5 Critical Thinking Skills & Classroom Applications
Frequently, when a child ages in to school, questions are presented in a way where there is already an answer that has been put in front of them, and all they have to do is remember it, or point it out, or prove it with what they've come to understand as a result of the teacher's lesson. For some, once this happens, the process of discovery or finding answers loses its appeal, especially in classrooms with teachers who place the answer in front of the child. It can be difficult for these students to return to the love of discovering the answer through their own means, even if later on they have teachers who act as facilitators rather than dispensers of knowledge. They have lost ownership in their learning, and they may not be easily convinced that they need to get it back.
For others, the passion to hunt for their own answers to their own questions never leaves. Even these students can struggle in the regular classroom because they may not see the value in answering the teacher's questions or doing the teacher's work when they have so much of their own. Some of the strategies I will share below can be a compromise for these students. Slightly guided and scaffolded, but still open to their own interests and passions.
Strategy #1: Question Formulation Technique
I was introduced to Question Formulation Technique during a 2017 ECET^2 Conference in Seattle. To summarize, it is a 7 step process to facilitate students asking their own questions about a specific topic, or QFocus. They are then given the rules for producing questions, which include no judgement. This is a brainstorming process, so all questions are good questions. During the categorization step, students determine whether each question is open-ended or closed. They make improvements by changing closed questions to open-ended questions, and vice versa. Then, they prioritize their questions by selecting three questions that best meet the objectives of the next step, such as which three questions am I interested in exploring further? Many times the next step is research. By exploring the difference between types of questions and having the freedom to select their own priorities, students have more ownership in their learning and are more likely to have more buy-in, as well.
More information about the technique can be found by creating an account at http://rightquestion.org/educators/resources or by downloading this file:
Experiencing the QFT Source: rightquestion.org
Strategy #2: Ill-Structured Problems
Teachers who use ill-structured problems force students to ask questions in order to be able to even begin developing an answer. The idea is simple--an ill-structured problem has unclear goals and missing information. They should be based on real-life problems and allow for multiple solutions, or at the very least, multiple processes in which a student may arrive at a solution. Students can then use their domain specific skills to begin formulating strategies to develop a solution.
For example, a math class may be presented with a problem like this: Ms. Drake is hosting dinner for her family and is on a limited budget. What does her grocery list need to be comprised of in order to have everything she needs for the dinner?
Some questions that might arise, would be How many people are in her family?
Are there any food allergies or restrictions?
What is her budget?
Where does she shop?
Does she use coupons? (and many others)
Then, students can break off into groups or individuals to begin researching to find possible solutions for the problem. They can then present their solution for consideration, preferably with reasoning to support the validity of the solution.
Strategy #2: Generate an Evaluation Checklist
Just like teachers use rubrics to evaluate student work, students can create rubrics to evaluate their ideas, their research, or anything else that might need judgment. For some, just establishing criteria or standards for making judgment can be a challenge, so be prepared to try it with the students a few times first.
A gentle way to practice evaluation is to have students identify characteristics of a "good book" at the beginning of the year and create a chart with the characteristics. 5-10 characteristics would be most appropriate. Then, as the child reads throughout the year, they can evaluate their books based on the chart they've created and give the books ratings accordingly.
Credibility Games--Fake News Hunt
Because so much, if not most, of the information students receive these days is found via Internet sources, it is easy to use the Internet as a tool to search out information that is not only not credible, but that is even a purposeful lie. Challenge students to find "Fake News" or sources of information that do not align with one another and then identify which "red flags" the site or source had to make its credibility questionable.
I ask students to identify at least 2 credible sources that provide matching information before accepting research as fact.
This website has a great list of "fake news flags" that students can look for.
tExample #1: Identifying Types of Relationships--The most common analogy relationships are synonyms, antonyms, and part to whole, but there are many other types of relationships that students should get practice identifying, pairing, or creating. This list from haynes.jpschools.org is relatively comprehensive.
Have students create analogy posters similar to the four square image to the right to show examples of different types of analogous relationships.
This image is a screenshot of a free analogy handout I created for Teacherspayteachers a few years ago. Feel free to download by clicking on the image.
Critical Thinking Skill #5: Identifying and Understanding Patterns
Patterns are found everywhere in life--history, numbers, nature, war, economics, rhythm, weather, colors, seasons, and the list goes on. If students have practice identifying patterns and predicting future outcomes based on their identification, they can begin seeing the value of patterns through real-world application.
Strategy # 1--Codes and Ciphers: My students and I love to solve mysteries and the most enjoyable mysteries always involve breaking a code. Codes can be created through patterns as simple as the Caesar Cipher, where a new alphabetic patterns is created by shifting the alphabet a certain number of letters to the right. For instance, if there has been a shift of one, Bs are actually As and Cs are actually Bs. You can give students the key to the cipher, but it is much more fun to have them figure it out by identifying a pattern on their own. Here's a link to a site that makes coding or decoding your own Caesar cipher quick and easy.
For younger students, using images to send messages can be compared to ancient Egyptian or Native American hieroglyphics.
Davis, G. A., Rimm, S. B., & Siegle, D. (2011). Education of the gifted and talented (6th
ed.). New York: Pearson.