Why Teaching Critical Thinking Skills Starts With The Student

The first step in helping students think for themselves can be to help them figure out who they are and where they are and what they should know in response. So, teaching critical thinking skills is very important.

If we really want students to adapt their thinking, design their thinking, and diverge their thinking, it (review) has to start and stop at a literal place. In general, this means starting with a learning objective that the teacher sets and ending with an assessment of how the student ‘did’.

Isn’t that strange at best? Thinking has nothing to do with content. Thinking is a strategy for learning content; otherwise, they are different. So the process is more about thinking and learning than about content and mastery.

Exploring a self-directed learning framework and teaching critical thinking skills

In 2013, we created a framework for guiding students in independent learning. The point was/is for each student to really think for themselves largely by exploring what is worth thinking about for them and why. There are two theories that support this concept of students being able to create and navigate their own learning paths:

  1. Wisdom (eg, knowing what is worth understanding) is more important than content (eg, mastery of academic standards).
  2. Advances in technology have created an ecology that can support the pursuit of wisdom and content mastery (in that order)

These theories do not sound outrageous, but compared to existing educational forms, they may seem strange. How we plan, how we determine success, how we offer feedback, and even how our schools are physically laid out all reflect a mindset that emphasizes students’ ability to continually demonstrate mastery of the content being delivered to them.

Now, this is a tired argument, but one theory is that modern education can be characterized by its industrial form and managerial tone. Its primary drivers are standards, policies, and teachers rather than content, relationships, and creativity. Its results are universal and impersonal, which is suitable for skill, but it fails to resonate much further.

One answer is to support students in designing their own learning journeys in terms of content (what is studied), form (how it is studied) and, most importantly, purpose (why it is studied). The end result is ideal students who can ‘think for themselves.

Teaching students to think for themselves: Exploring a self-directed learning frameworkteaching critical thinking skills

Big Idea: Encourage self-directed and critical learning

There are 6 areas within self-directed learning:

  1. Me: (e.g. which citizenship am I a member of and what does it mean that I understand?)
  2. Context: (eg what are the contexts of this topic or idea?)
  3. Activate: (e.g. What do I or others know about this topic or idea?)
  4. Path: (e.g. what resources or thinking strategies does it make sense for me to use?)
  5. Clarify: (e.g. based on what I have learned so far, how should I adjust my intended route?)

6, Apply: (e.g. What changes should I see in myself as a result of the new understanding?)

Self-knowledge as a starting point

What is worth understanding and teaching critical thinking skills?

Of all the thoughts and circumstances you encounter on a daily basis, what is worth understanding? What knowledge or skills or in-depth understanding could support you at any given moment? What is the difference between fun, interest, curiosity and passion?

This may even be overtly academic. For example:

What is valuable in mathematics? Also, What can mathematics do for ‘you’ – for the place where you live, for the people you care about, or for the environment on which life depends?

What will the rich literature allow you to see or do?

So, What perspective can the study of history provide?

What mistakes can a scientific approach to things prevent?

What problems or opportunities are within my reach?

It sounds lofty to want to solve world hunger or play the violin at Carnegie Hall, but it may or may not be within your immediate reach. Right here, right now, what can you do to get there?

What important problems and solutions have others created before me?

Interdependence – realizing where we have been as a family, neighbourhood, state, nation, species, etc., and what trends and patterns emerge from a study that we can use to understand where we are going.

What are our shared achievements – poetry, space travel, human rights, etc.?

What are our collective failings – poverty, racism, environmental damage, etc.?

And with that in mind, how should I respond?

What citizenships and heritages are I a part of, and what do these memberships indicate that I understand?

This is sort of the ultimate question for the first step of the SDL model and the last step: “What” do I belong to and how can I take care of that membership through my understanding and behaviour?

Below are some hypothetical examples of student responses.

I belong to the ‘Johnson family, a family that has been involved in photography and art for a long time. So how should I respond?

I live in an area that used to be ‘nice’ but has recently changed due to a lack of citizen voice and action. So how should I respond?

I love social media, but I wonder how it affects my self-image/thinking/life. So how should I respond?

I am American, Nigerian, and Canadian. I am from Holland or Prague or Paris or Tel Aviv or Peru. So how should I respond?

I love books, I love fashion, I love nature, I love creation – how should I respond?

My parents were divorced and their parents were divorced. So how should I respond?

I’m poor. I am rich. I am anxious. Also, I wonder. I am loved I’m lonely. And I am confident. I’m not sure. How should I respond?

The first step in helping students think for themselves; assigning images to flick user Flickeringbrad; Teaching students to think for themselves. So, more blogs will be coming in the Education section. Source: Mindshift

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