ABCs of K12 Critical Thinking
May 9, 2009 Young Learners 1915 Views
Learning is all about thinking. In order for knowledge to be acquired a certain level of thinking must take place. Those levels are also called the taxonomy of learning. Taxonomy can be compared to a ladder; the higher you go on the taxonomy the deeper the level of thinking taking place for the individual. Perhaps the most well known learning taxonomy is that of Benjamin Bloom. When you look at his taxonomy there are three domains involved: thinking, doing (motor skills) and attitude of the individual. Any act of learning then involves those three domains.
In K12 classes, lessons are the blueprint for learning opportunities. In classrooms the work or activity taking place is based on a lesson designed by the teacher. Hopefully, those lessons provide learning opportunities during the course of class. And, this is the point where effective teachers separate from ineffective teachers. An effective teacher understands what is necessary to provide a learning opportunity. For example, assigning a worksheet to complete, or assigning reading material from a book or article is not a learning opportunity. Those are tasks or tools to reinforce new material already covered, or to explore what a student knows or doesn't know but in no way are they a learning opportunity.
Defining A Learning Opportunity
Learning opportunities arise from individual performing critical thinking. Critical thinking skills are not only essential to performing well in school but also for survival. EE is built on the foundation of critical thinking and every lesson has plenty of learning opportunities. Characteristics of a learning environment where critical thinking is taking place are: class work being driven by questions, teacher is acting as facilitator (not sage - aka answer provider), students are working in small groups, along with a tad more noise than a traditional classroom. Critical thinking is more than class conducting a question/answer segment; it's present in class activities and mostly - but not always - requires student collaboration, along with the teacher's classroom management skills.
Let's take a moment to discuss this all necessary classroom management skill. It's the fundamental style a teacher uses every day to be a teacher. In a nutshell, it's the established process and procedures that make the decorum of a classroom. Good classroom management prevents disruptive students. My point is this, I have seen disruptive students get engaged in learning when they were presented with challenging collaboration work and managed with meaningful classroom management. In my teaching work, designing the appropriate lesson keeps students busy learning, so when I had classes with disruptive students I had to evaluate 1) my classroom management techniques and 2) my lesson design.
A well designed lesson has four essential criteria to promote learning opportunities. It begins with a clear learning objective that is posted for student viewing. There is at least one activity during class and this is explained to students before work begins. It is based on a rubric which is also reviewed with students. There are whatever resources required to perform and complete the task(s) in the activity. During the course of the class period the teacher is actively monitoring students and has plenty of opportunities for informal assessments: asking students questions, reviewing work, and so forth.
EE uses student collaborating and includes learning opportunities with metacognition taking place. Metacoginition is the conscious opportunity to reflect on your own thinking. As a teacher - in any content area, metacognition is an invisible cloak that every student wears since it's the thinking a person performs about the way that they think, feel, and act. Metacognition is the structure that allows each of us to drill down and make connections between what we know and what we don't know in order to gain new understanding. Integrating metacognitive strategies in a lesson is easy and will help students tie concepts together while naturally accomplishing critical thinking - an essential life skill.
If you were a student in class today…
- Would you rather fill out a work sheet or work in small groups to solve math problems about the world you live in? For example, how much paint is required to paint a this room?
- Is it more engaging to read a textbook or be assigned to teach a section of the chapter to the rest of class?
- Will a student be more interested in memorizing a classification scheme or designing and creating one with other students?
There are main five segments of student collaboration:
1. Asking questions: used to drive the efforts of learning objective. 2. Collecting data: using discussion, labs, and other activities to collect meaningful information. 3. Analysis: examining data, influences, and other factors. 4. Synthesis: manipulating materials to demonstrate model(s) of understanding. 5. Conclusion: explanation justified by evaluating and reviewing data while including time for reflection.
Metacognition Lesson Strategy
In EE the collaborative lesson activity provokes critical thinking that calls forth metacognitive opportunities. An effective teacher has metacognition designed into lessons that then feeds student lifelong learner skills. Metacognition is allotted time for a student where they can examine how they think. A simple metacognitive approach is a guided reflection; where you give students a verbal prompt and then allow time for them to respond. Another metacognitive approach is reading because students are actively engaged when reading; they monitor their understanding by realizing when they are comprehending information from the material: they use their thinking, along with their "life knowledge", to make connection points in the reading material thus gaining new understanding and resolving unfamiliar information. Here are three simple elements for a metacognition lesson strategy:
Plan: before starting activity review these items with students ..… • What is the purpose for ________? • What do I already know about the ________? • Will students grasp this deeper from a subjective or objective view (or both)? • Use a graphic organizer useful to compare/contrast ideas or connect the main ideas?
Monitor: during lesson verbally remind students to consider or prompt them to provide … • What examples can I use to make this work relevant to student life outside of class? • Context help: refer students to vocabulary words we have studied - are studying. • What clues are available to guide student comprehension? • What do students already know in order to make inferences? • How can students break down the assignment into segments and solve one part at a time?
Assess: at activity completion have students perform summary……… • Reflection: writing, discussion with peer and then class, ticket out the door • Summarize: write one or two paragraphs • Analyze: compare/contrast results of different student groups and discuss reasons (thinking) for different outcomes
Planning note: replace the blank line with something specific from your lesson; the more specific the better students are able to grasp what they need to accomplish.
Click to see flow chart for a lesson using a metacognition strategy. EE Requires Thinking Be A Centralized Theme
An individual's effort of performing analytical work is the fertilizer that brings about a conceptual change. The classes designed for EE have a different tone. Albert Einstein said, "Doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result is the definition of insanity." Yet, some ineffective teachers do the same lesson design day after day with no performance improvement in students. I have seen in my classes that giving student's time for reflection is the key to students getting started on analyzing how they are thinking. When students grow accustomed to thinking about how they arrived at an idea or answer, then class discussions get livelier with more students participating. When students become accustomed to reflecting on their thinking they naturally enhance problem solving skills, thus allowing solutions to arise from insights and new ideas. Using questions to steer lessons is an effective strategy to promote work in EE. Here are some sample question generators covering different topics:
Topic: Analyzing How could you break down …? What are the parts of …? What are the qualities or characteristics of …?
Topic: Applying How is __ an example of ___? What are examples…? How does this apply to …? In your life, how would you apply …? What general rule would you apply …? What is common to all …?
Topic: Augmenting or Elaborating What ideas might you add to …? What more can you say about …?
Topic: Compare or Contrast How would you compare ___ with ___ …? What is the difference between ___ and ___ …?
Topic: Connecting or Associating What do you already know about …? What items do you recall when you think about …?
Topic: Determining What are the causes of …? How does ___ effect ___ …? What can you eliminate …?
Topic: Evaluation What did you like/dislike about …? How would you rate or grade …? Do you agree or disagree with …? What are the positive or negative aspects of …? Is it better or worse …why …? By what criteria would you access....?
Topic: Interpreting What does ____ mean to you …? What is the significance of…?
Topic: Make Analogies, Metaphors How is ____ like ___? What analogy/metaphor can you invent for …? Comprehensive Benefits of EE
Lifelong learner thinking skills demonstrate use of metacognition. This learner is able to independently reflect on their thinking and make conceptual changes. They move forward in tier endeavors asking appropriate questions, gathering relevant information, efficiently and creatively sorting information, reason logically from information, and come to reliable and trustworthy conclusions about the world in order to live and act successfully in it. Learning critical thinking skills enables an individual to think globally and contribute to society, instead of automatically living as a herd member while consuming society's trends, products, and distractions.
Learning can no longer be divided into a place and time to acquire knowledge (school) and a place and time to apply the knowledge acquired (the workplace). While no one goes through a day and says, "I have to stop now and take a metacognition break," the successful individuals are practicing metacognition - just like we breathe air without having to stop and think about doing it. K12 classes are the perfect place to build habits that foster critical thinking skills so they'll become more complex over time from having had appropriate learning opportunities. Do these thinking skills occur outside of school? Sure. But, building EE into K12 lessons is insuring that there is a better prepared future generation for living socially responsibly.
Here are some excellent schools based on the EE I have articulated:
Blue School Their mission statement: to cultivate creative, joyful, and compassionate inquirers who use courageous and innovative thinking to build a harmonious world.
Sudbury Schools Students from preschool through high school age explore the world freely, at their own pace and in their own unique ways. They learn to think for themselves, and learn to use Information Age tools to unearth the knowledge they need from multiple sources. They develop the ability to make clear logical arguments, and deal with complex ethical issues. Through self-initiated activities, they pick up the basics; as they direct their lives, they take responsibility for outcomes, set priorities, allocate resources, and work with others in a vibrant community.
Waldorf School Waldorf schools offer a developmentally appropriate, balanced approach to education that integrates the arts and academics for children from preschool through twelfth grade. It encourages the development of each child's sense of truth, beauty, and goodness, and provides an antidote to violence, alienation, and cynicism. The aim of the education is to inspire in each student a lifelong love of learning, and to enable them to fully develop their unique capacities.