As our Critical Thinking Lead Teacher for two years, it makes sense that much of the co-planning and co-teaching that I am invited to do centers around just that. I expected this, and welcomed it! But I have noticed one significant difference this year: teachers aren’t asking for help with critical thinking because they feel like they should, or because it’s the “newest trend”…they want it because of the statements behind PSD’s Commitment to Inclusion. Classes are becoming increasingly diverse and the inclusive environment can, at times, be daunting. Teachers are looking for help to help their students and many are coming to the conclusion that critical thinking tools and challenges are an effective way to do this. YAY!!!
Does it Improve Environments?
A middle years teacher and I have been working together a lot to create a social studies program that will promote a classroom of critical thinkers. Reflecting with the teacher, it has become clear that the environment that has been created through the critical thinking model has led to greater risk-taking and enhanced communication skills for many of the students sometimes unwilling to participate fully. Students are aware that as long as they can follow the criteria and give reasons for their response, their answers are valid.
Does it Focus on Independence?
The word criteria floats around our school, but it’s when the students are really assessing themselves and their classmates, using that criteria, that it really shows their understanding of the word. Early years classes have criteria for everything from walking down the hallway and asking powerful questions during show and share, to respectful listening. Nothing creates independence like students creating their own criteria and assessing themselves using it.
Does it promote ALL Students being Special?
Students in one of our early years classes regularly participate in a critical thinking learning station. I can honestly say that my discussions with one of the lower-academic groups, have been some of the most insightful and exciting. In reflecting with the teacher about this, we felt many of the activities and assessments that are traditionally used are not always intended to highlight the habits of mind shown by these students (open-mindedness, intellectual courage, inquiring mind).
Does it use a Strength-Based Model of Thinking?
One of our early years students has been demonstrating quite high-level skills in many areas. In conversations with his teacher, it was decided that he would benefit from some differentiated instruction and enrichment projects. These often take the form of a critical challenge. After each project, he presents to the class (modeling new skills and “tools”) and the teacher and/or I present a critical challenge for the rest of the class based on the student’s project.
Does it maintain High Expectations for All?
An early years teacher and I have been working on a social studies unit heavily based on technology and critical thinking. There’s a great deal of differentiation regarding how students can learn the material, acquire the skills (tools) and demonstrate what they know and what they can do. It was set up this way intentionally so that all students have the opportunity (and responsibility) to perform to the best of their abilities. I think it will.
I’d love to hear your critical thinking success stories!