Every time I go to a staff development at my school about Thinking Maps, someone inevitably throws in a phrase something like this, “this will help our students think critically”. Thinking critically IS a big thing and educators should be concerned about students’ ability to learn. But the problem with activities that are designed to help students think critically is they don’t. Why? It might help to look at what others have said about critical thinking.
There is a Center for Critical Thinking, who knew? This is their take, “Critical thinking is essential if we are to get to the root of our problems and develop reasonable solutions. After all, the quality of everything we do is determined by the quality of our thinking.” This is a good thing,problems and solutions; but it is difficult to think of solutions when students don’t even understand the problems.
Here’s another view, this one comes from the Association of Colleges and Universities, and they have to know. “Critical thinking is a habit of mind characterized by the comprehensive exploration of issues, ideas, artifacts, and events before accepting or formulating an opinion or conclusion." I like this one, especially the part about exploring issues. There is also this great videothat speaks to 21st Century critical thinking. In this video teachers talk about how students need to “question the information put in front of them," to “adapt, things don’t always work out the way you want," and “to respond in different ways, you’re not meant to conform to one way."
My own experience with critical thinking in the classroom is that we don’t see much because we don’t teach what we don’t test. Look at most standardized tests and very few, if any, have the types of questions that elicit critical thinking. Does it exist in our classrooms? Yes, but you have to be able to identify it when you see it. Case in point, we were doing an activity using Cervantes, don Quijote, about the time he went after the windmills thinking they were monsters. Students were assigned the task of listing a chart of objects and how those objects might be imagined, windmills as monsters. Students came up with several ideas, a banana that was imagined to be a telephone, a lawn hose as a snake, and a dolphin as a submarine. Students were than assigned a writing task. After watching the video about don Quijote, they were asked to write their story using one of the objects on their list. I collected their stories and began reading. Most were interesting and the stories had some humorous slant, “mi amigo hizo una llamada con el platano." (my friend made a call with the banana)
But then I read one that stood out over the rest, it wasn’t funny, but it was powerful. The student wrote about the time she went to Sea World with some friends and they saw the animals/mammals that could do tricks, but all she could see was a ****. In order to have those performing animals, they had to be taken from their natural habitat. These animals shouldn’t be performing tricks; they should be where they belong, in the wild. Her point, some see animals/mammals as toys when in reality they are beautiful creatures. Read the entire paragraph here, it’s in Spanish and it is what critical thinking is all about.
What is your definition of critical thinking and how do you teach this type of thinking?