Shady Oak believes in preparing children for adulthood by building on “6 Pillars”: Connection, Communication, Collaboration, Creativity, Critical Thinking, and [Capable] Problem Solving. From late February through March this year, our blog is exploring each Pillar in practical detail.
In case you didn’t learn it from your Bachelor of Education curricula, “critical thinking” does not mean “thinking that criticizes everything and focuses on the negative.” It means looking at things “critically” in the sense of evaluating all available data and thinking outside the box, which in a world full of unsupported assertions is a “critical” skill in the sense of “essential and invaluable.” It’s a skill every schoolchild should learn while their brains are the most flexible and their imaginations the least inhibited.
You can help in the following ways.
Let Them Contribute
Don’t be the teacher who overstuffs every lesson and tolerates no interruptions. Students best develop their critical thinking skills by asking questions and speaking up.
How to encourage them:
Be respectful. If someone questions a point you’ve made, hear them out with objective ears. If they’re just parroting something they heard from their parents, gently guide them (and the rest of the class) toward exploring the real facts.
If someone asks a question you can’t answer, don’t be afraid to admit it. Ask if anyone else knows the answer. If not, ask who has ideas on where to look for it.
Give students permission to contact you outside of class hours with additional questions. This is particularly helpful to shy students—and to those who have more ideas than can fit into their share of class time.
Give Them a Learn-By-Doing Challenge
Kids thrive on place-based (working with their environment) and play-based (solving problems the fun way) approaches. Don’t limit your teaching methods to books and audiovisual programs: include lots of projects based on active creating and problem-solving teamwork. And whenever you can, take your students outside the four walls of the classroom for a nature walk, museum tour, neighborhood sightseeing trip, or other outing, encouraging everyone to record all the observations they can.
Expose Them to Different Viewpoints
Especially if your school is fairly uniform in ethnic, economic, and/or religious makeup, help students find opportunities to interact with people (especially other kids) from other backgrounds and cultures. You might:
Arrange a Zoom chat with a class from another school
Take your class to a cultural festival or worship service
By learning firsthand about people “different” from themselves, kids get an early start on avoiding “us versus them” attitudes and looking objectively at a variety of viewpoints.
Learn Alongside Your Students
No matter how much experience you accumulate, no one is ever as smart as they could be. As you teach your students the art of critical thinking, remember to practice it yourself at every opportunity—the more critical your thinking, the more effective you’ll be as a teacher!