Friday, January 29, 2010

Critical Thinking Resources

I recently discovered several excellent posts on building critical thinking skills in the classroom. Bellow are some of the highlights and links to the original posts.

By: Alice Thomas and Glenda Thorne (2009)

Teach inference

Students should be explicitly taught at a young age how to infer or make inferences. Start with "real life" examples. For example, when a teacher or parent tells a child to put on his coat and mittens or to get the umbrella before going outside, the adult may ask the child what that might mean about the weather outside. When students are a little older, a teacher may use bumper stickers or well-known slogans and have the class brainstorm the inferences that can be drawn from them.

Training students to connect ideas together is a critical skill. This is something that can't really be taught, its caught over time with practice and guidance.

Clarify the difference between understanding and memorizing

When a student is studying, his parents can make sure that he is not just memorizing, but rather attempting to understand the conceptual content of the subject matter. Parents can encourage the student to talk about concepts in his own words. His parents can also play concept games with him. For example, they can list some critical features and let him try to name the concept.

I continually remind my students of this key aspect of learning, especially my Anatomy & Physiology class. The best illustration of this principal came last year when I inadvertently duplicated a question on a test. Both questions addressed the same objetive, but approached it in different ways. Several of my students got one of them right and one of them wrong because they had memorized instead of trying to understand the concept. My "mistake" provided a great opportunity to explain the importance of memorization vs. understanding.

Elaborate and explain

The student should be encouraged to engage in elaboration and explanation of facts and ideas rather than rote repetition. His teachers and parents could have him relate new information to prior experience, make use of analogies and talk about various future applications of what he is learning.

Getting students to go beyond one word answers is challenging. We (all) are inherently lazy and take the shortest possible route to the goal. I have found that writing requires understanding. My students love to talk and can ramble on and on about something, perhaps eventually getting close to the correct answer. When they are forced to write, however, they find that explaining concepts isn't quite as easy as they thought.

Think with analogies, similes, and metaphors

Teach students to use analogies, similes and metaphors to explain a concept. Start by modeling ("I do"), then by doing several as a whole class ("We do") before finally asking the students to try one on their own ("You do"). Model both verbal and nonverbal metaphors.

My mom made me do this (I was homeschooled K-12!) and I hated it. Boy am I grateful for her! I think in terms of analogies. Ask my wife, she's tell you about the time I tried to compare her to a vacuum cleaner (my intentions were pure, I promise). Having the ability to compare two unrelated things stretches your imagination and forces you to break down each idea into its basic parts. All analogies break down somewhere, but they can be very helpful in explaining complicated concepts. One of my best lessons is an analogy I wrote comparing the Calvin Cycle to a rock and roll band. It really helps my students understand this complex biological process.

The second resources that I would like to share with you is a 40 minute video on critical thinking tittled "Here Be Dragons" by author Brian Dunning. The video primarily focuses on critical analysis of scientific claims (like the "miracle diet pill"). Dunning is a great host, explains things very well, and provides some great, concrete advice on how to think critically.

Finally, I was told about an interesting post titled "50 Brain Facts Every Educator Should Know." It's not explicitly linked to critical thinking, but the better we understand how the brain works and how it develops, the better we will be able to harness its potential.

Do you have other helpful resources related to critical thinking? I would love to expand my collection. Please leave a link in the comment section, or send me a Tweet (@jrsowash).

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