Critical thinking. This skill, highly valued by educators and continuously devalued by policymakers, is core to PYP or any other high quality education. The IB Mission Statement refers to an understanding that different people can be “right” in different ways. The Learner Profile not only includes “Thinker,” but also “Open-minded” and “Reflective,” which further develop critical thinking skills. Under educational reform that continues to stress the importance of testing content knowledge, educators hold firm that the purpose of education must be to develop students into critical thinkers, rather than vessels filled with factual knowledge. Critical thinking is a vital 21st century skill: The ability to imagine new and different solutions to problems, the capacity for compassion and desire for equality, the openness to different views and concern for one’s fellow citizens are the keys to improving our world. And in the Information Age, it is more important than ever that our students can look critically at the constant flow of information, knowing how to filter out fact from fiction, reality from sensationalism, and important issues from superficial (and often overemphasized) ones. So how to we cultivate critical thinking skills in our classrooms?
First, we must understand that critical thinking is really a conglomerate of many skills including inference, synthesis, analysis, dialectical though, interpretation, and self-awareness. Critical thinkers must understand the perspectives of others and be aware of their own worldviews and biases, having the ability to understand their own “lens” and then try to look through the lenses of other people. Here are a few of the skills we can integrate into our daily lessons that will develop critical thinking.
Research skills: formulating questions, organizing data, interpreting data
Children are naturally curious and want to own their learning. We must give them the ability to interpret and analyze the world around them through their own experiences, ask their own questions, and know where and how to find answers. Then they can engage with the world in meaningful ways and drive their own learning experiences as they follow their own inquiries.
Thinking skills: analysis, application, evaluation, dialectical thought, metacognition
The more experience students have drawing their own conclusions, debating two sides of an issue, and reflecting on what happened, the more they will understand their own ways of thinking, and the more they will be open to understand how others view things. When you develop learning activities in our classrooms, involve the students in discovering and justifying opposing sides to an issue. Give them time—and prompting questions if needed—to analyze what happens and why. Create your rubrics and choose your success criteria with the students, giving them ownership of their learning but also helping them to think about what is important.
Self-management skills: making informed choices
Be transparent about what information is out there, how/where to find reliable information, and how to identify whether a source is likely honest or likely to be misleading. Talk them through the process of evaluating and making decisions, so that they are clear about what they need to consider when making their own choices.
It is important that our lessons have real world connections. One way to do this is through role-playing. Students might apply their new understandings of texture and dynamics by composing a soundtrack to a movie scene. They might analyze a song by writing program notes for a concert or liner notes for a CD booklet. Even something as simple as a four-bar composition could be practiced and prepared for an in-class “concert,” where they introduce their piece, perform, and bow for an attentive and receptive audience (a good time to practice important audience skills as well!). If there is no context for your activity, you might wish to reconsider what the learning outcome is and why it is important.
Coming up next: Click ahead to Part II to read how we can prompt students to think critically in any context, and how it all fits into the PYP Key Concepts.