There are few buzzwords in K-12 right now as big as "rigor." The Common Core has been hailed by advocates as a more rigorous set of standards, but a big question that keeps popping up is how to measure that rigor. A good place to start is with evidence, which is what many of the new tests plan on incorporating into their structure.
Using evidence — the ability to support and explain your point — is not only a good way to measure rigor, but an important skill for students to learn. It gives insight into a person's train of thought and how they came to their conclusion, additionally opening opportunities for more innovative, but also structured, thinking patterns.
Placing emphasis on how a student backs up what they believe, and not "the answer," takes pressure off of a student to get the "right" answer — or what they think the teacher wants to hear. This, in turn, encourages students to be creative with their thinking. Through emphasis on evidence, teachers can facilitate an environment where deep, critical thinking and meta cognition are the norm.
Below are some activities to help teachers incorporate curiosity, evidence, and critical thinking into their classrooms.
1. Gap Fill In
Students are shown a picture, projected in the front of the room, if possible. At the top of their paper, students should write: "What is happening in this picture?" At the bottom of the page, they should answer (very simply, in 1-2 sentences) with what they believe is happening in the photo.
In the middle of the page — and this is why it's called "Gap Fill In" — students write down all of the steps they took to arrive at that answer. Students are encouraged to write down the evidence they see that supports their conclusion.
GOAL: This activity not only uses evidence, but supports meta cognition skills by asking what prior knowledge brought you to your conclusion. This is a good activity to Bell Work or "Do Now."
Example Gap Fill In image (images should be modified to match grade level)
Set up an inner circle (or fishbowl) and an outer circle in your classroom. Students should not be sitting in this setup yet, but rather in their regular classroom seats. The class should be presented with a question or a statement and allowed to reflect individually for a few minutes.
During this reflection period, count the class off into small groups by 3s, 4s, or 5s.
Students should now transition to the fishbowl setup. In the numbered groups, have students facilitate a conversation while others on the outside observe without comment. (For example, a teacher may have all 1s go to the fishbowl, while the rest of the class sits in the outer ring.)
Once the inner group has discussed for a bit, have the outer group evaluate two things: Their process (Did they listen to one another?) and their content (Did they provide evidence or just opinions?).
GOAL: This activity helps students understand how and if they use evidence, as well as hear the difference between giving an opinion and backing an opinion with evidence.
Introduce a statement written in a clearly visible location. (Example: "Prisons are effective in stopping crime.") In each corner of the classroom, positions (Strongly Agree, Strongly Disagree, Somewhat Agree, Somewhat Disagree) should be posted and students should be asked to move to whichever best represents how they feel about the statement.
Without help from the teacher, students should move into a self-facilitated discussion where everyone is to discuss why they have selected their position. During this time, the teacher should transcribe the speech of the participants. If possible, this should be done in real-time with the transcription projected onto the board during the debate.
After a decided amount of time (5-7 minutes), the debate will be concluded and students will return to their seats for debrief, during which the class should evaluate the debate using the transcription as evidence.
Ask the class: Was the debate good or bad? Use evidence from the transcription to support your analysis.
After the first classroom debate, the teacher should present the rules for the debate. It is recommended that the teacher conduct the first debate without rules, so students can have a comparison for what works and what doesn't work.
Rules for debate:
A. SEEK first to understand the statement, EVERY WORD.
B. PROJECT your voice; don’t yell.
C. Your PERSONAL experience is NOT the rule. Connect it to bigger example.
D. RESTATE the previous point made, make your point, and move on.
E. General examples, ok to start; SPECIFIC EVIDENCE, this kid’s SMART!
GOAL: This activity allows students to not only debate a point, but, like the fishbowl, analyze their communication skills. Additionally, by keeping the transcription log, students can actually see how they progress throughout the year.
These activities can and should be morphed to match the culture and needs of the individual classroom. This specific list comes from activities used in the Allied Media: Detroit Future Schools curriculum.
By Sara Rathburn
"We should be teaching students how to think. Instead,
we are teaching them what to think.
- Clement and Lochhead, 1979
While critical thinking encompasses many components, in general it refers to the ability to think effectively about a subject, to properly understand and evaluate material, and to make reasonable decisions.
People who think critically have the ability to ask appropriate questions, gather relevant information, sort efficiently and creatively through information, reason logically with it, and come to reliable and trustworthy conclusions about the material, problem, or situation in question (van Gelder, 2005).
How can we help our students learn and/or improve their critical thinking skills? First, they must engage in the activity itself. Some suggested activities include:
- Reading: Assign persuasive essays, articles, and other readings that force students to evaluate various forms of material.
- Writing: Assign written responses to assigned reading material in which questions must be answered, logical reasoning and analytical understanding demonstrated, and reasonable conclusions drawn.
- Discussion: Provide a subject-oriented debate forum for students wherein they may openly discuss and recognize various arguments, judge the credibility of source material, point out the logical fallacies, and talk about how to transfer the information to other situations.
- Engaging in Science: Critical thinking is scientific thinking—exploring a subject scientifically provides a way in which to apply reasoning to questions and problems encountered in virtually every academic discipline.
- Give feedback on student reading, writing, discussions, and their ability to engage in science. If one of your over-arching learning-outcome goals is to improve higher-order thinking skills, then your accurate, timely feedback is critical.
And finally, know that acquiring critical thinking skills takes time. Developing them takes practice, and not just in one, but in multiple settings. It is never too late to assist students on the life-long journey of critical thinking.
Peter Connor - TILT Web Content Writer and Editor