Lately, one of the buzz words in education is critical thinking. Many educators unabashedly mention critical thinking as the main component in their lessons if only to give relevance and credence to what they offer to their students. A lot of seminars have been conducted about this topic as its importance is unparalleled. However, if we review the learning plans, (a nomenclature that has been invented to show that traditional education is progressing with the times) of teachers, how many do you think would yield that the lessons attached therein manifest critical thinking?
What is critical thinking in the first place? Given a piece of information in the form of observation, experience, reflection, reasoning or communication that needs a response or a course of action as a stimulus, what is the best way to deal with it? Educational pundits say we should teach children how to use critical thinking. Michael Scriven and Richard Paul made a working definition of critical thinking as the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skilfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from or generated by observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action. Now, that is quite a mouthful, isn't it? To better understand, let us break the definition in segments. Critical thinking involves intellectual capacity. As such, relying simply on our instincts is not critical thinking as we have to use our brain to process information for it to be so. This we are able to do because it is a discipline resulting from constant practice and continued use. As such, the intellectual capacity should have been trained to act accordingly to a set of rules or undergo a certain process composed of steps to be undertaken in order to be whole. These steps are:
1. conceptualize – forming a certain idea about what a piece of information is all about;
2. apply – knowing that a piece of information or stimulus has a purpose and knowing what its purpose is, then apply to life;
3. analyze - dividing information up into categories and subcategories (and) selecting things that are the more important aspects, and solving them first
4. synthesize – organizing, constructing, composing, and creating your finished result; and lastly,
5. evaluate –looking back and assessing how a course of action regarding a certain stimulus has been dealt with.
With this process, one might think it has to be a long arduous task. There’s the rub. While we have to put our thinking caps on, we have to do the process involved in a jiffy making it look like as if we were reacting instinctively or by simple reflex. That is critical thinking in its highest form.
Now comes the question of what is the best way to teach children to think critically? There is no sure answer as each individual is different as it is different for all the disciplines taught in school. However, one thing is certain. Teaching critical thinking has to be done with a lot of creativity - another buzz word going around the academe for the longest time as it is still very vital in the teaching profession.
I had been trying to catch up with my reading in education when I chanced upon an article in the Educational Leadership entitled Why Creativity Now? A Conversation with Sir Ken Robinson with Amy M. Azzan (September 2009. Vol. 67. No. 1 pp. 22 -26) lying on my table waiting to be read. Amy Azzam wrote:
Creativity: It’s been maligned, neglected, and misunderstood. But it’s finally coming into its own. .. Sir Ken Robinson makes the case for creativity as the crucial 21st century skill we’ll need to solve today’s pressing problems.
Sir Ken who led the British government’s 1998 advisory committee on creative and cultural education and was knighted in 2003 for his achievements observed that people see creativity and critical thinking as being opposed partly because people associate creativity with being totally free and unstructured. The reason for this misconception is due to the notion that creativity only applies to the arts, i.e. painting, literature, music, etc. which are disciplines open to spontaneity and freedom of expression. However, creativity is defined as doing things differently using original ideas that have value. The operant words here are different, original and of value. As such, teaching can be as creative and very productive when used with creativity.
Why do we need to be creative?
Alvin Toffler, an American futurologist who wrote Future Shock and The Third Wave in the 70’s predicted that a super-industrial society shall emerge out of the industrial age bringing out a complete structure change which will overwhelm society. Toffler is neither a prophet nor an average fortune teller who bases his predictions on the movement of the stars or the clouds inside a crystal ball but someone whose predictions rely on trends as he observes them. That era of structure change is now. We are at a threshold of a new world order where our lives shall be governed by recent developments in technology which has changed drastically and at a very fast rate. He coined the term information overload which refers to an excess amount of information being provided, making processing and absorbing tasks very difficult for the individual because sometimes we cannot see the validity behind the information. This is what we do not want our children to experience. We might be overloading them with information that they begin to get bored as they don’t find these data relevant and of consequence.
Sir Ken said, ...we were told that if you worked hard, went to college, and got a regular academic degree, you’d be set for life. Well, nobody thinks that’s true anymore, and yet we keep running our school systems as though it were. How many graduates who landed in a job totally different from what they have studied are there? We have placed too much emphasis on education that parents would skip meals, work doubly hard and make sacrifices just to be able to send their children to school. We graduate students by the thousands every year only to be misplaced due to a mismatch of the market and what they have learned in school. Because we have an overabundance of graduates, corporations now have the luxury of hiring people with at least a college education even for menial jobs. There will come a time when they will require for a complete college diploma for cleaning the toilet.
With the advent of an age where information can be had at the click of a button, there will come a time when a school as we know it will be different. Students shall no longer be confined in a four-walled space together with several others but shall be alone in a virtual classroom located inside their house where they learn at their own pace, taught by probably a virtual teacher and a module designed to teach a specific lesson. This phenomenon has started. There are parents who opt for homeschooling than the traditional education we got before. There are interactive lessons one can use to learn about something. As a matter of fact, some teachers I know use these sites as a take off for their lesson. Considering that the concept is relatively new, there will come a time when interactive sites like these can and will replace the teacher. These sites were made to be very interesting that one gets hooked from the very start. They are replete with wonderful, attractive colors, beautiful presentations, clearly thought out messages, etc. that will make one bite hook, line and sinker - all the more reason for us in the academe to be creative with our lessons and make learning a truly worthwhile experience. Follow these simple rules next time you make your learning plans:
Dare to be different- a teacher who has been teaching a subject in the same way he/she has been taught or in the same manner as others have taught it for so many years is not being creative. Such a teaching style is as predictable as the rising of the sun at the east in the morning. At least, with regard to the weather, the sun may not show in case of rain. But a teaching style that is predictable would lose its essence and children will anticipate the lesson, be contented with “tips” given by an older brother/sister or friend, and are more likely to abandon critical thinking. Worse is if the style being used has been rendered obsolete and one didn’t know about it. Teaching involves continued learning. This can be done not only by enrolling in a graduate school but also through education of one’s self through research and reading.
Come up with original ideas - teaching styles that have been copied elsewhere is not only unoriginal, but such a style may not be within the milieu or experience of the learner. Often, we read books designed to cater to western thought, viz., American, with its cultural slant/biases, nuances in language and moral fabrications. The learner will have a hard time learning something that is far from his/her own experiences.
Find valuable lessons - who would care whether what you’ve done is unique or not if it does not hold any merit at all? So, you’ve invented a hundred ways to strike a match. So what? Students will never see the relevance of the topic at hand if they cannot see the practical use of why such a lesson should be learned.
Sir Ken added, (M)ost original thinking comes through collaboration and through the stimulation of other people’s ideas. Nobody lives in a vacuum. Sometimes, ideas come unexpectedly. It is sparked by something while you eat, talk to strangers, interact with students and co-teachers. Keep your eyes open to new ideas gathered from listening to others while they narrate their experiences, their dreams and aspirations.
Eureka! is a term said to have been shouted by Archimedes upon discovery of something significant. Who knows, in our pursuit of well-written, well-thought-out learning plans, there will come a day when we will be shouting eureka!
Why Creativity Now? A Conversation with Sir Ken Robinson with Amy M. Azzan (September 2009. Vol. 67. No. 1 pp. 22 -26)
note: this article appeared in Sinag-Berde (The institutional newsletter of our school) p.11 - 13, vol.12, issue no. 2, SY2009 -2010)