The "Reading and Writing for Critical Thinking" program

This internationally implemented educational program makes teachers in all levels of education acquainted with concrete, practical methods, techniques and strategies integrated into an open but compact system which is very easy to use directly in school. The program itself does not emphasize pedagogical, psychological or literary theoretical expertise, even though these constitute its basis, but accentuates a direct modeling of teaching activities and their subsequent analysis.

The participants of the professional development courses of RWCT in the Czech Republic become more active and more child-oriented teachers in their classroom, they often become agents of change in their own school (they participate in internal trainings of the staff or in the introduction of the curricular reform elements ointo teacher practice). The teacher who wants can acquire the Certificate of the RWCT teacher, or can become a certified trainer of RWCT - after a special training, and after fulfilling the Standards of RWCT teacher and trainer in co-operation with her/his certifying trainer.

The certified trainers meet on specific training occasions provided by the Kritické Myšlení NGO, such as the Summer Institute, the web RWCT-Trainer Saloon or special meetings and workshops.

For the participants and graduates of the RWCT courses the Kritické myšlení NGO offers membership in the Network for Information and Support, a part of which is the membership quarterly journal Kritické listy (see on the website) and other advantages in access to the Summer Institutes etc.

The program's characteristics

  1. well-thought-out and structured use of reading, writing and discussion activities with the aim of developing the independent thinking of students, stressing the need for lifelong learning and the ability to sustain this, inspiring a creative approach to new situations, the ability to co-operate and to respect the opinions of other people

  2. the process of active learning, carried out in three stages: evocation - realization of meaning - reflection

  3. a change in the teacher's position in the process of education and learning and a change in the communication between the teacher and the students, as well as between the students themselves

  4. the use of factual knowledge to solve problems and as a material base helping to develop thought processes, a well-balanced ratio between various kinds of knowledge, skills and evolving attitudes

  5. a consideration of the real interests and needs of the student

  6. the student continually reflects on his or her own learning process and such reflection constitutes one of the tools for whole-life learning

  7. an emphasis on continuous co-operation between the students, using a wide range of co-operative methods

  8. evaluation of the teaching process itself, not just its achievements

  9. the student is supposed to identify with the objectives of the education process - as he/she understands those objectives, is later able to formulate them independently and is able to evaluate the extent, to which he/she is able to fulfill those objectives

  10. a perception of the class as a learning entity which is open to new ideas and non-traditional solutions.

The basic framework for this program is provided by the so-called three-stage learning cycle

  1. evocation - every learning process starts when students are able to realize and express verbally the things they already know about the chosen topic or what they think about it; at the same time they should also be able to formulate their questions and those areas of the topic they feel ambiguous about and which they would like to find answers to in the course of the following stage.

  2. realization of meaning - confronting the student's original concept of the topic with the source of new information, opinions, newly formulated context (text, film, narrative, lecture...)

  3. reflection - students re-formulate their understanding of the topic with regard to the newly acquired information and the discussions with their colleagues, they fully realize what they have learnt and which of the original concepts proved to be correct and which were disproved, and they realize the opinions and attitudes of other people (classmates, the teacher) with regard to the topic

Examples of the methods used within the program

  • free writing

  • pairwork - discussion

  • pairwork - reading

  • peer teaching

  • keywords

  • guided reading with prediction

  • discussion web

  • brainstorming, thought maps

  • double diary

  • "Save the last word for me"

  • various types of charts

  • I.N.S.E.R.T

  • dice

  • cinquains

How does the program strive to ensure that the teachers are able to apply the knowledge and skills acquired during the course in their daily practical teaching? In the following ways:

The changes which the program gradually brings to the teacher's work

The origin of the program

The program was developed by the Consortium for Democratic Pedagogy, whose members are the University of Northern Iowa, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, the Orava Association - Project Orava, the International Reading Association - IRA.

Funding and organizational background of the program

In the countries of Central and Eastern Europe the program was started and funded in 1997 by a network of offices belonging to the Open Society Institute (in the Czech Republic it was represented by the Open Society Fund Praha), founded by George Soros. In the Czech Republic the program received support also from the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, The Jan Hus Foundation, the U.S.I.A. and the Embassy of the U.S.A. In recent years the strategies of teaching and learning that have been introduced by the RWCT program are in the Czech Republic also used in projects managed and funded by the People in Need Foundation and the EU funds.

Since February 2000 the program started to be provided by the Kritické myšlení (Critical Thinking) Association NGO. It co-ordinates the network of trainers and graduates of the RWCT courses. It also provides certification of trainers and outstanding RWCT teachers and it proposes their international certification. The Kritické myšlení NGO installs certified Methodological and Training Centers of RWCT - Effective Schools. The Kritické myšlení Association co-operates whaerever possible with Teacher-training faculties of Czech universities to bring the program into contact with pre-service training of teachers. A network of the whole-schools support project "Myslí celá škola" (The Whole School for Critical Thinking) was started in the year 2000 for those schools in which a teacher - a graduate from the basic full course of RWCT - found systematic support by the principal and at least one of other colleagues. Since then a vast number of elementary school teacher teams have come through the year-long training.

Personal guarantors of the international program

The consortium is presided over by four directors:

Volunteer lecturers work in each of the 19 countries; in the Czech Republic:

History and participants of the program in the Czech Republic

A total of 26 elementary and secondary school and university teachers participated in the firts run of the program in the school year 1997/98.

In the school year 1998/99 another 68 teachers took part in a repeat of the program which took place under the auspices of OSF Praha and about a hundred teachers regularly attend the courses, organized by the participants in the first stage of the course, which are aimed at colleagues from their own schools and those in the immediate neighborhood.

In the school year 1999/2000 the program was repeated for twelve groups, in which 280 participants were trained, including university professors.

Since then the trainings continue not only in open courses but also "in the staff room", i.e. the already trained teachers continue disseminating the RWCT program within their own school.

In the first semester of the school year 2000/2001 the program is realized for 10 groups with some 200 participants.

In the period of 1997 - 2002 there were 44 courses realized in Czech towns, in that number three courses in Brno, four in Příbram, five in Prague, two in Hradec Králové, two in Český Krumlov, three in Mostkovice. Two courses were provided for the program Health Promoting Schools (WHO).

In next two school years (2003-2004) there were 37 courses running in the Czech Republic delivered by certified trainers of RWCT and co-ordinated by the Kritické myšlení. Most of these courses run under the management of the trainer herself/himself, or under a regional or local teacher training center, or a singular school.

The scope of the program

Working materials

The authors of the program produced eight guide books which serve both the participants in the courses and their trainers. The guides offer descriptions of sample lessons, instruction for the analysis of these sample lessons, they also touch briefly on issues of pedagogy and psychology from which the theory of active learning and pedagogical constructivism takes its source. The guides provide texts for work in the course sessions but these are gradually replaced by national texts chosen and tested by the national trainers.

The topics of the guidebooks

1. A Framework for Active Learning and Critical Thinking

The first Guidebook presents the rationale for critical thinking and interactive learning, and it demonstrates a research-based three-phase model for organizing teaching and learning. In the first phase students are encouraged to consider their assumptions about a topic and to frame their questions about it. Then comes the second phase, the lesson proper, in which students remain active as they inquire and examine the topic The third "reflection" phase encourages students to consider what they have learned and compare it with their prior assumptions, to question and debate the claims of the material, to consider its implications, to think of the topic in different ways, or to apply the ideas to new situations. In this course teachers learn a preliminary set of teaching strategies for applying this three-phase model. By the time they have completed the course, they will have learned more than 60 such alternative strategies for use with different materials for different purposes.

2. Methods for Promoting Critical Thinking

The Guide presents ways of using different levels of questions to evoke discussions of fictional or non-fictional texts. These range from "lower order questions of fact and comprehension, to "higher order" questions that ask students to use ideas to solve problems, to compare different points of view, or to evaluate the adequacy of a line of thinking. The taxonomy of questions according to Bloom and Sanders is explained.

3. Reading/ Writing/Discussion in Every Discipline

This part stresses the interrelatedness of the language skills (reading, writing, speaking, and listening) in an interactive classroom. The course focuses especially on techniques applicable to every subject area that uses reading and writing as means of learning. The course also demonstrates ways to enliven lectures, with questions and answers to heighten students' engagement and original thought.

4. Further Strategies for Promoting Critical Thinking

This Guidebook revisits the RWCT Program's three-phase teaching model. This course presents further methods for use in all three phases. Here teachers learn several strategies for encouraging discussions, strategies for debate and argument analysis, and ways of using debates as rehearsals for writing argumentative essays.

5. Creating a Stimulating Environment for Critical Thinking

The traditional role of the teacher is changing: the teacher becomes one of the partners within the learning community. She/He encourages the students to express their views and take standpoints that can be substantiated by well-organized information.

6. The Reading Workshop: Encouraging Reflective Reading

The goal of the reading workshop is to present methods that can be used by the participants to help their students to orient themselves in a variety of accessible texts but at the same time provokes them to deeper reflection, to thinking about the meaning of what they read. The goal of the teachers' efforts is to prepare eager readers who read from inner necessity and in order to find answers to their own questions. In this part of the course the participants learn to conduct "mini-lessons" for readers.

7. Writing Workshop: From Self-Expression to Written Arguments

shows teachers how to use a workshop approach to writing and how to move students along the spectrum from writing about personal experiences to more disciplined exposition and argument. Writing workshops create in the classroom the conditions real writers seek and the processes they use when they write. Personal writing offers students the opportunity to make meaning from experience, to form opinions, and to know each other more fully.

8. The Evaluation and Assessment of Students' Work, Lesson Planning

In the last guide the participants find many answers to questions arising concerning the need to change their methods and even focus, parallel to the change in teaching and learning in their classrooms. The participants also learn how to prepare their lesson plans and after consulting their ideas with colleagues they write and present plans for some of the lessons they will teach in their classrooms in the immediately following weeks.

Contact address

For an up-to-date contact details please look at the top of this website.

For more information in English please visit the international RWCT website (www.rwct.org)

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