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Madeleine Stewart Professor Rankin ENGL 121 B 29 October 2013 The Thought Gap Much attention has been

paid to the achievement gap, yet it the foundation of this gap seems murky and inconsistent. All possible factors have been pondered and investigated, but few conclusions have been made. What stands out, though, is that what is lacking in disadvantaged groups are transferrable skills more than anything else, the most important of these being critical thinking. As shown by both standardized tests scores and countless studies, children coming from homeless, welfare, or other socioeconomically disadvantaged groups are less likely to develop the critical thinking skills required in academics, which are vital to success inside and outside of school. Critical thinking, albeit an abstract and wide-reaching concept, is defined easily enough. A broad description is found in Robert Weissbergs article, Critically Thinking about Critical Thinking, where he defines critical thinking as an ability to use reason to move beyond the acquisition of facts to uncover deep meaning. Weissbergs interpretation provides a good starting framework for a concept that is so important to success. Critical thinking is the essence of the age of enlightenment. It embodies the thought processes necessary for unique and influential ideas. With the ability to think critically, students are prepared to be active and inspiring thinkers. Unfortunately, poverty and disadvantage have a detrimental effect on the development of critical thinking. Represented by the achievement gap, children coming from

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Comment [LFR1]: This is a strong, arguable claim, but it doesnt address why this is, which seems to be more the trajectory for your paper. Formatted: Font: (Default) Times New Roman

Stewart 2 a homeless, welfare, or working-class background score consistently lower than their peers on standardized tests and have higher dropout rates. While standardized tests are by no means absolute measurements of intellectual ability, these statistics shape the futures of the children the represent. Even with holistic admissions, colleges still rely on GPAs and SAT scores. As if that isnt enough, the pathway through primary school is regulated by state standardized testing. Although critical thinking is much more than success on a standardized test, the ability to approach problems on a cookie-cutter standardized test is part of the skill set defined under critical thought. While the factors leading to the achievement gap are immeasurably complex, there is no doubt a correlation between lack of critical thinking skills and lower achievement. Philip DeVols study, Using the Hidden Rules of Class to Create Sustainable Communities, offers a very plausible explanation, bringing up the point that low-income students often develop different mindsets than middle- or upper-class students, and therefore are equipped to handle different problems than the ones found in classwork. Middle-class students are trained to handle abstract, complex reasoning, and therefore can analyze abstract thought systems. Working-class, welfare, or homeless children, on the other hand, are accustomed to dealing with concrete knowledge and immediate needs. (DeVol) Lacking the ability to think critically hampers a child to the point that he or she can not fully engage in the educational environment or sustain study habits as a path to academic achievement. While there are no doubt countless ways of quantifying the critical thought process, Sibel Kaya and Zeynel Kablan have found one of the most effective ways of describing it. In their study assessing the performance of Turkish students on standardized tests, Kaya and Kablan found that critical thinking developed students skill sets in three areas: cognitive ability, meta -

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Comment [LFR3]: Maybe. One of the strongest oppositions to standardized testing is that they devalue critical thinking skills. Formatted: Font: (Default) Times New Roman Comment [LFR4]: Its not so much a study as a report. Formatted: Font: (Default) Times New Roman

Comment [LFR5]: Use MLA format for these citations. Formatted: Font: (Default) Times New Roman Formatted: Font: (Default) Times New Roman Formatted: Font: (Default) Times New Roman, Highlight Formatted: Font: (Default) Times New Roman Comment [LFR6]: Im not sure it can be quantified perhaps simply describing as you use later in the sentence would be a better choice here. Formatted: Font: (Default) Times New Roman

Stewart 3 cognitive ability, and resource management, where cognitive ability is the ability to process, summarize, organize, and evaluate; meta-cognitive ability is the ability to plan and manage thoughts; and resource management is the ability to focus and motivate oneself. Continuing from the basis provided by Kaya and Kablan, these three regions of development would manifest themselves in three ways: analysis and thoughtful contribution (cognitive ability), evaluation of priorities and performance (meta-cognition) , and the cultivation of strong work ethic and focus (resource management). These three manifestations are vital to academic success. The first and most direct result of these is cognitive ability, the skill of analysis, synthesis, and careful judgment. According to Burkhalter and Shegebayev, this ability is actually best formed by giving students space. Students must be able to discover what they are thinking without intrusion from others and learn to trust their own opinions. The product of pushing students to think critically is then [sparking] creativity and feelings of ownership over the material. (Burkhalter and Shegebayev) These sparks engage students with classroom material and jumpstart their cognitive process. This interaction is vital for success in academics. However, while the essence of this judgment undoubtedly holds true, encouraging students selfdirected study must be balanced with order and congruency in the classroom. Secondly and realistically, all of this hinges on the students intrinsic motivation to learn. Still, Burkhalter and Shegebayevs method provides a valuable foundation for how a classroom should function. Clearly, critical thought and development can not be facilitated without room for reflection and unique intepretation. A second product of critical thinking mentioned in Kaya and Kablans work is metacognition, the ability to gage ones strenghts and weaknesses and evaluate ones knowledge on a subject. This is easily as important as cognition itself, as it governs how a students interacts with

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Comment [LFR7]: I like where youre going with this, but Im afraid that you might be expanding the idea that lower income students have a deficiency in critical thinking skills well outside the realm of its viable analysis. I think that the description of critical thinking skills that you have shown in this paragraph is significantly different than those evaluated in standardized tests and thus it is difficult to show that a deficiency in these skills exists without further support for that claim. Formatted: Font: (Default) Times New Roman Formatted: Font: (Default) Times New Roman Formatted: Font: (Default) Times New Roman

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Stewart 4 academic resources. For example, a student lacking in critical thinking would accept all biases as facts. When a student receives and processes information, he or she must be able to calibrate his or her conclusions by anticipating the sources biases using meta-cognition. A student must be able to judge the pros and cons of any action and question all givens. In other words, critical thinking means being aware of the human factor that influences information and trusting oneself to criticize or compliment method and opinion. A student without the ability to meta cognate would also have a hard time studying, being unaware of which skills need development. The meta-cognition aspect of critical thinking is therefore crucial to independent learning and balanced work. Finally, resource management is the long-term element of critical thinking. The ability to plan out and commit to work as well as sustain a work ethic as demanded by the situation is extraordinarily important to producing consistent and high-quality assignments. In a different light, resource management can be seen as professional skills, including goal setting, time management, and efficient use of available information. Resource management dictates a students relationship to academic and personal resources, such as libraries, teachers, and the internet. The ability to prioritize, set reasonable goals, and correspondingly to evaluate progress and adjust these goals is relevant to a students life as homework due tomorrow must be done before homework due next week. Doing a certain amount of homework each day can minimize stress. In the long-term, taking classes that apply to academic interests and taking the time to strengthen college applications are just as much a product of critical thinking. Resource management, along with cognition and meta-cognition are skills needed to be successful, organized, and engaged in school and beyond.

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Comment [LFR8]: This is a really interesting and well-reasoned argument. Formatted: Font: (Default) Times New Roman

Stewart 5 These skills, however, do not come easily to students from low-income backgrounds. A child living in poverty has problems visualizing these abstract systems and recognizing their importance. DeVol says it well in his study when he states that life in poverty keeps one focused on concrete problems, with no time for the abstract. Unfortunately, critical thinking uses the abstract as a springboard for organization, interpretation, and analysis. Children coming from backgrounds where surviving from day to day is a struggle do not have room emotionally or mentally to engage themselves in the abstract ideas presented at school. A student in poverty does not have the energy to process information or carefully formulate opinions and therefore think critically. These skills that are crucial to any level of academic engagement are thus not easily developed or exercised. There are many different points of view on what influences a child in povertys ability to think critically. Both internal and environmental factors must be taken into account. Examining these factors is valuable, as it provides a level of guidance on addressing the root of the problem, yet the multiplicity of these potential causes makes analysis difficult. Still, dividing the situation into three spheres can anchor the discussion, these being the childs inherent capabilities, classroom environment, and family environment. The elephant in the room when talking about lower grades is intellectual ability. Its certainly possible that a child would score lower on a test simply because he or she lacks academic prowess. Robert Weissberg outlines in his essay, Critically Thinking about Critical Thinking, that, based on IQ, he believes critical thinking should not be taught in any capacity, as smart students already excell in critical thinking and less talented students can not be taught a cognitive process. This point of view fails to take into account that IQ is a very selective and narrow measure of ability. Children in poverty may a completely different set of smarts that

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Comment [LFR9]: This is a really important thing to acknowledge and I think you addressed it beautifully. Formatted: Font: (Default) Times New Roman

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Stewart 6 simply need translating into academic context. DeVol makes a good point, when he states that all institutions run on middle class norms, definitely includ ing the education system. Its not hard to imagine that tests like the SAT and ACT are all built on middle-class culture, and workingclass, welfare, or homeless children may be at the least alienated from and at the most repelled by academics as a result of the cultural barrier. Instead of dismissing an entire demographic of low-scoring, disadvantaged youth, explanations involving environmental factors should be pursued. A second point of view bases a students exposure to critical thinking on the classroom environment. As discussed above, for critical thinking to be intergrated into a childs education, engaging activities that inspire reflection and analysis are crucial. In a study that examined the effects of learning environment on the ability to the critically, it was found that environments offering clear and organized classroom instruction and reflective learning experiences were most conducive to critical thought. (Pascarella, Wang and Trolian) This is congruent with most other sources, and it is logical that cognitive, meta-cognitive, and resource management skills are only developed in a straightforward and challenging learning environment that demands these skills of its students. The fact that school funding is largely dependent on the income of the families in attendance gives rise to this environmental factor. If a school can not afford to sustain anything close to an ideal classroom atmosphere, it makes sense that lowincome students critical thinking skills will suffer as a result. A final, and equally plausible factor is the home environment. As background is one of the greatest predictors of success, it is easy to see how household atmosphere might influence success. Several studies have focused on the differences in language among different socioeconomic classes. In his article, the 32-Million Word Gap, David Shenk discusses how

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Stewart 7 welfare children are exposed to 32-million less words than upper-class children, and how this among other factors contributes to a childs success. DeVols work expands on this, describing how one-word commands are much more prevalant in welfare homes, while parents in middleand upper-class homes tend to talk in paragraphs. This gap in language alone may account for multiple elements of the critical thinking gap. Firstly, if children are not exposed to new words and ideas, they will not develop the critical thinking skills from using context to extrapolate meaning, leaving them behind their upper-class peers at a young age. Secondly, if by the time they enter school children have smaller vocabularies than their peers, they are forced to spend their academic energy on catching up to the rest of the class, giving them little time to analyze, deduce, and synthesize.. Everyday conversations, something that initially seems so removed from the issue at hand, can have an enormous role in the mental development of a child. Therefore, this gap in critical thought could very likely start before a child even enters the school system. To children of all ages and backgrounds, critical thinking is crucial to academic development and beyond for many reasons. Cognition, meta-cognition, and resource management are all skills necessary for succeeding both in education and in the workplace. The fact that socioeconomic factors have the potential to slow a childs development of critical thought strategies should be both unnerving and motivating. Critical thinking is a necessity in the enlightened age, yet the barriers of class can stop a child from taking an active role in the beauty that is education. Finding a way to mitigate the effects of socioeconomic divides should be a priority for families, schools, community members, and policy makers worldwide. Madeleine,

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Stewart 8 This is an outstanding essay where you raise some very well thought-out and well-supported points. It would really benefit from a more clear articulation of its trajectory at the outset and some proofreading, but you are in great shape for the portfolio. Works Cited Burkhalter, Nancy and Maganat R. Shegebayev. "Critical Thinking as Culture: Teaching PostSoviet Teachers in Kazakhstan." International Review of Education 58.1 (2012): 55-72. DeVol, Philip E. "Using the Hidden Rules of Class to Create Sustainable Communities." aha! Process, Inc., 2004. Kaya, Sibel and Zeynel Kablan. "ASSESSING THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN LEARNING STRATEGIES AND SCIENCE ACHIEVEMENT AT THE PRIMARY SCHOOL LEVEL." Journal of Baltic Science Education 12.4 (2013): 525-534. Pascarella, Ernest, et al. "How the instructional and learning environments of liberal arts colleges enhance cognitive development." Higher Education 66.5 (2013): 569-583. Shenk, David. "The 32-Million Word Gap." The Atlantic 9 March 2010. Weissberg, Robert. "Critically Thinking about Critical Thinking." Academic Questions 26.3 (2013): 317-328.

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