they play inside the classroom respecting the use of different teaching materials, the emperor and activities they give to their students, and the teaching methods they use can have a positive effect on their students beliefs, thinking, and images about LET, or otherwise.