With the words ‘critical thinking’ buzzing around so frequently, we may be under the assumption that we have a nation of students effectively analyzing and evaluating ideas, events and their individual thinking; generating clear sound judgment, and significantly increasing graduation rates among low income, and underserved communities. Generally speaking, at the least we would have experienced increased academic achievement and independent learners. This certainly is the case for some students, but they tend to be the exception and not the rule. Let’s be clear, our students have the ability to think critically when provided the resources, time and consistency with which to apply it. We don’t learn through osmosis. I have consistently experienced many of my students rise to meet the rigorous expectations required of them. Conceptually, what the common core standards require of our students is, in my mind, a level of thinking that has the potential to cultivate metacognitive students.
However, in practice, the practicality of its implementation is less than stellar. After 5 years of the common cores implementation, as a whole, have our students significantly increased academic performance? The consistent conversation and data (CAASPP OUSD 2016) (California NAEP 2015) shows that overwhelmingly our students continue to struggle; especially Black and Latino students. Throughout the implementation of the common core standards I have inquired about why students are not thinking critically and more specifically, why approximately 98% of the students (Black & Latino) entering my 7th and 8th grade English classes each year, didn’t know what it means to think critically or how to apply it. Shortly after my question surfaced I knew the answer; like myself, the vast majority of teachers did not receive professional development that would support teaching students how to think critically nor was there an infrastructure to support professional development on critical thinking once the common core was adopted. With all that teachers have to contend with, it is unrealistic to expect them to integrate this complex process of research, planning, implementation and assessing to their already over-extended work day without professional training. Fortunately, myself and I’m sure other teachers were not willing to wait for these mystical trainings.
Our students are competing in a complex changing world in which they are and will continue to be severally challenged if these critical thinking skills are not taught and consistently applied within the education system. Critical thinking can be taught beginning in early education; although it is explicitly required at the middle and high school levels within the common core standards.
Teaching students to think critically is a complex process that requires consistent and explicit application. We must implement criteria that will guide this process and apply it across content areas, as well as to relevant events that occur in the world today and historically. Students need to understand and have an ability to articulate how ideas and events connect and impact their lives, their communities and the world. They need to understand the implications of their thinking. Our students must have the knowledge and skills required to process thinking that unveils such realities. When students are consistently exposed to new learning they build prior knowledge, which enables the brain to connect with new information. The more prior knowledge our students have the easier it becomes for them to comprehend and analyze new information. Yes, we learn at different paces and arrive at various levels at different times, and still our education system owes our students fair access to the standards they set.
Critical thinking is a life skill which we are often required to use to make sense of the world; and the quality of our lives is a direct reflection of the quality of our thinking.
The sobering realities remain, teachers must be supported. Professional training is an essential component in teacher’s implementation of critical thinking. We have an obligation to the entire community of learners; students, teachers, staff and administrators. If these realities continue to be neglected, we will continue to suffer the outcomes of a society that is depleting in it’s ability to sustain itself in a way that is meaningful and equitable.
By: Nasira Waters