Having established my topic for the Reading Review of how technology can support teaching critical thinking, I decided to take a look at the BC Integrated Resource Package (IRPs) to see what the Ministry of Education has deemed important subject areas for teaching critical thinking. I hope you’re as shocked as I am that critical thinking barely appears in the IRPs K-7 beyond Social Studies where some variation of the same learning outcome appears in each grade! Shouldn’t critical thinking be woven into all of our subjects? I suppose that just because it isn’t explicitly stated doesn’t mean it isn’t important or not being taught. However, the reason I chose my topic was because as a grade six and seven teacher I was finding my students had very little experience applying their own thinking and common sense to school work. For example, one of the very first science lessons of the year I sat down with my new class and we had a big discussion about Indigenous Knowledge. We read an article in the textbook and had an interactive class discussion around the term for a good 30 minutes. During this discussion we pulled out key parts of the article that illuminated different examples of what indigenous knowledge is, why it is/was important, how their knowledge bank was created etc. Collaboratively we orally defined what indigenous knowledge was, and when it seemed as though they had a good grasp on the topic I asked students to write down the definition in their own words, a seemingly easy task given the depth of our group conversation. I purposefully did not write down a definition for them to copy, as I wanted the students to put the learning into their own words, to make it meaningful for themselves. A good chunk of the class was able to do this no problem, but you can imagine my shock when about 30-40% of them could not. What was more shocking about the responses was that a large number of students wrote definitions that were illogical and bordering on nonsense, scarily many of these responses were seemingly identical. This wasn’t because they were sharing their answers; in fact this part of the lesson was completed 100% independently. So, how did they have the same answer? It became clear that they returned to the article we had read and came across the bolded words “indigenous knowledge” and just copied down the words that followed. However, unlike your typical textbook the sentence that followed the bolded words was not a definition, but instead just a sentence in which the words indigenous knowledge was used. They had copied down the remaining part of the sentence as if it were a definition. What was more shocking was that this large number of students didn’t trust their critical thinking skills to read it over and say, “Hmm, this doesn’t sound right.” Instead, they submitted it and were fairly confident in this submission. What became clear to me was that these students were masters in the informational-text scavenger hunts. They were extremely proficient in finding exactly the word, or phrase they being asked to search for and copying down the information that preceded, or followed. They could not however, interpret, find meaning, or apply any critical thinking towards their schoolwork. I find that by the time they get to me they have been so inherently trained in finding that one true answer that the very thought of an idea being open to multiple explanations or answers is often frightening or intimidating. They feel unsure when they are asked a question that is not black and white. When did we stop asking our students to think for themselves? Going back to the IRPs, perhaps teachers have taught these kids exactly what the ministry of education has set out for them to teach, but if we aren’t teaching kids how to make informed conclusions on their own is it really worthwhile?
Ok, long rant, especially when the focus of this post is supposed to be about the process of searching for resources, and how the highlighted ones will benefit my teaching. I apologize for taking a “walk” but I felt it was important to share this story so that a bit of context for my subject was provided.
Moving beyond the IRPs, it wasn’t surprising that on my search I found a lot of information that was really relevant to today’s teaching, mostly in the ways of blogs, or collaborative teaching resources. What was alarming was that when searching for scholarly papers and articles a lot of the information, while sounding relevant, was really not. In fact, many of the articles offered through the UBC online library around critical thinking and technology were written between 1998- early 2000s. So, while I still overviewed some of these resources for interest’s sake (hey, just because it’s old doesn’t mean there can’t be something of usefulness there) sadly, most did not have enough relevance in today’s world of ever evolving technology. Saying that, I did think Carol B. MacKnight’s article Teaching Critical Thinking through Online Discussions was still incredibly relevant, despite being fourteen years old, because it wasn’t so much about specific technology as it was about written language and the ability to interact, communicate and share ideas through an online forum. I appreciated the guidance with tips and suggested questions that her article offered. In this article she also provides a list of “Socratic questions” an idea that was new to me, (however along my search appeared multiple times), I dug a bit deeper with the Socratic theme, and found there to be many great ideas on incorporating opportunities both on and offline for students to share their thinking in a meeting of the minds.
Three of my five resources come from similar backgrounds: The Teaching Channel, Edutopia and Edudemic all stem from the premise that teaching is a worldwide collegial network. I found these sites useful as an educator because it was coming from the minds of fellow educators, people who have experience in the classroom, who know what the day-to-day looks like, not just someone pushing papers, or running statistics. These sites offered relatable thinking, specific tips, and a network of ways to interact with other teachers looking to try similar things and make their classrooms better. Have you ever been to a dog park? Breeds seem to know each other, “You’re a doodle? I’m a doodle! Let’s do this!!” Teachers are the same way, “You’re a teacher? I’m a teacher! Let’s compare our stories of success and failure and figure this out together!” This mentality and powerful connection beyond geography is why sites like this are so useful and important to our field and why 3 out of 5 of my resources fell into this category of reference.
Moving away from teacher-generated products, another fabulous resource I came across was one called Media Smarts; a bilingual, Canadian site aimed at educating kids, parents, and teachers about internet use. I chose this one because it seemed like a good one to have in my back pocket. It is a place you where teachers can find the appropriate internet rule setting activities, or awareness lessons to support online lessons regardless of subject. I like it because it has different target audiences (all of whom are very important in the world of education: teacher, student, parent) and it seems to be pretty conscientious about how it delivers the information.
So while my searched served up a lot of fluff, and outdated information as you have read there was also a wealth of amazing resources (too many to document). The wonderful thing about the internet is that if one knows how to use it properly to navigate and sift through the opportunities for learning are endless. Because my topic is so interconnected with the lesson of how to teach critical thinking I found myself going through a very similar process in this assignment to what I would be asking my students to do; going in role as the learner is such a powerful experience to improve the teaching process. I had the opportunity to see what worked, what didn’t, how to problem solve and adapt along the way, which will help my lesson go a little more seamlessly. Perhaps most importantly it also gave me the understanding that this process is an important one to recreate for students when teaching about critical thinking and internet use.
For those interested in learning more about the socratic seminar check out this video from the Teacher Tube.