Strategies of Teaching Critical Thinking in the Young Learner Classroom
Hajni Fruttus is the Principal, a tutor, mentor and pre-school teacher of English at
Orchidea Bilingual Kindergarten, Primary and Secondary School, Cserkesz Branch, Budapest.
She also works as a trainer at OUP national methodology trainings and conferences. She has contributed to the book Best practices in young learner education and teacher training. Education, Research, Innovation Studies (Publisher: ELTE TÓK, Budapest, 2017, editors: Márkus Éva – M.Pintér Tibor – Trentinné Benkő Éva) and the co-author of Játékos nyelvtanítás – 102 szórakoztató feladat a nyelvórán (Methodology Book for Language Teachers / Nemzeti Tankönyvkiadó) Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The big buzz in the education area has been around the 21st century skills for a couple of years. So what exactly are they, just to remind ourselves?
To succeed in the information age we need to develop the following set of skills
In this article I would like to focus on one aspect of the learning skills, namely, critical thinking. So what is logical and critical thinking?
Critical thinking involves the analysis of different sources such as facts, data, research findings, observations. It involves drawing conclusions from all of these findings, differentiating between useful and less useful, objective and subjective elements of information. Being a critical thinker will also mean us asking a lot of questions. The result will be us being responsive to information rather than just accepting it and will help us in making decisions and solving problems more effectively.
People are NOT naturally very good at thinking logically and critically. So this is something we need to help them with. Teaching critical thinking in the upper primary and secondary classes embraces discussions about real and fake news, facts and hoaxes, learning about fallacies of premises, etc. But is there anything we can do in the young learner classroom? Well, it is not just a big fat YES but we HAVE TO lay the foundations of critical thinking.
When I was trying to find how I could start teaching critical thinking for my groups in kindergarten I found two resources that intrigued me.
Bright Horizons Family Solutions is one of the largest child care providers operating in several countries and on their website they share a lot of tips, ideas, and activities about different topics that could be interesting for parents and teachers alike.
The other resource that captivated my attention was Heidi Butkus’s blog where I could find great inspiration about how to start teaching critical thinking for children at lower ages.
On these links I could find those techniques that I can associate with when I teach critical thinking in the young learner classroom. For me it serves as the list of MUSTs in terms of developing the young learners’ thinking processes. Let’s see what these are.
What we always have to keep in mind in general are the following:
- Provide opportunities for play – this is when the kids test how things work, explore cause and effect – (What happens if...).
- Pause and wait – offer them ample time to think, attempt a task, or generate a response. It gives a chance to reflect on their response and perhaps refine, rather than responding with their very first gut reaction.
- Don’t intervene immediately - Similarly to the previous one, give time for reaction, avoid completing or doing the task for the children. This encourages continued problem solving and develops executive functioning skills. Ask critical thinking questions and provide enough information so they don’t get frustrated, but not so much that you solve the problem for them.
- Ask open-ended questions - Rather than automatically giving answers to the questions, help them think critically by asking Qs in return: “What ideas do you have? / What do you think is happening here? / How would you solve this problem? / Where do you think we might find more information to solve this problem?”
And also I would like you to
- Encourage cooperation -Use cooperation techniques – kids share ideas and learn from each other. Sharing evaluations of a story can spark a healthy debate which provides an excellent practice for defending opinions.
Apart from the aforementioned tips there are some strategies that we should build in our lessons or activities when aiming at developing critical thinking in the young learner classroom. It is probably something you do anyway but you might not realise it. It is something we should do with more awareness so that we can give more focus on the thinking processes.
- Observe: compare and contrast -telling HOW things are different and HOW they are the same helps analyze and categorize information.
- Observe and infer prompts - Inferring is the process of figuring out missing information from the clues found in the text, pictures, setting. Figuring out what is happening and why. E.g. steam is floating from a cup of tea = the tea is hot. So do activities like Picture Reading, Journey Sounds.
- Observe and draw conclusions - this thinking process is deeper than inference. We judge and make decisions based on the information learnt. It helps develop reasoning.
- Thinking about and recognising cause and effect –cause and effect are terms of a casual process between events in the world. The cause is what started an event and the effect is what happened.
- Making predictions – this is simply about guessing a story, a solution to a problem, guessing what will happen next, finishing a story, etc. This strategy encourages critical thinking skills such as synthesis.
- Encourage thinking in new and different ways –by allowing them to think differently, thinking of all the possible solutions, looking at things from a different POV you develop their creativity and their creative problem solving skills.
- Help children develop hypothesis – “If we ....., what do you think will happen?” or make smart guesses: “The rabbit and the deer are always nice and kind characters in stories because...”
- Develop a logical argument –basically answering the “why?” question would make you argue. What would have happened if .... and why? What will be the solution for the fish to scare the shark? How do you know they will be successful? Is it good/bad for the birds living in a cage? Why? Would you rather eat chocolate or carrot...? Why?
- Evaluate –The Giant gave away all of his clothes to the animals to help them. Was it a good idea or not?
- Connect the text to Self –Has anything like this ever happened to you? The birds were laughing at Wilbur. He felt miserable. Have you ever felt miserable?
- Form an opinion –How do you feel about the story? Did you like the film? Why? Why not?
For me the key message was:
- Make children observe and analyse
- Teach vocabulary so they can express themselves
- Teach questions and questioning
- Enjoy reading stories
- Talk about the stories
Have fun, observe, analyse and argue.
Please check the 21st Century Thinking Skills course at Pilgrims website.
Please check the Methodology and Language for Primary course at Pilgrims website.
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