Teachers often gravitate toward Project Based Learning (PBL) as the means to bring critical thinking into the classroom. While we think PBL is an amazing way to engage kids in authentic problem solving and critical thinking, making the instructional and pedagogical shifts to PBL can feel daunting.
So, how do we weave critical thinking into the fabric of our classrooms? How do we make critical thinking less of an event or initiative and more your standard mode of operating as an educator?
Think back to a time you’ve had a young child a car with you. Little kids ask lots of questions because they are curious about the world around them. What does that sign say? Why is there a speed limit? How do cars work? Are we there yet? We don’t know about you, but indulging kids in thinking is part of the fun of a road trip! Often questions lead to more questions and opportunities to have kids think and reason.
- What does that sign say? leads to What letters do you see? What pictures do you see?
- Why is there a speed limit? leads to What do you think? What might happen if people drove really fast or really slow?
- How does a car work? leads to probing about different parts of the car such as How do you think the wheels work? The windows? The steering wheel? How do all those parts work together?
- Are we there yet? leads to Think about the last time we made this trip. What did you see as we got closer to Grandma’s house? How do you know when we’re getting close?
Whether intentional or not, we’re engaging kids in the car with questioning and reflection strategies as a way to get them to think critically about the world around them. Engaging kids in the classroom doesn’t have to be the result of monumental changes in practice. We think it can be done with small changes to the way we use questioning, reflection, and goal setting.
Beth recently saw the tweet below and we were reminded how important questions are in our classrooms. We also had the opportunity to learn from Weston Kieschnick recently and he shared that questioning has a 0.48 effect size in John Hattie’s meta analysis. (0.4 = 1 year’s academic growth)
Teachers need to let kids ask the questions!
After students are comfortable with asking questions, you can also engage them in reflecting about their thinking (aka meta-cognition) and processes. As a college student, Corey had a professor that allowed students to resubmit one missed exam question with an explanation of the misconception at the time of the exam, the necessary adjustment in thinking to grasp the concept, and what students did to change their thinking. It was a powerful way to engage students in thinking about their learning, reflecting on their process, and better understanding how they can clarify their own misunderstandings. Whether intentional or not (we may never know) the professor was utilizing evaluation and reflection, which has a 0.75 effect size in Hattie’s meta analysis.
Teachers in Grant Wood Area Education Agency school districts are also providing students with opportunities to engage in reflection and growth. A teacher at Tipton Middle School uses the daily reflection log below to help students reflect about both their engagement and understanding of concepts.
We are a goal oriented society. And school is not different - or is it.
We know from Hattie’s research that goal setting has a high effect size - 0.68 effect size for Learning Goals vs. No Goals as listed in this Fisher & Frey Article But, I wonder about the goals that we often talk about in the classroom.
- # correct words on a spelling test
- # pages read over time
- Increased quiz scores
Beth has the privilege of visiting classrooms across Grant Wood in her role of supporting Blended Learning K-12 classrooms. One benefit of these visits is a wealth of pictures of classrooms examples .
This image, from a College Community teacher, stands out as a way of demonstrating learning goals. The teacher has set the standard for the day with "Today, we will.... " Then the context is added to that standard with the “So, we can…” language. And the 'Why" is established. With the “I’ve got it when…” language the teacher explains the criteria for students to know what is required to meet that standard.
Take a bit of time this week to think about critical thinking in a new way. Start your deeper journey toward critical thinking by using questioning, reflecting and goals in your classrooms.
Follow us on social media all week for a series of challenges, to get you thinking and sharing about critical thinking. We look forward to learning from you!
Corey Rogers and Beth Swantz
Digital Learning Consultants, Grant Wood Area Education Agency