This year I attended the second annual What Works in Urban Schools conference. I wasn’t sure how useful it would be to me, since I’m not a traditional teacher and it’s geared primarily for those who work in urban school systems, but I was intrigued by so many topics on the agenda. Even after eliminating sessions that were pertinent only to NY public school teachers (having to do, for example, with the Common Core Standards), I still had a tough time narrowing down the list down to three speakers. In the end, I walked away with very concrete ideas that I’m excited to put into practice in my teaching. Let me share some of those ideas with you.
If I could have only gone to one session, this would have been it. One of my biggest pet peeves is when people, especially educators, throw around the phrase “critical thinking” without defining what they mean by it. “You know it when you see it” is intellectually lazy and it doesn’t make it very easy for you to cultivate it as a skill in the classroom.
Tuttle based her talk on research coming out of Harvard’s Project Zero, which is dedicated to studying multiple intelligences. The Cognitive Skills Group came up with a list of seven dispositions of critical thought (I urge you to read that paper, as it explains the inclinations, sensitivities, and abilities that are linked to each disposition.)
- The disposition to be broad and generative
- The disposition toward sustained intellectual curiosity (this is sometimes rephrased as “wondering, problem-solving, and investigating”)
- The disposition to clarify and seek understandings (e.g., by drawing connections to prior knowledge)
- The disposition to be planful and strategic
- The disposition to be intellectually careful
- The disposition to seek and evaluate reasons
- The disposition to be meta-cognitive
Each of us is stronger in certain dispositions than others, but Tuttle stressed the point that, as habits of mind, we can consciously practice and cultivate these habits even with our very youngest students (and in ourselves!).
She suggests that we do three things:
NAME IT: Create a shared language in your classroom that makes the activity of thinking visible to your students. This might involve translating the seven dispositions into phrases that are more intelligible to a younger set. (Meta-cognition could easily be phrased as “Thinking about thinking,” for example.)
INTEGRATE IT: Set critical thinking goals alongside your content goals and make it a daily practice. Make sure to schedule time during lesson to reflect on how students are thinking.
CELEBRATE IT: Praise your students not just for “correct answers,” but also for doing the difficult work of thinking. Allow them to give “shout outs” to each other for their work. Build ways to assess and track the process of critical thought in your classroom.
Tuttle also mentioned some strategies that we could bring into the classroom. One that really stood out for me: Make fewer handouts! Let students figure out how to organize their own thoughts.
I really look forward to putting some of this stuff into action soon!