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Integrating Critical Thinking into Integrated Skills Learning

The importance of critical thinking for today's students to strive in their future makes an English integrated skills classroom should not only facilitate students to communicate in English but also to think critically, and the best way to achieve the aim is by incorporating critical thinking into language skills learning.
William Butler Yeats, the Irish poet who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923, once said, "Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire’. This quote aptly describes the true purpose of education, i.e. to cultivate and develop students’ critical thinking disposition, not merely to instruct them to accumulate a large number of facts (knowledge). Critical thinking, in addition to knowledge and basic skills, is crucially necessary to thrive in the 21st century. Therefore, today’s students should be equipped with critical thinking skills through the learning process. To achieve it, rather than merely to let the students obtain and memorize, facts, information, concepts, and skills, learning activities should also be used as the contexts, materials, and opportunities for thinking skills cultivation. The importance of critical thinking makes an English integrated skills classroom should not only enable students to communicate in English but also to think critically, and it could be done best by incorporating critical thinking skills into the learning process. This essay describes how to integrate critical thinking, as represented by Bloom’s taxonomy, into EFL integrated skills learning. It begins with a brief introduction to Bloom’s taxonomy. After that, the integration of each Bloom’s six classes of thinking into the learning process is depicted. 

Bloom’s taxonomy is a framework for developing six levels of cognitive skills representing the main elements of critical thinking through proper questioning and activities. The six levels of thinking—remember, understand, apply, analyze, evaluate, and create—are presented in a hierarchical order that designates degrees of difficulties. Thus, the most basic level, i.e. remembering is the easiest (it requires the least amount of cognitive rigor) and should normally be mastered before the next one can take place. It concerns with students recalling key information. Understanding is about students demonstrating an understanding of the information remembered by explaining, identifying, summarizing, or discussing the lesson’s contents. Applying concerns with how students can take the knowledge they had understood and apply it to different or new situations. Evaluating concern with making an accurate assessment or judging the value of ideas or materials. This thinking is shown by students’ ability to critique, justify, or conclude phenomena related to the lesson. Creating is the final goal of the students' learning journey.  At this level, students show what they have learned by creating something new, either tangible or conceptual.

Remembering is incorporated best into EFL integrated skills by assigning students to undergo new experiences by actively studying the material of a new lesson (a book chapter or module, and figures, images, or posters, or videos related to the lesson. During this activity, they make notes of the main ideas or points difficult to understand and ask themselves relevant questions whose answers should be found by themselves. If, for instance, the topic of the new lesson is the Simple Past Tense, each student asks him/herself thought-provoking questions like, “Why are the verb in negative and interrogative sentences return to the infinitive form?” or “Why are some V2 ended with ‘-ed’ and some others with ‘-ied’?”. Finishing studying the materials, the students summarize the lesson. Through these activities and self-questioning, students employ various cognitive processes to interact with the lesson content. These thinking skills help them to create new meaningful experiences, and these experiences enable them to construct knowledge about the materials and improve their thinking skills at the same time. No wonder if at the end of this stage the students can be expected to describe, define, recall, or reproduce the structure and the uses of Simple Past Tense. 

Understanding is facilitated through sharing each student’s recollection of the information they have just studied. This activity could be implemented best through collaborative learning in small groups. In his group, each student shares the knowledge she/he has remembered by discussing it with his/her peers. In the discussion, they should be encouraged to use discussion-provoking questions, like "What are the benefits of mastering the Simple Past tense?” or “How could we systematically study irregular past tense verbs?” Each group can also present the results of their discussion to the whole class. Through these sharing activities, the students confirm, enrich and reconstruct their own knowledge,  develop their thinking skills and enable them to explain, identify, summarize, or discuss the concepts of the Simple Past Tense. Since they learn in a collaborative way, they also practice their listening and speaking skills.

To integrate the third level of thinking, applying, into integrated learning, assign the students to complete a sentence in Simple Past tense in as many ways as possible which they should edit and revise together. For instance, ask them to complete “He and his family left America and decided to live in Bali …” in as many ways as they can. Assigning them to paraphrase parts of dialog in a short story into a paragraph in Simple Past Tense, or vice versa. Such activities allow the students to apply Simple Past Tense rules in new situations and find solutions to any errors they committed. Just like in the previous groups learning activities, the activities at this stage facilitate every student to employ their thinking skills and develop their integrated skills and knowledge of Simple Past Tense as well.

Analyzing could be incorporated into integrated skills learning by assigning the students to work in groups to correct erroneous sentences or rearrange jumbled sentences. These activities allow students to investigate the sentence components (the subject, predicate, object, etc.) and their connections. While they are negotiating in correcting or rearranging the sentences, they employ their listening and speaking skills. Besides strengthening their knowledge of Simple Past Tense and increasing their analytical thinking ability, such activities promote their thinking skills and integrated skills.

Evaluating could be incorporated into integrated skills learning by asking the students to work in groups and peer-assess each other work. Ask every student to write 10 sentences or a paragraph using Simple Past Tense. Then, every work is peer-assessed by other group members. By so doing, the students do not only practice to write their own sentences but also critique, justify, or conclude that a sentence is grammatically correct and contextually effective. Besides strengthening their knowledge of Simple Past Tense and increasing their evaluating thinking ability, such activity promote their thinking skills and integrated skills.

Creating is the final goal of the students' learning journey.  At this level, students show what they have learned by creating something new, either tangible or conceptual. For instance, they should be able to compose or generate effective sentences or a paragraph in Simple Past Tense to express their ideas or feelings or communicate their past experiences. At this stage, assigning students to devise models, posters, or other learning aids to learn and teach Simple Past Tense which then they demonstrate in front of the whole class is also worth trying. Such activities promote creating ability, increase their mastery of Simple Past Tense, and boost their communication skills.

Due to the importance of critical thinking for today's students to strive in their future, an English integrated skills classroom should not only facilitate students to communicate in English but also to think critically. As shown in the discussion above, incorporating critical thinking (represented by Bloom’s six cognitive rigor levels) into the integrated skills learning process is very effective to achieve the aim. The integration is actualized by asking the students to actively engage in activities and employ proper questioning in a cooperative learning environment. The activities and questions included in the discussion are far from being complete. They are meant only to demonstrate how to integrate critical thinking into English classrooms. Some of them may be suitable to use certain types of lessons, some may be applicable only at secondary schools and some others may be proper only at students at tertiary education. The literature offers many activities and thought-provoking questions teachers can select ones that work best for their students. By integrating critical thinking into every learning process, returning home the students will never again reflect, "What did I learn about today?", but they will contemplate, "What a wonderful experience!" or "Our conclusion this morning is really inspirational.” 


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