When I was ten, I used to play school and my friends always wanted me to be the teacher. At that time, we all saw school and education, as being led by an all knowing, wise woman who gave out plenty of homework and wrote on the chalkboard a lot. So, in keeping with that idea, that was the role that I took on as I played pretend school and wrote assignments all over the walls of our low income apartment. Today, I see that same teacher as being a man or women and the chalkboards are now white boards with dry erase markers. I now know that education can be the center of fun and games, but the serious side of the profession includes a leader who gives all students an opportunity to succeed.
Teaching is the delivery of a specific set of learning standards in a subject area. This includes the content that needs to be taught and the sequence of lessons that should be given, in order for students to gain comprehension of a particular topic. In some classrooms, students are participating in rote learning and are asked to memorize facts and concepts. The time is now for teachers to provide students with chances to conceptualize their learning and make decisions with new academic content. Students have to be able to draw their own conclusions and connect to a concept, so that they understand its real life application. These ideas are what educators call critical thinking. Critical thinking is students analyzing and evaluating a situation, in order to make clear, reasonable judgments (Beyer, 1995).
Ben Franklin said, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I remember, involve me and I learn.” Critical thinking activities are extremely important in schools because they allow students to understand information on their own, instead of being fed answers and solutions.
Improved critical thinking skills may enhance students’ educational experiences and aid them in being prepared for any future endeavor that they choose to pursue.
Teachers and parents can work with students in order to help them formulate language and use their own ideas to respond. When students have a chance to analyze the information that they are given, they have to make value judgments and combine data and facts in such a way, that they are answering in a unique format that is completely their own thinking. Here are 3 of the many ways that this may be achieved.
First, teachers could use differentiated activities. When students first enter a Reading class, they are assessed in spelling and grouped according to their levels. Once the groups are formed, the groups should not be doing the same types of lessons. Lower learners, who are below grade level, could be working on ABC order or writing their words 3 times each in color; putting the vowels in red and the consonants in another color. On the other hand, learners who are on or above level should be writing meaningful sentences and short stories with their words. They could also find other words that have similar spelling patterns.
Second, there is the strategy of reversing the type of dialog that we use. Many times, teachers are asking the questions and expecting students to respond with appropriate answers. This strategy is similar to a popular game show. Teachers should allow students to employ their cognitive skills and give the students the answers, and then let them write the questions. This will give them an attempt to exercise their questioning abilities and create an interrogative response that reflects how they think. For example, tell the students that the answer is “44” and let them write a few math equations that would fit. Answers will vary and they will be based on the levels that the students are on. You may get anything from 45-0 = 44 to 100-56 =44; depending on how extensive each students’ number sense and foundational skills are. In Language Arts, tell the
students that the answer is “Main Idea.” One question might be, “What do we call the most important thing about a story?” Another might say, “What do all of the details in a story lead to?” There are many variations and this can be done successfully in all subjects.
Lastly, there is the idea of custom classifications. Here, students can gain ownership of academic content as opposed to memorizing a prescribed list of elements. For example, the typical pattern that students sort animals by consists of labeling them as mammals, amphibians, fish, birds and reptiles. After understanding why the animals are classified as such, students can
create custom categories for the animals that they’ve learned about. They may put chickens and trout in the same category because we typically eat them, or put crows and whales together because they can be colored black. Doing this will force students to create their own schema for organizing the facts that they need for each animal in order to classify it.
When teachers are growing critical thinkers, it is important to design activities that are relevant and meaningful. Students need to connect to what they are doing. They need to know that their efforts are not just towards busy work, but are small steps in the direction of improving their thinking and problem solving. They should either have background information on the content or be given some support from their teachers to assist them with making their critical decisions. In the end, students should be expected to use their own ideas as they disseminate new data. Teachers should ask quality questions, thereby embedding all of the State Standards and grade level content into the learning situations. As students analyze, evaluate, and create, they are learning.
As an educator, I am here to teach students new content matter based on a curriculum. I am also here to teach them how to think, how to reason, and how to work with others. I want them to know how to use their skills to eventually have success with making a living for themselves. Along the way, they get a chance to learn math, reading and science. Those are the most critical moments of all.
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