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Feng Chia Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences
pp.287-317, No.19, Dec. 2009
College of Humanities and Social Sciences
Feng Chia University
Developing Critical Thinking through
Chi-An Tung* Shu-Ying Chang**
Developing critical thinking skills and critical thinking disposition in college
students has been set as a primary goal in higher education for decades. Recently it
has become more urgent in implementing this goal to enhance students’ employability
in the fast-changing workplace. This study investigated the efficacy of developing
critical thinking through literature reading. A few strategies are incorporated into the
course design: reading comprehension pop quizzes, learning log, group presentations,
guided in-class discussion with Socratic questioning skills and individual
essay-question reports. Students took the pretest and posttest (California Critical
Thinking Skills Test) and a self-assessed questionnaire and then scheduled an
individual interview with the teacher. Finally, a few findings were located: 1)
literature reading helped those who scored low in the pretest improve their overall
critical thinking skills, particularly those in analysis; 2) students’ English proficiency
did not relate to their performance in both the pretest and posttest; 3)some students
were assertive they tended to show more disposition toward critical thinking than ever
but this needs a follow-up longitudinal study with a standardized measure to assess
the efficacy in this respect; 4) Students found guided in-class discussion more
effective than other student-directed activities in developing critical thinking.
Keywords: critical thinking, literature reading, teaching strategies, EFL teaching
* Lecturer, Language Center, Feng Chia University.
**Lecturer, Language Center, Feng Chia University.
288 逢甲人文社會學報第 19 期
Since the 1990s, developing critical thinking skills and critical disposition in
undergraduate students has been set as a primary goal in higher education. In hope
that students can function well within society, evaluate the validity of information
available, make better personal, business or leadership decisions, scholars and
educators (Braun, 2004; Halpern, 1998; Kegan, 1994; Kalyczynski, 2001)1 have
advocated that developing critical thinking skills are essential to help students “know
how to learn and how to think clearly” (Halpern, 1998, p. 450)2 and “make
purposeful judgments about what to believe or what to do” (Facione, Sanchez,
Facione, & Gainen, 1995, p. 3).3 It is believed that with good critical thinking ability,
college graduates can be better prepared to compete and exercise their rights and
responsibilities of citizenship in a global community.
The importance of this belief has been re-emphasized recently due to the change
of workforce and the demands of the global workplace. In an Association of
American College and Universities (AACU) report (2005),4 as few as 6% of college
graduates were considered proficient in critical thinking. Three years later, in a survey
conducted on behalf of AACU (2008)5 on “How Should College Assess And
Improve Student Learning?” most employers stated that the majority of college
graduates were not prepared in the key areas such as critical thinking, writing,
self-direction and global knowledge which are most in need of improvement if
promotion is desired. Though critical thinking has been listed as a core area to be
cultivated and assessed in higher education for decades, critical thinking instruction
1 Braun, N. M. “Critical Thinking in the Business Curriculum,” Journal of Education for Business,
Vol. 79 (2004), pp.232-236; Halpern, D. “Teaching Critical Thinking for Transfer across Domains:
Dispositions, Skills, Structure Training, and Metacognitive Monitoring,” American Psychologist, Vol.
53 (1998), pp. 449-455; Kegan, R. In Over Our Heads: The Mental Demands of Modern Life.
Harvard University Press: Cambridge, 1994; Klaczynski, P. A. “Framing Effects on Adolescent Task
Representations, Analytic and Heuristic Processing, and Decision Making: Implications for the
Normative/descriptive Gap,” Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, Vol. 22 (2001), pp.
2 Halpern, D., op. cit. (1998).
3 Facione, P. A., Sanchez, (Giancarlo) C. A., Facione, N. C., & Gainen, J. “The Disposition toward
Critical Thinking,” Journal of General Education, Vol. 44, No. 1 (1995), pp. 1-25.
4 Association of American Colleges and Universities. Liberal Education Outcomes: A Preliminary
Report on Student Achievement in College. Washington, DC: AAC&U, 2005.
5 Association of American Colleges and Universities. How Should Colleges Assess and Improve
Student Learning? Employers' Views on the Accountability Challenge. Washington, DC: Peter D.
Hart Research Associates, 2008.
Developing Critical Thinking through Literature Reading 289
still needs to be carried out more systematically and explicitly in college classrooms
so that the students’ employability can be enhanced.
Some scholars have argued the validity of teaching critical thinking skills in an
ESL/EFL context (Atkinson, 1997; Davison, 1998; Day, 2003; Kubota, 1999).6
However, “the world is flat” as Thomas L. Friedman proclaimed in one of his
bestsellers (2005).7 Regional or cultural boundaries have been dismantled due to the
accelerating information exchanges and economic interactions in the global
community. Any global citizen is obliged to cope with the international trends and
prepare himself/herself with skills that help him/her learn how to learn. “Though there
are certain aspects of critical thinking that may be ‘foreign’ in non-Western context, if
students are not exposed to these skills, they will be denied the opportunities to
complete [compete] in the global community” (Long, 2003, p. 230).8 For Taiwanese
undergraduates, it is particularly true. In the past two decades, some scholars and
educators have highlighted the importance of critical thinking instruction. Some
made efforts to collaborate critical thinking training in general courses or
content-based courses in primary and secondary education curricula (葉, 1991; 張,
1992; 陳, 1995; 郭, 2002; Chiodo & Tsai, 1997; Yang & Chung, 2009).9 Recently
some have implemented critical thinking pedagogy in higher education (崔, 2005;
Chang, 2006; Fang et al, 2008; Huang & Lee, 2004; Liaw, 2007; Yang, Newby & Bill,
2005).10 But it is found that most undergraduates are still not proficient in critical
6 Atkiinson, D. “A Critical Approach to Critical Thinking in TESOL,” TESOL Quarterly, No. 31
(1997), pp. 71-94; Davidson, B. “Critical Thinking Faces the Challenge of Japan,” Inquiry, Vol. 14,
No. 3 (1998), pp. 41-53; Day, R. “Teaching Critical Thinking and Discussion,” The Language
Teacher, Vo. No. 7 (2003), pp. 25-27; Kubota, R. “Japanese Culture Constructed by Discourse:
Implications for Applied Linguistics Research and ELT,” TESOL Quarterly, Vol. 33 (1999), pp.
7 Friedman, T. The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century. New York, NY: Farrar,
Straus & Giroux, 2005.
8 Long, C. J. “Teaching Critical Thinking in Asian EFL Contexts: Theoretical Issues and Practical
Applications,” Proceedings of the 8th Conference of Pan-Pacific Association of Applied Linguistics,
9 葉玉珠， <我國中小學學生批判思考及其相關因素之研究>， 國立政治大學教育研究所碩士論
文,，1991 年; 張玉成， <國小語文科實施批判思考教學之實驗研究>， 台北師院學報，第 5
卷，1992 年; 陳錦蓮， <國小兒童哲學方案－批判思考教學之實驗成效>， 台北市立師範學
院初等教育系碩士論文，1995 年; 郭麗珠， <國小社會科實施批判思考教學之實驗研究>，國
立台北師範學院課程與教學研究所碩士論文，2002 年; Chiodo, J. J. & Tsai, M. H. “Secondary
School Teachers’ Perspectives of Teaching Critical Thinking in Social Studies in the Republic of
China,” Journal of Social Studies Research, Fall, 1997; Yang, S. C., & Chung, T. Y. “Experimental
Study of Teaching Critical Thinking in Civic Education in Taiwanese Junior High School,” British
Journal of Educational Psychology, 2009.
10崔正芳， <大學生英語學習與批判思考能力之相關研究: 問題初探>，NSC 93-2411-H-004-
043，2005 年; Chang, C. F. A Case Study of Taiwanese College Students’ Participation Behaviors
290 逢甲人文社會學報第 19 期
thinking unless they are provided with a secured learning environment (Chau, et al,
2001),11 given more time to think (Yeh, 2004),12 or offered with more modeling,
practicing and reinforcement (Yang & Chou, 2008).13
The causes for such a problem are multiple and complex: 1) Students’ prior
learning habits and experiences are mostly reproduction-oriented while they were
rarely given the chances to question, explain, or evaluate the “knowledge” instructed
in the classroom; 2) the teaching faculty in the primary and secondary education
received little guidance or assistance regarding critical thinking instruction and
furthermore, their teaching load and time constraint deprive them of the chance to
embed critical thinking into curricula (Chen, 1989; Chiodo & Tsai, 1995, 1997);14 3)
students are more attuned to a collectivist society where individuality in thought and
action is not valued as that much as in a western society (Long, 2003; McBride, Xiang,
Wittenburg & Shen, 2002).15 Compared with their western counterparts, Taiwanese
students are less expressive, less inquisitive, less confident and less mature in seeking
truth. Generally speaking, they are immature in critical thinking.
Therefore, how to reverse these students’ learning habits and sets of minds by
helping them develop critical thinking skills and nurture disposition toward critical
and Critical Thinking in Both Face-to-face and Computer-mediated Communication Modes.
NSC93-2411-H-009-02 (2006); Fang, R. J., Lin, C. C., Yang, H. J. H., Lee, C. J., Tsai, H. L., & Tsai,
T.S. “A Study to Increase the Critical Thinking and Problem Solving Abilities by Web-based
Learning,” Proceedings of the 8th WSEAS International Conference on Multimedia Systems and
Signal Processing, 2008; Huang, N. & Lee, D. “A Discourse Analysis of Asynchronous Discussion
Board on Students Critical Thinking,” Proceedings of World Conference on E-Learning in Corporate,
Government, Healthcare, and Higher Education 2004, pp. 708-713; Liaw, M. L. “Content-Based
Reading and Writing for Critical Thinking Skills in EFL Context,” English Teaching and Learning,
Vol. 31, No. 2 (2007), pp. 45-87; Yang, Y. T., Newby, T. J., & Bill, R. L. “Using Socratic
Questioning to Promote Critical Thinking Skills Through Asynchronous Discussion Forums in
Distance Learning Environments,” The American Journal of Distance Education, Vol. 19, No. 3
(2005), pp. 163-181.
11Chau, J. P. C., Chang, A. M., Lee, I. F. K., Ip, W. Y., Lee, D. T. F. & Wootton, Y. “Effects of Using
Videotaped Vignettes on Enhancing Students’ Critical Thinking Ability in a Baccalaureate Nursing
Programme,” Journal of Advanced Nursing, Vo. 36, No. 1 (2001), pp. 112-119.
12Yeh, Y. C. “Nurturing Reflective Teaching during Critical Thinking Instruction in Computer
Stimulation Program,” Computers and Education, Vol.42, No. 2 (2004), PP. 181-194.
13Yang, Y. T. & Chou, H. A. “Beyond Critical Thinking Skills: Investigating the Relationship between
Critical Thinking Skills and Dispositions through Different Online Instructional Strategies,” British
Journal of Educational Technology, Vol. 39 (2008), pp. 668-784.
14Chen, L. H. “The Soul-searching of Critical Thinking Teaching in Elementary School Social
Studies,” Contempora Education, Vol. 15 (1989), pp. 121-135; Chiodo, J. J. & Tsai, M. H.
“Taiwanese Students in American Universities: Are They Ready for Critical Thinking?” College
Student Journal, Vol. 29, No. 3 (1995), pp. 374-382; Chiodo, J. J. & Tsai, M. H., op. cit. (1997).
15Long, C. J. op. cit. (2003); McBride, R. E., Xiang, R., Wittenburg, D. & Shen, J. “An Analysis of
Preservice Teachers’ Disposition toward Critical Thinking: A Cross-cultural Perspective,”
Asian-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, Vol. 30 (2002), pp. 131-140.
Developing Critical Thinking through Literature Reading 291
thinking is of great importance. This study aims to embed critical thinking to a
literature introduction course to locate a possible solution to this problem.
Why Critical Thinking? Why Literature Reading?
Literature-based reading has an important effect on the development of
critical thinking. A reader must recognize patterns within text, fit details
into these patterns, then relate them to other texts and remembered
experiences. (Critical Thinking and Literature-based Reading, 1997, p.
Literature reading is eminently congenial to the essential traits of critical thinking
for the following reasons. First, the mental process of literature reading requires
critical thinking skills. Literature reading is a complex process that requires readers
to recall, retrieve and reflect on their prior experiences or memories to construct
meanings of the text. While they are doing so, they need to demonstrate the
following capacities: to differentiate facts from opinions; to understand the literal or
implied meanings and the narrator’s tone; to locate details related to the issues
discussed; to find out the causal relationship or the connections between the events or
actions; to detect an inferential relationship from the details observed; to be perceptive
of multiple points of views; to make moral reasoning and fair-grounded judgments;
and most of all, to apply what they have learned from this process to other domains or
the real world. In a sense, readers are exercising what the CT experts termed
“explanation,” “analysis,” “synthesis,” “argumentation,” “interpretation,”
“evaluation,” “problem-solving,” “inference” “logical reasoning,” and “application”
(Brunt, 2005; Facione, 2007; Halpern, 1998; Lazere, 1987).17 All these abilities, in
sum, are critical thinking skills. That is why Lazere argued that “literature…is the
single academic discipline that can come closest to encompassing the full range of
mental traits currently considered to comprise critical thinking” (1987, p. 3).18
16Critical Thinking and Literature-Based Reading. Report. Madison, WI: The Institute for Academic
17Brunt, B. A. “Critical Thinking in Nursing: An Integrated Review,” Journal of Continuing Education
in Nursing, Vol. 36 (2005), pp. 60-67; Facione, P. A. Critical Thinking: What It Is and Why It Counts.
Milbrae, CA: The California Academic Press, 2007; Halpern, D, op, cit. (1998); Lazere, D. “Critical
Thinking in College English Studies,” ERIC Digest. ED 284275, 1987.
18Lazere, D., op. cit., (1987).
292 逢甲人文社會學報第 19 期
Second, the subject matter, the setting and the language of a literary work
provide readers with a variety of real-world scenarios to construct meanings of self
and life incrementally. A piece of literature is a mirror of life and a world
reconstructed. By investigating into its plot, thematic development, and the
interactions of the characters with others and the milieu, readers are exposed to
multiple points of view and thus compelled to think and rethink their own ideas and
actions. Hopefully, if they are successful readers, they will see their limitations and
weaknesses and they will make efforts to change. It is more than just assisting
readers in solving problems and developing critical thinking skills, a good literary
work aims to help readers learn to change and be better through challenging a text. If
this experience can be applied to other fields of training, readers (undergraduates in
this case) can gradually achieve self-direction and nurture such affective disposition
as open-mindedness, self-confidence, prudence and truth-seeking which are essential
to develop critical thinking (Facione, 1992).19
II. The Present Study
This study focuses on the following research questions: 1) Can reading literature
help undergraduates cultivate critical thinking skills? 2) Is students’ English
proficiency related to their acquisition of critical thinking skills? 3) Can reading
literature help them develop dispositions for critical thinking? 4) What kind of
teaching/learning activities is the most beneficial in helping students develop critical
In Taiwan, in a literature class for non-English majors, it is typical to observe the
following phenomena: 1) majority of the students aim at improving their reading
proficiency while they sit passively and read only the assignments; 2) most students
were hardly verbal or expressive in response to the critical questions brought up by
the teacher; 3) most students are anxious to confirm their understanding of “what
happened” instead of questioning “why or how it happened?” In a sense, their minds
are mostly processing Bloom’s bottom two low-order thinking skills
19Facione, P. A. & Facione, N. C. The CCTDI: A Disposition Inventory. Milbrae, CA: The California
Academic Press, 1992.
Developing Critical Thinking through Literature Reading 293
(1956)20—knowledge and comprehension—as they fail to reflect and examine their
beliefs and actions. To initiate them into higher-order thinking skills and to mitigate
the “boredom” (Schmit, 2002)21 or the “distress” (Caine and Caine, 1991)22 that
interferes with thought, a few strategies are incorporated into the course design: 1)
reading comprehension pop quizzes to verify their understanding of the text; 2)
learning log to detect their weaknesses in logical reasoning; 3) group presentations to
enhance their abilities in synthesis, organization, communication and cooperation; 4)
guided in-class discussion with Socratic questioning skills to provoke their critical
thinking; and 5) individual essay-question reports to promote deductive or inductive
reasoning and organization.
B. Participants, setting and procedure
Participants in this study were 12 non-English majors23 (10 females and 2 males)
who were enrolled in “Honors Program: Introduction to Literature” at a private
university in central Taiwan. These students had passed a minimum English
proficiency requirement –TOEIC Bridge 140-- to get enrolled in the English Honors
Program. This 18-week course was an elective with 2 hours/per week instruction
and discussion covering three genres: fiction, poetry and drama. Critical thinking
was not particularly or separately taught in class but was briefly introduced in the first
meeting and embedded in literature reading and discussion in the following sessions.
Then students were scheduled to take the Chinese version of California Critical
Thinking Skills Test (CCTST)24 outside the class before the 2nd meeting.
20Bloom, B., Englehart, M, Furst, E., Hill,W. & Krahtwohl, D. Taxonomy of Educational Objectives:
The Classification of Educational Goals. Handbook 1: Cognitive Domain. New York: Longmans
21Schmit, J. S. “Practicing Critical Thinking through Inquiry into Literature,” in J. Schmit (Ed.),
Inquiry and the Literary Text: Constructing Discussions in the English Classroom. Classroom
Practices in Teaching English, Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English, 2002, pp.
22Caine, R. N. & Caine, G. Making Connections: Teaching and Human Brain. Alexandria, VA: ASCD,
23Originally there were 15 students enrolled in this course. But 2 students dropped before the
midterm and 1, due to personal reason, missed the second half of the course. Therefore only 12
students were engaged in this study.
24The CCTST is a standardized test comprising 34 multiple-choice questions. It measures an
individual’s overall critical thinking ability and his/her critical thinking skills in analysis, evaluation,
inference, deductive reasoning and inductive reasoning. The students took the Chinese version to
avoid any confusion or ambiguity in meanings that may incur due to language problem.
294 逢甲人文社會學報第 19 期
For each reading assignment, students were required to answer all the questions
listed in the learning log25 before they walked into the classroom for lecture and
discussion. Due to the differences in their levels of English language proficiency,
students were allowed to use mapping or just key words with causal links to explain
their ideas or observations in the learning log. After their submission of the learning
log sheets, they were required to take a 5-minute quiz (10 T/F or multiple-choice
questions) on the assignment before the lecture or discussion started. This was to
ensure their basic understanding of the content was correct and they had fulfilled their
reading obligation. Then about 10-15 minutes were spent in tackling the language
problems—sometimes grammatical, sometimes syntactical, but most of the time
Then to initiate a discussion, a series of questions were given: “Did you like the
story?” “What did you think this story is about?” “Which part of the story perplexed
or impressed you the most?” After pooling their comments on the story, Socratic
questioning as suggested by Paul and Elder (2007; 2008)26 was adopted to heighten
the depth and breadth of their answers or to solicit opposing points of views. For
example, “What does it mean when Y said ____ in the story/play?” “How did you
come up with the ideas/observations?” “Could you elaborate it with more details?”
“Do you agree with X’s choices or decisions in the story/play?” and “What points of
views are relevant to this issue?” During the process, the teacher tried to ensure an
amiable atmosphere without time constraint so that peer or teacher vs student
interactions can be more active and productive. Besides, to award students’ sharing
their thoughts, a sticker was awarded for any comments, questions or answers that
inspired peers to think critically. The top five sticker-earners would be awarded
extra 3 points in their final grades.
A month later when they were more familiar with one another, they grouped
themselves into four and chose the scheduled dates for group presentations: one
scheduled after midterm exam and the other scheduled near the end of the semester.
In this way, each group would have at least 4-6 weeks to prepare for the presentations.
Each group needed to use brainstorming, mind-mapping to finalize a topic, to locate
25See Appendix A for questions covered in the learning log. The first 3 parts of the learning log
focused on testing their “explanation,” “analysis,” “synthesis,” “interpretation,” and “inference”
abilities. In the 4th part, they are welcome to bring up any perplexing questions regarding the
language, text, elements of literature, themes or cultural issues.
26Paul, R. & Elder, L. “Critical Thinking: The Art of Socratic Questioning,” Journal of Developmental
Education. Vol. 31, No. 1 (2007), pp. 36-37; Paul, R. & Elder, L. “Critical thinking: The Art of
Socratic Questioning, Part III,” Journal of Developmental Education. Vol. 31, No. 3 (2008), pp.
Developing Critical Thinking through Literature Reading 295
relevant details to support the topic, and to cross-exam its rationale. Since these
students were non-English majors, they were required to schedule at least two
conferences with the teacher before the presentation. In this way, the content and the
organization of the presentation could be fairly unified, supported and coherent. All
the members were obliged to rehearse the presentation together so that each one was
familiar with the content overall, not just partially. Besides, on the day of
presentation, all the members needed to present themselves in front of the class: some
were in charge of the opening, some in explaining the ideas, some in conclusion and
some in Q & A. In this way, the quality of their team work could be better assessed.
During the semester, students were required to write three essay-question reports
on fiction, poetry and drama. They could choose any two study questions assigned
for each literary work to write a report but the questions had to be pertinent to one
genre. In these reports, teacher would focus on individual student’s critical thinking
ability and the construct of meanings. Sentence-level errors would be ignored.
Students were encouraged to consult the teacher for any language problems when
drafting the reports. Once the reports were graded, commented and returned,
students could rewrite or revise the reports to make the ideas more explicit, supported
or better organized. Then they could re-submit the reports within one week upon
receipt of the comments. If they felt they could present their thoughts better in the
third or fourth rewrites, they were free to do so but had to abide by the
re-submission-in-one-week policy. This was in hope that students could have more
opportunities to practice and reinforce their critical thinking and nurture their critical
In the last meeting, students took a questionnaire27 to give comments on the
teaching strategies and self-assess their learning performance. Students also took the
CCTST posttest but outside the class. Afterwards, students’ answer cards for the
pretest and posttest were mailed to California Academic Press, the publisher of
CCTST, for data analysis. One month later when the results were sent back, the
teacher scheduled individual interviews with students to let them know the results and
their strengths and weaknesses in critical thinking.
27See Appendix B. Therefore only 12 students took the questionnaire and the CCTST posttest.
296 逢甲人文社會學報第 19 期
This study produced several findings. First, to those who scored low in CCTST
pretest,28 their overall critical thinking and their “analysis” ability particularly made
significant improvement after the treatment. Matched-pairs t-tests were performed
on the students’ CCTST pretest and posttest. As displayed in Table 1, after the
treatment, the low-score achievers made significant improvement in overall score of
CCTST and also in the sub-score of “analysis.” However, the high-score achievers
failed to show any significant progress in overall score of CCTST or any sub-score (as
shown in Table 2). Nevertheless, in the students’ self-assessment questionnaire,29
when answering the sub-questions of Q25, disregard the difference in their CCTST
scores, students thought they made the most improvement in “analysis” than other
critical thinking skills (Table 3).
Table 1. Matched-pairs t-test on CCTST pretest and posttest (Low-score achievers)
Mean s. d. t df p
Total -2.29 2.43 -2.489 6 .047**
Analysis -1.00 1.00 -2.646 6 .038**
Evaluation -.43 1.99 -.570 6 .589
Inference -.86 1.07 -2.121 6 .078
reasoning -.71 1.50 -1.263 6 .253
reasoning -.71 1.80 -1.050 6 .334
P-values are significant at the 0.05 level (2-tailed).
Table 2. Matched-pairs t-test on CCTST pretest and posttest (High-score achievers)
Mean s. d. t df p
Total 2.60 2.97 1.960 4 .122
28In the CCTST pretest, it was found there were two groups whose score percentiles were in two
extremes. One group (7 students) ranged from PR 42-55 while the other (5 students) ranged from
PR 85-90 according to the Percentiles for Delphi Sub-scales provided by California Academic Press.
The Percentiles is based on samples taken from 781 American college students in 1989-90. The
low-score achievers here refer to those who fell in the first group.
29In the questionnaire, students were to mark a 1-10 scale to show their levels of satisfaction or
agreement with the given statements. To process data analysis, the 1-10 scale was converted to
different scores as shown in Appendix C.
Developing Critical Thinking through Literature Reading 297
Analysis .60 .89 1.500 4 .208
Evaluation 1.20 1.92 1.395 4 .235
Inference .80 1.30 1.372 4 .242
reasoning .80 .84 2.138 4 .099
reasoning 1.20 1.92 1.395 4 .235
P-values are significant at the 0.05 level (2-tailed).
Table 3. Level of Improvement Made in Critical Thinking Skills
Questions Total Mean s.d. Min. Max.
c25.3 analysis 512.7 46.61 24.07 5.3 75
c25.2 deductive reasoning 492.6 44.78 26.97 5.3 100
c25.1inductive reasoning 433.7 39.43 28.23 5.3 100
c25.5 evaluation 402 36.55 27.56 5.3 75
c25.4 inference 393.8 35.80 24.34 5.3 75
To further investigate whether their English proficiency was related to their
critical thinking skills, Pearson Correlation was run to see the correlation between
their TOEIC-bridge scores and their CCTST pretest or posttest scores. It was found
that students’ language proficiency was not related to the acquisition of their critical
thinking skills. As shown in Table 4,30 there was no significant correlation between
their TOEIC-bridge and their CCTST posttest or between their TOEIC-bridge and
Table 4. Pearson Correlation: TOEIC-bridge and CCTST Pretest and Posttest
TOEIC CCTST CCTST
TOEIC Pearson Correlation 1.000 -0.005 .214
Sig (2-tailed) . .989 .528
No. 11 11 11
CCTST posttest Pearson Correlation -0.005 1.000 .212
Sig (2-tailed) .989 . .532
No. 11 11 11
CCTST pretest Pearson Correlation .214 .212 1.000
Sig (2-tailed) .528 .532 .
No. 11 11 11
30Among the 12 students, 11 scored from 144 to 168 in the TOEIC-bridge test. One student got a test
waiver because she scored 520 on TOFEL-ITP so she was not included in Pearson Correlation.
298 逢甲人文社會學報第 19 期
Second, it was noted that the relationship between students’ critical thinking
disposition (CTD) and critical thinking skills (CTS) are pretty weak. According to
the bonus-point record and the teaching log, 31 those who showed eminent
dispositions toward critical thinking made no differences in the CCTST pretest or
posttest. Those who were open-minded, inquisitive and confident in challenging the
answers and sharing thoughts were awarded with stickers to claim for bonus points at
the end of the semester. Among the top five students who got the most extra bonus,
three were from the low-score-achiever group and two from the high-score-achiever
group. The one who was disposed to use critical thinking the most, surprisingly,
scored the lowest in the CCTST posttest. This finding was in conformation to what
some researchers had suggested (Coluceiello, 1997; Facione & Facione, 1997, Yang
and Chou, 2008):32 “The correlation between CTD and CTS has been fairly weak in
college students” (Young and Chou, p. 667).33
Another finding is that students became more assertive with critical thinking and
the importance of developing critical thinking skills. From the individual student
interviews, a few consensuses were reached when students responded to the question:
“What have you learned from this course?” First, they realized that developing critical
thinking was useful to their future career or advanced study. Second, they
acknowledged the importance and necessity to apply critical thinking in different
domains of learning. Last of all, they acknowledged they became more comfortable
with and confident in asking “why” and “how.”
Finally, it was found that students highly agreed they benefited from guided
in-class discussion in developing critical thinking (M=75). In the questionnaire,
when responding to the multiple-choice questions (Q22 & Q24) ‘What is the activity
that helped me the most in learning?” and “What is the activity that helped me
develop critical thinking the most?” 10 out of 12 students chose “guided in-class
discussion.” Besides, students highly agreed to the statements “In-class discussion
31I wrote down my observations of students’ responses, comments, questions, and their interactions
with their peers and me in the teaching log right after each teaching session.
32Colucciello, M. L. “Critical Thinking Skills and Dispositions of Baccalaureate Nursing Students—A
Conceptual Model for Evaluation,” Journal of Professional Nursing, Vol. 13 (1997), pp. 236-245;
Facione, N. C. & Facione, P. A. Critical Thinking Assessment in Nursing Education Programs: An
Aggregate Data Analysis. Milbrae, CA: The California Academic Press, 1997; Yang Y. T. & Chou,
H.A, op. cit., (2008).
33Yang Y. T. & Chou, H.A, op. cit., (2008).
Developing Critical Thinking through Literature Reading 299
helped me understand the reading assignment,” and “In-class discussion helped me
explore the depth of my thinking” (Table 5).
Table 5. Level of Satisfaction with in-Class Discussion
Questions Total Mean S. d. Min. Max.
18 In-class discussion helped me understand the reading
assignments. 880 80.00 33.62 15 100
19 In-class discussion helped me explore the depth of my
thinking. 824.8 74.98 33.79 15 100
21 I like the way in-class discussion is conducted 811 73.73 30.93 5.3 100
20 The level of participation in in-class discussion. (10 means
“very actively” and 1 means “very inactively”). 529.9 48.17 31.28 5.3 100
However, as to the self-directed learning activities—“learning log,” and “group
presentation,” the means for level of agreements in Q1 “Answering questions in the
learning log help me cultivate critical thinking” and Q16 “group presentation helps
me improve in learning” are 62.95 and 58.41 respectively. Though students fairly
agreed that learning log was a good learning activity (M=63.73) and it could help
them bring up perplexing questions (M=64.46), the level of agreement is fairly low in
responding to Q2 (M=37.02) which indicated they didn’t quite understand the
questions listed in the learning log. Ironically, they didn’t agree to the statement that
the questions were difficult to answer (M=27.94) (Table 6). It seemed that the
students were self-contradictory regarding this issue. A further explanation on this
issue will be continued in Discussion.
Table 6. Level of Satisfaction with Learning Log
Questions Total Mean s. d. Min. Max.
05 I can bring up perplexing questions through learning log. 644.6 64.46 34.86 0.8 100
08 Learning log is a good learning activity. 701 63.73 32.46 5.3 100
01 Generally speaking, answering questions in the learning
log helped me cultivate critical thinking. 692.4 62.95 24.20 29.9 100
04 Learning log helped me understand the reading
assignments. 643.2 58.47 32.52 0.8 100
07 I took the questions seriously. 608.9 55.35 32.55 5.3 100
02 I understood the questions. 407.2 37.02 32.41 0.8 100
03 Please indicate the level of difficulty in answering the
questions (10 means “very difficult” and 1 means “not
difficult at all”). 307.3 27.94 21.24 5.3 75
There was also a contradiction in their responses to the questions regarding
“group presentation.” Though students fairly agreed that they cooperated pleasantly
300 逢甲人文社會學報第 19 期
with their peers (M=64) and the work load was fairly shared (M=66.6), the level of
agreement in willingness to conduct group presentations in the future is comparatively
low (M=42.78) (Table 7). A further discussion will be also continued in Discussion.
Table 7. Level of Agreement/Satisfaction Regarding Group Presentation
Questions Total Mean s. d. Min. Max.
09 We had scheduled meetings before the group
presentation. 1026.9 93.35 15.66 51.9 100
11 We shared the workload fairly. 732.6 66.60 29.76 0 100
12 We cooperate pleasantly. 704 64.00 35.68 5.3 100
16 Group presentation helps me improve in learning. 642.5 58.41 31.96 15 100
13 Please indicate the level of leaning improvement
through group presentation . (10 means “quite
a lot”; 1 means “very little.”) 585.4 53.22 25.90 15 100
14 I am satisfied with our group presentation. ( 10
means “highly satisfied; 1 means “not satisfied at
all”.) 559.3 50.85 19.79 15 75
17 I will be glad to conduct group presentations in
the future. 470.6 42.78 27.21 5.3 100
The findings in this study first support that literature reading did help the weak
thinkers improve their overall critical thinking and especially demonstrate better skills
in analysis. Generally speaking, most of them are inexperienced readers who had been
rarely exposed to literature reading. In the beginning, they were exercising their
prior knowledge and experiences in L1 acquisition in reading the English texts. This
could be in evidence from their learning logs and the essay-question reports in both of
which they tended to summarize the plot, describe the characters, repeat what had
been said in class or bring in their personal reflections though those were often not
related to the text. These problems were commonly found in those literature
introduction classrooms (Bergstrom, 1983)34 and also in the one of this study.
However, along with the time and with the help of teaching/learning activities, some
students gradually fostered better thinking patterns and habits and some could make
34Bergstrom, R. F. “Discovery of Meaning: Development of Formal Thought in the Teaching of
Literature,” College English, Vol. 45, No. 8 (1983), pp.745-755.
Developing Critical Thinking through Literature Reading 301
in-depth interpretation or inference. For example, the following are some excerpts of
W’s35 answers in his learning log.
W’s 1st log entry: (Story: “The Use of Force”)
Question: What do you think this story is about? How did the writer
present the message(s) in the story?
Method vs. Love
Cure details father & mother’s take care
W wrote very little here due to his language problem. Actually he intended to
say: The doctor’s treatment as observed from the detailed description was in contrast
to the way the parents took care of their little daughter, the patient. But he didn’t
explicitly explained HOW their attitudes toward the little girl were different, nor give
precise key adjectives to describe the nature of their attitudes. Besides, W was not
aware that “Method” was not an affective noun to be used in contrast to “Love.”
W’s 2nd log entry: (Story: “The Lottery”)
Question: What do you think this story is about? How did the writer
present the message(s) in the story?
Justice Æ “You didn’t give him time enough to take any paper he wanted.
I saw you. It wasn’t fair.”
W thought Jessie’s statement, as the quotation cited here, was in evidence of her
sense of justice. But he failed to read it in the context. Tessie was acting like a
spoiled child, accusing the host of failing his duties in hope that the lottery could have
been re-drawn. So W cited the wrong sentence. If he could have chosen Tessie’s
last cry—“It’s not fair”(a present-tense sentence, symbolic of her awareness of
injustice in the system), he might have found a good example to support his
observation. Similar mistakes in analytical thinking were found in his 3rd log entry.
But in his 4th log entry, he started to exercise his critical thinking.
W’s 4th log entry: (Poem: “Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers”)
35W scored the lowest in the CCTST pretest but he made the most improvement in the posttest. He was
grouped in the “low-score achievers” in this study.
302 逢甲人文社會學報第 19 期
Question: In your opinion, what is the message the poet wants to convey
to the readers? What is the theme of the poem? How does the poet present
such a theme in the poem?
1.Everyone should have his own view, stand, claim or thought.
2.Theme: Proud of yourself
3.One should “prance across a screen”Æ just like prance in life roadway
And “pace in sleek chivalric” Æ follow justice
4.PowerÆ control oneselfÆ give them bravery
Maybe let someone more stronger
(they do not fear the men beneath the tree)
Compared with his former entries, W wrote more and his ideas were more
explicit this time. He observed that everyone, regardless of sex, is entitled to equal
rights in expressing his/her views and thus, once autonomy is granted, one can be
strong and brave to “prance” on his/her life journey. He detected some key words to
support his observation and he could synthesize related details to make inference of
the themes. When it comes to his 7th log entry, he was logical in organizing his ideas.
W’s 7th log entry: (Play: “Trifles”)
Question: In your opinion, what is the message the playwright wants to
convey to the readers? What is the theme of the play? How does the
playwright present such a theme in the play?
Theme: The differences between men and women
MenÆ aggressive and brash Women: sensitive, considerate, attentive
In the play, men laughed at what women talked about (cared). Mrs.
Wright was inhibited by her husband. She was like a bird but her
husband killed the bird; finally she killed him. Mrs. Hale and Peters
helped her because they knew her thought.
W started with a statement of the theme, followed by a series of key words to
show the contrast between men and women. Then he stated his observation that
married women were oppressed by the male power. He summarized the plot: Mrs.
Wright, to justify the death of her beloved bird, killed her husband as she fought back.
Finally he briefly concluded with the reason why the other two married women helped
her. Generally speaking, his understanding of the text and observation of the
characters’ interactions were correct and he could reason out the causal relationship
Developing Critical Thinking through Literature Reading 303
between the actions. In this log entry, he demonstrated better abilities in analysis,
inference and evaluation.
In this study, the empirical evidence testified that the weak thinkers made noted
improvement in critical thinking through reading/appreciating literary works. This
result is similar to that obtained in 崔’s attempt to improve critical thinking through
reading in “Freshman English.” She found that “the intervention of critical thinking
has demonstrated an effect on students’ thinking patterns” (2005, p. 11).36
In some researches, it has been suggested that it may take longer than one
semester to cultivate critical thinking skills or disposition toward critical thinking
(Yang & Chou, 2008)37 because during the learning process, students need to go
through the stages of “acquisition,” “making inferences automatic,” and “transfer”
(Perkins, 1987)38 which demand a long period of time and lots of practices to alter
their modal perceptions and behaviors. Though the low-score achievers were found
making improvement in this study, a longitudinal study should be conducted in the
future to see if high–score achievers could make any statistically significant
improvement in critical thinking.
As to the 2nd research question whether students’ English proficiency relates to
their acquisition of critical thinking skills, the finding showed the answer was
negative. Logically, it seemed that those students who were proficient in English
should understand the reading texts better. Then with better understanding of the
text, they could see the relatedness between the details, make more effective inference
and evaluation and therefore develop critical thinking skills more successfully than
the low-proficient students. However, the findings showed that weak thinkers might
have low English proficiency but their level of English proficiency was not related to
their performance in the CCTST.
Then, can reading literature help them develop dispositions for critical thinking?
The answer is still pending due to two reasons. First, it is the problem with the time of
learning. As explained earlier, developing critical thinking dispositions takes time. It
is reasonable to hypothesize that the longer the learning process extends, the easier it
is for students to display their dispositions toward critical thinking. Second, in this
study no measurement was adopted to assess students’ dispositional characteristics
37Yang, Y. T. & Chou, H. A., op. cit.(2008).
38Perkins, D. N. “Thinking Frames: An Integrative Perspective on Teaching Cognitive Skills,” in J. B.
Baron & R. J. Sternberg (Eds), Teaching Thinking Skills—Theory and Practice. New York, NY: W
H Freeman/Times Book, 1987, pp. 41-61.
304 逢甲人文社會學報第 19 期
except the responses collected regarding this issue during the individual student
interviews and the observations jotted down in the teaching log. The interviewees
were assertive they became more inquisitive, open-minded, diligent in locating
relevant information and prudent in making judgments. However, their responses
will be more supported and valid if, as Ku suggested (2009),39 a more creditable
measure like Halpern Critical Thinking Assessment Using Everyday Situations
(2007),40 one that allows responses in both multiple-choice and open-ended format,
had been adopted in this study. Therefore, it is highly hoped that with more research
fund, a longitudinal study can be conducted to further investigate this question in the
Finally, students found that guided in-class discussion helped them the most in
developing critical thinking. This result is within expectation as the success of this
activity lies in three factors: 1) the usage of Socratic questioning skills to help
students elaborate their thoughts; 2) an experienced teacher to provide students with a
safe environment for critical inquiries; and 3) the choices of the reading texts to
provide students with believable contexts for developing critical thinking and
problem-solving skills. These three factors as strongly recommended by some
researchers to be embedded into curriculum did improve the efficacy of critical
thinking instruction. In contrast to the self-directed activities like group presentation
and learning log, guided in-class discussions helped students aware of their
underlying assumptions and help them clarify their knowledge, comprehension and
cultivate abilities in making analysis, synthesis and application. In this way, the
students gradually learned to detect the weaknesses or fallacies in their rationales and
nurture increasingly sophisticated observations.
However, students didn’t quite understand the purpose of the teacher’s questions.
This resulted in some contradictions in the self-assessed questionnaire. One is
regarding their responses to the level of difficulty in the learning log questions. The
other is about their willingness to conduct group presentation. During the student
interviews, when the first contradiction was mentioned, most students said the
questions were not difficult to answer as they had been familiar with these types of
questions in Chinese context for years. But they felt perplexed or a bit frustrated
when their answers were underlined with marks such as the following:
39Ku, K. Y. L. “Assessing Students’ Critical Thinking Performance: Urging for Measurements Using
Multi-response Format,” Thinking Skills and Creativity, Vol. 4 (2009), pp. 70-76.
40Halpern, D. Halpern Critical Thinking Assessment Using Everyday Situations: Background and
Scoring Standards. Claremont, CA: Claremont McKenna College, 2007.
Developing Critical Thinking through Literature Reading 305
Students’ statements: My marks: Remarks:
The doctor was
disappointed with the
family’s bad attitude.
(Story: “The Use of
Doctor Æ patient He
tried his best to save the
girl’s life and he loved
her as his family. (Story:
“The Use of Force”)
Tessie Æ courageous
She was courageous to
say she think it is not fair.
(Story: “The Lottery”)
What do you mean by “bad
attitude”? Please cite a
few examples to illustrate
Was the doctor still patient
with the girl at the end?
Or did she say it because of
fear of death? How
would you define
Actually the student has
read between the lines.
Her statement was correct
in a sense. I just wanted her
to locate appropriate details
I wish the student could see
the doctor’s psychological
patient to impatient) along
with his interactions with
the little girl.
I would like the student to
see how “courage” is
defined in different
Most of the time, they thought the answers were self-explanatory, but when I
challenged their thoughts, they realized they didn’t fully answer the questions or
found it difficult to refute my comments or defend their stands with good support.
Therefore, they concluded with the statement “I didn’t quite understand the
When I explored the causes of the second contradiction during the interviews,
three major causes emerged from their responses: “It’s too time-consuming”; “Your
questions made me feel difficult to answer and that made me feel uneasy in front of
the class”; “It’s hard to find time meeting with all group members.” These causes
made them hesitate to do group presentation in the future. Their answers are in
evidence of the facts: 1) They were still interpreting questions by exercising their
prior L1 knowledge and experiences; 2) More dispositional characteristics such as
confidence and seeking-truth are yet to be developed in students; 3) They were aware
they needed to exercise more analytical thinking to make their answers well supported.
In a sense, they were still at the transitional stage of developing critical thinking.
306 逢甲人文社會學報第 19 期
V. Conclusion and Implications
The study has discussed the efficacy of developing critical thinking skills and
disposition in college students through literature reading. In general, the findings
supported the methodology of this course and provided some insight into the research
questions. Although it is found that students may resort to their past learning habits,
experiences or knowledge to solve problems in a new situation, if they were equipped
with critical thinking skills, they would be confident in adapting to a new situation or
even locating innovative solutions to the new problems. Albert Einstein said, “The
significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were
at when we created them.”41 Facing the rapidly changing 21st century, undergraduates
can no longer resort to old thinking patterns for solutions. To better prepare
themselves for the workplace of the 21st century, college students need to develop
critical thinking by osmosis so that they can “learn to know,” “learn to do,” “learn to
live together,” “learn to be” and “learn to change” (UNESCO, 1996).42 Therefore
developing critical thinking is a vital objective in higher education and to achieve this
aim, using literature reading to encourage students to think critically is a highly
This study also found a few implications for future pedagogy. First, more time
should be allocated for students to respond to the questions marked by the teacher in
their learning log sheets. A response sheet may be designed and attached so that they
can further explore the depth of their thoughts and challenge themselves. Second,
students need to be alerted to the importance of group presentation. Group
presentation does not merely help cultivate their critical thinking but also enhance
their teamwork skills and employability. Third, if possible, a series of follow-up
courses should be designed to develop critical thinking in different frameworks of
content knowledge. In this way, the momentum of students’ critical thinking can be
sustained and further exalted over a long-term process.
41Cited from Inspirational Problem Solving Sayings. Retrieved August 4, 2009 from http://quotations.
42UNESCO. Learning: The Treasure Within. Report to UNESCO of the International Commission on
Education for the Twenty-first Century, 1996.
Developing Critical Thinking through Literature Reading 307
There are a few limitations in this study. First, no control group was adopted
due to the limited number of students enrolled in the English Honors program. Only
one literature elective has been offered per semester since the Honors program was
launched in 2005. Second, the number of participants in this study was too limited
to be representative. Finally, a standardized assessment on students’ disposition
toward critical thinking should have been adopted to make this study more complete.
308 逢甲人文社會學報第 19 期
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Appendix A Questions in the Learning Log
Name: ______________________ Date: ________________
Title of the literary work: _____________________________(Fiction)
1.Pick out at least five phrases or sentences which you think are especially important
to the story. Briefly describe why you chose each.
2.Who is the most impressive or your favorite character in the story? What qualities
does he/she exhibit in the story? How does he/she exhibit them? What qualities
does he/she lack?
3.What do you think this story is about? How does the writer present the message(s)
in the story?
314 逢甲人文社會學報第 19 期
請勾選(3)或填寫下列些項目，以 1-10 表示滿意或同意的程度(最滿意或同意為 10 分，覺得很不
滿意或不同意為 1分)，若欲選擇題，請直接在 _____上填選答案
123456 7 8 9 10
L A. Learning Log 學習紀錄單
3.學習紀錄單上的問題回答的難易度 (10 表很困難，1
6.平均， 我花了____ 小時再寫學習紀錄單
a. 1-3 小時 b. 3-5 小時 c. 5-7小時 d.超過 7小時
B. Group presentation 團體報告
a. 1-3 小時 b. 3-5 小時 c. 5-7小時 d.超過 7小時
13.從小組討論，我學習到___ (10 表很多，1表很少)
a. 找時間開會 b. 整合意見 c. 製作 ppt d. 分配
工作 e. 沒想法，討論不出重點 f. 其他
C. In-class Discussion 課堂討論
20.我參與課堂討論的程度 (10 表參與度很高，1表參與
D. General Questions:
22.整體而言， 幫助我學習最多的是 ____
a. learning log b. group presentation c. in-class
discussion d. quizzes
23.整體而言，這門課幫助我開發 critical thinking
(10 表很同意, 1 表很不同意)
Developing Critical Thinking through Literature Reading 315
24.整體而言，幫助我開發 critical thinking 最多的是
a. learning log b. group presentation c. in-class
discussion d. quizzes
25.就開發 critical thinking 的5種能力而言，你的收穫程
度是____ (10 表收穫最多， 1表收穫最少)
316 逢甲人文社會學報第 19 期
Mark in the scale 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Frequency 1 3 19 29 45 64 50 74
Min value 1 2 5 24 53 98 162 212
Max value 1 4 23 52 97 161 211 285
conversion 1 3 14 38 75 129.5 186.5 248.5
(ranged 0~100) 0 0.81 5.25 14.95 29.90 51.92 74.95 100
Developing Critical Thinking through Literature Reading 317
逢甲人文社會學報第 19 期
第287-317 頁 2009 年12 月
的分析能力；2) 學生的英文能力對他們的前測與後測成績不具任何影響；3) 某