This week’s article summary is Teaching Critical Thinking Skills.
As we settle into the second half of the school year, this article is a reminder of one of the macro goals of education: empowering our students to be critical and creative thinkers who create, not just consume, content.
As the book Range explains, the majority of questions teachers ask students fall into two categories: using-procedure questions (that require more concrete, yes/no thinking) and making-connections questions (that ask for deeper thought and analysis).
As the book’s author explains, even when teachers ask making-connections questions intended to stimulate deeper learning and critical and/or creative thinking, we often provide our students with so many hints and guidance (even from our facial expressions and body language) that deep questions end up requiring only using-procedural answers.
When I think of essay questions on tests I used to give my 8th graders, we had discussed ideas and concepts so much in previous classes that while I thought I was asking them to think deeply, they were in fact basically repeating what was discussed in class.
The article below reminds us to be ever conscious of the type of questions we ask and how we ask them, specifically ones that begin with How or Why. Try to keep these questions open ended, give ample thinking time, and rather than summarizing a child’s answer (as I still often do), let the child further explain him/herself, the more nuanced the better.
The author also encourages us to ask our students to ponder solutions to bigger problem that defy easy solutions. While we don’t expect our students to solve world hunger or permanent world peace having discussions about big issues gives students practice with deeper thought, problem solving, and the ultimate grayness and ambiguity of the real world.
Enjoy the weekend and the international big event on Sunday. Yes, there’s a football game but I can’t wait to hear if Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow!
If we want our children to have flexible minds that can readily absorb new information and respond to complex problems, we need to develop their critical thinking skills.
We can encourage kids to think critically from an early age— by asking questions.
1. Go beyond “what?” — and ask “how?” and “why?”: When learning about climate change in school, teachers may ask a question like “What are main causes of climate change?” The problem with this question is it can be answered with a quick web search, and being able to answer it gives students a false of security, making them feel like they know a topic when in fact their knowledge is superficial. Try to ask deeper questions like “How exactly does X cause climate change?” and “Why should we worry about it?” Students will need to go beyond the bare facts and really think about a subject. Other great questions: “How will climate change affect where we live?” or “Why should our town in particular worry about climate change?”
2. Follow it up with “How do you know this?”: Students have to provide some sort of evidence and be able to defend their answer against some logical attack. Answering this question requires kids to reflect on their previous statements and assess where they’re getting their information from.
3. Prompt them to think about how their perspective may differ from other people’s: Ask a question like “How will climate change affect people living in X country or X city?” or “Why should people living in X country or X city worry about it?” Kids will be pushed to think about the priorities and concerns of others, and to try to understand their perspectives — essential elements of creative problem-solving.
4. Finally, ask them how to solve this problem: But be sure to focus the question. For example, rather than ask “How can we solve climate change?” — which is too big for anyone to wrap their mind around — ask “How could we address and solve cause X of climate change?” Answering this question will require kids to synthesize their knowledge. Nudge them to come up with a variety of approaches: What scientific solution could address cause X? What’s a financial solution? Political solution?
You can use these questions with most topics. This is about teaching them to think for themselves.
Your role is to direct their questions and listen critically.
Critical thinking isn’t just for the young, of course. If you’re a lifelong learner, ask yourself these types of questions in order to test your assumptions about what you think you already know. We can all improve and support critical thinking by asking a few extra questions each day.