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New post on the JREF’s Swift Blog

Hi! My first contribution to the JREF‘s Swift Blog, “The Hypothetical Audience“, is now up. This post is part of a series of articles by teachers who use various pedagogical techniques to promote skepticism and critical thinking in the classroom (many thanks to my friend and TAM co-panelist Bob Blaskiewicz for inviting me to contribute to this series!)

A brief excerpt:

Additionally, the ability to imagine a realistic hypothetical audience is a pragmatic skill and tool in and of itself, one that can be adapted to many contexts. It also provides a way to promote critical thinking and skepticism in the classroom. When instructing students to “imagine an audience”, most textbooks that I’ve used offer rather generic and imprecise directions along the lines of “imagine an intelligent and well-informed audience” or “imagine an audience that is similar to your classmates”. Such directions are inadequate primarily because they omit any discussion of the imaginary audience’s potential reaction to the paper’s assertions and claims. This omission is significant. Before we teach students how to craft effective arguments of their own (critical writing), we explain why it is important to be skeptical towards the arguments of others, asking questions such as “is the author trustworthy? Why? How do you know?”, “Does the author provide sufficient support for each of their assertions, or do they instead rely on assumptions or make unsupported generalizations?”, and “Does their evidence come from high-quality and unbiased sources?” (critical reading). We teach our students how to engage in critical reading, how and why it is important to scrutinize every argument carefully and thoroughly, and how to respond to an author’s arguments with charitable-yet-strong skepticism. When directing students to “imagine an audience”, however, we often forget that this imaginary audience must also practice that same skepticism, and that, without this skepticism, such an audience is a useless invention.

Read the rest here.

Thanks! More soon.

  1. Pam #

    It might also be instructive to make students write on the same argument topic for different, concrete audience examples. Like, write an argument about supporting evolution to…

    a) a physical scientist who doesn’t know about it in depth and believes in God
    b) a preacher who has supported Creationism all their life
    c) a person who has managed to go their entire adult life without hearing anything about evolution but has no biases against it (yet)

    It could be fun.

    August 1, 2012

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