I am a participant in Alberta’s AISI projects through my school district, PWSD76. The AISI goal for this cycle is to answer the following question:
To what extent are student achievement and/or engagement in literacy and numeracy impacted by an emphais on 21st Century competencies within a differentiated classroom setting?
As a participant, I’ve been asked to use the AISI goal as an umbrella question to inspire my own personal focus for my classroom. I’ve been working with the 21st Century competencies for a couple years now, and I decided that one major area on which I would like to focus would be critical thinking. My personal question is stated as follows:
To what extent will critical thinking engage students in text analysis and creation to improve achievement?
Critical thinking is a term that most people likely believe they understand, but through my study of the concept I have learned that it is much more in-depth than simply being able to solve a problem. According to Garfield Gini-Newman (Google and download PPT: OCDSB-Parent-Critical Thinking), critical thinking is . . .
- Concerned with judging or assessing what is reasonable or sensible in a situation,
- Focuses on quality of reasoning,
- Depends on the possession of relevant knowledge
- Occurs when we attempt to solve a problematic situation
- Takes effort but is more interesting than merely memorizing information
Gini-Newman goes on to state that “critical thinking is the working through a problematic situation in order to decide what to believe or how to act. It requires that we make a reasoned judgment.” Reasoned judgment occurs only when we make decisions that are based upon criteria. In other words, we must know why we made the decision we made, and make it only after deciding that it is the best choice based on the criteria.
Gini-Newman and The Critical Thinking Consortium (TC2) recommend a “four-pronged approach to help students improve as critical thinkers by:
- Building a community of thinkers within the school and classroom
- Infusing opportunities for critical thinking throughout the curriculum
- Developing the intellectual tools that will enable students to become competent critical thinkers
- Assessing students’ competence in using the intellectual tools to think through critical challenges.”
It is this approach that I will seek to follow and build upon for the duration of this AISI project. It is also important to note that TC2 closely links critical thinking with creative thinking an collaboration. It seems impossible to nurture critical thinkers without also establishing a community of thinkers who are think creatively as well as critically.
I am currently teaching grade 10 ELA with the -1’s and -2’s combined in one class. I have 15 students in this class. This grade 10 class will be my main focus for the next three years as they progress through high school (I also teach the ELA 20 and 30 courses). It will be from this class that I collect and report data for this project. In her book, Fall Down 7 Times, Get Up 8, Debbie Silver points out that “effective educators concerned with student engagement are always quick to point out that students need ownership in what they are learning. Learners are more likely to be self-motivated and have greater task satisfaction if they feel they have at least some degree of control” (116). This statement comes during a discussion regarding the promotion of autonomy in learners. Silver continues by stating that “autonomous behavior is associated with richer experience, better conceptual understanding, greater creativity, and improved problem solving . . . . [and that] these conditions are also necessary to promote concepts previously mentioned in this book: growth mindset, self-efficacy, and lifelong learning” (116). Again, problem-solving and creativity are closely linked together and play a significant role in nurturing students who will be engaged in their work and become life-long learners.
It is my hope that a focus on critical thinking will produce increased engagement in students and thus also increase achievement. For a closer look at how I plan on assessing this goal, please visit the AISI Assessment page.