For my final post of this semester, I’d like to treat the question of how we assess critical thinking in the writing classroom. Hillocks notes that although state writing tests claim to prioritize critical thinking, their prompts include no specific concept of what that actually means (2). Indeed, Florida State University President Eric Barron highlighted it as a critical component of the new curriculum that FSU will be adopting starting in the fall of 2015. The problem with defining critical thinking by DasBender in the online book Writing Spaces as a term which “makes you draw a blank every time you think about what it means” (1). It is a term which the liberal have classically claimed yet which no student would list on their resume as a skill.
One of our goals for educational policy, then, should be to work toward a writing construct which provides a clear definition of what we mean when we say we want critical thinking, but most importantly what it looks like. Is it simply the ability to question assumptions and synthesize sources? Is it even something that can be directly taught, or is something learned over time through repeated exposure to people engaged in it as a practice?
More importantly, even if critical thinking can be defined, it remains to be seen whether it can be institutionalized on a state assessment in the way that Hillocks sees it used. If critical thinking can best be developed within a community of practice, the distant, impersonal nature of state assessment seems a very bad place to try and assess it.