It’s funny how things work.
I was super excited to make my first post last week. 🙂
I was hoping there would be at least one person who might be interested in a way to promote critical thinking in the classroom. I was ecstatic with the positive results from my post. However, the focus wasn’t where I expected, most of the dialogue that happened was from people wondering what “critical thinking” actually is.
I received a lot of emails with the same theme….“I am pressured to promote critical thinking in my classroom. I think I know what it is, but I’ve never been given any professional development in this area so I feel like I’m teaching it through my personal lens and I have no idea if it is right???” A lot of comments were along similar lines.
So, I promised those readers, my next post would be about critical thinking. Now, to be honest, I’m not an expert at this topic, however, I’ve been teaching a long time and I’ve done a lot of research and I’m hoping to share this knowledge with you.
To start, Barry K. Beyer (a social educationalist) defines critical
thinking as “the process of determining the authenticity, accuracy, and worth of information or knowledge claims. It consists of a number of discrete skills” (Beyer, 1985). Beyer is a leading author of many books on this topic both university based textbooks for students and easier to read books for the rest of us. If you click on the image to the right, you can check out all of the books on Amazon that he has authored and co-authored.
I’ve been in the business for awhile now and even to me, that definition doesn’t really help me implement the concept of critical thinking into my classroom (no offense Mr. Beyer). However, the key is in what he refers to as “discrete skills”. It is these discrete skills; analysis, evaluation, and inference that we as Teachers need to aim to include in our unit and lesson plans. Please note: there are many theories of many different “skills” that fall under the critical thinking category, however most theorists can agree that most cognitive thinking skills can be categorized into the three groups above (Duron R, Limbach B, Waugh W, 2006).
As you can see, I’ve researched the theories that I’ve included in this blog to show credibility to my information, however the rest of this post will be written in language directly geared toward Teachers in the classroom. It is still based on my readings and research, I will just be putting into easier language and giving real-life examples from my own classroom.
So, the skills we are trying to incorporate into our lessons are: analysis, evaluation and inference.
Analytical skill– Currently my students are working on a large presentation revolving around the Religious meaning of Easter (I teach in a Catholic School). To heighten engagement and product quality I have allowed the students to choose the specific topic they want to inform the audience about and I have allowed them to choose the method they will present.
To get them started on the right track, I had the students do a mind map on the board of all the different ways we learn best. Students came up with the typical methods: hands on, visual, oral, etc. However there were a couple that surprised me. I was surprised at how many students say if they want to learn something well, they use YouTube….I think I’m showing a bit of my age by not expecting the popularity of YouTube. I was also intrigued by a few students who said if they are physically active (sports or gym class), they learn better. Although I was aware of the published data that proves this is a true fact, I was surprised that the students were already aware of this fact.
After we had all the different learning styles on the board, I had them switch the lens that they looked through and I asked them to make a list of what things, off that mind map, that they were good at. I asked them to think about their strengths and talents and I asked them to pick three things off the board that they could incorporate into a presentation.
Some students are choosing to write an essay to share their knowledge (they are strong writers and love to write so this makes sense), I have a group of students doing videos (they already have their own YouTube channels, with followers, so this makes sense). And then I have a group of students who signed up to do a video and then came to me right away and said “how do I make a video”? I was a bit perplexed that a student would make a decision to choose a medium for a presentation that they know nothing about.
Although I am proud of them for stepping outside their comfort zone, we did have a chat exploring the idea of whether this is a good decision for this assignment considering they will be presenting for an achievement level and this task does have a deadline that might not facilitate enough time for the steep learning curve of shooting and editing a video. I will never tell a student they cannot choose to do something creative and fun (especially if I gave them a choice), but this experience did make me contemplate my role in facilitating students trying something new, yet realistic enough to help them understand when is it the time to choose something they know they are already good at.
I will always be letting the students decide how they deliver the information, however with guidance, I am hoping they understand that when they make a decision, the decision has to be sensible given the information that is available (in this case what presentation skills they are proficient in and the amount of time needed to learn an in-depth skill of creating a video presentation). I did make the suggestion that if they are interested in learning video production to start it as a side project/hobby and maybe for assignments in the future, their skills will be honed to produce a wonderful product.
Allowing the students to make an informed choice is an example of promoting analysis in the classroom. Giving the students the opportunity to make a decision that is realistic given the information at hand is one way to force them to analyse the information they have and what decision suits them best. For students who struggle with this skill, a bit of guidance to show them HOW to make an informed decision in each case that arises are ways we can improve this skill for the students. It all starts with forcing the students to choose and make a decision. That in itself is hard for some autocratic teachers to do (it took me years to be comfortable handing over the decision making and problem solving reins to the students), but it is worth it in the long run!
The project is currently on-going and I have asked the strong videographers in the class to run a mini-workshop for those students who are interested in learning how to make a video (which in itself was an excellent experience – to watch the students pass on their skills and knowledge to other students in need – a heartwarming experience for sure)! I even had one student tell me that he’s going to try to do a video but if it doesn’t work out, he’ll spend the weekend doing an alternate presentation. I asked him if he understands he’s setting himself up for the potential of having to do double the work, and his response is ” yes, I know that Miss, but the way I look at it, is if I have to do two presentations, I will really know my content by the time I have to present it.” Yes, this is a grade 8 student, and no he wasn’t kidding with this comment, yes, I am confident that with his dedication to his studies he means this with all his heart, and yes, my heart was warmed yet again, and it’s these moments that remind me why I became a Teacher! Some days I love my job!
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this article where I continue with the critical thinking skill of evaluation.
Please note: When passing over the reins of decision making and problem solving skills to the students, not all decisions should be given over to Teenagers. I still have my rules and routines in the classroom (like no cellphones) but if I handed over those decisions, my positive, professional learning environment would be compromised. Our challenge as a Teacher is to find the times where students can have control over their own personal educational journey without compromising the safety or integrity of the classroom. That is where the challenge lies for most of us!
Beyer, Barry K. Critical Thinking: What Is It? Social Education, v49 n4 p270-76 Apr 1985
Duron R, Limbach B, Waugh W, 2006. Critical thinking framework for any discipline. IJTLHE. 17(2):160-166