Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Critical Thinking and the Intentional Non-Learner

In the fall of 2008 I attended the CELL conference in Indianapolis and was privileged to hear Katy Haycock, of the Education Trust, (The link will take you where you can hear Haycock's keynote.) speak about student achievement. Among many gems that I tried to capture with my cell phone keypad, I recorded Haycock as saying that the United States is the only country that believes kids can catch up by slowing down. She was speaking about the importance of providing a rigorous curricula for every student. I've been thinking about what that means.

Many schools are guilty of slowing down the learning of the struggling learners in a well-meaning effort to improve learning. There is sound reasoning in doing this, to some extent. Students learn at different rates, some faster and others slower. It is reasonable to allow more time for those who need more time, if it results in learning. But I don't believe that such is the problem with the "remedial" learning that is provided for the struggling students. Often, the struggling student is assigned to an education of low-level thinking. Recognizing that the student struggles with knowledge, comprehension, and application, we educators determine that the student needs more work with the same. When the student shows proficiency in the low-level thinking, we'll give him a shot at some higher-order thinking.

Every student needs the opportunity to engage in higher-order thinking--in analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Through critical thinking a student is able to experience greater engagement in the learning experience and perhaps the joy of learning. Through engaging in higher-order thinking the student sees a reason to know, comprehend, and apply the other learning--lower-order thinking--that to this point has been meaningless.

Before I became an administrator I taught English to resistant freshmen and sophomores. I engaged these students in Socratic Seminars. When I wrote quizzes over something they were to have read, I wrote six questions: one from each of the six levels of the taxonomy of knowledge attributed to Bloom. I found that my students did well on the higher-order thinking questions but struggled on the lower-order thinking questions. However, as the semester progressed, students began to answer all questions better. Now, this only leads to a hypothesis and I do not suggest this to be anything more. But it does lead me to suggest that students will benefit from a more rigorous curriculum focused on challenging students to engage in higher-order thinking.

If we believe our students are not capable of higher-order thinking, we are right. And if we believe our students are capable of higher-order thinking, we will find this also to be true.

Why not give a kid a chance?

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting. I have a class with some very intentional non-learners, they make it an art. I think I will redo the next test and push it to a higher level.