Developing Academic Skills by Promoting Critical thinking and Elaboration

I would like to share my experience of giving a plenary workshop for about a hundred conference participants. I presented at BKC IH Annual Conference on 24 April and I’d like to share some of my thoughts and reflections with you.

The idea was to offer a framework for teachers who want to help their students enhance their academic skills and help them develop an inquisitive mindset. First, I explained that we didn’t have time for doing every activity but there will be a hint on what can be done. To make that clear, I used the ‘road map’ metaphor. Honestly, I love metaphors in general and the journey metaphor reminds us that the destination is not our only goal, which I really wanted to emphasise. I think I should have done that more explicitly.

My main aim was to highlight the social roots of texts, the idea that we learn by being exposed to relevant literature and that we may well become better aware of topics having discussed them with others. Let’s say, for the sake of the argument, that you are interested in getting better at writing in academic style. Then, perhaps, you may wish to browse through some books and get acquainted with texts of an academic nature. That can obviously lead to getting information, developing understanding of a particular topic and building your own arguments.

I have stated ‘elaboration’ as the topic of my presentation because I intended to show how to engage students with texts, help them use higher order thinking skills, generate discussions with peers and learn from that experience reaching a stage when they are ready to present their point of view in an oral or written form. Many experts say that student-generated activities are beneficial as they have a dual function. They help students consider key ideas from different sources, delve into the topic of the texts they have to work with and respond to the content more consciously by interacting with each other. We know that critical thinking involves asking right questions so by challenging each other students become better aware of which questions are necessary to pose, their attitude to the topic and they gradually get ready for sharing their beliefs and present their opinion. I’m afraid that idea becomes apparent when you are actively involved in the activities.

I invited the participants to take part in various meaningful activities such as brainstorming, matching, categorising, note taking and, most importantly, creating tasks fro each other and creating a set of criteria to improve their own written responses. To give you a flavour of them, I’m sharing the photos ofg may materials.

The first task was to get together and brainstorm ideas of what critical thinking might involve.
Here is the answers to the categorising task.
We used these definitions to clarify the difference between some important higher order thinking skills
Evaluating reading tasks preparing to create self-designed activities fro checking comprehension
Creating some prompts for students to supply them with useful language

Luckily, I had many active participants who were willing to take part in all collaborative tasks. These teachers produced insightful comments and seemed to be happy to figure out the logistics of the workshop. They posed good questions and their contributions were similar to what I highlighted on the slides as feedback. Some teachers, however, were reluctant to contribute to the discussion. I think these teachers are likely to be working in a one-to-one setting and they might have expected me to pay more attention to individual contributions, which was not possible in the mode of a plenary presentation.

If I had to deliver this topic again, I’d probably make some minor changes to make sure everyone understands the methodology or so-called framework I planned to rely on. With smaller groups it can work a lot more efficiently without any doubt. This workshop was designed for open-minded teachers who can rely on their background knowledge as students and educationalists. At the end of the workshop such participants started producing an essay (a few lines was good enough for demonstrating the procedure) relying on the established moves important for working out and communicating their ideas.

Here is the final slide for consolidation.

By the way, when I was asked to deliver a workshop, I had no idea that it will be a plenary talk for about one hundred people. Although I was informed about a possible number one night before the event (they told me that I can expect up to 60 participants in my room) and nobody offered to help us make copies, I had over 70 handouts, which I printed out myself being confident that the number of copies I had made is sufficient. I had all necessary information on the slides too, but many participants might have been disappointed by not receiving a handout, which I understand. Having said that, there were smart people who took a photo and worked with the electronic copies of my beautifully designed worksheets.

If you are interested in getting the slides and the worksheets, I’ve popped a link in my bio on Instagram and this is free.

Let’s be friends on Instagram!

Like this post and drop me a line if you are interested in getting more information about developing academic skills as I can share some useful resources with you.

Useful resources

  • Cavallera, I. V., & de Orué, A. L. (2006). Developing the reading brain: promoting reading. Modern English Teacher15(1), 5-13.
  • Graff, G., Birkenstein, C., & Durst, R. (2012). They say, I say: The moves that matter in Academic Writing. Norton & Company.
  • Greenall, S., & Swan, M. (1986). Effective Reading Student’s Book: Reading Skills for Advanced Students. Cambridge University Press.
  • Howe, S., & Henriksson, K. (2007). PhraseBook for writing papers and research in English. The Whole World Company. 5.Kuchah, H. (2018). Your students are your biggest resource. EL Gazette, 456, 20-21.
  • Lynch, T. (2001). Seeing what they meant: Transcribing as a route to noticing. ELT journal55(2), 124-132.
  • Maley, A. (2009). Advanced Learners. Resource Book for Teachers. Oxford University Press.
  • Watkins, P. (2017). Teaching and Developing Reading Skills. Google EBook: Cambridge Handbooks for Language Teachers. Cambridge University Press.
  • Youtube Video on Critical Think
  • Learning Scientists website with some infographics