Tag Archives: critical thinking

Class of the Living Dead?

Last I blogged, I was trying to decide which horror film to play for my Reel Success class today in honor of Halloween.  So…after careful consideration, I decided to go with Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. None of them had seen it, and they got really excited about it. They also all stayed awake, and there was no texting (a few gasps and chuckles, though)–either because they were entertained enough by it or because I hopped them up on candy–or both. But luckily, they were not a class of the living dead this Halloween. So that’s a win.

Of course, I pointed out to them that the film is notable for having introduced the concept of the modern zombie, and I gave them some other relevant background. I also gave them some questions ahead of time to think about as they watched the film.  We’ll be discussing these questions next class:

  1. Consider this movie in historical context. What was going on in the world in this time period that might have influenced the film?
  2. This movie was made almost 10 years after the last film we watched (12 Angry Men). Do you notice any similarities? Differences?
  3. It was possible to create color films in 1968, but Romero chose to go with the grainy black & white 35mm instead. One reason was cost.  But why else do you think the director may have made this choice?
  4. Many people think the film serves as a metaphor. What do you think it might represent? Remember that, prior to this film, zombies did not exist as we know them today. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead zombies are the first. What might they symbolize?
  5. Consider the 8 choices of successful students. Do you see the characters embracing any of these choices? What about the opposite—the choices of struggling students? Who in the film exhibits which characteristics? Be able to give examples.
  6. What Creator choices do characters make in the movie? Explain. What Victim choices do they make? Explain.
  7. What life lesson(s) might you take away from this movie?

Hopefully, in addition to being entertaining, the movie will spark some critical thinking and analysis and some good discussion related to student success.

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Filed under Higher Ed, Teaching & Learning

Completing But Failing

Remember last week when I wrote about students’ lack of critical thinking skills and then again about their struggles to think creatively? Remember how I argued we need to make sure that at the college level we are encouraging both critical and creative thinking?

Well, as it turns out, I’m not alone: This article by Jeff Selingo of The Chronicle of Higher Education argues that “…colleges—and in turn their graduates—have shortchanged the valuable skills that employers seek: communication (writing and oral), creativity, adaptability, and critical thinking.”

Shame on us.


And it’s not just us educators saying this; it’s the employers hiring our graduates. According to a recent survey of the Society for Human Resource Management, “forty-nine percent of human resource officials polled by the professional organization said this year’s college graduates lack basic English skills in grammar and spelling” [emphasis mine]. They also identify poor basic math/computational skills and poor reading comprehension as areas in which recent graduates leave a lot to be desired.

So students are coming into college underprepared and they’re leaving underprepared. They are failing to acquire the foundational skills needed to succeed. Meanwhile, across the country, people (I’m looking at you Bill & Melinda Gates!) continue advocating for the reduction or elimination (rather than just the reform) of developmental education programs that seek to help underprepared students prepare, prepared students advance, and advanced students excel in those foundational skill areas.

This makes perfect sense to me. How about you?

Further, I have to wonder what effect the Community College Completion Agenda is having on our ability to provide students with these important life skills. After all, we all know what happens when the focus becomes quantity, right? And many states have already started tying college funds to graduation rates–and the rest are either already in the process of doing so or seriously considering it. Yet, we need only look to the K-12 system to see how well tying funding directly to graduation rates works. Heck, we need only look at the waves of underprepared students entering our colleges post-high school graduation to see how well that has worked.

So…following in that system’s footsteps also makes perfect sense. Right? Wrong.

At the college-level, we must take care not to rely too heavily on on-time completion as a measure of our effectiveness. After all, if our students graduate on time but cannot write, speak, or think clearly, we are failures. Sure, we may be able to boast about our high graduation rates. And we may secure appropriations tied to completion.

But make no mistake: we will have failed at achieving our mission. We cannot focus on quantity at the expense of quality. Period.

As always, I point you to my disclaimer lest you think these words reflect anyone’s opinions other than my own.

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Filed under Community College, Developmental Education, Higher Ed, My Opinion

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