Dr. Gereboff's Head Notes
What Exactly is Critical Thinking?
The question: “What is the difference between how Egyptian slavery is described in the Bible versus in the historical document under scrutiny?” sparked a lively conversation in a sixth grade social studies class last week. The class continued by determining the supporting evidence for the parallel texts and delineating the assumptions in each set of texts. There was considerable discussion about the difference between belief and supported evidence.
That same day, in a fifth grade classroom, students were considering how the particular artist that each student was studying influenced society. Students needed to connect information about their artist’s style to artistic representations that trended prior to his/her prominence.
These are difficult questions to answer. They sound a lot like the questions I first encountered in college. These are the type of questions that ignited my passion for research, and for studying the humanities and social sciences in particular. These are the questions that make up a 21C education that emphasizes critical thinking.
What exactly is critical thinking? One definition that I like is: “It is a disciplined process of actively and skillfully analyzing and synthesizing information gathered from multiple sources.” (from a lecture by Scriven and Paul at the International Conference on Critical thinking and Education Reform 1987) It is an information generating and gathering skill set - a process that needs to be taught and applied repeatedly to new situations.
In teaching critical thinking, we take students through a process that builds from kindergarten onward. We help them understand different points of view as we discuss how different characters in a story perceive the story’s conflict. We encourage students to think about the objectives of different arguments - is the author trying to persuade or inspire the audience? Students need to know how to articulate the assumptions presupposed in a particular position, and they need to know their assumptions in the various positions that they take in class discussions. We begin to teach the idea of inference (what conclusions are we drawing from this) in kindergarten by letting students make reasonable inferences as they estimate quantities or try to infer the message of a particular story. All of these concepts continue throughout our students’ education at Wornick, and throughout that process we strive for clarity, accuracy, depth, breadth and logic.
We know that critical thinking is now considered one of the survival skills for this century – one that it has been privileged in universities and in elite independent schools for a very long time. But why should we place an emphasis on critical thinking in the K-8 educational environment today? Teacher Randy Kasten published an effective answer to this question:
The ability to think critically is one skill separating innovators from followers. Critical thinking reduces the power of advertisers, the unscrupulous and the pretentious, and can neutralize the sway of an unsupported argument. This is a skill most students enjoy learning because they see immediately that it gives them more control.
Randy Kasten, “Critical Thinking: A Necessary Skill in an Age of Spin” in Edutopia, May 7, 2015
Wornick is all about creating poised, empathetic leaders. Part of the magic sauce that gets us there is the emphasis on critical thinking. Happily, that the sauce also creates an exciting educational environment of engaged learners.
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