Dr. Saleh Al Busaidi & Dr. Tausiff Sultana
Sultan Qaboos University, Language Center
Definition and importance of critical thinking
Developing critical thinking through literature
Description of the study and context
Tips for teaching critical thinking
• Three perspectives:
• Philosophical: definition based on the ‘hypothetical critical thinker’ in the ideal world
• Cognitive: how people actually think, define critical thinking by types of actions or behaviors that
critical thinkers can do
• Educational: what learners do or need to do (Bloom’s taxonomy)
• Two aspects:
• Skills: the abilities (synthesizing, evaluating, applying, making inferences)
• Disposition: attitude or habits of the mind (e.g. open-mindedness, inquisitiveness, flexibility, desire to
be informed, respect for others)
• Paul and Elder (2001), define critical thinking as a mode of thinking about any
subject, content, or problem.
• “Critical thinking is the most cross-curricular and generic of skill constructs. It takes
place in mathematics and science, and it takes place in humanities, the arts and the
social sciences. Critical thinking underpins literacy and numeracy”. McCurry
• The National Council for the Teaching of English Committee on Critical Thinking and the
Language Arts in the US (NCTE & IRA,1996) state that: “Critical thinking is a process
which stresses an attitude of suspended judgment, incorporates logical inquiry and
problem solving , and leads to an evaluative decision or action.”
• Critical thinking goes beyond a mere accumulation of factual information to conceptual
understanding and understanding of the interrelatedness of all concepts, old and new.
• It includes skills of analyzing arguments, making inferences using inductive or deductive
reasoning, judging or evaluating, and making decisions or solving problems.
• Critical thinking fosters in learners a sense of autonomy. Students learn to make
queries, evaluate data sources, find solutions, etc.
• Gained prime importance in era of globalization- International
interest – across disciplines
• Critical thinking is one of the essential skills of the 21st century.
• Central to effective learning
• Makes learners self motivated and autonomous
• Learners apply acquired modes of enquiry – inside & outside
• Our thinking at the personal level tends to be by default biased, self-oriented, partial,
etc. The development of critical thinking brings with it improvement not only in the
cognitive domain but also in the personal and social domains.
• The rapidly changing world requires a unique combination of “soft skills” (personal
and interpersonal) and “hard skills” (technical, problem-solving).
• Critical thinking enhances students’ employability in the fast changing workplace.
• They raise questions and problems, formulating them clearly and precisely
• They gather information, assess it and use it to make well informed conclusions or
• They think open-mindedly about issues presented to them, recognizing and assessing
their assumptions, and implications
• They communicate effectively with others in finding solutions to problems.
• Skills are not developed in a vacuum. They need a carrier!
• Literature can engage learners affectively, cognitively, linguistically and socially. That makes it
the most appropriate didactic resource for language learning and critical thinking.
• Literature is a microcosm of the real world in which characters, setting, and action presented
appear to be a replication of the real world.
• Literature reading is a complex process that requires readers to recall, retrieve and reflect on
their prior experiences or memories to construct meanings of the text.
• Readers need to be able to: differentiate facts from opinions, understand the literal or implied
meanings and the narrator’s tone, locate details related to the issues discussed, find out the
connections between the events or actions, understand different points of views about issues in
the reading, make moral reasoning and fair-grounded judgments, and apply what they have
learned from this process to the real world.
• Literature readers engage in many mental processes, such as: explanation, analysis,
synthesis, argumentation, interpretation, evaluation, problem-solving, inference, logical
reasoning, and application
• Readers respond to texts differently depending on their “cultural distance”.
• Using stories from students’ own culture lowers learners’ “affective filter” Krashen
• Same-culture stories enhance the learners’ self –esteem and are conducive to better
learning. Campbell
• When cultures match and learning is optimized, critical thinking too reaches a peak .
• When students are engaged in reading, interpreting and evaluating literary texts,
their thinking is stimulated.
• Tayeb Salih’s The Doum Tree of Wad Hamid story as an example.
• LANC 1120 Advanced Academic Writing Course- English for English
Specialists Credit students at Language Center of SQU
• Born in 1929 in Sudan, educated in Koranic school-completed education in Londonworked for BBC- passed away in 2009.
• Al Rajul al Qubsi (The Cypriot Man,1978),Urs al Zayn (The Wedding of Zein,1969),
Mawsim al Hijra ila al Shamal (Season of Migration to the North,1969), and Daumat
Wad Hamid ( The Doum Tree of Wad Hamid,1985)
• 1956-Sudan declared it’s independence from Great Britain & Egypt.
• 1952-The Egyptian Revolution helped march toward Sudanese independence.
• Sudanese culture melds the behaviors, practices & beliefs of 578 tribes,
communicating in 145 different languages.
• Village of Wad Hamid by the Nile River.
• Wad Hamid –pious slave who runs away from a cruel master who does not allow him
to pray. Later on, miracles happen to him and he acquires a saintly status.
• Doum: A palm ( Hyphaene thebaica) native to the Nile Valley of northeast Africa and
having oblong or ovoid orange sized fruit. Also called doum , gingerbread palm.
• The Doum Tree of Wad Hamid is set in a remote village in Northern Sudan.
• An old local man narrates the story to a young guest. Collective memory-12 narrative
voices- oral history.
• “Tomorrow, without doubt, you will be leaving us. When you arrive at your destination,
think well of us and judge us not too harshly.”
The clash between tradition and modernity is the central theme in Salih’s Doum tree. The
struggle of the villagers - battle between tradition and spiritualty versus modernization
and progress. The villagers of Wad Hamid refuse government’s attempts to introduce an
agricultural scheme, a water pump and a stopping place for the steamer.
• The doum tree is in the danger of being cut and the tomb of Wad Hamid would be
removed from under the tree.
• The doum tree - symbol of tradition, beauty, hope, protection, fertility - an integral
part of daily life - dream of it at night and cannot think of a life without it.
• Write out the similes and metaphors used by the Speaker to describe the doum tree.
• The Doum tree “look at its full, sturdy trunk, like the form of a comely woman, at the branches
on high resembling the mane of a frolicsome steed!” “like some mythical eagle spreading its
wings over the village and everyone in it”.
• The Doum tree “look at it, my son, look at the doum tree: lofty, proud, and haughty as thoughas though it were some ancient idol”.
• The Doum tree is special – stands above all other trees- “ he climbed a hill and on reaching
the top he saw a dense forest of doum trees with a single tall tree in the center which in
comparison with the others looked like a camel amid a herd of goats”.
• The fuss made by government officials about the doum tree followed by total silence is
described as “like a tornado blowing up for a while and then passing over…”
• The narrator talks of the horse flies and says “they have a special love for man
and no sooner smell him out than they attach themselves to him.”
• The preacher who preaches on “the delights of the primitive life”, runs away from the
village unable to withstand the bites of the flies and other hardships that the villagers
uncomplainingly put up with.
• The villagers are “solely concerned with their everyday needs” and never rebel or
complain about anything but they “rose up as one man” and attacked the government
official who came to announce that the tree would be cut.
According to himself, what was the Speaker as a young man ? Do you believe
him? Do you find, as a narrator, he exaggerates at any point in the story ?
• The old man is no doubt exaggerating when he says “ In my young days I would
breakfast off half a sheep, drink the milk of five cows for supper, and be able to
lift a sack of dates with one hand.” I don’t believe that anyone could eat so much
and not have digestive problems or cholesterol issues! Description of horse-flies as
enormous flies “the size of young sheep” also sounds rather exaggerated! Sand
flies are called “devils”, which I think is an appropriate description of the menace
of these flies.
Why does the man in charge of the government scheme speak as follows : “Doum
tree stay-scheme no stay!” What does the writer want us to understand from this ?
The event occurs during the time of foreign rule and the district governor speaks in
broken Arabic because of his unfamiliarity with the language . There is a hint that the
villagers find his broken Arabic funny.
• Reflection – mental process- contemplation, exploration of an event.
• It involves explorative revisiting- to find new meaning through questioning own
assumptions, reworking issues and being more critical than before.
• How does the text connect you to real life ?
• The village reminds me of Oman in the past, with no electricity, no asphalt roads, no
schools and no hospitals. Life indeed must have been hard for my grandparents. No
wonder the narrator’s son, in the story, runs away to the neighboring city to enroll in
school. Probably I too would have done the same.
• The behavior of the villagers at the tomb of Wad Hamid is indeed shocking! How
could they venerate a dead holy man and ask favors from him and promise offerings
in return for the favors? This is like idol worship. I thought such practices were put an
end to with the advent of Islam but realize, while reading on internet, that some
Muslims in Morocco still do all that is described in the story. On further discussion, I
came to know that even in some Asian countries some dead holy men are worshipped
as Patron Saints and people seek relief and protection from them. I even happened to
watch a movie song sequence where this was done. Very strange practices indeed!
• The old man in the story addresses the young man as ‘my son’ this is so truly an Omani
practice. When I read the words “Sheik” in an English text, for a moment I did not
understand the word then I realized what it was and felt a kind of happiness and
closeness to the text and the story.
• When the narrator speaks of riding donkeys and camel for transport and the bones
aching from that, I am reminded of means of travel in Oman in the past.
• The narrator also speaks of how the “townsfolk don’t go to sleep directly the birds are
silent…” this reminds me of my grandfather’s words. He said that in their days people
slept once it got dark (perhaps because there was no electricity and being awake was
difficult) and woke up with the birds.. Life now is so different. People go to bed only in
the early hours of the day and sleep through the day… (on weekends!)
• The villagers in the story struggle to preserve their
traditional identity. Do you think tradition and
modernity are at war with each other in real life? If
you were to choose between the two, what would you
choose ? Why ?
• Tradition is when a man wears a dishdasha and goes to his job. It is when a student
uses only books to study. Modernity is a world with technology “a small village”. I
will choose tradition though modernity offers big help and comfort. Who knows,
modernity may bring about the destruction of the world.
• I’d rather be with tradition than with this scary era of speed which brings so much
pressure with all its modernistic devices using which one misses the “real” life while
living in virtual world! It is the cause of so many broken relationships, compared to the
• In the past, Omani people lived in simple houses made of mud and palm leaves.
They lived by fishing and collecting wood. The family consisted of over 14 children
or more. Drinking water from the falaj, they lived a healthy and happy life, close
to nature. Simple, humble people, lived with friendship and helpful nature. Now ,
family size has shrunk, water comes in taps at home, there is air conditioning, cars,
electricity and so on but where is the peace, the happiness ?
• The conflict between tradition and modernity need not impact negatively on life.
We can balance by keeping traditions which express our identity correctly but at
the same time we have to leave harmful traditions ( eg.superstitions) because it will
hinder us from living in a better way. Moreover, we have to take positive things
from modernity and leave the negative things. Actually, this balance requires the
old people and young people to understand the ideas and thoughts of themselves
and to cooperate in order to preserve the heritage and to benefit from progress at
the same time.
• Tradition is the root of modernity and just as we cannot imagine a tree to exist without
a root, modernity cannot exist without tradition. Tradition and modernity are
complementary, so I do not believe in one of them to the exclusion of the other.
• Modernity is my choice because through modernity I can keep tradition. Following
tradition means there is no place for modernity but if we follow modernity, we can use
modern techniques to spread the valuable collective ideas of our forefathers.
• Mixed responses- difficulty in making choice- outward superficial aspects- clothing &
customary rituals.
• Open support for tradition / for modernity.
• More balanced- view negative & positive aspects –synthesis of both in life.
• Multiple perspectives- different angle of seeing..
• “ What all these people have overlooked is that there is plenty of room for all these things:
the doum tree, the tomb, the water-pump, and the steamer’s stopping place .”
• Many students lack critical thinking skills because:
• Students’ prior learning experience was based on rote learning
• Teachers lack experience and training in critical thinking instruction
• Students are more attuned to a collective society where individuality in thought and action is not
valued as much as in western societies (Tung& Chang)
Critical thinking instruction should be carried out effectively and systematically
Acquisition is not automatic – it requires explicit teaching
Teaching should be student centered rather than content-focused
It requires active engagement from students
Students should be encouraged to examine the thinking of themselves and others.
Teachers should model critical thinking by articulating their own thinking process so as
to make thinking visible
• The development of critical thinking skills requires content. You cannot teach them in
abstract. You also cannot simply ask students to memorize them.
• For assessment, teachers should use open-ended tasks, real-world or authentic problem
contexts that require students to go beyond recalling or restating previously learned
• Assessment tasks should make student reasoning noticeable by requiring them to
provide evidence or logical arguments in support of judgments, choices, claims, or
• Critical thinking involves skills and dispositions. Literature can be a very useful context
for the development of critical thinking skills.
• Critical thinking goes beyond a mere accumulation of factual information to conceptual
understanding and understanding of the interrelatedness of all concepts, old and new.
• Teachers should make deliberate efforts to develop critical thinking among students.
• Campbell, J. (1987). Primitive mythology: The masks of God. New York: Penguin.
• Capper, J. (1996). Testing to learn- Teaching to test: Improving educational testing in
developing countries. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
• Dewey. (1993). How we think: A restatement of the relation of reflective thinking to the
educational process. (Rev.ed.). Boston: D.C. Heath
• Fish,S. (1980). Is there a Text in this class? The Authority of Interpretive Communities.
Cambridge, MA.: Harvard University Press.
• Krashen, S.D. (1986). Principles and practice in second language acquisition. Oxford:
Pergamon Press.
• Lai, E . R. (2011). Critical thinking: A literature review. Retrieved March 30, 2014 from
• Langer, J.A (1990). Understanding Literature. Language Arts, 67 (80), 812-816.
• McCurry, D. (2013). Teaching Critical Thinking. The Research Digest, QCT, 2013 (9). Retrieved
from http://www.qct.edu.au
• NCTE&IRA. (1996). Standards for the English language arts. Newark, NJ: IRA, Urbana, IL:
NCTE http://www.ncte.org/library/NCTEFiles/Resources/Books/Sample/StandardsDoc.pdf
• Partnership for 21st century skills. (2013). Retrieved from http://www.p21.org.
• Paul, R., & Elder, L. (2001). The miniature guide to critical thinking: Concept and tools. Dillon
Beach, CA: The Foundation for Critical Thinking
• Tung, C. & Chang, S. (2009).Developing critical thinking through literature reading. Feng Chia
Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences. 19 (pp. 287 – 317).

Thinking Critically: Tradition Versus Modernity in