What Is Critical Thinking - And How Do We Teach It?
- Tuesday, February 02, 2010
When a person reads the newspaper or listens to someone speak on a subject, he is receiving information. What does God want us to do with that information? Accept it at face value? Or do we use the brains that God gave us? Why do the minds of some people seem to work more logically or successfully than others'? A few months ago, news outlets told us there was a "coup" in Honduras. Is that true? Is it accurate? College and university professors give out reams of information. Will our children quietly take notes, regurgitate what they memorize, and pass a test, or will they raise their hands and ask questions?
It is easier to just sit back and believe what we see and hear. For example, here's a statement most of us have probably heard before: "We need to radically change our way of life because of global warming." Do we? Here's another one: "We must make sure that every American has health insurance." Is that workable? Decisions about issues like these should be made only after careful consideration, not because of an emotional feeling or as a result of media manipulation. These can be tough issues even for adults, and it is our duty to equip our children to evaluate information and draw wise conclusions.
As parents, it is our duty to develop the habit of critical thinking in our own minds and also to encourage that habit in the minds of our children. There is a purpose for the mind: to think. God wants us to think carefully, critically, about information we receive.
So what is critical thinking? It is both a concept and a process.
The concept begins with definitions. Critical is defined as follows: "exercising or involving careful judgment or judicious evaluation."1 Thinking is defined as "the process of using your mind to consider something carefully."2 Critical thinking is not simply accepting the information we receive. It is actively using the brains that God gave us to carefully process and evaluate the information we receive. Based on those evaluations, conclusions are reached, and based on those conclusions, we make decisions about how to act and what to believe.
The process is a series of steps that determine how much information will be retained and how well we understand the information. It is generally accepted that there are six steps in the critical thinking process.
1. The concept is planted in the mind.
2. The mind actively thinks about the information.
3. The mind applies the concept to something.
4. The mind analyzes the information.
5. The mind synthesizes the information.
6. The mind evaluates the concept and information and then comes to a conclusion.
A Simple Illustration
Teaching 2 + 2 = 4 will provide a simplified and easily understood working example of these six steps:
1. The concept is planted in the mind. Two apples plus two apples equals four apples, the concept being two similar objects plus two similar objects equals four similar objects. When teaching, it is vital to have the child's attention. If the child is not focused, the seeds (concept and information) are being scattered but not planted. Also, the child must be mature enough to understand the concept; otherwise, it goes right over his head. However, once planted, the idea or concept begins to wiggle about in the child's mind.
2. The mind begins to actively think about the information. The child ponders the new concept and tries to make it into something he can better understand. He will try to fit, maneuver, and work the concept into knowledge he already possesses. It is usually true that the more a child knows, the easier it is to grasp a new concept.
3. The mind tries to apply the concept to something. This is the step in which the use of visual aids is very important. Visual aids help the child understand instantaneously—they work like glue on the brain to cement information in place. As the familiar saying goes, "A picture is worth a thousand words." That is so very true! For example, saying "two apples plus two apples" easily helps the child visualize and comprehend the concept.
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