What is critical thinking? It seems to be one of those buzzwords that people toss out in professional development and professional reviews/evaluations. But when I have been part of discussions, ‘critical thinking’ seems to be referenced in complicated situations in terms of higher order thinking, project-based learning, and its involvement in upper grades classrooms.
I have always been hesitant to mark myself as proficient or accomplished in this area of my self-evaluation tool. Many of my students struggle with basic thought processes and following multi-step linear directions. And many will continue to struggle with higher order thinking skills throughout their life, to simply to the nature of their developmental struggles.
In the last week or so, I have been tackling the idea of critical thinking as it pertains to my special-needs class, starting from kindergarten at the basics. We are working to develop critical thinking in terms of literacy skills, but also in life. I have to start with the simplest concepts for my lowest functioning students; and what we target to build their academic critical thinking skills is also building their life competency skills.
My biggest focus this year has been self awareness, and its conscious relationship to classroom expectations. One of the key phrases I’m always tossing around in the classroom is “what is your body doing?/What should your body be doing?” And “Where is your body?/Where should your body be?” It is astounding, the amount of repetition needed to make a skill stick.
It is also astounding to see the wheels turning in their heads as they process what was initially expected, what they are doing, what is supposed to happen, and then acting upon the situation. I am aiming to apply the same principle to our instructional (literacy) time….. “when the teacher asks a question, you should want to try your best. Are you trying your best? And what should you do to fix your choices?”
With my third-grade students I am addressing ways in which they can solve their own problems. Be it a question about procedure, or more often, a question regarding whether an answer is correct or incorrect. I have stopped giving them the answers.
We have started a self-correction system when we take pre-tests for spelling. I encourage them to use their resources (alphabet charts, number lines, homework pages, etc.) to look up the answers.
I got some pretty strange looks when I first proposed the new system. I noticed a couple of quiet chuckles and grins that said “here she goes again. The teacher is changing things up.” But in general, they took the change in stride.
They still looked to me for answers about which resources to use (homework itinerary -since the words were not on the Word Wall), but were willing to sit with me and process through all of our classroom resources and pick the most appropriate one. In my experience, many of my students have gone through school getting numerous things wrong and being told by the teachers which problems are wrong and what exactly is wrong with them. They have rarely ever been given the chance to solve their own problems or redo the work. That is the process that they are most comfortable with.
I hope to build more independent learners, readers, and citizens this year across all grade levels. Fingers crossed!