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Last week as I was reading DigiLitSunday posts, I found these questions on Fran McVeigh’s post.
Do we REALLY want students to be critical thinkers?
Then how are we encouraging “critical thinking” every day in our classrooms?
How are we REALLY encouraging independent thinkers and workers?
Tough questions that I contemplated all week. Am I really encouraging critical thinking in my classroom every day? To answer this question, I looked at my various assignments during the week. On Monday, we watched a Flocabulary video on The Voting Rights Act and answered these questions:
1. Connection to other movements: Think of a historical event or movement that is similar to the Selma marches. How are these events similar?
2. Connection to current events: Are racial equality and voting rights still issues in the US today? How have these issues changed since 1965? In what ways are they the same?
3. Connection to civic participation: Why is the right to vote an important right to protect?
I have to credit Flocabulary because not one of these questions elicits the exact same answer from every student. When we look for questions that encourage critical thinking, we must wonder if the answer will be the same for every student. Granted these questions also depend on quite a bit of prior knowledge. Not all of my students have a clear understanding of voting rights or what race relations are like today. Some of them are quite sheltered from the news and that’s OK with me. They’re young. But my older students, those in 5th and 6th grade, really thought deeply about these questions and offered some thoughtful responses.
What is important to me as a teacher of gifted students is to open up the door for communication and for critical thinking. I have to be willing to hear different responses, and not always ones I agree with. Critical thinkers are active, and our challenge as their teachers is to keep them thinking and questioning and wondering.
One way I do this is assigning reader responses. There is no one right way to respond to a book for my students. We have a chart on the wall that lists multiple options. These options include: write about the theme, relate to a character, connect the book to the larger world, etc.
This week a few of my students are reading Raina Telgemeier’s graphic novels, Smile, Sisters, and Drama. One student was appalled that Drama was placed on the second grade shelf because it is at a second grade AR level. “This book is not appropriate for second graders!” She explained that the book deals with the sensitive subject of sexuality. A selection from her reader response:
“This book can relate to the world because just like Jesse people know their sexuality, but can’t tell their friends or family because they’ll be teased or judged. In Jesse’s case his father doesn’t accept his older brother Justin because he’s gay, so Jesse is afraid to tell anyone because they might not accept him.”
She went on to rant about the recent controversy over transgender students and bathroom use. Reading with a critical eye as well as having an open policy for student responses helped this student not only relate to the book, but also to express her own opinions about the subject.
My students are not just writing for an audience of one. They write on a blog we share with other gifted classes. When they write about their own thoughts, they trust that others will read them with the understanding that we are all trying to write in a way that best expresses our own thoughts. A blog space is just right for experimenting with thinking and writing. A critical thinker understands that others have different assumptions and different perspectives, so in the blog space, we must make it safe for those expressions.
Thanks, Fran, for posing those questions and for helping me realize that critical thinking is purposeful and intentional every day.
I am off to New Orleans Mardi Gras on Sunday, so I am posting early. Please link up when you can.
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