Archive for category critical thinking
To some, the title must seem a ridiculous question; “of course it is!” Bare with me…
I’d just like to present a quick moment of pause as we continue our industry wide rush into: inquiry process, 3 part lessons, 21 century learning, and student engagement as a focus. While I find these are all good things to consider or are good approaches to use in a classroom, I want to point out that we have shifted away from the more student focused differentiation and focus on individual student needs to an assumption about how all kids learn and what all kids want.
These are all good strategies and focuses, but we are leaving the individual analysis and response that is the hallmark of differentiation for the belief that these strategies are a miracle catch-all for everyone? Perhaps they are, but only if we infuse differentiation. Are we sure that these “new” strategies equally meet the needs of all our students? I am not convinced because I know someone who will fail to learn, grow, and achieve in these engaging, rich, inquiry focused and technology infused investigative pedagogies…that person is my son; he has autism.
My son’s autism is quite pronounced and a real barrier to these learning environments-the ones that involve social skills, discussions, compromise, social queues, and group coordination. He, and others like him, will not learn successfully in these styles; he needs one-on-one, transmissive, route learning. Granted, he may represent an extreme end of our educational spectrum, but assuming you agree and see how these strategies will be a barrier and a hindrance to him, we have to ask are selves, “who else?”
If it won’t work for my child, we cannot posit that it will work for everyone; once we have accepted that, we must work on who else, how many, and what to do about it. What about the introvert? What about ESL learner? What about marginalized groups that feel the power imbalance in society: visible minorities, TBLG youth, students with a non-verbal LD, and the like? What about the bully…sure we can work on his social skills, but what about his academics? How will his/her participation affect the learning of his/her peers? What other groups/individuals might not enjoy the benefits of these new pedagogies? The way we teach creates our LD’s; what we value, determines which students will be successful and which won’t. Why is this not part of our discussions—how can we modify these strategies…is it too early in the discussion?
I liked differentiation; I know no one is telling me I can’t do that within these strategies, but no one advocating the point anymore either. Are these new techniques truly student centered or have we shifted to a more standardized model while seemingly trying to address student needs? The discussion has been too general; people have assumed if they meet students’ needs, then they meet the
needs of all students. People have assumed equity in learning and success….why? Is it warranted?
Lots of questions in this post; they are honest and not rhetorical. I’m not sure what the answers are. I like these strategies that a couple of years ago we called 21st century learning skills. I just don’t know how to come to terms with their possible inequities.
Often, again among educational circles on the internet, you hear the phrase / command to “stop asking questions whose answer can be found on Google.” Firstly, I think implicit to that statement is a devaluing of factual knowledge that I have addressed https://tuckerteacher.wordpress.com/2011/06/04/in-defense-of-facts/ where I argue that having factual knowledge is the basis of skills and is vastly different from having the ability to find factual knowledge, and in a corollary form https://tuckerteacher.wordpress.com/2011/06/25/im-not-dead-i-think-ill-go-for-a-walk-said-the-expert/ ; however, a few things remain to be said:
I have often replied to individuals who advocate the above with: “can you give me an example?” Mostly, the call is ignored but occasionally, an individual replies with a broad statement about asking students for opinions. To this, I’d respond 2 ways. 1) To have an opinion, you require facts; opinions are a response to a fact. They need a base or are merely a pseudo-opinion that may mimic the syntax of an opinion, but are valueless. Thus, you must at least start with facts (that can be googled) that are firmly understood in order to have an opinion. 2) Have you met the Internet? One is tempted to say that the majority of statements on the internet are opinions or pseudo-opinions. Why can’t a student copy / mimic an opinion as much as a factual statement? I wait in earnest for someone to give me a question that can’t be googled but can be answered by my students. The only think left is to create—are they advocating jumping to the top of the beloved Bloom’s Taxonomy each and every time with everybody?
Many skills are also an application of factual knowledge. Are people suggesting we shouldn’t ask a student to demonstrate a serve in volleyball because we can look up how to do it on the internet? Don’t paint a picture to demonstrate balance because you can just find one on the internet. Don’t write a poem about beauty because Shakespeare’s been digitized. Don’t do any math question because you can find the answer on line. Being critical or creative is an application of knowledge; many fine examples can be found on the internet, but surely there is value for students to do these independently. Is it different with a content question in science?
The organising of facts into a coherent answer is an application and a demonstration of mastery. Like the above art examples, to have a student create an answer to a math or science question requires them to turn their understanding into the complex symbolic language of writing. Even if it doesn’t involve opinion, it requires many skills, clarifies their thinking / understanding, and improves their understanding and memory for later application.
Implicit to the statement is also the assumption that it is better to seek information from the internet instead of class questions or discussions. This is troubling for 2 reasons. It is partial (at least) absurd, and it fails to appreciate the complexities of learning online.
It is partially absurd because it is such a generalization. It has in its core, either the idea that information on the internet is always inherently better, or that learning this way is always inherently better. Should students learn to speak from the internet? Learn the letters and sounds? Can they learn to turn the computer on from the internet-sure they can, but perhaps it would be less problematic to be told how to by a teacher, even if it can be googled. I invite you to take a break now and go to Google. Type in “how do i goo” and see the list of suggestions from instant search feature; don’t the suggestions hurt just a little? There are many factual based content areas that are better learned from teachers or other interactions; how to share and why is sharing important are easily googled, but not easily learned from this exposure.
Many contents on the internet are hard for students to decode without context from the teacher first. “Is radiation good for you?” is a good question to ask and to discuss in class because a search on the internet will likely reveal to the student that indeed radiation is good for you (try it and pretend you don’t already know). “Is global warming real?” is another great question to ask in class even though the answer can be googled. This is because a student without factual knowledge beforehand will almost certainly come to the conclusion that it is fake (try it!). “Evolution?”-try it! “Which religion is the best?” – try it! Critical thinking without prior knowledge relies heavily on internal inconsistencies as you cannot spot the omissions without prior knowledge—that’s what makes the internet a dangerous place.
What’s wrong asking questions that can be googled? To retell and repeat doesn’t just demonstrate understanding, it improves it.
Often, in educational circles, I hear the statement/complain that schools and classrooms look the same as they did a 100 years ago with the implication that this is harmful to student learning. I feel this is a ridiculous statement; it is either untrue or at best, irrelevant.
I think the first way to respond can be found in this article: Dear Hollywood: “School Doesn’t Look Like This”
http://plpnetwork.com/2012/06/15/dear-hollywood-school-doesnt-look-like-this/ In this article, some of the differences between today’s classrooms and those of the past are presented. Focusing on, teaching style, digital tech integration, desk or table arrangement, etc. Of course this is not an exhaustive list, and anyone familiar with today’s classrooms should be able to expand it. The troubling implication here is that so many in the education field don’t. There are so many other differences in content and pedagogy to point out. I once got a tweet from a digital art teacher who wondered if we were teaching the same as in the past; this from a digital art instructor! He later revealed he was refering to the fact that we still teach them in batches based on age. I have addressed that here: https://tuckerteacher.wordpress.com/2011/09/13/organizing-schools-by-ability-instead-of-age-is-harmful-to-children/ Even if you don’t agree with me, we can’t perseverate on this one similarity…it doesn’t alone justify the hyperbolic claim of “sameness.” Some similarities or consistencies will always be there (eg. schools will be to educate people).
Is your classroom just the walls and desks? Surely you don’t teach the same as 100 years ago? How many of us are teaching Latin or Classic civilizations (well grade 5’s are)? Are your students in single rows? Are you in a one room school house? In Ontario, at least, aren’t you using a curriculum radically different from the one used in the 1990’s (which was of course different from the one used 100 years ago)?
In our board, we go to the Heritage School House or Pioneer Village to experience the differences and to learn about how different schooling was 100 years ago. Sure I recognise the building, sure I recognise the front desk as the teacher’s…but there’s a world of difference between same and similar. Writing the word “once” is a similar act to writing a novel that starts with “Once upon a time…” I also recognise cars, houses, churches (even of different traditions and even 1000 of years old), boats, and all manner of other things. Being recognizable is part of it’s essence or even Platonic quality; chair appearance hasn’t changed to the point that its unrecognizable, but the tech to build one and the ergonomics have certainly improved. Do we need a new chair design to the point where it isn’t recognisable to prove to overly concrete and limited thinkers that it has changed? How about schools, just because they don’t look like an airport or submarine doesn’t mean they are the same as 100 years ago.
Being old is not the same as being obsolete or irrelevant. Anyone over 20 should intuitively agree. Would the people who suggest that schools are obsolete because of consistent design be willing to make a similar aguement with religious people. Would they be willing to say, “Your moral code is from the Bronze Age; you need to replace it!” to Christians and Jews. Should old people be considered obsolete as well?
My students can instantly recognise hotels, planes, cars, hospitals and banks no matter how old they are. Lots of things look the same but still work differently. Schools continuously change…often teachers grumble about that. We have a board plan for continuous improvement (change), and a school plan for continuous improvement (change)…never mind the dozens of changes implemented by Ministry and Board employees each year. Never mind the changes that I implement each year. You can go to school online now—can you travel online or go to a hospital online?
To reiterate: old does not mean obsolete. That is an epistemology that has developed over the last generation or so in the Western World. It is created largely by the market place; a market place of innovation sure, but also one of planned obsolescence, disposal-ability, and replace-ability. A market place that sold new things by creating false needs, or by creating the desire for newer products as a value. We used to repair now we replace and recycle. We used to value tradition over transience. Sometimes, things/ideas/building have staying power because they elegantly solve a problem, or because they so successfully create positive utility.
The better something is designed, the longer it lasts. Perhaps the persistence of the classroom model should be celebrated! It has lasted a very long time; where’s the evidence that your innovative model (or vague concept) will be better? Where’s the staying power of your innovation? Have you analyzed the unforeseen consequences? Do you have enough evidence to argue it is better and therefore classrooms need to change even more than they already do?
The endurance of our school/class model is evidence of it’s strength, not it’s stagnation.
A short little post that might be too much of a downer–I’ll be more positive next time:
I began a mini-unit entitled “the architecture of control.” with my students the other day. Our introduction centers around Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon. In Michal Foucault’s now famous analysis of it (in “Discipline and Punishment”), he concludes that Bentham made visibility a trap. By being visible all the time, prisoners had to regulate and normalize their own behaviours because they were constantly able to be scrutinized. Visibility was a mechanism that made us partners with authorities to limit our own autonomy and homogenize our behaviours. Conformity becomes normalized; difference is viewed as dissent or with suspicion.
While this is certainly true in prisons, many hold it to be true in society as well. One might also extend the argument to include our online culture. We are being watched while online. As I type this, departments in my school board are recording my computer use—it is tied to my account and this computer specifically. Companies place cookies on our browsers; they compile our profiles; they data mine our purchases; and increasingly, law enforcement is entering the data mining and surveying game as well. Everywhere I go, I leave a digital foot print that is permanently attached to my identity. With this kind of surveillance, I had better conform. The only chance I have to remain anonymous is to hide in the anonymity of the data stream—to do that is simple—don’t stand out! Conform! Monitor my own behaviour! Regular my autonomy to coincide with society’s expectations!
Our students are being introduced into an environment that might ultimately end up controlling them rather then freeing them. It might force them to regulate themselves and each other. It might teach them to view with suspicion those who act differently. It might add conformity to our world, not diversity. Even in our most enthusiastic embrace of the Internet and SM, let us at least for a moment consider that we might be wrong—it might not be a perfect world after all. If we do that, we might end up better preparing our students for some of the possible difficulties they might encounter…
A colleague of mine recently remarked that my blog was too negative; that it belabored the facts; and I was missing the main point of social media – sharing!
I countered by saying, I try to share as much as I can; some of my posts are sharing resources that I created, and I re-tweet points, arguments and resources that I think should be considered or have value.
In regards to belaboring the facts, I responded that I had no idea what that actually means. Relevant facts are always…well, relevant! They, when applied correctly, are argument busters – they help you gage if an idea had merit or not. Value facts; they keep us grounded in reality.
In terms of being too negative I saw his point; taken as a whole, my blog and tweets are more disagreeable then many others. I saw his point, but I emphatically disagree. This is what critical thinking looks like. Critical thinking is the analysis of where a concept is weak or wrong; it is an exploration of negative consequences, oversights, weaknesses, errors, assumptions, etc.
There might be some misunderstanding out there on what critical thinking is. You aren’t thinking critically when you point out the benefit of something or when you are optimistic. Those are other analytical strategies. Critical thinking is the subset of analytic activities that attack – its the reductio ad absurdum and the like. It is the process used in systems analysis (from everything to computer programs to making sure the maintenance schedule for aircraft repair is adequate); it is the process used by your defense lawyer as he breaks down the Crown’s argument; it is the method of Socrates – he never said, “wow, I see your point; I can’t wait to share it with the Sophists.”
We hear people presenting the merits of critical thinking a lot; they present the need that our students have for them; however, we rarely hear anyone embracing someone else’s critical thoughts. It’s much like coffee – when asked, people generally say they like it dark and rich when the truth is the majority of us like it milky and weak (Malcolm Gladwell on Spaghetti sauce at ted.com). When asked, people generally say that they value critical thinking, then when confronted by it, see it as negativity and then as something to avoid or dismiss (“you say you love the baby, but you crucify the man (Jim Croce).”). Though people say they value critical thinking; they don’t embrace the actual thoughts only the vague unassuming concept. As a profession, we tend to see it as the “black hat” from de Bono’s 6 hats…something associated with negativity. Even in many sources of this method, we are warned to not use it too much.
No such warning exists for the optimistic hat. Well, I don’t want my airplane mechanic to be overly optimistic; I don’t want my lawyer to be (should I need one); I don’t want journalists to be; or farmers (“don’t worry; crops grow themselves; don’t worry, I’m sure the ecoli wont spread”) or educators.
I find the irony a bit too thick to even enjoy when an educator shares someone’s critical argument at face value…when anyone optimistically accepts a critical argument and shares it saying, “great point to consider…” they have missed something fundamental; they have forgotten to be critical. I also have very little respect for someone who prefers to ignore an argument because it is too negative and goes off in search of some great list of 100 apps that every student needs or 100 uses for twitter in your classroom. Without seeking the possible weakness or negative consequences, one’s optimism is reckless and naive.