Scott K. Johnson recently wrote an article in Scientific American about the need to improve the teaching of critical thinking skills in the classroom. From his perspective as a college-level instructor in Earth Science, he believes that more interaction between students will help them examine their own assumptions more effectively:
All students have opinions and perspectives that they bring to these issues, and the sharing and sifting of ideas among classmates should elicit the very critical thinking skills that we’re after. Few things encourage intellectual maturation like recognizing and examining the assumptions behind one’s opinions.
We’ve seen this first-hand. From our experience bring our critical-thinking software to a dozen high school classrooms, we noticed that students were able to quickly share an opinion about a topic, but they had difficulty backing that opinion up with facts or being able to support it as they were questioned by other students.
One possible explanation is that they are able to absorb opinions of others that they hear on TV, at the dinner table, etc much easier than they are able to retain the reasoning behind those opinions. I think that’s generally true for each of us– that we absorb some opinions through our environment subconsciously.
We’ve seen that the peer-to-peer discussion model is highly effective in helping students question each other’s assumptions because they are coming from different perspectives and they raise questions naturally. It’s quite exciting to see students learn by coming into contact with new ideas right in front of our eyes.
Our software which facilitates this process of in-class brainstorming and deliberation is free for teachers in grades 5-12; pricing for universities is on our homepage; please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll be happy to get you started.