Fr. Raymond Schroth points out in "Why Johnny Can't Write" some saddening observations about the lack of writing assignments in college classes, particularly among education and business majors. Today my very own education and psychology students will be reading here, and I hope they click the link to Father Schroth. With only a modicum of appropriate grumbling, my students have been writing each week a paper at least three pages in length integrating class lectures and discussions, textbook, and then going beyond and finding outside reference. By midterms, in addition to other assignments, they will have written at least 18 pages and received a great deal of feedback, and I have gained a great deal of satisfaction learning from their insights.
Good writing can't be separated from reading and critical thinking. I suspect if you were to ask a large group of people what "critical thinking" meant, you might obtain answers suggesting that it involves disputing the opinions of others, justifying your own positions, or correcting factual mistakes or omissions. These are indeed part of critical thinking--but this highly advanced cognitive skill is much, much more. Benjamin Bloom, educator from the University of Chicago, is known for his work in exploring the meaning of critical thinking. He created six different domains: Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation. Knowing these helps teachers and writers--and, in this new age--bloggers, too.
Perhaps many of us focus on the Knowledge and Evaluation domains when we put on our critical thinking caps. Bloom noted that the Knowledge domain was the most basic, as memorization of important facts is necessary for creativity in any intellectual endeavor. The Knowledge domain can include any intellectual activity involving memorizing, listing, reviewing, defining, identifying, naming, or matching. Although important, Bloom classified these skills as lower order thinking.
The Evaluation domain is one that frequently is part of debates, verdicts, recommendations, reports, or giving of opinions. The kind of higher order skills involved in this domain may include judging, deciding, disputing, criticizing, defending, or justifying. We may find many of these processes going on in classrooms, broadcast and print journalism (especially editorials), and giving responses to others on the Internet, especially via the response capabilities within on-line journalism.
Bloom's four other domains of "critical" thinking extend the concept beyond factual accuracy or ideological/argumentative engagement by expanding the definition of critical thinking itself and offering specific activities that can lead to better dialog as well as greater depth in intellectual inquiry. For example, in the Comprehension domain one shows that one fully understands a belief, position, or situation by paraphrase, explanation, or summary. Perhaps all "disputations" might begin with this kind of critical thinking in order to show that there is mutual awareness of what is being discussed.
From my own experiences as a reader, teacher, and blogger, I believe Bloom's domains of Application, Analysis, and Synthesis are not used as frequently as the others and that these offer us tremendous potential in the classroom or in the writing of books, articles, or Internet blogs. For example, the Application domain asks us to take one idea or concept and apply it to a new situation, to extend a discussion by giving an illustration, or to construct a proposed solution to a dilemma, quandry, or crisis.
The Synthesis domain suggests integrating different viewpoints, hypothesizing new ideas, modifying what has been done or thought in the past when taking into account new developments or circumstances, or creating new options or possibilities. The Analysis domain asks us to distinguish between different situations, classify existing ideas (often in a new manner), or compare the similarities and differences in people or events without making an evaluative judgment.
Many of these same thoughts of Benjamin Bloom are distilled in Mortimer Adler's classic How To Read A Book I hope Benjamin Bloom's ideas will be of interest and be an inspiration toward better writing, and hope students and others will visit Father Schroth's series "How to Succeed in College," where I have been learning, among other things, how to be a better teacher.
William Van Ornum