Honing Students’ Critical Thinking Using Fiction

Parlindungan Pardede


Universitas kristen Indonesia

 If conducted well, infusing critical thinking into the learning of fiction through the situated practice, overt instruction, critical framing, and transformed practice stages model in a combined individual and group learning does not only hone students’ critical thinking and story mastery but also develop their language proficiency.

Researches and experiences have long acknowledged the importance of Critical Thinking (CT) to support every individual’s success in academic, personal, and social life. Policymakers and business leaders all concur on it. The World Academic Forum and Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) list CT as a key skill that will even more important in the future. American Management Association found current and future workplace requires employees to think critically. Based on an analysis of 4.2 million online job postings from 6000 different sources in the period 2013-2015, The Foundation for Young Australians (2015) reports in The New Basics that the demand for new graduates’ critical thinking skills has increased 158% in three years.

Due to its growing importance, there is a crucial need to equip today’s students with CT. Therefore, regardless of their subject matters, all students should be facilitated to develop the abilities to analyze, interpret, evaluate, infer, explain any discourse they are handling, and self-regulate their thinking (Facione, 1990). To realize it, all learning activities should not merely let the students obtain and memorize, facts, information, concepts, and skills, but are used as the contexts, materials, and opportunities for thinking skills cultivation. In short, critical thinking skills must be integrated into every learning activity.

In my previous article, I describe how to incorporate critical thinking skills into an integrated language skills learning process. This article discusses how to use fiction to promote critical thinking.

Two underlying reasons support the use of fiction to promote CT. First, literature reading is a mental process necessitating CT skills to construct meaning which is usually allegorical (includes both literal and implied meanings). To get the appropriate meaning of literary works, a reader should practice CT skills, i.e., inferring, analyzing and synthesizing the presented information, and recalling, retrieving, reflecting on prior experiences. Employing these skills, readers frequently exercise their capacities to distinguish facts from opinions, comprehend the literal or implied meanings, to trace the details related to the issues discussed, determine the causal relationships, and so on.

Second, fictions (novels, novellas, short stories) are mirrors of life. They are even works which present life uniquely because different works are perceived using different viewpoints. The characters may look like people in reality. The actions and events are told as if they belong to daily life. Yet, they are different from the people and the actions and actions in actual life. Reading fictional works, one is exposed to various points of view and thus compelled him to think and rethink his own ideas and actions. Oatley says literary works can be perceived as a “simulation of society”. Studying such works containing matters directly related to daily life, students are required to evaluate evidence, draw conclusions, make inferences, and develop a line of thinking if they approach fiction through a problem-solving perspective. Lazere emphasizes, “literature…is the single academic discipline that can come closest to encompassing the full range of mental traits currently considered to comprise critical thinking”.

Before using fictions to develop CT, teachers need to carefully select suitable works to employ. In the selection process, it is necessary to ascertain that the fictions meet the following criteria: they suit the student’s language proficiency, they are interesting so that they stimulate personal involvement, their length suits the time available, they are contemporary (use modern English), they are not beyond students’ cultural competence, the issues and ideas explored in works should be relevant, interesting and challenging to students (intellectual merit), and the work is worthy of academic study (literary merit). Considering the length and complexity criteria, novels are recommended to use in advanced and upper intermediate classes, while short stories are appropriate in primary and intermediate levels.

It should be underlined that the objective of including CT in a fiction teaching-learning process is not to teach about CT but to let students infuse their CT while learning. To attain this aim, several teaching models for integrating CT into fiction learning have been proposed. The one employed in this article was developed by Bobkina and Stefanova, which consists of four stages: (1) situated practice, (2) overt instruction, (3) critical framing, and (4) transformed practice. This model is essentially generic. So, it could be easily adapted to suit any classroom environment and meet the students’ needs. To see how the model works, the followings describe it in the scenario of …

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