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In Tan, H.P.C. (Ed)(2007).

Engaging Films and Music Videos in Critical


Thinking. Singapore: McGraw-Hill.

Using Walt Disney Cartoons to Teach Critical Thinking in the


Singapore Primary English Classrooms
Quek Yee Ser, Sharon
National Institute of Education, Singapore

Abstract
This chapter discusses how critical thinking can be promoted in the Singapore primary
English classrooms. The targeted students in such classrooms range from age 7 to 12
years of age. In this chapter, the use of Walt Disney animated cartoons is highlighted to
infuse critical thinking in English literacy lessons. These films can provide a context for
engaging and reflective discussions and encourage teachers to teach critical thinking
skills to promote a thinking culture in the English primary classrooms in Singapore.

1. Introduction
Ultimately, it is not we who define thinking, it is thinking that defines us.
Carey, Foltz, & Allan (Newsweek, 1983, February 7)

At the 2005 Work Plan Seminar for school leaders and educational practitioners,
Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, our Minister for Education, called for a re-examination of
the fundamentals of teaching and learning. Introducing the theme, Touching Hearts,
Engaging Minds Preparing Our Learners for Life under the Teach Less, Learn More
(TLLM) framework, the central foci is on examining and reflecting on the changing
landscape of knowledge construction and the impact of this change on teaching and
learning (Shanmugaratnam, 2005). This philosophy re-positions our students as the
constructors and owners of knowledge and demands for a more creative curricular that
nurtures them to become intelligent thinkers, who can self-regulate their own thought
processes on top of acquiring appropriate attitude and knowledge for effective learning
(Halpern, 2003).
As teachers, our challenge in the changing education landscape is to guide the
unschooled mind of our children (Gardener, 1995) and help them to develop into
curious, critical, analytical reflective thinkers problem solvers who are quick to learn,
flexible and able to add value to their employing organizations (Harvey et al, 1997 cited
in Pithers, 2000).These dispositions or attitudes associated with critical thinking will also
equip them to face the complexities and challenges of the new millennium with
confidence (Lim, 1997). In Singapore, two important desired outcomes of education for
the primary pupils are the abilities to distinguish right from wrong and to think for and
express themselves (Ministry of Education, 1998). Since critical thinking is a learnable
skill (Halpern, 2003), it is feasible to design lessons that will achieve these outcomes that
characterize clear, precise, purposeful thinking.
In the context of the primary English classrooms, one strategy is to introduce pop culture
such as Walt Disney animated cartoons in reflective discussions. In relation to children,
the term pop culture refers to those cultural texts, artefacts and practices which are
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attractive to large numbers of children and which are often mass produced on global
scale (Kenway and Bullen, 2001 cited in Marsh, 2005:2). In this paper, pop culture in
the form of animated cartoons, which are popular among children, can be effectively used
to engage pupils in learning as well as to develop their critical and literacy skills.
Specifically, six Walt Disney animated cartoons are used to demonstrate the infusion of
the critical thinking skills (listed in Figure 1) in the primary English classrooms in
Singapore. This list is not exhaustive but it suggests how the contemporary childhoods
and literacy lives are shaped by the emergence of pop culture and new technologies,
which will in turn shape the pedagogical practices in the modern day classrooms (Marsh,
2005).

2. What is Critical Thinking?


Fischer and Spiker (2000) define critical thinking to include reasoning or logic, judgment,
metacognition, reflection, questioning, and mental processes. According to Swartz and
Parks (1994), the goal of critical thinking is to acquire critical judgement. The core skills
embedded within the domain of critical thinking include (1) assessing the reasonableness
of ideas through (a) accuracy of observation and (b) reliability of sources and
(2) inferencing through (c) the use of evidence in casual explanation, (d) prediction,
(e) generalization, (f) reasoning by analogy and (3) deduction through conditional
reasoning. This domain of thinking skills is listed in Figure 1 (Swartz and Park, 1994:7):

Critical Thinking
Goal: Critical judgment
Skills at assessing the reasonableness of ideas
1. Assessing basic information
Accuracy of observation
Reliability of sources
2. Inference
Use of Evidence
Casual explanation
Prediction
Generalization
Reasoning by analogy
Deduction
Conditional reasoning (ifthen)
REPRESENTATIVE ATTITUDE
We should base judgment on good reasons, we should be open-minded.

Figure 1

There are three approaches to teaching thinking in a classroom (Swartz and Parks, 1994).
This includes (a) the teaching of thinking where direct instruction in thinking is given in a
non-curricular context; (b) the teaching for thinking where methods are used to promote
thinking in curricular contexts and (c) infusion where direct instruction in specific
thinking skills are integrated in content area lessons. Such infusion lessons help to
improve student thinking and enhances content learning.
In this paper, the third approach is adopted to infuse critical thinking skills in primary
English lessons to support our ministers call to Teach Less and Learn More. The main
thrust of this paper revolves around the kinds of critical questions teachers can ask during
a reflective discussion about the plot, theme and characterization seen in each Walt
Disney cartoon used. Such teacher-student interaction is crucial, as it serves as a platform
where critical thinking can be best promoted (Raths et al, 1966).
Each of these cartoons can be screened before a speaking, listening, reading, writing or
grammar lesson to help them to acquire a questioning attitude pertinent in the
development of critical thinking skills. According to Goh and Yio (2002:124), critical
questions are asked to help students to:
reflect on the content of the text and not merely process it
attend closely to the text to identify inconsistencies within it
justify reactions or comments to the text (not anything goes)
make inferences that are supported by logical deductions
In the context of this paper, the term text refers to the digitalized texts or animated
cartoons used.

3. Guidelines for the Selection of Animated Cartoons


Before we discuss how the Walt Disney cartoons can be used to teach critical thinking, it
is important to select good quality cartoons for usage in the language classrooms. The
criteria
listed
below
are
adapted
from
the
following
website
http://www.rochesterpubliclibrary.org/info/libpol/selection/selection_childmedia.htm

A. Technical Quality
should be well engineered and manufactured
sound must be high quality
spoken recordings should have appropriate background music and sound effects;
good balance of narration and dialogue, music and sound effects
video recordings should be well framed and focused;
colour should be suited to the mood and type of story.
B. Content Quality
respect for children's intelligence and imagination (should not be overly "cute")
adaptations acceptable when the mood of the original source is retained
content follows a logical development
provides insight into human and social needs
contribution towards breadth of critical viewpoints on controversial issues
relevant to themes and language features highlighted in the English course books
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C. Performance
highest quality is essential in all types of performances
over-dramatization is avoided
narrators' and storytellers' voices should be well-modulated. They should speak
clearly with good diction. Style should be distinctive and entertaining.
D. Authenticity
accurate up-to-date information is provided
facts should be impartially presented

4. Using Walt Disney Animated Cartoons to Infuse Critical Thinking in the


Singapore Primary English Classrooms:
In the following section, critical questions revolving around the seven critical thinking
skills seen in Figure 1 will be listed to suggest how these thinking skills can be infused in
the teaching of language features highlighted in the selected English thematic units.
Before we look at the questions in detail, let us briefly discuss the respective critical
thinking skills listed in Figure 1.

4.1 Critical Thinking Skills: Accuracy Of Observation / Reliability of Sources


In any literacy programme, it is important to equip student with information literacy
skills. In particular, there is a need to increase students awareness in using a variety of
factors to make judgment on information credibility (Swartz and Parks, 1994). A possible
example taken from the cartoon, The Sleeping Beauty, can include:
How do the king and queen know that their daughters, Princess Auroras, life will be in
danger if they do not send her away from the palace? Is their informant reliable? How do
you know?

4.2 Critical Thinking Skill: Causal Explanation


It is important to consider a variety of relevant and available evidence to determine when
making casual judgement of an issue (Swartz and Parks, 1994). This will enable one to
develop analytical intelligence highlighted in Steinbergs (1985) Triarchic Theory of
Human Intelligence which includes analyzing, judging, memorizing, evaluating,
reasoning, comparing and contrasting (Lim, 1997). The ability to reason well is a crucial
critical thinking skill to acquire in effective learning (Halpern, 2003). In an English
lesson, this critical thinking skill can be infused to enable students to develop good
listening skills as they view the cartoon, The Sleeping Beauty, and listen for possible
evidence to answer the following question:
How did the evil witch manage to find Princess Aurora after 16 years when the three
fairies have hid her so well?
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4.3 Critical Thinking Skill: Prediction


Skillful prediction is an essential thinking skill as it prepares us to take actions for a
situation. Our common problems in prediction is we do not raise questions about what
might happen as the result of a particular situation, how likely our predictions are and
how important it is to take into account of all the relevant evidence so as to determine
how likely our predictions are (Swartz and Parks, 1994). An example of a prediction
question on the cartoon, The Sleeping Beauty, is:
What might happen to the witch and her evil followers at the end of the story? Do you
think they would be killed by the king? Why or why not?

4.4 Critical Thinking Skill: Generalization


Generalization is important skill that will make our thinking more efficient. It helps us to
expand our knowledge on a class of objects which have similar traits. However, a
common default is that we often generalize based on a sample of individuals without
knowing its representativeness. In order to teach this skill well, we need to help students
to think about the support a sample provides for the generalization of an object, person or
issue (Swartz and Parks, 1994). A possible example of a critical question on The Sleep
Beauty will be:
If Prince Philip has not won his fight against the dragon, do you think he would be able
to break the spell that is cast on Princess Aurora? What makes you say so?

4.5 Critical Thinking Skill: Reasoning by Analogy


According to Swartz and Parks (1994), the common defaults in our thinking revolve
around ones lack of analysis of how similar or different two things are to support the
conclusion we want to draw. It is thus important to teach this critical thinking skill as it
helps to sharpen pupils inferential skills needed in reading comprehension. At the
primary level, we can start by training pupils to identify attributes and components as
well as relationship and patterns so that they can extend and refine their new knowledge
learnt later in their own productive discourses such as speaking and writing. Therefore,
when they view the cartoon, a possible question on The Sleeping Beauty a teacher can ask
is:
Why did the illustrator draw the witch and her followers as ugly animals? What can we
learn about them from their physical appearance?

4.6 Critical Thinking Skill: Conditional Reasoning


Activities involving conditional reasoning help students to sharpen their deductive logical
thinking skills (Swartz and Parks, 1994). It increases their judgment of the validity and
reliability of the assumptions by drawing conclusions through combining conditional
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statements with other relevant information (Swartz and Parks, 1994; Pithers, 2000;
Cederblom & Paulsen, 2001; Fisher, 2001). An example of a critical question on The
Sleeping Beauty would be:
What must Prince Philip do in order to save Princess Aurora?

In the following sections, six Walt Disney animated cartoons are recommended to teach
the different critical thinking skills at each grade level in the Singapore Primary English
classrooms. Specific language features from selected units are taken from several local
English primary textbooks to suggest how these critical thinking skills can be infused in
the teaching of English. A summary list can be seen in Appendix 1. It is to be noted that
at each grade level, a second cartoon title is suggested for further use.
Cartoon 1: Wishing Upon a Starfish in Princess Stories: A Gift From the Heart
Grade level

Primary 1

Duration

20 minutes

Synopsis

Princess Ariel found a ballerina figure in the sea and wanted to


have two tails to dance like the figure. She met a fellow
mermaid, Gabrielle, who wished for a voice to sing. Together,
they were told that if they found a giant starfish and made a
wish to him, their wishes would come true. However, it did not
happen the way they have expected. At the end of the story,
they learnt that their greatest gift is to accept who they are and
be happy with themselves.

Title of Primary English


Course book

Celebrate English 1A
Unit 3: Animals Big and Small
Language Features
Critical Questions
Simile
What kind of animal does Princess
Ariel look like? How do you know?
Can you describe how she looks in
detail to me?
Simile
Why cant Princess Ariel dance like
the ballerina figure she is holding?
Does she look like the figure? Which
Comparison of
part of her body is the same and which
adjectives
part is different?
Comparison of
In the fighting scene between
adjectives
Sebastian, the hermit crab, and the cat,
who do you think will win the fight?
Why do you say so?
Asking and answering Why do you think Gabrielle use sign
questions
language to speak with Ariel? Do you
know what she is saying to Ariel? How
do you know?

Critical Thinking Skill


(Reasoning by Analogy)

Critical Thinking Skill


(Accuracy Of Observation)

Asking and answering


questions

How does Princess Ariel know that she


is in danger of being attacked by giant
turtle?
What do Princess Ariel and Gabrielle
wish for when they later meet the giant
starfish? How do you know?

Critical Thinking Skill


(Conditional Reasoning)

Do you think Princess Ariel and


Gabrielle are given the correct
information that if they present their
wish to a gigantic magical starfish,
their dreams will come true? Why do
you say so?
Asking and answering Princess Ariel and Gabrielle are told
questions
that if they wish upon a magical
starfish, their wish would come true.
However, when they follow their
dreams, they must overcome obstacles.
Do you think that magic can help us to
fulfil our wishes and dreams? What
makes you say so?
The magic starfish tells Ariel and
Gabrielle that one will always face
problems when he/she follows their
dreams. What do you think about this
sentence? Will we always face
problems when we follow our dreams?
How do you know?

Cartoon 2: The Jungle Book


Grade level

Primary 2

Duration

85 minutes

Synopsis

Mowgli is a boy who was raised by panthers in the jungle as a


man cub. When his wise old foster father, Bagheera the panther,
knew that the menacing tiger, Shere Khan, who hated the man
hunters, was returning to the forest, he tried to get Mowgli to
leave the jungle. Mowgli resisted his good intention and refused
to leave the jungle. Throughout the story, Bagheera, the panther,
and Baloo, the bear, protected Mowgli from harm. Baloo was
even injured by Shere Khan in his fight to protect the boy.
Mowgli eventually met a young girl and followed her into a
man village and left the jungle permanently.

Title of Primary English


Course book

Celebrate English 2B
Unit 4: Fun with Stories

Critical Thinking Skill


(Causal Explanation)

Language Features
Past tense
Beginning

Critical Questions
At the beginning of the story, how did
Mowgli end up at the jungle?

Why did Mowgli refuse to leave the


jungle when he was advised to do so?
Critical Thinking Skill
(Conditional reasoning)

Past tense

If Bagheera and Baloo did not protect


Mowgli, do you think Mowgli would
be able to survive on his own? What
made you say so?

Present tense

Do you think it is better for Mowgli to


stay in the jungle on his own or to
leave for the man village? Why or why
not?

Critical Thinking Skill


(Accuracy of observation)

Past tense

Mowgli claimed that the snake


betrayed him. What did the snake do?

Critical Thinking Skill


(Prediction)

Past tense
Ending

Shere Khan, the tiger, was chased out


of the jungle by Bagheera and Baloo.
Do you think he would come back and
harm Mowgli in the man village? Why
or why not?

Critical Thinking Skill


(Generalization)

Present tense
Ending

What value can you learn from this


story?

Cartoon 3: Mulan
Grade level

Primary 3

Duration

85 minutes

Synopsis

Mulans father was recalled into the army to fight the Hun
leader, Shan Yu and his army. As he was old and stricken with
illness, he would not perform his duty. Mulan, his only child,
secretly replaced him by disguising herself as a man. With the
help of her guardian dragon, Mushu, she survived her basic
military training. Her bravery and determination helped her to
rescue the emperor from Shan Yus captivity and she was
awarded honour and love for her role as the heroine of the story.

Title of Primary English


Course book

Critical Thinking Skill


(Generalization)

Critical Thinking Skill


(Causal Explanation)

My Pals Are Here! 3B


Unit 9: Tales to Tell
Language Features
Action verbs

Critical Questions
At the beginning of the story, Mulan
was trained to be a quiet, demure,
gracious, delicate, refined, poised and
gentle lady. Do you think these
descriptions fit her mannerism? Why
or why not?

Thinking verbs

Why do you think Mulan had o


disguise herself as a man and join the
army? Why couldnt she join the army
as a woman?
Do you know of any country in the
world that allows women to join the
army?

Critical Thinking Skill


(Reasoning by Analogy)

Saying verbs
Thinking verbs

How would you describe the Mulan


that is seen at the battlefield? What
makes you think so?
If Mushu had not been by her side to
help Mulan, do you think Mulan would
have won the battles against Shan Yu?
Why or why not?
Do you think Mulan and her army
general would get married in the end?
What makes you say so?

Critical Thinking Skill


(Conditional reasoning)

Saying verbs
Thinking verbs

Critical Thinking Skill


(prediction)

Thinking verbs
Saying verbs

Grade level

Cartoon 4: Shark Tale


Primary 4

Duration

60 minutes

Synopsis

Oscar, the protagonist, works as a lowly tongue scrubber in the


coral reef city. He dreams of being rich and famous so that he
can get out of poverty and dates the sexy Lola whom he meets
during a horse-racing game. One day, he was near Lenny, the
vegetarian shark and a fellow shark friend when Lennys friend
was killed by a human being. He claims credit for Lennys
friends death and calls himself a Shark Slayer. He soon
becomes famous and is awarded wealth for his new role as the
community in reef city wants to be protected from shark attacks.
He even teams up with Lenny to deceive his community. Later
in the story, Oscar is touched by the sincerity of Angies love
and decides to turn over a new leaf. He continues his decent
living as a tongue scrubber but found true love and friendship at
the end of the story.

Title of Primary English


Course book

My Pals Are Here! 4B


Unit 9: What Do You Think of it?

Language Features
Critical Thinking Skill
(Causal Explanation)

Critical Questions

Collective
noun The population at the coral reef city is
(Singular and plural afraid of one group of sea creatures.
noun) used in subject- What is it? How do you know?
verb agreement
Why does Oscar lie to his friends that
he is the Shark Slayer? What makes
him resort to this means? Do you think
it is right for Oscar to do that?

Quantifiers: Either
/Neither

Can Oscar achieve wealth and fame


without resorting to deceptive ways?
What else can you suggest for him to
do in order to achieve fame and
wealth?

Collective
noun Why does Lenny escape from his home
(Singular and plural and disguise himself as a dolphin?
noun) used in subjectverb agreement
Why do you think Lennys father
forces him to hunt for fish?

What moral values can you learn from


this story?
Critical Thinking Skill
(Prediction)

Critical Thinking Skill


(Generalization)

Collective
noun Do you think Oscar will choose Lola or
(Singular and plural Angie to be his girlfriend at the end?
noun) used in subject- What makes you say so?
verb agreement
Do you think Lenny will reconcile with
his father by the end of the story? If
Quantifiers: Either you were his father, what would you
/Neither
have done to help Lenny to achieve life
skills?
Quantifiers: Either Why is Oscar ashamed of his job as a
/Neither
whale tongue scrubber?
Do you think Oscar is a hero? Why or
why not?
In what ways is Lenny an atypical
shark? How so?

10

Cartoon 5: The Road to El Dorado


Grade level

Primary 5

Duration

85 minutes

Synopsis

Two Spanish friends, Tulio and Miguel and their dream horse
Altivo stumbled upon a route map in 1519 which led them
through adventurous journey to El Dorado, a fabled city full of
gold. By chance, Tulio and Miguel were mistaken as gods and
were worshipped and lavished with gold. Filled with greed, both
of them wanted to deceive the El Dorado people and leave the
land with their gold. But a turn of event saw them giving up
their gold, defeating a villainous high priest at El Dorado and
saving the city from discovery (and plundering) by the Spanish
conquistadors.

Title of Primary English


Course book

My Pals Are Here! 5A


Unit 3: My Amazing Adventure
Language Features
First-person narrative

Critical Questions
How did Tulio and Miguel win the
route map from Cortes? Pretend as a
member of the crowd and describe
what you saw at the gambling scene.

Saying verbs

Who discovered that Tulio and Miguel


are not gods later in the story? How did
the person discover the truth?

Critical Thinking Skill


(Reasoning by Analogy)

Saying verbs

How would you describe the horse,


Altivo, who freed Tulio and Miguel
from the captivity of Cortes and his
men on the ship?

Critical Thinking Skill


(Generalization)

Saying verbs

Is Altivo a typical horse? Why do you


say so?

Critical Thinking Skill


(Accuracy of observation)

Tulio and Miguel gave up their gold to


save the fabled city of El Dorado from
being discovered and plundered by the
Spanish conquistadors. Do you think
all protagonists like them would act in
the same way? What made you say so?
Critical Thinking Skill
(Conditional reasoning)

Saying verbs

When Tulio and Miguel met the local


tribe at El Dorado, why did they
describe themselves as tourists? What
would happen to them if they did not
say that?

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Critical Thinking Skill


(Casual Explanation)

Critical Thinking Skill


(prediction)

Language Features
Saying verbs

Critical Questions
Why did the people of El Dorado treat
Tulio and Miguel with so much
reverence and lavish them with gold?

Saying verbs

Do you think El Dorado would never


be discovered after Tulio and Miguels
departure? What made you say so?

Grade level

Cartoon 6: Shrek
Primary 6

Duration

85 minutes

Synopsis

Shrek is an ugly ogre with a good heart. One day, his


neighbourhood by the swamp was populated with many fairy
tale creatures seen from stories such as the Three Little Pig,
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio and The Ginger
breadman. In order to get rid of them, he promised Lord
Farquaad to rescue Princess Fiona from captivity at the castle
for him to marry with the help of his loudmouthed friend,
Donkey. Lord Farquaad would in return remove the fairytale
creatures from his land. However, he fell in love with Princess
Fiona who was cast a spell to be beautiful by day and ugly by
night. His true love later touched Princess Fiona. Although
Princess Fiona did not resume her beautiful at the end of the
story, they got married and lived happily ever after.

Title of Primary English


Course book

My Pals Are Here! 6A


Unit 5: A Twist in the Tale

Critical Thinking Skill


(Generalization)

Language Features
Past tense

Critical Questions
At the beginning of the story, Shrek
was helped by a donkey in his daring
quest to save Princess Fiona? What
made this donkey so special? Do all
donkeys have traits like him?
The story also depicts fairytale figures
such as the three little pigs, snow white
and the seven dwarfs and Pinocchio.
Why do you think the writer wants to
include all these characters in this
story?

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Critical Thinking Skill


(Causal Explanation)

Language Features
Past tense

Critical Questions
What caused Princess Fiona to be
beautiful by day and ugly by night?
Why do you think Princess Fiona could
not return to her old beautiful self even
though she had found true love in
Shrek? What life values can you learn
from this story?

Critical Thinking Skill


(Conditional reasoning)

Conditional sentences
if and unless

What must Princess Fiona do in order


to be always beautiful?

Critical Thinking Skill


(Reasoning by Analogy)

Conditional sentences
if

If you were asked to describe the


physical appearance of Shrek, how
would you describe him and what
would compare him with?

Critical Thinking Skill


(prediction)

Conditional sentences
if and unless

If you were a fairy godmother or


godfather, what condition would you
state to Princess Fiona and Shrek
before you would turn them into
beautiful creatures again? What makes
you think so?
Do you think Princess Fiona and Shrek
would become beautiful and handsome
after they have married? What makes
you say so?

5. Implications for Teaching:


5.1 Adopt Three Guiding Principles in Curriculum Planning
The soundness and fit of a critical thinking programme depends on the programme
goals and content (Pithers, 2000). Swarts and Parks (1994:3) suggest three principles who
can guide the curriculum development of such a programme: (1) The more explicit the
teaching of thinking is, the greater impact it will have on students; (2) the more classroom
instruction incorporates an atmosphere of thoughtfulness, the more open students will be
to valuing good thinking; (3) the more teaching of thinking is integrated into content
instruction, the more students will think about what they are learning. Students will
benefit from explicit instruction on metacognitive skills, that is, how they think about
their own thinking; how they process information cognitively and which mental
operations are needed for a particular task. Goh and Yio (2002:123) suggest that
metacognitive awareness-raising can be integrated as a post-skill activity through pair
reflection and sharing (What kind of questions did I ask? Why was I quiet? What
problems did I experience when trying to participate? Why was the listening/writing task
difficult?) This will help students to reflect on their own knowledge and thought
processes as language learners, the nature and demands of language learning tasks and
the strategies used for achieving their learning or lesson goals.
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5.2 Adopt Attributes of a Thinking Teacher:


To be effective in delivering a curriculum that focuses on critical thinking, the thinking
teacher should use a range of appropriate teaching styles that enhance students critical
thinking skills (Pithers, 2000). Strong et al (1980) proposes four such teaching styles
which include (1) mastery (2) understanding (3) synthesis and (4) involvement styles.
The Mastery style (Sense-thinking) is one which combines the concrete characteristics
of sensing with the procedural correctness of thinking. The mastery teacher demonstrates
and presents essential information in a curriculum which require the learner to engage in
intellectual operations such as to observe, recall, follow directions, categorize, sequence,
list and name in order to acquire and apply practical skills in the discipline concerned.
The Understanding style (intuitive thinking) blends the abstraction of intuition with the
precision of logical thought. The understanding teacher is one who probes for student
explanation on ideas, concepts, generalizations, principles, abstractions and debates.
Students will be encouraged to engage in thinking operations such as analyzing,
summarizing, evaluating, comparing and contrasting, deducing, inducing, inferring,
hypothesizing, explaining and extrapolating in order to predict and interpret patterns,
problems, issues and ideas.
The Synthesis style (intuition-feeling) connects the open wonders of intuition with the
spontaneity of feeling. The synthesizing teacher provides challenges for students to
explore and to engage in creating, innovating, imagining, synthesizing, applying, imaging
and thinking metaphorically. This demands a curriculum that focuses in the development
of creative expression, the application of old skills to new contexts and the production of
original work.
The Involvement style (sense-feeling) requires the teacher to personalize her teaching
strategies. This can include planning for collaborations, personal discussions and small
group tutorials to develop the personal and social maturity of students. Such curriculum
allows the students to engage in the concreteness of sensing and experiential depth of
feeling by sharing and empathizing interpersonally. The learner can experience and
respond to other peoples points of views and show depth and insight when working with
others.
These teaching styles mentioned above encourage thinking operations that characterize
good thinking (Lim, 1997). Teachers should therefore encourage students to consciously
reflect and analyse their thinking processes so as to help them to transfer learning across
different subject disciplines (Pithers, 2000).

5.3 Learn to Mediate Student Thinking in the Teacher-Student Discourse


Edwards and Mercer (1987) inform us that it is common for a teacher to dominate at least
two-third of the classroom discourse time by their reference to Flanders (1970)
two-third rule. Goh (2002) also reiterated that as much as 50% of classroom time
involves oral interactions. Since teacher-student discourse has an impact on teaching and
14

learning (Lim, 1997), the teacher must consciously avoid behavioural patterns that will
inhibit students critical thinking. With reference to a social constructivist approach, we
can firstly re-look at the teachers pattern of talk in the classroom. Cazden (2001) informs
us that a traditional lesson is often dominated by the IRE (Initiate-Rely-Evaluate) or IRF
(Initiate-Reply-Feedback) structure where the teacher asks only display questions to
which she already knows the answer (p 146); simply agrees or disagrees, just
demonstrates and explains, cuts off student responses, uses reproof rather than praise,
shakes the learners confidence in the value of new ideas (Pithers, 2000:242). Such kind
of discourse pattern has limited usefulness as it seems to assess the pupils knowledge of
the subject matter (Mercer, 1995). It may result in inauthentic talk and discourage
students from exploring answers that are beyond the teachers frame of reference (Dillon,
1988, 1994; Wood & Wood, 1984, 1988; Edwards & Westgate, 1994; Cazden, 2001).
Instead, the teacher can promote the authentic discourse pattern seen in a non-traditional
lesson, where exploratory talk is seen as the predominant feature (Corden, 2000; Cazden,
2001). This kind of talk allows for the teacher to scaffold and guide her students towards
conjecturing, inventing and problem solving as they engage in reciprocal, open-ended
discussion to negotiate meanings and co-construct joint understanding of the texts
(Mercer, 1995; Corden, 2000; Cazden, 2001).
Therefore, to enculturate a thinking culture, the teacher can start by consciously use a
language of thinking in their lessons to help students to concretize their reasoning and
articulate their opinions (Tishan, Perkins & Jay, 1995 cited in Lim, 1997). This can be
done by:
asking questions using thinking words (refer to Appendix 2)
elaborating on explanations and statements
probing for clarification
providing feedback on students responses
Secondly, from the sociocultural perspective, the teacher can provide temporary cognitive
support (Hammond et al, 2001) by scaffolding a reflective discussion with the
following questions (Cleghorn, 2002:48):
Can you say more about that?
What makes you say that?
Do you have any evidence for that view?
How do you know that?
Why? Why? Why?
Is it possible to know if that is true?
Does anyone else support that view?
Ifthen what do you think about?
If the students cannot make any reasonable response to the questions posed, the teacher
as the scaffolder should point out the assumption(s) underlying the issue(s) and use a
series of questions to lead students to make critical judgment of the issues (Pither, 2000).

15

5.4 Encourage Student Questioning


Students should also be encouraged to ask good questions and formulate good answers to
these questions in their development of their thinking processes (Lim, 1997). However,
students ability to ask good questions largely depends on teachers responses to their
questioning. Steinberg (1994) proposed a seven-level teacher response, which is
hierarchically arranged, with the highest level best enhancing the development of
students thinking skills. Teachers are encouraged to be mindful of these levels in order
to manage the mental operations of their students:
Level 1: Reject Questions
At this level, an inappropriate teacher response would be to get students to stop asking
stupid questions. This type of response deters students from questioning and hinders
their thinking and learning processes. Teachers should try to invite questions from
students.
Level 2: Restate Questions
Teachers should not insist on getting students to give answers to questions in the form of
a rephrase or restatement of the original questions. An example of such student response
would be Cinderella is overjoyed because the prince wants to marry her. Approaches
like this discourage students from responding to the story.
Level 3: Respond Directly
Teachers should refrain from giving direct answers to student questions or simply reply
with I dont know. These types of responses do not help students to foster thinking and
learning skills.
Level 4: Refer to Other Sources
At this level, if answers to student questions are not known to the teachers, teachers
responses are likely to be Ill check it out for you later. Students learning and thinking
processes are best fostered if they are encouraged to seek information independently on
their own. In this way, students will become acquainted with the responsibility for
learning and the necessary means to extend their knowledge towards the scope of the
textbook.
Level 5: Re-examine Alternative Explanations
Teachers can demonstrate to students how to explain an idea, concept or issue. Students
are encouraged to formulate alternative explanations on their own to further develop their
own thought processes.
Level 6: Re-examine and Evaluate Explanations
Teacher responses at this stage are to guide them to generating and assessing their own
hypotheses about an idea, issue or concept. Students will now learn to examine and
evaluate their own alternative explanations.
Level 7: Re-examine, Evaluate and Follow-up Explanations
At this stage, the teacher facilitates students thinking by using higher-level responses in
the classroom. This includes encouraging students to question assumption; teaching them
16

to investigate into basic hypotheses with a suspicious and curious mind; giving examples
to support why we need to question some assumptions; doing simple exercises with
students to illustrate this point and teaching the application of facts rather than the
emphasis of acquiring facts and knowledge and be a model for questioning the
assumptions.
Conclusion
In this paper, critical questions about the content of six Walt Disney animated cartoons
are suggested to encourage constructive critical thinking behaviours amongst pupils. To
encourage students to think well, they must be recognized as thinking individuals (Goh
& Yio, 2002) who have the capability to acquire good thinking skills. With the right kind
of stimulus such as the use of the Walt Disney cartoons as well as teacher dispositions
and encouragement, we will see the learning of English as an engaging and rewarding
experience for our primary school pupils in Singapore.

17

Appendix 1
Using Walt Disney Cartoons to Promote Critical Thinking in Singapore Primary English Classrooms
Grade Level
Primary 1

Textbook chapter
Celebrate English 1A
Unit 3: Animals Big and Small

Language features
Collective nouns
Comparison of adjectives
Question marks
Commas
Asking and answering questions
Similes
Singular and plural nouns
Gender
Verbs
Adjectives
Exclamation marks
Prepositions
Past tense, present tense
Beginning and endings

Title of Walt Disney Cartoons


Princess Stories: A Gift From
The Heart

Adjectives
Singular and plural nouns
Generic structure of narrative text
Adjectives
Comparison of adjectives
Quotation marks, commas,
end punctuation, capital letters
Action verbs
Thinking verbs
Saying verbs / folk tales
Phrasal verbs get up
Ways to show possession of and
Inverted commas
Prefix of numbers and quantity
uni/bi/Tri/quad/octo/semi/multi
Collective noun- singular
and plural eg My squad is
and The squad want to make
sure they
Quantifiers: Either one of these
Books belongs to my brother
Neither of these books is interesting
Another/other/Book reviews
Clause and subordinate clause
Homophones
Play script
Saying verbs
First-person narrative

Aladdin

My Pals Are Here! 6A


Unit 5: A Twist in the Tale

Conditional Sentences If and Unless

Shrek

Celebrate English 6A
Unit 2: Tales from the Past

Learn to use ing nouns made from verbs


Learn to write reporting questions from
direct speech
Learn to use intransitive verbs

Pocahontas

Celebrate English 1B
Unit 6: Monsters

Primary 2

Celebrate English 2B
Unit 4: Fun with Stories
Celebrate English 2B
Unit 5: Witches and Magic Spell

Primary 3

My Pals Are Here! 3A


Unit 3: Stories That Teach

My Pals Are Here! 3B


Unit 9: Tales to Tell
Primary 4

My Pals Are Here! 4A


Unit 4: Poems Tell Stories Too!

My Pals Are Here! 4B


Unit 9: What Do You Think of It?

Primary 5

My Pals Are Here! 5A


Unit 2: What a Character!
My Pals Are Here! 5A
Unit 3: My Amazing Adventure

Primary 6

The Sleeping Beauty

The Jungle Book

Pinocchio

Mulan

Lion King II

Shark Tale

Antz

The Road to EL Dorado

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Appendix 2
A Language of Thinking Vocabulary (from Tishman, Perkins & Jay, 1995 cited in Lim, 1997:18)
advance
affirm
allege
analyze
appraise
appreciate
apprehend
ascertain
assert
assess
assume
attest
aver
believe
calculate
cerebrate
claim
cognize
comprehend
know
maintain
mediate
muse
observe
opine
perceive
ponder
posit
postulate
presume
probe

concede
conclude
confirm
conjecture
consider
construe
contemplate
contend
contradict
contravene
convince
corroborate
criticize
decide
declare
deduce
define
deliberate
demonstrate
process
profess
propose
propound
prove
question
rate
realize
reason
rebut
reckon
recognize

deny
derive
detect
determine
disbelieve
discern
disclaim
discover
discredit
discriminate
dispute
dissect
dissent
divine
doubt
elucidate
entertain
establish
estimate
recollect
reflect
remember
research
resolve
review
ruminate
scrutinize
solve
speculate
state
study

evidence
examine
explain
explore
fathom
glean
grasp
grope
guess
hypothesize
imply
infer
inquire
inspect
interpret
intuit
investigate
judge
justify
submit
suggest
suppose
surmise
survey
suspect
theorize
think
understand
verify
warrant
weigh

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