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September 12, 2018

ThinkCERCA: Teaching and Assessing Critical Thinking

Writing is the Path to Critical Thinking

This blog posts comes from our friends at ThinkCERCA. We encourage you to explore all of their great offerings.

Educators know students need critical thinking skills. But when it comes to assessing and teaching critical thinking, it’s tough to know where to start. “Critical thinking” is a concept. By design, it’s amorphous. You can’t glean critical thinking from a series of multiple choice responses.

You see evidence of critical thinking, however, when students write arguments. 

When students practice argumentative writing, they go through a process that compels them to explain their reasoning and evaluate claims on the basis of evidence. They weigh the options and describe their reasons to strike forward with a decision. In short, they exercise critical thinking.

By making argumentative writing a regular part of instruction, educators can teach and assess critical thinking, and thus prepare students for life outside of school,

Educators know students need critical thinking skills. But when it comes to assessing and teaching critical thinking, it’s tough to know where to start. “Critical thinking” is a concept. By design, it’s amorphous. You can’t glean critical thinking from a series of multiple choice responses.

You see evidence of critical thinking, however, when students write arguments. 

When students practice argumentative writing, they go through a process that compels them to explain their reasoning and evaluate claims on the basis of evidence. They weigh the options and describe their reasons to strike forward with a decision. In short, they exercise critical thinking.

By making argumentative writing a regular part of instruction, educators can teach and assess critical thinking, and thus prepare students for life outside of school.

Use the CERCA Framework to Teach Argumentative Writing in Every Subject

cerca (002)

One way to teach argumentative writing is with the CERCA Framework. CERCA is a research-based literacy framework that guides students through the process of composing a written argument. With CERCA, students:

C: Make Claims

E: Support with Evidence

R: Explain Reasoning

C: Identify Counterarguments

A: Address Audience

CERCA provides the direction students need to organize a strong piece of writing. It also provides a shared language that all teachers can employ in their instruction. By using the same terms and structure to teach writing, teachers across all disciplines can collaborate on a writing initiative.

Tackle a Debatable Class Question with the CERCA Framework

To get started with the CERCA framework, you’ll need to make sure your class has a debatable and relevant topic to dig into. After all, critical thinking isn’t used for answering simple questions. Critical thinking happens when students dive deep into an issue and evaluate its many aspects.

Here are some debatable questions you can pose to your class, depending on which subject you teach:

  • ELA: To what extent should students be allowed to exercise free speech?
  • Social Studies: Should the United States consider modifying the way citizens elect their leaders
  • Science: What are the causes and potential solutions to problems humans have brought to our oceans?
  • Math: How do the financial costs and benefits of different opportunities after high school compare?

(These questions come straight from ThinkCERCA, a writing platform and digital curriculum based on the CERCA framework. ThinkCERCA is designed to support academic writing for grades 4-12 and provides differentiated writing lessons that pair with class discussion questions.)

Once students have an opportunity to research the issues posed in these questions, they can begin composing their written argument. With the CERCA Framework, students will start by stating their claim. They’ll cite evidence found in their research and use reasoning to explain why the evidence supports their claim. Then, they’ll address counterarguments, acknowledging the validity of other arguments but explaining why they stand by their claim nonetheless.

Through this writing process – which requires students to use evidence to back up their statements and give careful consider to counterarguments – students will start to hone their critical thinking skills. With these writing samples, educators can assess how deeply students comprehend a topic – are they regurgitating information, or are they thinking through challenging ideas?

Critical thinking isn’t easy to teach or assess. But in the 21st century, it’s one of the most important skills a student can learn. With argumentative writing, and with the CERCA Framework, critical thinking can become a regular class activity.

Continue your learning by exploring these guides:

Learners Edge is passionately committed to providing you with continuing education coursework, materials, and tools that will help you succeed in your classroom and in your career.

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