All children need to be thoughtful and critically-minded.  I know I believe it deeply when I take it this far…

During the 3rd week of the teachers’ job action in September, I hoped to engage my Gr 12 son in some brain work, rather than just stay in extended summer mode.  So, I texted him this question, “Are teacher unions good for education?  Research and be prepared to debate both sides at dinner.”  I confessed my challenge to my colleagues.  They laughingly responded, “of course, you did!”

But really, thinking critically is crucial to the progress of our society!  How else will our children be able to navigate the incredible pace of change and extraordinary amounts of information we encounter?  

Our definition of critical thinking is simple and it profoundly shapes the LearnForward philosophy.  We believe students need to be able to:

…make reasoned judgments according to appropriate criteria.

Making reasoned judgments according to criteria can happen in every part of life!  It’s much more than stating and defending an opinion.

Take planning a vacation, for example.  How will you decide what is the best choice for your family?

You may want a family vacation that:

  • is less than a week
  • takes you somewhere sunny in the middle of winter
  • has direct flights
  • is high energy with lots of family activities

What if you had additional criteria:

  • handicap accessible
  • close to the ocean

You may end up at Disneyland, rather than Niagara Falls or NYC.  

Express Monorail / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Express Monorail / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Determining your criteria for what makes a great family vacation is how you decide.    

Our school’s three-year focus on embedding critical thinking throughout the curriculum began in 2009.  Following my participation in a critical thinking summer institute course at UBC with Dr. Phil Balcaen from the Critical Thinking Consortium, we began thinking critically as a teaching team.  Our inquiry was, “let’s design the most effective staff meeting for our team?”  Everyone owned the question and we explored our criteria together.  Even now 5 years later, we still think flexibly about the criteria of great staff meeting.

From 2009 to 2012, we worked strategically and consistently on learning how to embed critical thinking throughout our instructional programs.  Whether we’re exploring “What makes a great friend?” in Kindergarten or “Is the pipeline is a good choice for Canada?” in Grade 5, here’s what we notice in our classrooms:

  • students are more engaged when the instruction includes critical thinking.
  • the habits of mind are principles that students can refer to when learning (ie open-mindedness or curiosity).
  • starting at early ages, students can learn how to think critically.
  • students can apply critical thinking broadly from the playground to politics.

Most powerfully, we teach students the habits of mind of a conscientious thinker.  Habits of mind, as defined by TC2, are the “attitudes and values of a careful and conscientious thinker.” 

We begin with curiosity in the early years and end with the more sophisticated habits like tolerance of ambiguity in the middle years.  

Even now, 5 years later, our exploration to ensure students are learning to think critically continues.  Over the course of my wanderings at Willowstone Academy this week, I acknowledged the habit of mind “attention to detail” written on the whiteboard in an intermediate classroom.  I handed out our critical thinking handbook to a new teacher.  We discussed the habit of mind of flexible thinking at a team meeting.  

How can we nourish this essential competency together…  

What decisions are in-process in your home?  In our home, there are relevant discussions about university choices and Christmas celebrations and activities.  Can you define criteria together?  How does that support building consensus and ensuring you are making the best decision?  Can you think critically together as a family?