This past week I took over a grade 5 class. The teacher has gone on maternity leave and I will be with these students until the end of the school year. I feel very fortunate, as I have inherited a fabulous group of students. I almost feel spoiled as I am used to junior high and high school students. My students were welcoming, helpful and respectful. Not once did someone roll his eyes at me – that is a novel concept. What I am quickly learning about this age group is that my extensive vocabulary requires explanation. Also, these students only have 10 years of background knowledge to draw from.
As part of my job, I must put the outcomes mandated by Alberta Education into child friendly language. One concept that came up this week was that, “students will think critically.” “What does ‘think critically’ mean?” a ten- year old asked me tentatively, no doubt anticipating an explanation that was beyond her grasp. I was on the spot and had to think fast ( a trait that most teachers must possess – I am a work in progress).
I was fortunate enough to take a Critical Thinking class at the University of Lethbridge. This undergrad class provided me with a strong foundation of critical thinking, enabling me to teach my students to be critical thinkers. Practicing critical thinking provides them with an entrepreneurial spirit, always digging, wanting to find more or better ways to arrive at conclusions. The definition of critical thinking that I arrived at is that it is a way of thinking that is reflective, promotes further questioning, and helps you to arrive at a well-reasoned working conclusion for the issue at hand. I need to memorize this definition, at the very least, it should be a poster in my classroom.
When I was put on the spot and asked about critical thinking I immediately thought about muddy waters. I told my students that critical thinking was much like looking at the waters of a pond. The water looks clear on the surface and we can't see that far. But as we begin to question further, go below the surface of the water, we will see bugs and fish, snails, perhaps even some freshwater shrimp. As we continue to question, and go deeper in the water, we come to the vegetation, then we come to the bottom of the pond, we dig deeper into the roots of the vegetation, the water becomes cloudy and it is hard to see. As we question critically, sometimes we create more questions and it is hard to see our way to a clear answer. Soon, as we reflect on the questions we have asked, we sit and think; the water stills, the silt returns to the bottom of the pond and soon the pond is clear again. We now have a well reasoned, working conclusion for our issue.
It is important for our students to be taught to think critically – which really means to question what they are learning. In their learning environment, answers to questions are only a “Google search” away. I need to teach students to think for themselves. I am disappointed when a student only regurgitates information. Gone is the day of purely memorizing information, we must be able to work with the information given and ask questions until we are satisfied, for the moment, until we can unearth new information for our questions.
I hope my students question my teaching. I am the first to admit I am not the foremost authority on everything. I am not an authority on the Boreal Forest Region of Alberta – I have a good working knowledge however. If a student asks a question that I don’t have an answer to, I tell them to look it up. They go to the computer attached to the Smart Board and we all learn together. I feel this is a valuable lesson to teach my students: 1) Always ask questions 2) Adults don’t have all the answers 3) We are always learning – even their teacher.
That’s My View From the 86th Pew, Michelle