For first-graders, learning to read, learning basic mathematical skills, and learning to write numbers are top priorities. But of all the basic skills young students learn, critical thinking is one of the most important. Applying, analyzing and evaluating information is one of the foundations of education and, if taught at an early age, students can master the art of thinking critically.
What is Critical Thinking?
The National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking defines the skill of critical thinking as the “intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.” In real world terms, critical thinkers are active learners. They are people who constantly question what they see or hear, and who want to know what details lay beneath the surface.
Critical Thinking Learning Strategies
There are many strategies for teaching these skills in the classroom. Just a few of the recommended strategies from the American Institute of Research include learning in group settings, open-ended questioning methods and applying lessons to real-life settings. Open-ended questioning from the teacher, for example, allows students to look for answers rather than mnemonically regurgitate the “right” answer. That type of investigative thinking is crucial to learning critical thinking. Showing how a skill transfers to real world situations also enhances a student’s ability to think critically. A student might be more motivated to learn, for example, if his lesson relates to coins in his piggy bank.
Developing Critical Thinking Skills
According to the Council for Exceptional Children, teachers can develop the basic critical thinking skills of analysis, synthesis, and evaluation in their students through various classroom activities and lines of questioning. The way a teacher frames a question is especially important here. The open-ended questioning model can be used to help facilitate discussion and thinking, but the types of questions will ultimately guide the learning activities.
When students are analyzing a story or problem, teachers should urge children to look at differences, explain what they are seeing and compare two like or unlike things.
In activities where students are synthesizing information, such as in a reading or science activity, teachers should be asking them to create or invent new ideas or to compare and contrast what they are seeing. “What if” questions such as “What if you were a character in the story?” help students work through synthesizing problems.
When evaluating, students should be asked to judge or decide if something is right or wrong, correct or incorrect. Measuring, selecting and explaining are all good ways to get students to make judgments based on a certain set of predetermined criteria. Math and science subjects are good places to work on evaluating results.
Any activities involving these critical thinking skills should be based on fun and the natural inquisitive nature of children. Games or writing activities involving questioning are techniques to get children engaged.
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