Teaching Students to Think

“De-emphasizing, de-funding, and demonizing the humanities means that students don’t get trained well in the things that are the hardest to teach once at a job: thinking and writing clearly.”

So says Max Nisen in his article “America Is Raising a Generation of Kids Who Can’t Think or Write Clearly.” And I couldn’t agree more.

Every year, it gets more noticeable in more students.  They’re coming to college under-prepared, and we struggle to get them where they need to be.  Ask any faculty member what these students lack, and nine times out of ten, they’ll point to two areas:

  • personal responsibility
  • critical thinking.


What a shame it is: we have an educational system failing to teach students to think. How depressing it is!  My students will beg me for “the right answer” before giving just one minute of their attention trying to figure out the answer themselves. They don’t want to think. They just want to be told what to do or how to do. And prior to college, that’s exactly what happens. Imagine their surprise, their discomfort, their fear when we expect them to think but they’ve never been taught how to.

Colleges have attempted to deal with this problem in a variety of ways because students who can’t think can’t succeed in college.  Of course, general education requirements force them into classes they hate but that ask them to think and read and write critically. But more often than not, they simply bomb out.  And so we try to “go back to the drawing board” and teach them how to succeed in college by learning how to think.  Winthrop University, for example, created a Critical Reading, Thinking, and Writing (CRTW) class required for all freshmen.

At our school, we created Freshman Seminar (COL 105). One of the first things I explain to students in that class is that college learning is very different from high school learning.  And one way in which that is true is the way in which we expect them to think: critically and creatively.  We then spend time talking about what that means. I like to kick off that discussion with this great old SNL clip in which Jerry Seinfeld plays a teacher attempting to get his student to think about history.

Then, we spend a lot of time practicing both–all semester long.  Because these skills, which are vital to success not just in college and not just in the workplace but also in life, are only learned by doing. And doing. And doing some more. Taking away any coursework that teaches these skills to students is a disservice to students, a disservice that will affect them now and in the future, throughout their lives.

–> Disclaimer


Filed under Higher Ed, Teaching & Learning

2 responses to “Teaching Students to Think

  1. You are 100% right. I am a college student now. I am older than many of them. I had to take a beginner writing class because it had been so long since I was in school. I was shocked to see how other students write. they do not know proper grammar nor spelling. Some wrote just like how they spoke, which was some sort of gang slang or something. I had to be a peer reader. I don’t like to be critical of others by any means. I had no way that I could go about it but to tell them that their papers really needed a lot of work. With word and other programs, the students do not need to know how to spell or grammar. the computers do it all for them. Sad sad day.

  2. Pingback: Completing But Failing | Wider than the Sky

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