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Friday, March 29, 2013

Can All Kids Learn to Think Critically?

There is no doubt in my mind that there is a special place for all teachers who adapt class activities so that their students can achieve and learn about complex topics.  I am not talking about dumbing down the work, or giving them the answers so they can pass the test, but actually adapting content or delivery, not to lower the bar, but to raise the bar.
Raising the bar goes both ways
There was an interesting discussion on the AASA discussion group on linkedin….”We talk about raising the bar for kids, do you do the same for your staff?” linked to the TregoED leadership blog.   A lot of the points brought out in this blog on staff performance also apply to our students.  Are we creating an environment of support?  Are our expectations clear?  What feedback do we give them?  The blog stated that in the workplace “Only 15% of the time is the problem (poor performance) due to an individual not having the skills, knowledge or capacity to do the job.”  Could that percentage also be applied to the students in our classrooms?
All children can think critically
I do a lot of workshops for middle and high school teachers, there is always an elementary teacher who sneaks in and asks if I think that her kids can use SCAN (a critical thinking strategy embedded in an online tool at TregoED) or other internet tools.  I have to say, if there is a will there is a way!  Many of these teachers take the time to build an environment of support and do amazing critical thinking activities with their students by altering the content, delivery and assessments.  I have written about some of their work in past blogs – The students who did a SCAN session on graffiti in her 5th grade class, the NYC 4th and 5th graders who wrote PSA’s on child labor, or the special ED class in NC that did a full Situation Appraisal on bullying. 
Ask the right questions
Each of those groups tackled very complex topics by looking at the different perspectives that could be viewed on the topic and the particular issues that each point of view might be concerned with.  Being able to identify, explore and appreciate different perspectives is a great way to get kids thinking critically.  They can do it, you just have to ask them the right questions!
One size fits all
Douglass Green asked in the AASA discussion, if the bar was “one size fits all” – suggesting that it should not be for either staff or students (acknowledging of course that high stakes testing is in fact “one size fits all.”)  Does raising the bar mean everyone has to reach the same height? How do you ask your students to stretch their thinking?  

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