Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!

Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!
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Teaching is the profession that teaches all the other professions. ~ Author Unknown

My goal is to reveal one teacher's humble journey of self-reflection, critical analysis, and endless questioning about my craft of teaching and learning alongside my middle school students.

"The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called 'truth'." ~ Dan Rather

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Thinking Critically: Easier Said than Done

Critical thinking really means the ability to think in the face of multiple criteria. The good news -- we intuitively use this all the time!!

For example, a powerful headline needs to be informative, relevant, interesting, and concise in order to be effective for the readership of the publication. Perhaps when asking students to read a section of information, we can ask them to "Read the text and come up with a better headline or title." After all, our students need judgments and decisions to make. How, then, do we create a genuine community of thinkers and learners? How will kids make their judgments??

This process of growth and discovery all begins with the kinds of questions we present to students in the classroom. They can be one of three kinds: factual/recall, preferential, or judgment. Any simple question can be turned into a critical thinking question (ie: "Is Hamlet a sympathetic character in your eyes?", "Why ______________?", "Rank in order from this list", and "Who is the protagonist in Macbeth?"

I was fortunate enough for my advisor at Harvard to be Professor Eleanor Duckworth, who truly believes in empowering learners and putting the learning in THEIR court. Her phrase, "thinking deeply about simple things" (2006), often enters my mind and influences my classroom instruction. How do we create classroom communities where every student has access to meaningful content and learning opportunities?? Our goal here becomes transformative thinking, as Professor Gini-Newman suggests.

Since children are currently living in the "nearly now" in their classrooms and communication systems, the jobs they will have do not call for a vending machine list of knowledge/type of right or wrong answer. Instead, they will need to utilize a collaborative, problem solving, and creative thinking model. School needs to prepare them for these skills through powerful, meaningful learning. If we as teachers are to teach our students exploratively, we must use exploratory learning as learners ourselves (Duckworth, 2006).

In planning for lessons that center on building our students' critical thinking skills, we must ask ourselves:

1. Does it require reasoned judgment based on criteria?
2. Is the challenge likely to be perceived as meaningful to students?
3. Will significant curricular understanding be uncovered as students work through this challenge?

These critical challenges can take on one of six forms:

1. Critique by using the piece and judging the merits of someone.
2. Judge the better or best.
3. Rework the piece.
4. Decode the puzzle (concept attainment).
5. Design the specifics.
6. Perform to specificity.

Are we up to this challenge??

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