“Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think.” – Albert Einstein
At one time, the expectation for an effective classroom climate was one where students were expected to sit quietly, listening to the imparting of knowledge – the outpouring of facts – the monologue from the teacher. Now we know that an effective classroom climate is a more positive one where students are stimulated and encouraged to actively be part of a dialogue – a place where thinking, questioning, and exploration abound. So how do we make our classrooms places where true intellectual growth is fostered and critical thinking happens?
Instruction in critical and creative thinking skills promotes intellectual growth and increases academic achievement, so while the day’s plans host math, reading, and science instruction, it must also include the teaching of thinking skills. Here are just a few ways to make that happen.
- All content areas offer opportunities to develop thinking skills, so strive to integrate them throughout the learning day. Critical thinking skills shine through the context of the subject matter on which you are focusing.
- Model your thinking as you demonstrate a concept. Talk through the steps you would take to solve a math problem or write a solid paragraph. Show students how to think through a problem step by step.
- Use inquiry and questioning as teaching tools. When reading with students, ask what they think will happen and have them be prepared to backup their thinking. What is your prior knowledge? What was in the text that makes you think that?
- Have children show they understand a concept by using it in a new way. Encourage students to illustrate, dramatize, or demonstrate their understanding. For example: Create comic book frames that demonstrate cause and effect, act out the water cycle, or create a rap about 3-dimensional shapes.
- Have students evaluate and critique their work and be prepared to discuss and defend their thinking.
- Encourage students to analyze quality literature or historic events and engage in debates over actions and outcomes. Examine character traits and make connections.
- Allow children to show what they know in a variety of ways. Provide clear expectations, but allow students the flexibility to create the way that they will demonstrate their understanding.
- Use dialogue instead of monologue to inspire thinking and the analyzing of concepts.
- Help students to see there can be many sides to an issue and multiple ways to solve a problem. Create awareness that they may need to re-evaluate their thinking when they gain new information.
- Allow daily opportunities for problem solving. Let students’ interests guide some of the problems that the class has to tackle.
Critical thinking opportunities are not just enrichment activities for advanced students. Cognitive scientists say that virtually everyone is capable of critical thinking. In the class setting, we need to integrate critical thinking skills throughout the curriculum and be explicit in how to use them. Model, practice, and bring these skills to the forefront, so students will learn to utilize them without cues from us and train their minds to think.