Reverse Engineering

By: Megan Prats 1/25/2014

Critical thinking development as described in Ask. Don’t Tell. takes place in a forward fashion – starting at the question and then arriving to the answer. However, critical thinking development does not have to take place in one direction all of the time. Sometimes, the student will answer the question immediately. If the student starts at the answer, you need to reverse engineer the critical thinking process so that you can engage in critical thinking development if need be.

Reverse engineering of the critical thinking process normally takes place in the following order:

  1. The student arrives to the answer immediately.
  2. You ask the student to explain her answer.
  3. Once the student starts explaining her answer, you realize that the student’s analysis was incorrect or that the student does not understand her answer.
  4. Critical thinking development begins!

If you see that the student traveled to the answer because of an incorrect analysis, make sure to point out where the student went wrong. If it is a substantive issue, review the substance that the student needs to solve the problem. If it is a critical thinking issue, point out which element of critical thinking the student is lacking. Then, engage in a critical thinking development exercise where you isolate that one element of critical thinking and strengthen the student’s understanding of it. Once the student has a better grasp of the originally poorly executed element of critical thinking, have the student reapply it to the problem to see if the student’s answer changes.

If the student does not understand her answer, determine whether or not the student guessed the answer or got the answer via Deductive Reasoning external to the problem. Now, deductive reasoning is a better than guessing because with deductive reasoning at least the student has to do some problem solving. The student has guessed the answer when she has no explanation for her answer. The student used deductive reasoning based on things outside of the problem when you have something like the following scenario – because the first question was A, the second was B, the third must be C. The danger with this is that if the same exterior circumstances are not replicated when the student needs to solve the problem for herself in her life, then she does not have the foundation to solve the problem. Thus, if this is the case, guide the student to the answer via a series of questions to show the student how to solve the problem in isolation.

In sum, you can perform critical thinking development forwards and backwards. Whenever the student arrives to the answer immediately, you need to reverse engineer the critical thinking process to make sure it is sound. If it is not, then you should engage in the appropriate critical thinking development.

© Megan Prats 2014


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