The Reading and Writing for Critical Thinking program (RWCT) is based on the idea that democratic practices in schools play an important role in the transition toward more open societies. RWCT is now active in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union as well as in Latin America. RWCT introduces research-based, instructional methods to teachers and teacher educators. These methods are designed to help students think reflectively, take ownership for their personal learning, understand the logic of arguments, listen attentively, debate confidently and become independent, life-long learners. The program can be used in all grades and subjects with existing curricula.
RWCT methods are adapted for classrooms in order to promote:
- Active Inquiry
- Student-Initiated Learning
- Critical Thinking
- Cooperative Learning
- Writing And Reading Processes
- Alternative Assessments
Originally, RWCT was funded by the Open Society Institute (OSI) - which promotes worldwide educational, social and legal reform - and the International Reading Association, a non-governmental organization of professional educators. More than 25 National Soros Foundations in participating countries identified teacher-leaders to work with 70 professional educators from the US, Canada, the UK and Australia. The western volunteers served in-country as workshop leaders, delivering a comprehensive series of professional activities to participants. These volunteers were able to certify leaders in each of the participating countries. These leaders have formed the RWCT International Consortium, of which CTI is a member.
The RWCT guidebooks have recently been revised and updated by CTI’s directors. The workshops offered by CTI and the RWCT International Consortium model interactive instruction and learning. They are built around demonstration lessons, with opportunities for discussion, practice, and questions.
A Self-sustaining Model
RWCT training begins when certified RWCT trainers are identified to work with an in-country leadership team. Participants for the project are chosen by the in-country coordinators; typically the participant group represents university faculty, members of the district inspectorate of the Ministry of Education, trainers from in-service teacher training institutes, and outstanding classroom teachers, able to eventually demonstrate and teach these methods to others.
RWCT is based on a “train-the trainer” model. Certified trainers offer a series of workshops over a 12-18 month time period. During this time participants practice the methods demonstrated, adapt them to their own classrooms and circumstances, and substitute national texts for those introduced in training workshops. They also meet on a monthly basis with colleagues to discuss their progress, and are observed in the classroom. RWCT trainers recognize that local educators’ knowledge is critical to the overall success of the project. RWCT is designed to invite modifications that resonate within each country.
When they are ready, the first generation participants begin to train other teachers. The cadre of trainers is increased as selected second generation participants also become part of the local leadership core. To increase the efficacy of the dissemination effort and to ensure institutionalization, an institutionalization strategy is developed within each country.
RWCT is Responsive
- Participants leave RWCT workshops ready to implement the strategies they have learned in their own classrooms.
- RWCT is effectively implemented in primary and secondary classrooms, in pedagogical high schools, and in university classrooms, across many disciplines in many different countries.
- Adaptable to local conditions
- RWCT is designed for use with existing curricula and existing materials.
- Designed to build local capacity
- Mentored by a select group of international educators, RWCT builds a corps of skilled, in-country teacher trainers giving each country the capacity for national expansion.
RWCT Maintains High Standards
Monitoring and assessment are important components of every RWCT project. In conjunction with each training workshop, teacher educators visit participants’ classrooms and meet to discuss implementation of the methods and strategies introduced. An assessment process with rubrics have been developed to help assess progress and provide feedback. (For more information, see this article in the Christian Science Monitor, or this report from the Kosovo Education Center)
The standards for RWCT certification for both teachers and trainers have been developed by an international board. Participants are awarded certification based on their understanding and practice of RWCT methods.
Before participants are certified as trainers they must present evidence of a working familiarity with RWCT methods as well as an understanding of the project’s purposes. Many teacher trainers have created portfolios, videotaped lessons, collected student work samples and engaged with more experienced staff in extensive interviews.
RWCT is now, more than ever, dependent on local funding and fund-raising.
Critical Reading v. Critical Thinking
- Critical reading is a technique for discovering information and ideas within a text.
- Critical thinking is a technique for evaluating information and ideas, for deciding what to accept and believe.
For example, consider the following (somewhat humorous) sentence from a student essay:
Parents are buying expensive cars for their kids to destroy them.As the terms are used here, critical reading is concerned with figuring out whether, within the context of the text as a whole, " them " refers to the parents, the kids, or the cars, and whether the text supports that practice. Critical thinking would come into play when deciding whether the chosen meaning was indeed true, and whether or not you, as the reader, should support that practice.
By these definitions, critical reading would appear to come before critical thinking: Only once we have fully understood a text (critical reading) can we truly evaluate its assertions (critical thinking).�
The Two Together in HarmonyIn actual practice, critical reading and critical thinking work together.�
Critical thinking allows us to monitor our understanding as we read.� If we sense that assertions are ridiculous or irresponsible (critical thinking), we examine the text more closely to test our understanding (critical reading).�
Conversely,� critical thinking depends on critical reading.� You can think critically about a text (critical thinking), after all, only if you have understood it (critical reading).� We may choose to accept or reject a presentation, but we must know why.�We have a responsibility to ourselves, as well as to others, to isolate the real issues of agreement or disagreement. Only then can we understand and respect other people�s views.� To recognize and understand those views, we must read critically.
The Usefulness of the DistinctionIf critical thinking and critical reading are so closely linked, why is this still a useful distinction?
The usefulness of the distinction lies in its reminder that we must read each text on its own merits, not imposing our prior knowledge or views on it. While we must evaluate ideas as we read, we must not distort the meaning within a text. We must not allow ourselves to force a text to say what we would otherwise like it to say�or we will never learn anything new!
Reading Critically:� How Well Does The Text Do What It DoesWe can think of a writer as having taken on a job.� No matter what the topic, certain tasks must be done:�
- a specific topic must be addressed
- terms must be clearly defined
- evidence must be presented
- common knowledge must be accounted for
- exceptions must be explained
- causes must be shown to precede effects and to be capable of the effect
- conclusions must be shown to follow logically from earlier arguments and evidence
Thinking Critically: Evaluating The EvidenceReading to see what a text says may suffice when the goal is to learn specific information or to understand someone else's ideas. But we usually read with other purposes. We need to solve problems, build roads, write legislation, or design an advertising campaign.� We must evaluate what we have read and integrate that understanding with our prior understanding of the world.� We must decide what to accept as true and useful.� �
As readers, we want to accept as fact only that which is actually true.� To evaluate a�conclusion, we must evaluate the evidence upon which that conclusion is based.� We do not want just any information; we want reliable information.� To assess the validity of remarks within a text, we must go outside a text and bring to bear outside knowledge and standards.