UHCL The Signal
The official student newspaper of the University of Houston-Clear Lake

UHCL author’s books teach teachers critical-thinking skills


University Press Release

Two books co-authored by a University of Houston-Clear Lake philosopher instruct educators on how to teach critical-thinking skills to students from elementary through high school – skills that the authors note have been long subordinated in public education.

“Much of what we teach in the various school disciplines is formatted for students to recognize answers on standardized objective tests. This does not teach anyone how to reason a path further away from current conventionally held errors,” writes UHCL Professor Paul A. Wagner and his co-authors in “Focus on Thinking: Engaging Educators in Higher-Order Thinking.” Wagner is a professor of philosophy in the College of Human Sciences and Humanities and a professor of leadership and educational policy in the College of Education.

“The world is waiting to be explored. There will be theories and observations that pave the way to greater understanding. But it is reasoning, and ever-better well-reasoned experimentation, that leads to better schemata for understanding than those employed in the past.”

“Focus on Thinking” addresses subjects including “speculative wonderment, reflection, understanding, truth seeking, and finally planning and decision making. Adolescents have to do more than understand the world better; they need to plan for their role in it as well,” the authors say.

The book includes chapters of scripted exercises that teachers can use to engage students in better thinking practices at different age levels. Appendices offer teachers further resources, including a sizable appendix on informal logic and fallacies. “The typical middle and secondary school teacher may have had no training in formal thinking practices, and these benchmarks of good thinking strategies and red flags alerting fallacious reasoning may prove invaluable.”

Wagner collaborated on this book and a companion edition, “Thinking Beyond the Test: Strategies for Re-Introducing Higher-Level Thinking Skills,” with educational psychologists Daphne D. Johnson and Daniel Fasko Jr., along with Frank Fair, editor of the philosophy journal Inquiry. Johnson and Fair are on the faculty of Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas. Fasko is at Bowling Green State University in Kentucky.

While “Thinking Beyond” was written primarily for teachers, Wagner and collaborators say parents may also find it useful in preparing their children for the challenges of learning – and life.

“This book reinforces the idea that there are dispositions that must be developed for students to enter fully into the world of the ‘Great Conversation of Humankind’,” the authors say.

“Thinking Beyond” devotes two chapters to a review of learning theory. Foremost, the authors describe the book as a “toolbox of strategies and scripts that a teacher can learn to use at those teachable moments that still arise in classrooms.”

The book is endorsed by renowned philosopher and critical thinking expert Michael Scriven, former president of the American Educational Research Association, American Evaluation Association, Association of Informal Logic and Critical Thinking, and the American Philosophical Association.

Tracing roots to Socratic teaching practices, the U.S. National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking defines critical thinking as the “intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.”

Both books are available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites in print and digital formats.