Thursday, 25 October 2012

Towards Developing Critical Thinking Skills in Young Learners

This is a summary of a webinar hosted by Cambridge English Teacher and presented by Herbert Puchta on October 10th, 2012.

The 'attention-grabbing' approach to teaching

Even very young children are able to think, attend and remember, but their thinking, attending and memory are very reactive.  Children growing up today are subjected to sensory overload constantly.  Television, for example, is fast-paced, loud, full of movement, and has colourful, constantly changing scenes.  As a result, today's youngsters have very short attention spans.

'Reactive learners' need fast-paced, sensory bombardment to learn even very simple information.  This leads to the teacher being an entertainer which is totally exhausting.

Learning as a 'self-directed activity'
  • Children increasingly learn to direct their attention, memory and problem-solving skills on their own.
  • Children gradually take more and more responsibility for their own learning.
  • Children acquire the mental tools to help them think better.
  • Tools of the mind (mental/cognitive tools) help to extend a child's cognitive capabilities.
  • Tools of the mind reduce the workload for the teacher.

Why teach thinking skills?
  • Children need to face the challenges of a changing and unpredictable world.
  • They need problem-solving and decision-making skills to meet unexpected problems and tackle them.
  • School curricula tend to promote systematic, error-free learning - correct answers, assimilation of facts, teacher's assessment.

The importance of divergent thinking

Divergent thinking (as opposed to convergent thinking) is extremely important - students need to learn that there is not necessarily one right answer.  You can teach this by asking questions like:

Write down as many different uses as you can think of for:
  • a button
  • a brick
  • a blanket
Here, you are encouraging children to think outside the box.

What does critical thinking involve?
  • Working out whether or not we believe what we see or hear.
  • Finding out whether something is true.
  • Arguing one's case.
  • Identifying when we need more information.
  • Selecting information for a specific purpose.
There is always a connection between critical thinking and creative thinking.  Both are higher order thinking skills.

Problem solving cycle
  1. Gather and organise information
  2. Define the problem
  3. Generate approaches to solve the problem
  4. Make an action plan
  5. Monitor, check, evaluate
  6. Communicate solutions
  7. Transfer the problem solving skills learned to other problems
What thinking skills can we teach at the same time as we are teaching language?

A typology of thinking skills areas to be taught with EFL for young learners
  • Making comparisons
  • Categorising
  • Sequencing
  • Focusing attention
  • Memorising
  • Exploring space
  • Exploring time
  • Exploring numbers
  • Creating associations
  • Cause and effect
  • Making decisions
  • Solving problems
  • Creative thinking
Practical examples

1.  Where's Tom?
This is an example from Herbert Puchta and Marion William's book 'Teaching Young Learners to Think'.

It focuses on the 'exploring space' skill.  To develop this skill, students need:
  • a reference system to understand and control the space they live in.
  • a sense of position, distance, direction, proximity and dimensions.
  • the ability to imagine a change in position.  This is necessary for hypothetical thinking - the ability to imagine another viewpoint.
2.  Cars and bicycles

Draw a Venn diagram and ask the question:

What is the same and what is different between this pair of objects?
Examples:    car and bicycle
                   tree and flower
                   chair and table
                   banana and pineapple

The focus here is obviously on the skill of making comparisons, the basic building block of decision making.  This kind of activity can be introduced at beginner level.  Simply asking the question, 'What colour's my jacket?', for example, activates language, but it doesn't require any thinking on the part of the respondent.  As teachers, we need to encourage thinking.

3.  Missing information

Give three texts - three party invitations, for example, - each one with a missing piece of information (time, place, date, etc.).  Students have to work out what is missing rather than the more usual task of answering questions on what is there.

4.  Listen and imagine

Tell students to close their eyes and then play them a piece of music.  Then ask them to draw a picture inspired by the music or write down a list of words they would associate with it.  They then have to explain their picture or choice of words to a partner or small group.

Here, we are encouraging creative thinking, which, as we have already heard, is an integral part of critical thinking.

5. Cause and effect

Give students a statement and ask them if there is a cause and effect relationship in it.  For example,

Jane doesn't play any musical instruments.  Therefore, she isn't a musician.

This kind of task is suitable for intermediate level students.  They have to question whether or not there is enough information to establish a cause and effect relationship.  If not, what other information is needed?  The attention to detail required here is a great exercise for students.

To conclude:

Quoting Vygotsky's model:

Learning moves away from the goal of getting the answer correct to getting the answer correct because a specific process was used to get the answer.

Further information:

No comments:

Post a Comment