“The knowledge of your Learning Patterns provides you with an explanation of how you learn, not an excuse for failing to put forth the effort to learn.”

—Christine A. Johnston (2010, p. 107)

4Developing an Adept Mind


Learning Outcomes After reading this chapter, you should be able to

• Define the term adept mind.

• Explain the role critical thinking plays in becoming a successful student.

• Demonstrate critical reading within the college learning context.

• Describe how your Patterns affect your critical-reading skills.

• Demonstrate critical writing within the college learning context.

• Describe how your Patterns affect your critical-writing skills.

• Explain how critical-thinking skills contribute to academic integrity.

“In order to thrive in the 21st Century, intentional learners should be empowered through a mastery of intellectual and practical skills, informed about forms of inquiry, and responsible for their personal actions.”

—J. Doherty and K. Ketchner (2005, p. 1)

Section 4.2Becoming a Critical Thinker

4.1 The Adept Mind Chapter 3 was devoted to helping you understand how to use metacognition, the learning techniques known as decoding and FITing, and personalized strategies to become a more intentional learner. This chapter builds on that knowledge by framing how to use your Learn- ing Patterns to develop an adept mind.

The adept mind helps you succeed in all areas of life. It is one that makes good decisions and can discern the difference between fact and fiction. It studies a situation’s complexity, weighs the facts, examines the logic behind a choice, and determines whether a choice is appropriate. The adept mind is intentional, stable, and often methodical and always seeks to improve its efficiency and effectiveness. The adept mind is vital not only to the work of a student, but also to the experience of being a parent, employee, or volunteer. No matter what you are called on to do in life, you will need an adept mind to navigate the change you encounter and the growth you seek.

The adept mind uses the critical skills of thinking, reading, and writing—skills this chap- ter explores in depth—and uses them with integrity. The word critical is not one students embrace easily. It has a negative connotation and suggests that someone has found fault with something you have done. It conjures up images of a scolding voice, red pen marks, or nega- tive comments. When applied to thinking, reading, and writing, however, the word critical takes on a different meaning. To be critical means to delve deeper into a topic to better under- stand, evaluate, and take a position on it. As you will see at the end of the chapter, being criti- cal also means becoming able to use your research with honesty and originality.

4.2 Becoming a Critical Thinker When you engage in critical think- ing, you embark on an ongoing quest to improve how you think. Thinking critically requires you to be willing to expose your thoughts to questions and criticism. When you think critically, you do not simply accept what you read or hear from others. Instead, you examine multiple sources of evidence to verify that your facts are accurate (Hardy, Foster, & Zuñiga y Póstigo, 2015). This is not easy—and is often uncomfortable—but it pays off: Being a critical thinker better equips you to make all kinds of important decisions, whether about your future career, your family, or your financial investments.

Being able to think critically allows you to better defend your views, rise above emotional reactions, and protect yourself from being manipulated (Hardy et al., 2015).

Jacoblund/iStock/Thinkstock Critical thinking is an important skill for academic and personal success.

Section 4.2Becoming a Critical Thinker

In terms of your academic success, thinking critically helps you become a better reader and writer and more likely to approach your academic career with integrity. When it comes to your life in general, being a critical thinker means you seek out information regarding how to build healthy relationships, parent your children, advocate for others, and formulate inclusive civic perspectives and socially informed positions. You become adept at framing your outlook and articulating your point of view. You express what you are thinking and experiencing in clear, relatable terms so others can understand your perspective and talk with you in ways that are both civil and enlightening.

Assessing Yourself as a Critical Thinker So, are you a critical thinker? Paul and Elder (2001), who are considered authorities on the subject, describe in the following list how critical thinkers form an opinion. How frequently do you engage in the behaviors below? You can download this list as a self-assessment in your e-book.

• I restate my understanding of the issue in my own words. I don’t let others define the topic, but instead take the time to clarify my understanding by putting the issue into words that make sense to me.

• I formulate my own questions to delve deeper. I sift through the questions being asked and choose those that I feel need to be answered. I add my own questions to help me delve into the particulars of a topic.

• I read a variety of articles that represent differing views to help me develop an informed outlook. I don’t focus on one source or perspective. I rely on sources of high academic quality.

• I try to listen to various opinions on the topic. I don’t limit my viewing or listening to just one media source.

• I form an opinion about the topic based on my own thinking. I list the pros and cons of various views, evaluate the authority of each source, and question each perspective’s applicability to real life and ability to see the big picture.

• I use logic, reasoning, and facts to state the reasons I hold my opinion. I can write or speak my opinion in such a way that others can follow my reasoning and accept the case I’ve built based on facts as I present them.

• I remain open to exploring different perspectives on the topic. I revisit and reconsider previously held opinions, particularly when new information comes to light.

Developing Critical-Thinking Skills Critical thinking lies at the heart of all academic learning. It forms the basis of what it means to be well informed. However, it does not occur by luck or chance. No one is born a critical thinker. You must develop the skills and behaviors that produce critical thinking and must improve your skills by practicing them. When you think critically, you are using all four of your Learning Patterns with intention.

• Sequence provides a framework for examining the logic behind an argument. • Precision questions the accuracy and completeness of the data used to support an


Section 4.2Becoming a Critical Thinker

• Technical Reasoning challenges the reasonableness of an argument by requiring it to be accurate and applicable to the real world.

• Confluence views an argument from multiple perspectives, weighing each against the logic of Sequence, the accuracy of Precision, and the grounding of Technical Reasoning.

For example, suppose your assignment is to take a position on a specific topic and build a con- vincing case based on facts, figures, and logic. Table 4.1 decodes the assignment and outlines critical-thinking skills that are, in fact, Pattern-based strategies that you might use—either by thinking them or recording them on a strategy card—for this task. As you read Table 4.1, ask yourself: “Do I use any, some, or all of the strategies? How can I FIT my Learning Patterns to become a better critical thinker and develop an adept mind?”

Table 4.1: Applying Pattern-based critical-thinking strategies The task decoded Pattern-based critical-thinking strategies

Take a position on a specific topic and build a convincing case based on facts, figures, and logic. (Sequence)

• Plan a line of reasonable thought by listing the key points of your position.

• Formulate your position, moving through each step of your logic.

Take a position on a specific topic and build a convincing case based on facts, figures, and logic. (Precision)

• Read several articles, extended passages, and expert opinions on the assigned topic.

• Sort through the information you have researched and double-check that it is accurate, relevant, and applicable to the topic you were assigned.

• Lay out your position (which you formed using your Sequence). • Select key information from your research and use it to help you

state your position clearly and accurately. • Build your case by explaining the rationale behind your position;

weave in the facts you selected to support your opinion.

Take a position on a specific topic and build a convincing case based on facts, figures, and logic. (Technical Reasoning)

• Lay the foundation of your case using basic facts and support it with expert opinions, quotations, and real-world examples.

Take a position on a specific topic and build a convincing case based on facts, figures, and logic. (Confluence)

• Identify the standard logic used to view the topic and generate alternative positions. Where the logic of Sequence follows a linear path, the logic of Confluence reimagines the argument in a nonlinear manner.

• Recognize when your position is not steeped in logic. Accept your failure to defend an alternative logic and examine how and why it fell apart.

Source: Adapted from Marzano, 1992, p. 132; Paul & Elder, 2001, p. 152; Johnston, 2010, pp. 106–107.

Thinking critically is also a marketable skill to possess. In fact, you might regard critical think- ing as a major dividend you can expect from your investment in a college education. Develop- ing your skills as a critical thinker, reader, and writer gives you a lifelong advantage—an adept mind that will help you achieve greater satisfaction as a person and a professional.

Section 4.3Becoming a Critical Reader

4.3 Becoming a Critical Reader Think about how you approach reading. Do you read a page of text from top to bottom? Do you graze across the page looking for interesting words without reading the text from begin- ning to end? Do you read a passage word-for-word? Or do you look for interesting nuggets and disregard what to you seem like unnecessary words?

Your Learning Patterns immedi- ately shape how you respond when confronted with a page of text. Your Sequence looks for headings and sub- titles. Your Precision looks for capital- ized and bold words. Your Technical Reasoning looks away, silently groan- ing, and your Confluence jumps in looking for a new phrase or idea. As a student, you are best served by looking at the written page and thinking, “How can I critically work my way through this text?”

While the ability to read refers to an individual’s skill in translating letters into words and words into a message, critical reading requires the reader to drill down to the writer’s intention— to discern his or her thoughts, ideas, feelings, and messages. The critical reader sees words as more than groups of letters, but rather as containers of thought to be mined for deep mean- ing (Mumford, 1968). Critical reading also involves engaging with the material, analyzing its soundness, and assessing its quality. Critical reading is thinking critically while you read!

As an intentional learner, there is no more important thing you can do than train yourself to be a critical reader. Why? Because so much of what you read requires you to think critically.

Critical reading requires engaging and exercising the mind in a more robust and expansive way than skimming for basic, literal meaning. It’s the difference between training for a mara- thon and taking a leisurely stroll. Critical reading takes energy, focus, time, and intention. It takes more than simply figuring out how to pronounce words, but rather understanding what they mean—and also what they don’t. It means getting the message, both from the literal words that appear on the page and their implied meaning.

Being a critical reader means you take an active role in the reading process. In other words, don’t just sit and stare at the page. Engage! Seek out clues (found in headings and subheads) and nuggets (in text boxes, summaries, graphics, and examples). These special items serve a specific purpose. They should make it easier to connect with the text; their important con- tent should attract your attention; their organization or visual presentation should bring the information, ideas, and data to life.

Wavebreakmedia/iStock/Thinkstock Developing and honing your critical-reading skills requires self-awareness, grit, and critical thinking. Make sure you are using all four Learning Patterns as you read.

Section 4.3Becoming a Critical Reader

A systematic way to approach critical reading is to break it down into three different stages— exploring, reading, and revisiting. Each stage makes use of all four Patterns; no single Learn- ing Pattern should dominate how you read. Critical reading requires that you use each Learning Pattern with intention.

Explore In Chapter 1 you learned that “chance favors the prepared mind.” So too does critical reading —in fact, it requires it. What can you do to prepare your mind to think and read critically? For starters, explore the text before you begin reading. This will help you get an overview of the general message of the chapter, article, or book. Formulate questions that will help you understand the text’s deeper meaning. The following questions will help you engage your Learning Patterns as you explore the text.

1. What is the purpose of the reading? (Technical Reasoning) 2. Is the reading connected to a previous assignment? (Sequence) 3. What do I already know about the topic? (Precision) 4. What new insights will this reading provide? (Confluence)

Read Once you have explored the content, you are ready to do a more thorough or close read- ing. This time, focus on understanding and analyzing the author’s central argument or point. As you read, ask yourself the following questions:

1. What is the thread that connects one section to another? (Sequence) 2. What new terms will I need to record, look up, and log for review? (Precision) 3. Do the diagrams, graphics, or tables contain data that support the author’s point of

view? (Technical Reasoning and Precision) 4. What overarching idea dominates the reading? (Confluence)

Revisit The last step is to revisit the reading. This is an important step that many students skip! If you are not yet an intentional learner, you may think this is a waste of time. “I’ve already read the text once! I have to read it again?!” When learning new mate- rial, you may in fact need to read it multiple times. You may also need to revisit those parts that remain unclear or seem disconnected from the central message. When considering multiple viewpoints, you may need to return to a reading to analyze where you agree with the author, where you disagree, and why. You may already have some

Jacoblund/iStock/Thinkstock Although it may seem redundant to reread a text, discussion board posting, or assignment rubric, revisiting material reinforces your knowledge of its content.

Section 4.4Case Studies in Critical Reading

idea whether you agree (or disagree) with what you are reading. As you read, you likely reacted to statements the author made. But it is only after you have read the entire piece that you can clearly and fairly evaluate the argument. Revisiting the reading reinforces your knowledge of its content and strengthens your critical-reading skills.

Ask yourself the following questions when revisiting a reading:

1. What is the reading’s overarching message? (Confluence) 2. Are there gaps in the author’s logic? If so, where? (Sequence) 3. How well does the author use reason and logic to build a case for his or her position?

(Technical Reasoning) 4. Do you agree with the author’s point of view? Why or why not? (Precision) 5. What information is implied or inferred? What underpins the likelihood that the

inference is correct? (Confluence and Precision)

Remember that there are many different purposes for reading. While all require you to use critical-reading skills, they do not require you to use them to the same extent. Think about the different types of reading you encounter every day. How would you approach reading a new sick leave policy being implemented at work? What about a movie review? What questions would you need to ask when reading a news article versus a novel?

4.4 Case Studies in Critical Reading Whatever your approach, recognize that critical reading requires you to assess your method and reconfigure your technique so that no single Learning Pattern dominates how you read. Each of your Patterns can contribute to your understanding of a text. Critical reading requires that you use each Learning Pattern with intention to extract maximum understanding from a passage. Don’t allow your Avoid Patterns to dismiss a reading assignment; don’t use Avoid- ance as an excuse for not engaging. If you are a Strong-Willed learner, don’t mistake your confidence for competence. Always double-check your knowledge by reviewing key points, terms, and overarching themes.

With this in mind, carefully read the following stories. See to whom you most relate. Consider how you can develop your critical-reading skills by learning from the following models.

Sequence Dani (S30, P23, TR20, C12) is the oldest of four and the first in her family to go to college.

With her Use First Sequence, she always fol- lows the same order when reading a text- book: headings, content, end-of-chapter questions. She may read charts if they are clearly labeled but often sees other features as distractions. Dani likes the SQ3R method (see Figure 4.1) because it gives her steps to fol- low. However, to become a critical reader, Dani needs to tether her Sequence and develop

“I read a textbook like I do a map. I look for signs telling me what I can expect next.”


Section 4.4Case Studies in Critical Reading

strategies that go beyond a mere step-by-step approach. This is because not all critical- reading situations allow the time the SQ3R method requires.

For example, Dani’s methodical Use First Sequence becomes a problem when taking timed tests or quickly digesting a lot of written material. Her Use First Sequence holds her back from completing work in a timely fashion. Whereas others skip to the next question or skim the text, Dani lingers, rereading the material or figuring out the correct answer before moving on. When she is not being intentional, her Use First Sequence and Avoid Confluence lock her into a linear approach to reading material and completing assignments. If you Use Sequence First, check out the Tips & Tools box for some do’s and don’ts when reading.

Figure 4.1: SQ3R

Use the SQ3R method to ensure you thoroughly read assignments, papers, textbooks, and discussion posts.

Section 4.4Case Studies in Critical Reading

Precision Rhys (S32, P35, TR18, C20) grew up in a home where manual labor was valued and taking time to read was considered a luxury. Now well into his degree program, Rhys rel- ishes the opportunity to read critically.

Rhys’s Precision thrives on access to infor- mation. His attitude is, “Give me my tablet, connect me to the world, and I’m a happy guy.” Whether it be graphs, illustrations, text, or captions, Rhys reads everything on a page. He doesn’t want to miss a single piece of informa- tion. He doesn’t just read the words but reads critically, seeking to grasp the concepts pre- sented. He weighs what he reads against information from other sources. When he was young, Rhys read everything he could get his hands on, but now he chooses his reading materials more carefully, based on the quality of the authorship and the repu- tation of the publication. His critical- reading skills serve him well as a stu- dent and an employee; Rhys aspires to become a member of his company’s human resources team.

However, Rhys’s dependence on his Use First Precision often causes him frustration when he is completing a timed exercise. He frequently spends too long absorbing each piece of infor- mation and runs out of time. When

Tips & Tools: Do’s and Don’ts for Use First Sequence


• Move through a reading methodically. • Focus on a reading’s main points. • Reread material that didn’t “stick.” • Look at any review or discussion questions that might be available. Use them to guide

your first read through.


• Fixate on text that is confusing. The materials you read next may explain what is currently unclear.

• Ignore your other Patterns. Let them help pull you out of the place where you are mired in thought.

“I could sit and read for hours! Nothing satisfies my need to know like a steady

diet of information.”


Buz/iStock/Thinkstock Though Rhys is adept at critical reading, it some- times hinders his ability to complete an assignment on time. What are some ways Rhys can continue to read critically while also managing his time?

Section 4.4Case Studies in Critical Reading

answering questions, he tends to over-explain or include too many details. Too much infor- mation (TMI) is the downside of Rhys’s use of Precision.

If you Use Precision First, check out the Tips & Tools box for some do’s and don’ts when reading.

Technical Reasoning For years Drew (S22, P18, TR28, C14) viewed school as a necessary evil. However, after his stint in the military, he conceded that his career goal wasn’t achievable with- out a college degree. He chose an online program, know- ing that the biggest challenge would be the reading he would be required to do.

Due to his Use First Technical Reasoning, words are not Drew’s tool of choice. He uses them sparingly. However, he has discovered that critical reading is much more useful than merely reading words. With critical reading, he can apply his Technical Reasoning to see how the author builds a case that can stand up under scrutiny. Drew describes his approach to reading as a “search and recover” mission. He gets into the reading, searches for meaning, recovers the important information, and gets out! He would be the first to admit that he doesn’t read every word. He uses the graphics and charts to gather information in lieu of methodically reading the text.

Drew’s primary challenge is to find a practical connection to the assigned reading. If he has no interest in the topic, he procrastinates, which leaves him little time to critically read and respond to the assignment. Drew needs strategies to complete readings in a timely manner. He should consider intensifying his Sequence to schedule time to read, and build in time for brief breaks. Both strategies could help Drew persevere and avoid procrastinating.

If you Use Technical Reasoning First, check out the Tips & Tools box for some do’s and don’ts when reading.

Tips & Tools: Do’s and Don’ts for Use First Precision


• Set a physical or internal timer to help monitor your pace when reading. • Record key terms for further study. • Examine sidebars or other elements that support the main point or author’s thesis. • Question, challenge, and weigh the point of whatever you are reading against what you

have read elsewhere.


• Miss the overarching message by concentrating solely on names, facts, and dates. • Get bogged down in dense content. Break the reading into smaller, absorbable pieces so

your mind can critically digest it.

“Reading for pleasure? I read to get the job done!”


Section 4.4Case Studies in Critical Reading

Confluence Chris’s (S14, P21, TR20, C33) teachers always saw her as fun loving but not serious. As a result, she performed at a level that reflected her teacher’s low expectations. It wasn’t until she was working as a shift manager in the fast-food industry that she began to consider a career in business man- agement. Her boss kept pointing out her ability to absorb information quickly, handle crises, and not let change stress her out. That was all the encouragement Chris needed—she quickly began her online college career.

Chris has no trouble keeping pace with her reading assignments. When she looks at an assigned reading, she doesn’t read the material word for word. Instead, she studies the refer- ences, identifies new vocabulary, and reads only the information essential to complete the assignment.

Her Confluence reads between the lines and connects the dots in a reading. She frequently receives positive feedback on her discussion posts, particularly those that speculate on what was implied in a reading but not explicitly stated.

Chris’s Confluence helps her read critically and not lose track of a reading’s deeper message. There are times, however, when material is dense and requires close reading. Knowing when to partner her Confluence with her Precision is key to her success as a critical reader.

Tips & Tools: Do’s and Don’ts for Use First Technical Reasoning


• Explore and interact with the content, rather than passively reading it word for word. • Search for interesting elements (photos, tables, headings, and feature boxes) to

motivate your Technical Reasoning to complete the reading. • Use all of your Patterns so that Technical Reasoning (the Pattern of the fewest words)

isn’t left to do all the work. • Leverage the features of your e-book reading platform (making notes and highlights,

reviewing the notebook) to help Technical Reasoning get the most out of your reading and reviewing experience.


• Let Technical Reasoning convince you that critical reading is solely about words and that Precision is the only Pattern required. Technical Reasoning plays an important role in critical reading, too.

• Be tempted to read just a few headings and captions and skip to the next chapter. Use your Technical Reasoning to explore the text and deconstruct its content and thesis.

“Reading is where my Confluence goes to have fun. It’s my mental



Section 4.5Becoming a Critical Writer

If you Use Confluence First, check out the Tips & Tools box for some do’s and don’ts when reading.

4.5 Becoming a Critical Writer Writing is a significant part of any student’s life but even more so for a nontraditional college student like yourself. Writing is the primary way you will participate in your learning, whether through journal entries, discussion posts, essays, or research papers. It is important that you write well, but it is even more important that you write critically. Like critical reading, critical writing is more than simply putting words on paper or forming coherent sentences and para-

graphs. Critical writing is an academic skill that prepares you to dig through and evaluate multiple sources, formu- late an opinion or well-reasoned per- spective, and make a case based on a balance of reliable sources. Critical writing investigates the pros and cons of different ideas and theories and considers alternative perspectives and explanations. The heart of critical writ- ing is that it reaches an informed opin- ion in the light of the evidence pre- sented and offers reasoned arguments for the conclusion reached. From this description, it should be clear that crit- ical writing doesn’t just describe or report information: It transforms it

Tips & Tools: Do’s and Don’ts for Use First Confluence


• Focus on a reading’s overarching message or big picture. • Take note of new words, terms, and phrases (then use your Precision to record them for

further study). • Identify intriguing elements within the reading (then use your Precision to pose the

critical questions you need answered in order to understand it).


• Let your Confluence convince you to move too quickly through the text. Take time to pause, raise questions, and explore the content more fully.

• Stop after a quick skim of the reading. While skimming, or surveying, is an important first step, critical reading requires a more in-depth exploration of the text.

• Hesitate to employ your other Patterns when critically reading. They can help provide the structure and close-reading skills needed to explore the text in-depth.

Hakinmhan/iStock/Thinkstock Learning to be a critical writer will help you develop informed opinions and present them coherently.

Section 4.5Becoming a Critical Writer

into a thread of ideas and weaves together a bal- anced presentation of a complex topic.

Critical writing is hard work and requires inten- tion. It is not easy to present a balanced account or address counterarguments. It requires you to be discerning and to double-check that you have not made any statements that can’t be substantiated by reliable sources. (See the following Tips & Tools box.) Critical writing is important because it provides the basis for decisions made in busi- ness, government, military, education, and everyday life. Critical decisions are informed and based on an accurate and well-balanced presentation of information.

Outside the classroom, critical writing can take many forms, including exchanges on social media, blog posts, proposals, cover letters, letters to the editor, editorials, white papers, critiques, and policy statements. Regardless of the format, a critical writer leads his or her readers through a reasoned argument, notes the source of all information and research, and ultimately persuades the reader to reach an informed verdict.

A systematic way to approach critical writing is to break it down into stages. Start by becoming informed. Then develop your perspective and make your case. Finally, attend to the details; polish and finalize your work. Critical writing requires you to use your Learn- ing Patterns with intention; no single Learning Pattern should dominate how you write. However, some stages of critical writing rely more heavily on one specific Pattern.

Becoming Informed Critical writing depends on critical reading. One aspect of critical writing that differentiates it from descriptive or personal writing is the use of sources. Using the strategies presented earlier in this chapter, explore multiple sources of information before beginning to write. Use

“Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human

voice to infuse them with deeper meaning.”

—Maya Angelou (2009, p. 95)

Tips & Tools: The Do’s and Don’ts of Critical Writing


• Develop your own line of thought on a subject. • Express your opinion confidently and base it on multiple sources that represent a

variety of perspectives. • Summarize both the strengths and weaknesses of other people’s ideas and perspectives. • Reach a conclusion after careful thought based on the available evidence. • State the limitations to the argument you have presented.


• Be one-sided or selective when stating evidence. State both sides of an issue. • Be judgmental or opinionated. Be fair and thoughtful and make a well-reasoned case. • Be arrogant or suggest there is only one correct perspective on a complex topic.

Section 4.5Becoming a Critical Writer

your Precision to gather information and sort through facts—be sure to keep a careful record of your sources, as you will need to provide citations for any ideas that are not your own (more on this later). Your Technical Reasoning can help you identify relevancy and logic and let your Confluence connect the dots. Investigate the evidence for, against, and behind dif- ferent ideas, theories, arguments, and so on. Test the evidence by creating columns of facts; examine which are similar and which seem less reliable. Use the following tips to help you become more informed on your topic:

• Read multiple articles about the topic to understand it as a whole. (Confluence) • Logically organize the author’s points and intentions. (Sequence) • Jot down quotations that either persuade or dissuade you of the author’s arguments.


Developing Your Perspective and Making Your Case Being a critical writer requires you to have a specific perspective that you develop through critical reading and thinking. You may initially lack the confidence to use your own judgment. While it is important to acknowledge when you lack expertise on a topic, know that you are capable of presenting an informed argument if you read widely, compare and contrast differ- ent opinions, and use your adept mind to employ critical-thinking skills to make sense of a topic’s complexities. It is also important to lean on your Sequence to organize your thoughts, find focus, and plan to make your case. Be sure to do the following:

• Formulate your perspective on the topic. (Technical Reasoning) • Draft an outline of your essay. This will help you spot holes in your argument and

stay on track as you write. (Sequence) • State your thesis or opinion. This should be the focus of your writing. Beware of

being too broad or narrow, and be sure to put forth an actual argument, not just a statement of fact. (Sequence and Precision)

• Support your thesis or opinion. Your writing should feature subpoints that will help you defend your main argument. Each point should have its own paragraph with supporting evidence. (Precision and Sequence)

• Use your sources to make your case. Note what evidence supports your perspective. (Precision)

• Acknowledge alternative perspectives. You will make your argument stronger by showing you have considered all the evidence. (Confluence)

• Formulate your conclusion and point to ideas that warrant further analysis and dis- cussion. (Precision and Technical Reasoning)

Attending to the Details Once you have written a first draft, you will need to review it. This stage requires Precision, as you will need to identify and correct errors and ensure you have provided a citation where you have quoted from or paraphrased a source. As you polish and finalize your work, be sure to do the following:

• Compose a page that lists your sources. • Include each source that you used, either directly or indirectly. • Proofread your paper for spelling and grammatical errors.

Section 4.6Case Studies in Critical Writing

4.6 Case Studies in Critical Writing Like critical reading, critical writing relies on the development of an adept mind—one that operates with intention. What you write for college courses needs to be accurate, logical, care- fully reasoned, well researched, and thoughtfully crafted. One way to learn how to write criti- cally is to read other writers’ work. Use their methods and strategies as models to improve your own writing.

All four Patterns contribute to excellent writing, and you’ll need to focus on any Patterns you Avoid almost as strongly as those you Use First. Armed with this knowledge, carefully read the following experiences. See to whom you most relate. Identify how you can develop your critical-writing skills by learning from these models.

Sequence Makayla is a quirky, funny, serious psy- chology student and an identical twin (S29, P20, TR17, C14).

Given her Use First Sequence, she did not often succeed on timed tests, as she often got stuck on an answer. Where others would skip to the next question, Makayla would linger. Where others might jump around to answer ques- tions, Makayla steadfastly answered them in order. She became stymied if the specific information she expected to find on her online discussion board was not yet posted. She found it diffi- cult to move on to another task until she could check back later.

Makayla’s Sequence ruled her, almost to the point of paralysis. She frequently e-mailed her instructor (usually as she worked late into the night) for more instruction on assignments. She’d sub- mit paragraphs early to be sure she was on the right track.

Makayla executed her papers well but found she received lower grades for “lacking originality” and being “unable to present new or different ideas.”

Does this mean that people high in Sequence are not creative? Absolutely not! It means it is okay to tether your Sequence and let your Confluence offer up ideas. For some tips, check out the feature box Tips & Tools: Tethering Use First Sequence.

“You want me to fill out the inventory. Then you want me to do this other form. Now you want me to write. Which is more important? I can’t

get it all done.”

—Makayla (psychology major)

Diego_cervo/iStock/Thinkstock Makayla finds that although her Sequence allows her to complete assignments and essays accurately, she has trouble thinking outside of the box. Tethering her Use First Pattern will allow Confluence to give her new and original ideas.

Section 4.6Case Studies in Critical Writing

Precision For families and friends with loved ones who are deployed, letters and e-mails are priceless. The boxed quotation from John (S27, P32, TR21, C23) helped his family pic- ture his room in the barracks when he was first deployed—but the following one con- fused them as they planned their reunion with him in Germany.

Ok, at Shank finally. Sounds like Main Bodies 3 and 4 are being put together to fly (meaning we wait for a few extra days for them), so that date SSG Smith gave you is probably closer to correct than what I was thinking. Everything has/will change, so at this point don’t trust anything from me and just buy the tickets a day out from when he tells you. Sorry it’s chaotic. Took me an hour and change to fight my way to an MWR so I still won’t be online much longer than it takes to send this. Basically just wait until the absolute last minute to buy any tickets and late is better than early when it comes to arriving. Who knows how long I’ll be stuck somewhere beyond what we’ve been told.

This quote illustrates how John’s extremely high Precision made it difficult for him to write a simple message. Someone low in Precision would have written a much more direct mes- sage, such as, “Wait to hear from SSG Smith to buy a ticket. I’m not getting up-to-date info in transit.” Our young, high Precision lieutenant, on the other hand, feels almost compelled to give details, including the use of acronyms unfamiliar to his reader, and ends up crafting a very convoluted message. Knowing your audience and purpose is crucial for every writer, but especially for those who are highly Precise.

Not surprisingly, Precision can get a writer into trouble, especially in academic situations. If asked to write a 1,500-word essay, a writer high in Precision feels frustrated. “How am I

Tips & Tools: Tethering Use First Sequence

Use First Sequence writers can follow these tips to get started (and keep up with) writing:

• Get past the idea that you need to write your opening paragraph first. Essays and reports can be written in sections and not necessarily in order. Start in the middle. Come back to the beginning and write an introduction once your main points are already down. Eventually, you will see your argument or story as a whole, but for the time being, be willing to develop sections as they unfold in your mind. You can then put them in the order that makes the story or argument flow and add the introduction and conclusion last.

• Free yourself from the rules that keep you grounded and plodding. Just write. Get your thoughts down first; then pay attention to spelling and punctuation, verb tense, and exact wording.

“Speaking of winning, I finally got my own room. It has spiders and the AC is weak

and is right across from the port-a-potty so outside my door smells horrible, but it is

a 6.5’ x 6.5’ space all my own.”

—John (U.S. Army scout). Used by permission.

Section 4.6Case Studies in Critical Writing

supposed to fit all this into three pages? I didn’t even get a chance to talk about X, Y, and Z!” While others may struggle to fill a page, a person high in Precision sees every detail as impor- tant and doesn’t want to cut anything that has been written. If you are Use First Precision, check out the Tips & Tools box for some tips.

Technical Reasoning Paul is a “grease monkey” and proud of it. By his own admission, he never took class notes. He contends that he kept everything “in his head.” How- ever, when Paul didn’t use his Learning Patterns (S20, P16, TR33, C24) with intention, he earned a failing grade. He did not follow requirements for his papers, which featured improper headings, incorrect fonts, missing page numbers, and other formatting gaps. He also failed to provide enough sup- port for his ideas. He finally made an appointment to discuss his work with his writing instructor.

Paul’s writing instructor advised him to tone down (tether) some of his Technical Reasoning. She helped him recognize that his avoidance of struc- ture and aversion to providing details and explanation was causing him to receive failing grades. Paul sheepishly admitted that he hadn’t bothered to thoroughly read the research he had found in the library’s databases and had only skimmed the abstracts.

Tips & Tools: Tethering Use First Precision

Use First Precision writers can use the following tips to get started writing:

• Think of writing a tweet, where you only have a limited number of characters, and then pick your words carefully. Be clear, direct, and focused. Remember that every word should have a purpose.

• Think of each sentence and paragraph as if it were applying for a job in your composi- tion. Ask each word, “What do you bring to this position?” “Why should I hire you?” Decide whether they should be employed in your paper.

“In my mind, I see everything as a machine. When I look at something, I see how it works

but I struggle to explain to others without pictures or physically moving or pointing. I’m

usually the guy who tags along but contributes little to the conversation.”

—Paul (physical science major)

Jupiterimages/>>/Thinkstock By getting helpful feedback and tethering his Technical Reasoning, Paul will learn to read and write critically.

Section 4.6Case Studies in Critical Writing

By nature, Technical Reasoners like Paul would rather “show” than “tell.” But if they are aware of themselves as learners, that can inform how they approach writing and help them build on the experiences and practical application they bring to the writing process. These become the building blocks that make it possible for those high in Technical Reasoning to express them- selves in writing. If you are Use First Technical Reasoning, check out the Tips & Tools box for some tips.

Confluence Raheem’s (S11, P16, TR28, C31) boxed quo- tation was what he submitted as his first essay in his writing course.

“Why such a short essay?” his instructor inquired.

“Pretty much sums it up,” Raheem replied.

When asked about his philosophy of succeeding by chance, he said, “It’s worked so far.”

Unfortunately, his devil-may-care attitude was only bolstered by his Use First Confluence and his high Technical Reasoning. Raheem was a “man of few words” who decided to live by chance, which put him at risk of compromising his academic success.

A few weeks went by, and Raheem had not produced any research. His Avoid Sequence (S11) meant that when called on to research a topic, he needed to forge Sequence and concentrate on the sequential tasks of searching and taking notes. Group work was a nightmare for both him and his teammates. He was entertaining, but he rarely contributed anything of substance. Raheem dismissed his Patterns as “hocus-pocus” and continued to let chance take care of him. As more deadlines passed and the incompletes piled up, it became clear he was not going to pass the course. His decision caught up to him. If you are Use First Confluence, check out the Tips & Tools box for some tips.

Tips & Tools: Tethering Use First Technical Reasoning

Use First Technical Reasoning writers can use the following tips to get started writing:

• Your chief issue is that you are a person of few words. This is no time to accept that sta- tus. Record three points you want to make in your paper. Build a skeleton of information to support each point, using a minimum of two sentences to explain what you mean.

• Follow each point with an example to drive the idea home.

“I can be easily annoyed, but I don’t worry very much. That’s what makes me differ-

ent. I plan to succeed by chance.”

—Raheem (sociology major)

Section 4.7Acting With Integrity

4.7 Acting With Integrity When you critically think, read, and write, you become able to evaluate others’ arguments and defend your own point of view. You actively engage with your learning and the world around you. You become more informed and thoughtful, and others might even turn to you for advice.

But critical thinking is not just about being a more thoughtful, reasoned student. It shapes your intentions and awareness of the ethical choices you are called on to make. When you think critically, you evaluate your decision making and ensure it reflects who you are and what you value. You become less prone to taking the easy way out. In the classroom, this is known as acting with academic integrity.

Call it what you like—academic dishonesty, lack of integrity, or just plain cheating—but using someone else’s work as your own is theft, pure and simple. Writers and researchers make a living with their words. When students cut and paste words—or even paraphrase, or reword, others’ ideas—without credit, they are stealing from that writer. This is called plagiarism. You wouldn’t think of walking out of a store without paying for your items; the same applies to words owned by someone else. It is important to note that purchasing writing services from online tutoring companies also constitutes plagiarism. Do not justify a decision to pla- giarize by citing your time constraints or Avoidance of Precision. The bottom line is if the words aren’t of your thinking and composing, do not submit them as your work.

Students generally plagiarize for two reasons: laziness or lack of information. What could be easier than copying and pasting from the Internet? Even if a student reorders the sentences or changes a few words, plagiarism includes using someone else’s ideas without acknowledging their source (Council of Writing Program Administrators, 2003, para. 4). If you are writing critically, you are coming up with your own ideas. Therefore, you are more likely to come up with original content that will not have been plagiarized.

Tips & Tools: Tethering Use First Confluence

Use First Confluence writers can use the following tips to get started:

• Don’t start writing until you have pinned down a focal point for your paper. Otherwise, you will wander from idea to idea without anchoring your thoughts on a key point.

• After writing a draft of your paper, draw a map of the points you made. See if they connect to one another. If they don’t, either remove them from the paper or add transitions that connect them into a clearer line of thought.

Section 4.7Acting With Integrity

Making Defining Decisions and Principled Choices Most universities have strict academic integrity policies that specify behav- iors that are not tolerated. Such poli- cies outline specific examples of what is considered academically dishonest. Critical thinking will help you act ethi- cally and adhere to these policies—in other words, make defining decisions and principled choices.

A defining decision is when you use reason to determine the right and wrong things to do. A defining decision that confronts you (and every other college student) is whether to take the time to research, read, and carefully record the words, phrases, quotations, and specific details you want to feature in your writing. Another defining deci- sion is whether to use your own words

when explaining a topic. A principled choice is when you act on your defining decision based on your values, beliefs, and moral standards.

The following example will help you recognize the important role that critical thinking plays in making defining decisions and principled choices as a college student.

Beth and Sophia are both taking the same college course. Both are mothers of small children, work full time, and decided to enter college as adults. So far their profiles are very similar. Their main difference lies in their awareness of themselves as learners and in the defining decisions they each make as students.

Beth uses a high degree of Sequence and Precision. She takes the time to read through the information in the student handbook and acclimates herself to the demands of college. She recognizes that she needs to make space in her busy routine to read, think, and write. She makes the defining decision to pace herself and plan sufficient time to do thorough, accurate, and authentic work.

As a result, Beth makes a few key principled choices She sets aside a minimum of 4 hours of “Mom’s Study Time” on the weekend and 2 hours of concentrated study time per night. She uses her Learning Patterns to structure her time. She sets an excellent example for her children, modeling for them the actions of a committed student who has the discipline of an intentional learner. Most importantly, Beth makes the principled choice to not surf the Inter- net at the last minute and submit someone else’s work under her name.

Sophia is a different story. Although her Patterns are similar to Beth’s, she has never taken the time to dig very deeply into who she is as a learner or how she wants to fulfill her

Wavebreakmedia Ltd/Wavebreak Media/Thinkstock A defining decision—including the choice either to do your own work or plagiarize and present others’ work as your own—is anchored by the beliefs, values, and traditions you have built up through your life’s experiences.

Section 4.7Acting With Integrity

responsibilities as a student. Sophia does not use her Patterns with inten- tion and simply goes with the flow.

At first she does all right. But in her third course, when she is required to write a lengthy paper that must fea- ture multiple references to sources, she begins to panic. Because she never made a conscious plan for how to oper- ate as a college student and simultane- ously maintain her other responsibili- ties, she finds herself faced with the defining decision of either doing the extensive and time-consuming work the assignment requires or looking for a quick fix.

Sophia lets her Confluence take over and chooses to find a paper online that, when tweaked, can pass as her original work. She wants a good grade and rationalizes that she really doesn’t know how to do the reading and the writing required anyway. She thinks her best choice is to submit something that repre- sents what she would do if she had the right skills and time. She chooses to not use criti- cal thinking or intentional learning and makes the unprincipled choice to cheat herself, her instructor, and the college in which she is enrolled.

In neither instance did Beth’s or Sophia’s Learning Patterns dictate their choices; however, Sophia’s defining decision to not use her Learning Patterns with intention contributed to her finding herself in a stressful situation—in which she made an unwise choice.

Writing Original Content Some people think that plagiarism only occurs if you take an entire paper and submit it as your own. Of course, this is not true. Any information taken from another source requires you to give credit to the original author and include specifics such as the title of the source, the date it was published (online or in print), the author’s name, and the page from which you recorded a quotation or paraphrased an important point. If you fail to do your work carefully or do not consciously follow the rules of critical reading and writing, you leave yourself open to committing plagiarism, whether intentionally or unintentionally.

It can be challenging to come up with original writing. As Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) contributors Stolley, Brizee, and Paiz (2014) observe, sometimes the standards for a success- ful paper can almost seem like contradictions. For example, instructors frequently require their students to do the following (Stolley et al., 2014):

Zhudifeng/iStock/Thinkstock Using your Learning Patterns with intention helps you make defining decisions and succeed as an intentional learner.

Section 4.7Acting With Integrity

Develop a topic based on what has already been said and written.

BUT Write something new and original.

Rely on experts’ and authorities’ opinions. BUT

Improve on and/or disagree with those same opinions.

Give credit to previous researchers. BUT

Make your own significant contribution.

Build on what you hear and read. BUT Use your own words and your own voice.

How do your Patterns respond to this challenge? Your Sequence may not know where to begin. Your Precision might be panicking. It reminds you that you are not an expert—how can you even think about using your own words and voice? Your Technical Reasoning may likewise be uneasy and make you worry you don’t have anything worthwhile or original to say. Meanwhile, your Confluence may be frothing at the mouth. It has already started to spew original ideas without vetting them to see if they connect to what has already been written. If you listen to these voices, you will rely too much on other people’s words and plagiarize. “Sure, in 10 years I might have something to contribute, but right now I’m depending on oth- ers’ quotes to help me make my case.” As a critical reader, it is important to use your adept mind to digest what you read. As a critical thinker, it is imperative that you formulate your own thoughts. As a critical writer, it is vital that you craft your thoughts and use your own words to explain your perspective.

Again, you need to take control of your metacognition. Let your Precision say, “If I use and cite a reputable source, I don’t need to be an expert!” and your Technical Reasoning assert, “I need to be authentic and not sell myself as something or someone I am not.” Let your Sequence soothe your concerns by saying, “Well, you can look at some examples and see how others expressed their thoughts. That will help.” You can advise your Confluence to use some men- tal super glue and stick to one original thought, and engage Technical Reasoning to help you build on it.

If you’re still unsure of whether you are plagiarizing, use Figure 4.2 to check your work. Remember:

1. When in doubt, cite your sources. 2. Make time to write your paper so you avoid the temptation to plagiarize at the last

minute. 3. Take notes as you read and record your sources. This will make it easier to recognize

when and to whom you need to give credit. 4. Don’t be afraid to take risks in your work and show your original thinking. As

Nietzsche said, “Think dangerously” (but support your arguments). 5. Take ownership of your education. When you plagiarize, you deny yourself the ability

to grow, learn, and develop (Ashford Writing Center, n.d.).

Section 4.7Acting With Integrity

Figure 4.2: Are you plagiarizing?

Use this chart to determine whether you are plagiarizing.


Conclusion An adept mind fosters success in college and in life. This chapter has introduced you to critical-thinking, critical-reading, and critical-writing skills and has aimed to make you aware of how your Learning Patterns can either help or hinder your development of these skills. Most importantly, you should now know how to develop these skills. You can draw on personalized strategies that speak specifically to who you are as a learner. Using strategies that address your Patterns can help you direct your mind’s work, dig below the surface of assigned readings, and formulate new insights.

As an intentional learner, you need to know how to think clearly, build your case logically, and undergird your thoughts using evidence-based sources. Your employability and career growth hinge on the degree to which you use these skills. The jobs of the 21st century are not so much based on what information you know but on your ability to think—clearly, rationally, deeply, accurately, and beyond the boundaries of current thought. Armed with your knowledge of how to use your Patterns to develop and hone these skills, you are pre- pared for the challenges that await you beyond the classroom.

Discussion Questions

1. Think of a person you admire with whom you would like to have a conversation. This person could be an author, a historic figure, someone famous, or someone from your area. What are three questions you would ask this person? How would his or her answers guide you as a critical thinker? Reader? Writer?

2. Think of a defining decision you have recently made. What various aspects of critical thinking did you use to arrive at your principled choice?

3. Think back to your first memories of being able to read. What were your first thoughts? Feelings? Actions? What made reading fun for you? What made it a chore? How have your Learning Patterns supported or challenged your reading skills throughout your life?

Additional Resources Angelou, M. (2009). Wouldn’t take nothing for my journey now. New York: Ballantine Books.

Through poetry, anecdotes, and short stories about her life and observations she made along the way, Angelou exposes her unique use of critical thinking and critical writing to convey her message.

Ashford Writing Center. (n.d.). Home page. Retrieved from

The Ashford Writing Center website contains numerous tips for grammar and usage, avoiding plagia- rism, APA style, and more. If you are a current Ashford student, you can also live chat with a writing consultant, who can help you brainstorm and answer questions about writing, or e-mail a draft of your paper for review.

Feld, A. (2004, July/August). Helping soldiers to write the war. Poets & Writers. Retrieved from http://www

This article explains the work of the National Endowment for the Arts project Operation Homecoming, intended to help returning military personnel express their thoughts and experiences through writing.

Graff, G., Birkenstein, C., & Durst, R. (2015). They say, I say: The moves that matter in academic writing (3rd ed.). New York: Norton.

This easy-to-read text offers instructions with examples on writing. Chapter 14 is particularly helpful guide to critical reading. The book also offers templates that could help you with revising your papers.


OnePercentBetter. (2016). How to read a book by Mortimer Adler: Animated book summary [YouTube video]. Retrieved from

Learn how to read a book in this animated book summary of How to Read a Book based on the work of Mortimer Adler.

Paul, R., & Elder, L. (2011). The thinker’s guide for students on how to study & learn a discipline. Tomales, CA: Foundation for Critical Thinking.

A practical guide to understanding how to develop your critical thinking, reading, and writing.

Purdue Online Writing Lab. (n.d.). Home page. Retrieved from

OWL is an excellent and easy-to-understand writing resource. This up-to-date website can help you with everything from questions about plagiarism to grammar. It is easy to use and not text dense.

Key Terms academic integrity policy A set of moral and ethical standards set by universities that students are expected to follow regard- ing plagiarism, cheating, or general con- duct, especially in the areas of research and writing.

critical reading The act of digging deeply into a text and thoughtfully identifying the message of the prose, the quality of the research, and the accuracy of its content.

critical thinking The act of using logic and reasoning; an ongoing quest to improve how you think.

critical writing The act of writing your thoughts, opinions, perspectives, and argu- ments in a clear and logical way.

defining decisions When a person uses reason to determine right and wrong things to do.

plagiarism Using someone else’s language or ideas without acknowledging the source.

principled choices An individual’s actions based on beliefs, values, moral standards, or long-held personal convictions.

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