Thinking Skills and Creativity

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A framework for implementing critical thinking as a language pedagogy in EFL preparatory programmes

Haifa Alnofaie ∗

Department of Foreign Languages, Taif University, Taif city, P.O. Box 888, Postal code 21974 Saudi Arabia

a r t i c l e i n f o

Article history: Received 9 April 2013 Received in revised form 16 August 2013 Accepted 5 September 2013 Available online 13 September 2013

Keywords: EFL preparatory programmes Critical thinking Transfer SPARE model Transdisciplinarity model

a b s t r a c t

This paper proposes a framework for infusing critical thinking as a language pedagogy into English as a Foreign Language (EFL) preparatory programmes for the purpose of facilitating the transfer of critical thinking skills. The idea for the framework came out of a recognition of the limitations of the existing literature on critical thinking in the EFL context, where implementing critical thinking was limited to one or two language skills, mainly reading and/or writing. Evidence of transfer were rarely tracked and identified in available studies. This paper suggests that critical thinking need to be implemented as a holistic language pedagogy across all language skills and courses, and it provides a framework that might facilitate the implementation processes. The paper starts with a brief introduction on the application of critical thinking in the EFL context. Then, it highlights limitations in studies, based on systemic review conducted by the author, that have implemented critical thinking into post-secondary school EFL programmes and courses. Following this, a framework for implementing critical thinking in EFL preparatory programmes is proposed.

© 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

1. A glimpse at the implementation of critical thinking in foreign langauge contexts

The concept of critical thinking has been widely emphasised in the field of education and it underpins various educational interventions that have been concerned with the development of cognitive skills and curriculum. Halpern (1999) provides a broad definition of critical thinking, which identifies the components of this notion, as follows:

Critical thinking refers to the use of cognitive skills or strategies that increase the probability of a desirable outcome. Critical thinking is purposeful, reasoned, and goal-directed. It is the kind of thinking involved in solving problems, formulating inferences, calculating likelihoods, and making decisions. Critical thinkers use these skills appropriately, without prompting, and usually with conscious intent, in a variety of settings. That is, they are predisposed to think critically. When we think critically, we are evaluating the outcomes of our thought processes—how good a decision is or how well a problem is solved. (Halpern, 1999: 70)

As appears in this definition, Halpern includes the cognitive skills and dispositions as the two components of critical thinking. The definition also identifies the different types of cognitive skills. The ultimate goal of critical thinking is the

transfer of critical thinking skills. “Transfer of learning is our use of past learning when learning something new and the application of that learning to both similar and new situations. . .Transfer of learning. . .is the very foundation of learning, thinking and problem solving” (Haskell, 2001: xiii).∗ Tel.: +966 27272020. E-mail address:

1871-1871/$ – see front matter © 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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Among the many effective educational interventions that have employed critical thinking are Lipman’s Philosophy for hildren (1981) and Adey and Shayer (1994) Cognitive Acceleration through Science Education programme (CASE). The articipants in these studies were usually children. The issue of applying critical thinking skills with post-16 learners has ot received sufficient attention (Moseley et al., 2004), and thus it seems to be difficult to fully evaluate the employment of hinking interventions with this group of learners.

The application of critical thinking for teaching and learning foreign languages is a new area of investigation. Critical hinking pedagogies are underpinned by the theory of critical language awareness. This theory explains the role of the earners’ cognitive and metacognitive domains in developing his awareness of the new language and the world around im (Fairclough, 1999). In Europe, some researchers and educational bodies have incorporated critical thinking into foreign

anguage classrooms. For instance, in UK schools, the National Curriculum NC (DfEE, 1999) introduced thinking skills into odern Foreign Language classrooms (MFL), and it was found that teaching students to think can help them to communicate

n the new language, to produce various types of spoken and written language and to demonstrate creativity in using the oreign language. In addition, it has been found that thinking skills can facilitate language learning, as in the case of drawing nferences from unfamiliar language items and reflecting on links between languages (DfEE, 1999; Lin & Mackay, 2004). Such ncorporation of thinking skills could develop learners’ awareness of their progress and develop language autonomy (Lin and

ackay, ibid.). Another example is a study by Allen (2004). The study investigated the engagement of US university students ho were learning French as a foreign language in writing portfolios where they examined French cultural stereotypes.

indings revealed that the students appreciated writing portfolios which made them more aware of their metacognitive rocesses.

There was a debate regarding the implementation of critical thinking for teaching EFL in non-Western contexts. Atkinson 1997) claims that critical thinking is applied in particular subjects in Western contexts, where critical thinking is a social ractice. He excludes the teaching of EFL in non-Western contexts from those subjects that might benefit from the critical hinking approach, his reason being that critical thinking is culture specific. Davidson (1998) refutes Atkinson’s claim by tating that critical thinking could be found in any culture or context, but it is the degree to which this concept is applied that aries. Therefore, critical thinking should not be related to a particular culture (ibid.). This debate seems to be the start of elating critical thinking in non-Western contexts to EFL teaching and learning. In some contexts, English becomes the lan- uage of instruction at some universities, and this requires learners to enrol a compulsory English preparatory programme efore starting their undergraduate degrees. Most universities follow international Quality Assurance criteria where critical hinking is emphasised. Some language institutes run by universities have realised the necessity of familiarising their stu- ents with the concept of critical thinking through introducing critical thinking reading and argumentative writing courses. hese language institutes face two challenges: improving learners’ language proficiency and familiarising them with critical hinking. These challenges increased my curiosity to examine the infusion of critical thinking in language institutes.

I have conducted systemic review of studies on implementing critical thinking in EFL classrooms with post-16 learners, ith specific focus on EFL preparatory programmes to evaluate the implementations. Most studies started early 2000s, and

he majority of existing studies were published between 2010 and 2012, as will be seen in the next section. I used varieties f sources to access published studies. The following journals were included in the search:

TESOL Quarterly, ELT (English Language Teaching), Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, Foreign Language Annal, The odern Language Journal, Language Teaching Research, International Journal of Applied Linguistics, Asian EFL, TESOL Journal

nd Thinking skills and creativity. Adding to these journals, databases were used such as Proquest and Procedia Journal for conference papers was included.

lso, DART was considered for European theses and e-thos for UK theses. Google scholar engine was employed for more esults. The search focused only on studies carried out between 1990 and 2013; the reason for limiting the search to these ears is that most key references on critical thinking emerged in the 1990s. I will focus now on the limitations associated ith these studies.

. Limitations associated with existing studies on critical thinking

The search results came up with limited number of studies that employed critical thinking with post-16 language learners uring their English preparatory year (e.g., Auerbach & Paxton, 1997; Alnofaie, 2012; Cross, 2011; Dantas-Whitney, 2002; essoa & Freitas, 2012; Roether, 2004; Turuk, 2010). Most of existing studies applied critical thinking with university stu- ents majored in English as an undergraduate degree. Many studies, whether conducted in EFL preparatory programmes r university majors, have introduced critical thinking for developing writing and reading skills (e.g., Auerbach & Paxton, 997; Chooa & Singha, 2011; Cross, 2011; Daud & Husin, 2004; Hashemia & Ghanizadeh, 2012; Rahimi, 2013; Tabrizi, 2011; uruk, 2010). Only a small number of studies, however, have examined the effects of applying critical thinking as a language edagogy on the quality of classroom dialogue (e.g., Dantas-Whitney, 2002; Fairley, 2009; Li, 2011; Alnofaie, 2012). It seems hat the reason for this focus on literacy skills in most of the existing studies is that these skills are prioritised in higher

ducation. It should be noted that university students are required to engage with others in critical thinking discussions here they negotiate ideas and solve problems, and it is the role of universities to provide their students with these skills.or this reason, the quality of talk should be considered by academic researchers when applying critical thinking to facilitate igh quality learning.

156 H. Alnofaie / Thinking Skills and Creativity 10 (2013) 154– 158

Another feature of most existing studies is that they are experimental. Experimental studies have received criticism. One criticism is that the participants in the control and intervention groups are selected according to particular criteria, and this is difficult to reproduce in real settings (Robson, 2011). With regard to the practicality of creating homogeneous groups in real classrooms, the following questions may be asked: does experimentation represent real life? If so, to what extent is it possible to create matching groups? In real classrooms, it is difficult to find homogeneous groups for experimental research. According to Robson (ibid.), it is difficult to decide on a matching variable by which the effectiveness of an intervention may be judged. In addition, there is a risk of limiting the scope of the research to identifying similarities among the subjects in the control and experimental groups and of overlooking the differences among them. Williams and Burden (1997) mention that, although the construct validity of quantitative measures is high in experimentation, the traits they measure might not exist. Adding to this, most of these studies have obtained positive findings from applying critical thinking in EFL classrooms which might give us the impression that applying critical thinking is a straightforward process.

Studies of another type in this field have adopted the case study design. Some of these case studies investigated the development of learners’ awareness of their learning through encouraging their use of metacognitive skills in written reflec- tions (e.g., Beckett & Slater, 2005; Chiu, 2009; Porto, 2007). Other case studies have introduced critical thinking as a separate course where learners learn the generic skills necessary for becoming critical thinkers (e.g., Alwehaibi, 2012). However, these studies examined the effects of critical thinking interventions on the development of learners’ critical thinking dispositions and skills in general, and overlooked the effects of these interventions on the participants’ language development. The final type of studies adopted the exploratory case study design, which identified thinking skills and dispositions possessed by learners (e.g., Stapleton, 2002; Zhang, 2010). Although such studies proved that non-Western learners were able to think critically, they did not provide evidence of the effects of critical thinking on language learning.

Studies that have provided in-depth investigations through examining the actual processes of the implementation and highlighting the challenges facing such implementation are scarce (Alnofaie, 2012; Pessoa & Freitas, 2012). Existing studies seem to focus on learning as a product, and exclude or minimise the importance of the notion of learning as a process that underpins Sfard (1998) theory of learning metaphor. Understanding the processes of learning can bring more issues to the fore, lead to a deeper understanding of the participants and the context where the intervention is carried out and thus enable a researcher to modify the intervention while it is being conducted in order to yield positive results. In addition, such studies are needed in order to identify more of the challenges and merits of applying critical thinking interventions in the EFL classroom, and to understand issues that might facilitate or obstruct the transfer of thinking skills. Alnofaie (2012) study found that the lack of collaboration among language teachers for infusing critical thinking in a Saudi language institute led to the unsatisfactory progress of the intervention. Therefore, in order to build a culture of critical thinking in a particular context and enable learners to transfer critical thinking skills into other situations inside and outside the classroom, the designs of future critical thinking studies should link critical thinking to all language skills, rather than focusing on only one or two skills, and teachers should engage in ongoing training.

3. A framework for infusing critical thinking into EFL preparatory programmes

The framework that is here proposed for introducing critical thinking into EFL preparatory programmes could benefit language institutes that are endeavouring to understand and apply the concept of critical thinking as a language pedagogy for the long term benefit, which is the transfer of critical thinking skills. To the best of my knowledge, there is currently no available framework at the international level for introducing critical thinking as a holistic pedagogy in the language institutes that prepare post-secondary school students for pursuing undergraduate studies in a foreign language. As explained previously in this paper, existing studies have limited this pedagogy to particular language skills (i.e., reading and/or writing), and the issue of transfer has been absent in most of these studies. I therefore here propose a framework for infusing critical thinking into the preparatory programmes run by these language institutes (Fig. 1).

The framework explains that the language institute should link its generic critical thinking skills objectives to those identified by the university. The institute can then identify the specific critical thinking skills required for each language skill course. The proposed framework is informed by Moore (2011) Transdisciplinarity model and Burden and Williams (1996) SPARE model. Moore (ibid.) proposes his model for use in HE contexts for facilitating the transfer of critical thinking skills across domains. Moore’s framework consists of two parts. Part one considers teaching critical thinking skills to HE students as generic skills in an additional course designed specifically for this purpose, so that students master general aspects of critical thinking that could be applied to any field of study. Part two is concerned with infusing critical thinking into all courses taught in university departments. The SPARE model, on the other hand, has been used by Burden and Williams (ibid.) as a model for investigating and evaluating the processes of implementing foreign language interventions in schools. The acronym SPARE stands for Situation, Plan, Apply, Results and Evaluation.

Based on these two models, I recommend that any language institute that focuses on teaching the four language skills (i.e., writing, reading, listening and speaking), sub-skills (e.g., grammar, vocabulary) and other skills (e.g., presentation skills and projects) should incorporate critical thinking skills into these courses, and design an additional course for teaching

generic critical thinking skills that learners can apply in any subject in any field. This additional course could focus on the main aspects of critical thinking and build an understanding among learners about the nature of critical thinking and what is expected from them as critical thinkers. These generic skills should be linked to the skills that students will be required to possess when they join the various university disciplines. Some language courses require specific thinking skills that could

H. Alnofaie / Thinking Skills and Creativity 10 (2013) 154– 158 157

Generic thinking skills at the university

Generic thinking skills at the language institute

Critical thinking skills for specific lang uage skills

b l t H u o o s T

c o s f l t p


p A l e y c o t a i t t





Fig. 1. A framework for incorporating critical thinking into EFL preparatory programmes.

e more appropriate for learning certain language skills than others. For example, writing an argumentative essay requires earners to use critical thinking skills in a formal way and to present their work logically in terms of clear argumentation and he validation of claims and references used. On the other hand, participating in a classroom debate requires learners to apply OTS in questioning and evaluating others’ views, and this is usually done through the use of informal language, such as sing polite interruption phrases to express disagreement. In this example, questioning is the generic skill, while the means f questioning, whether writing or speaking, are the specific skills that require specific design and training. Therefore, each f the language skill courses mentioned above should focus on the specific tools necessary for practising critical thinking kills. This incorporation of critical thinking across all courses run by the language institute is inspired by Moore’s (ibid.) ransdisciplinarity model.

In my study (author, ibid.), I adapted the steps identified in the spiral SPARE model to use as the stages for implementing ritical thinking lessons in the classroom. I have adapted it for evaluating an intervention in a single language course. Based n my experience, the SPARE model is practical for applying and assessing critical thinking in various language courses. I uggest that teachers follow this framework for evaluating the introduction of critical thinking in terms of their teaching and or evaluating students’ learning. For example, the teacher identifies the critical thinking skills needed for her course, plans essons, applies the plans for a certain length of time, obtains results – either quantitative results from instruments such as ests, or using qualitative data such as learners’ reflections in journals or focus groups – evaluates the lessons, modifies the lans and starts the spiral SPARE sequence again.

. Conclusion

This paper has presented a framework for incorporating critical thinking into EFL language institutes which prepare ost-secondary school learners for pursuing their undergraduate degrees in English, which is the language of instruction.

review of the literature has revealed that the implementation of critical thinking in language institutes has so far been inked to only one or two language skills, instead of being applied in all language skills courses for the purpose of developing ffective teaching and learning. Also, barriers to the transfer of critical thinking skills in the EFL field have not been explored et, since most existing studies have adapted the experimental design and presented findings in numbers. These limitations ontributed to the emergence of this framework. One of the expected benefits of the proposed framework is that the transfer f critical thinking skills can be facilitated, since generic and specific skills are linked. Adding to this, the processes of he implementation can be investigated and modified through following the spiral steps of the SPARE model, which is n alternative design to the experimental design for evaluating critical thinking interventions. Sharing the experience of mplementing critical thinking among language institutes needs to be encouraged and findings from published studies in he field should be considered by language institute authorities to help in developing the implementation of the critical hinking pedagogy.


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  • A framework for implementing critical thinking as a language pedagogy in EFL preparatory programmes
    • 1 A glimpse at the implementation of critical thinking in foreign langauge contexts
    • 2 Limitations associated with existing studies on critical thinking
    • 3 A framework for infusing critical thinking into EFL preparatory programmes
    • 4 Conclusion
    • References