Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Critical Thinking in the Classroom

As a member of the Critical Thinking PLC I have been doing a great deal of thinking about how to get my students to question, infer, and apply the knowledge I teach in various ways. Lindsay Donaldson and I have had various discussions about rigor, and high expectations and what these look like in our classrooms. How do we challenge students to not only study and memorize the content, but really engage them in using the content to help them become better problem solvers and thinkers. I always reflect back on the saying, "give a child a fish and feed him for the day, teach a child to fish and feed him for his life." Yes, the facts and vocabulary are essential, but I think my end goal is to teach them to fish (or so to speak). I would like to give my students tools they can apply to all aspects of their lives, tools that expand beyond foreign language, and far beyond my classroom. So my question becomes HOW? How do we teach/grade thinking? How do some of you do it?


Blogger ChingyenG said...

I agree, I would like to see all students (ok, I will be realistic, most of them) see the reason in their learning to fish, so to speak. Most of the students I work with don't see the reason to be in school. In their mind, they are ready for the real world and high school is a big waste of their time.

Why do they fail to see the connection that high school actuallly better prepares them for the real world? Why do they have to learn geometry or western civ? Is it the content, the application of the content, or both? Why don't they see all the learning is to sharpen their thinking and reasoning skills, which they will need in keeping a job or leading a meaningful life? Why are they in such a hurry to grow up?

9:00 PM  
Blogger rayh said...

We certainly need the knowledge base as well as the skills that allow a student to take their thinking to a deeper level. One huge piece of that answer is the subject on our very own The Fischbowl which I encourage all of you to check out. One of our most recent topics was the teaching of reading in the content areas which varies so greatly within each of our subject areas. After reading the 15 comments, I think we often confuse teaching decoding of words as our reading task when what we really hope to achieve is students' learning how to attach meaning to their reading not just word attack skills.Several staff memnbers have seen Cris Tovani, a reading teacher at Smoky Hill High School, ply her trade with both very low-acheiving readers and college bound students whom we assume have those skills in place. What they observed is that it is about students making a connection to whatever text they have in front of them. That's the beginning piece to students' acquiring critical thinking skills. I agree with her premise that it is incumbent upon all of us to teach those skills as the building block to hhigher level thinking. Her most recent book addresses this issue in ALL curricular areas. It's a short,practical guide with suggestions for all. Many of our staff have the book including me. Please check it out.

12:08 PM  
Blogger jaredr said...

The idea of extending lessons and concepts so students think beyond the lesson was key in the math departments selection of new materials for next year. The dream for math teachers is for their students to be able to take a problem and apply mathematics to solve it. It's hard to develop relevant activities that tie in your essential skills in your lesson and that provoke thought, or show relevance, or inspire further learning. "Mathematics Teacher" is always a great resource for ideas. Math conferences also provides opportunities to talk with teachers that have great ideas, whether or not it was their idea originally or not.

4:08 PM  
Blogger Cheryl S. said...

I usually work in small groups that address language comprehension, auditory processing strategies, etc. I always try to help the students understand the multitude of different situations in which they can utilize the strategies use learn in the small groups. The students I work with tend to be very concrete, compartmentalized thinkers - it's rewarding to see the light go on when they expand their thinking and apply what they know to challenges they face outside of class every day. The challenge is finding the light switch!! Being fairly knew to this career, I am taking advantage of learning from my fellow educators! This is the first district I have worked in that not only encouraged learning communities but also prioritizes the time we need to meet.

8:03 AM  
Blogger Caroline S said...

I feel very blessed in teaching business classes showing them how their academics can and will effect their futures. Students think that they are ready to move on to the big world but they need to know that their foundation needs to be strong to compete in the global economy. Connection between class and their personnel future is a great connection

11:33 AM  
Blogger Ms. Fine said...

I think this should be the question that teachers ask themselves everyday while putting together lessons. How do we teach thinking? It isn't so much of how we teach thinking but more of how do we create students to become proactive in order to think. I think that students think, they think all the time but the level of thinking is the true question. How do we provide opportunities to think above and beyond? I don't know the answer but I have found the real world applicable knowledge has helped to prompt students to think.

1:06 PM  
Blogger lgaffney said...

I agree, Melissa. I try as best as I can to communicate my "extended learning" objectives to my students. For example, we do not read Macbeth because the district curriculum says so, we read Macbeth to understand human psychology, to become better readers, and to become more culturally literate people. I think that understanding these objectives ourselves is important but, more importantly, I think we need for our students to understand these objectivesin order to give our teaching relevancy. I remember taking calculus, for example, in high school and asking my math teacher how I could apply that information to real life. She would get frustrated with me, thinking I was being smart, but she never had an answer. How am I supposed to care about calculus (or whatever the subject may be) if the only reason I'm learning it is to pass that particular class?

11:04 AM  
Blogger mmarchino said...

We definitely need to teach relevance in our subject, but doesn't often relevance strike us when we are down the road and we have lived some life and then we see why we studied the things we did. How many times have we been in line with a checker that can't count change or figure percents?

I really wrestle with this because some things don't have an immediate relevance, but down the road we might be able to figure out how much concrete to buy for a patio. Sometimes life skills come from calculus or studying world history.

I really understand a student's frustration with not seeing the immediate relevance, but it is hard to sometimes explain why calculus can help when it is not readily apparent. I think that students need to know why something they are learning is relevant, but often critical thinking comes often from abstract problems.

1:45 PM  
Blogger kleibsohn said...

One of my big focuses in my IEP English class with freshmen is helping them really comprehend what they are reading. We focus in making connections but then pulling deeper meaning from that by asking "what is the author trying to teach you...or ask, so what?" Then they write about this, describe their feelings, thoughts, what they learned. We bring in their textbooks and do the same things with their actual textbooks from other classes, so they can transfer how to do this in their other classes and pull meaning from their textbook reading. It helps them understand why they are here and how to apply skills in all classes.

3:13 PM  
Blogger Krueger said...

I believe that using real-world examples and situations is the best way for kids to make that connection. I am fortunate to teach business classes, which allows me to use these real-world examples much more often. Kids always want to know why they have to learn this stuff. For me it's much easier to show them instead of trying to explain it to them.

7:56 AM  
Blogger MickiL said...

I agree that teaching students to think and next trying to evaluate thinking is difficult. It is difficult because the students in our classrooms are each at different developmental levels. I have found, like many others who commented, that bringing current events into the classroom allows students to use skills we teach them in class. It brings in relevance to our classes. In the past I would set aside 15 minutes every Friday to discuss current events. In Science this is easy, I can watch the news each night and find something that fits. I would also let student start bringing current events for Friday. I found that these discussions were very valuable and I tried to guide students to use knowledge from our class. When students evaluated the class many commented that current event discussions were their favorite. Although I was not grading this activity I felt that I could guide them in their thinking.

7:26 AM  
Blogger Michael S. said...

This problem illustrates the concept of trends in education. In many places in this counrty, they have eliminated any course that states or implies the concept of applied academics. Learning should be about learning, not for illustrating how to apply the information.

Now the trend is coming back to illustrating to kids how to apply their learning to the "real world."

Personally, the most effective method that I have found to "teach" thinking is to create assessments that require thinking. I have very few "tests" that assess comprehension, with most of my "tests" assessing higher level thinking. Does it work? I don't know - ask them.

7:22 AM  

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