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Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Demystifying Critical Thinking


Written by Rebecca Forchuk, Director of Staff Development after Action Research session on Critical Thinking. 

With the rise of Google, fake news, and 21st Century skills, critical thinking has been identified as a key competency that students will need in order to be successful in life beyond the walls of school.  But what exactly is critical thinking? Chances are, there are as many ideas of critical thinking as there are people.  In order to provide teacher clarity (ES=0.75), we have set out to develop a common understanding of what critical thinking really is and what it looks like in the classroom.

Myself, along with fellow colleagues participating in Action Research, shared some common misconceptions we had about critical thinking prior to our learning.  Among these are…critical thinking:

·      requires a project that students work on or at the very least a large amount of data.   It requires larger scale learning tasks (overarching units, projects, etc.).
·      is time consuming to assess.
·      is more natural and just happens.
·      is about the 'verb'age  we use like higher level Blooms Taxonomy.
·      can only be applied to certain subject areas within the curriculum and is not applicable to kindergarten.  It is beyond them.
·      is hard to for certain subject/concept areas.
·      involves lots of planning.
·      is taught as an extra to the curriculum.

Through our research and learning from Critical Thinking Consortium  and exploring the descriptors and indicators from Alberta Education, we have come to understand that critical thinking is simply defined as:


Using reasoning and criteria to:
conceptualize
evaluate
or
make judgments

because in the absence of criteria, all you have is an opinion.



After we explored this definition and different exemplars of how to develop and assess critical thinking, here is how our thinking shifted.  Critical thinking:

·      can be incorporated into a simple lesson.
·      can be applied across all subjects and grades. 
·      is an extension of the learning already taking place and can already be found within our current Program of Studies.
·      is a skill that can be taught and modeled to students.
·      requires explicit teaching in order to promote transfer knowledge in students.
·      needs to be intentional in my teaching and design plan to address the skills of critical thinking.
·      can happen simply by tweaking the questions we ask.  Simply reframe the questions you might normally ask.   To truly engage learners in the task we can carefully consider the 'adverb'age/'adjective'age  rather than just the verb.
·      can use more "evaluative" criteria to create better assessment tools.
·      requires specific criteria within those challenges to promote critical thinking (focus on the WHY).  Criteria is key to it. Without it, we are just asking for opinions. 
·      requires criteria in a problematized issue.
·      is very much a part of the daily life of kinders, but it does not happen automatically.  Critical thinking needs to be explicitly, and re-taught, throughout the school years.  Kinders do require a foundation of skills, and the opportunity to practice, in order to be able to fully experiment with critical thinking.  Lots of modeling is required.

Follow us over the next few months to find out how teachers in FSD are developing and assessing critical thinking in their classroom to ensure students are well prepared for life beyond the walls of school!  

In the meantime, we encourage you to explore"Creating Thinking Classrooms" and "Making Thinking Visible" to deepen your understanding and find practical ways to develop critical thinking within the classroom.





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