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Critical Thinking: Why It's More Important Than Ever and Why You Should Foster It in Your Classroom

Posted by on in What If?
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The Thinker

On more than one occasion I’ve been heard muttering that we have far too few critical thinkers in this world – that too many people simply behave like sheep. Some of us studied critical thinking in college – but most of us wouldn’t associate it with early childhood. Yet that’s exactly when Roberta Golinkoff, Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, and Jill Berkowicz – recent guests on Studentcentricity – believe we should begin fostering it. They also contend that it’s really quite easy – because the little ones are already critical thinkers and teachers just need to “give the work to the children.”

I absolutely loved the conversation with these three brilliant, passionate, critical thinkers. They give me hope in an education climate that’s obsessed with kids having “one right answer” – and a world in which there are people who seem to be engaging in no thinking at all.

In answer to the question, why is critical thinking important, Kathy replied:

I think we want people to think differently about what counts as success.  In a Google world you can look up facts in just seconds. What is key is what you do with those facts.

Roberta contributed:

Because we live in a democracy and want to keep it that way! And because we are being inundated by information! By some estimates we see the equivalent of 174 newspapers each day. We need some way to cull through what is out there and some way to ensure our children [have] jobs in the future when 5 million will go to computers and robots.  Our kids need to learn critical thinking (and the other 5C's) to cultivate capabilities that computers and robots don’t have.  Our children need to learn to think critically so they can catch demagogues in their lies and distinguish between evidence and opinion.

Jill responded to questions regarding how we can teach critical thinking, when it’s appropriate and what subjects are best suited, and when it is best to begin:

Three questions that call for reframing.  We can't teach critical thinking, we can design learning opportunities that demand critical thinking. Problems, or in gaming lingo, quests, are engaging learning opportunities that call for skills to either be learned in advance, or in order to be successful.  Engagement is a byproduct.  All subjects are suited. 

Especially in response to this interview....it is best to begin at the beginning.  Students arrive as accomplished critical thinkers. It is our responsibility to be sure we spiral the opportunities to be progressively more challenging across the curriculum, and through the grades. The reframed questions might be: How can we be sure everyone in the system has the same understanding of critical thinking? How can we develop a plan for critical thinking to be included in all subjects with thoughtful consideration for the energy and attention it demands of the learner? In what ways can we ensure that from k through 12 critical thinking's inclusion in teaching and learning is improving over time? But first, a common understanding of what it is and what it looks like is essential...

I highly encourage you to listen to the conversation with these three educators. I also recommend Roberta and Kathy’s new (best-selling) book, Becoming Brilliant: What Science Tells Us About Raising Successful Children.

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Rae Pica has been an education consultant specializing in the development and education of the whole child, children's physical activity, and active learning since 1980. A former adjunct instructor with the University of New Hampshire, she is the author of 19 books, including the text Experiences in Movement and Music and, most recently, What If Everybody Understood Child Development?: Straight Talk About Bettering Education and Children's Lives. Rae has shared her expertise with such groups as the Sesame Street Research Department, the Head Start Bureau, Centers for Disease Control, the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, Nickelodeon's Blue's Clues, Gymboree, Nike, and state health departments throughout the country. She is a member of the executive committee of the Academy of Education Arts and Sciences and is co-founder of BAM Radio Network, where she hosts Studentcentricity, interviewing experts in education, child development, play research, the neurosciences, and more on teaching with students at the center.

  • Gillian Judson @perfinker
    Gillian Judson @perfinker Friday, 14 October 2016

    Thanks for raising this Rae--we should "begin at the beginning" for sure and then, hopefully, we don't have to identify "critical" thinking as some goal. Instead, we teach GOOD thinking from a young age. Good thinking = being constructive and creative and CRITICAL and collaborative. That's what "thinking" can become. I will follow up with these readings. I do think we underestimate the abilities/capacities of children sometimes...

  • Guest
    Elizabeth Aurilio Tuesday, 25 October 2016

    Critical thinking is the cognitive term. Empathy is the emotional term. They both jab at the same thing - the ability to take perspectives. To be open minded, explore possibilities, to turn things over and look from the outside in as well as inside out. A developed sense of empathy has been identified as that which differentiates successful young adults from their peers. I would think that teaching children to think critically would also help them foster the ability to empathize.

  • Rae Pica | @raepica1
    Rae Pica | @raepica1 Tuesday, 25 October 2016

    I would agree with you, Elizabeth! Thanks so much for sharing this perspective. I believe empathy is one of the most important traits a human can possess.

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