Student Snippets


So Much Critical Thinking

I was quite at a loss over what I should write for this week's blog post, so I decided to write about something that seems to be emerging as a common thread throughout my classes and even my personal life this semester and that is... critical thinking.

Bear with me.

I realize that the notion of "critical thinking" ought to be familiar to anyone who's been through any kind of formal education. I've literally spent years of my life looking at syllabi and assignments with "critical thinking" written all over them. Probably every teacher I've ever had has said something about critical thinking at some point, but I honestly don't know if any of them ever sat me down and told me exactly what it was, or how I was supposed to "think critically." As if it was something that I was expected to just pick up as a result of participating in class and doing assignments. (Apologies to any of my former teachers who are reading this thinking, "I definitely told her what critical thinking was!")

Fast forward to this semester, in which I feel like the true definition of critical thinking is finally dawning on me. Let's start with my archives class. The professor has established a pattern of asking us students lots of questions, questions that you might think would be easy to answer but turn out to be quite difficult. He asks us to consider different angles, to think about whether we agree or disagree with something, whether a certain principle is "good" or "bad" for archives. After class this week one of my classmates said, "Does your brain hurt yet?" Yes it did. Because I was doing critical thinking!

Take my class user instruction. The first day we were asked to write down things that our worst teachers did and things that our best teachers did. Then we talked about what makes a good teacher, about why we hated some teachers and loved others. I had never thought about why before. One of our textbooks focuses on reflective teaching, the ongoing process of examining your own methods and techniques and analyzing what worked and what didn't. This is critical thinking.

And finally, it's only taken me a year and a half of grad school to figure out some successful strategies for managing my time and my stress. One of those strategies is to start assignments early and use time each week to work on future projects. This kind of thinking and planning ahead helps to alleviate the anxiety that overwhelms me when it is "crunch time." Each week I take a look at my failures and my successes and try to glean actionable information from them; little tidbits that I can "plug" into my strategies to make them more effective.

So for whatever reason, this semester I feel like I'm discovering (or rediscovering) the power of critical thinking. And sometimes it makes my brain hurt. But learning how to think for yourself and translate your education into meaningful change is where the true value of information lies.

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