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Critical Thinking – The Most Crucial Skill of All

It seems as though the theme of 2030 continues to come up these days as educators continue to hypothesize about the skills needed for 18 years from today. The 21st Century Fluency Project has honed in such skills but I would argue that the most important skill of all has to be Critical Thinking. When I begin to reflect on my own children – Class of 2026, Class 2027 and finally Class of 2031 – once the panic attack resides, I come to understand that if I can teach my children one thing, it is to be critical. My role with the Toronto Catholic District School Board has enabled me to study, apply research findings and practice the development of Critical Thinking skills with our entire school board. Coming from a Catholic upbringing myself, the practice of self-reflection has always been taught and practiced. So for me it wasn’t that far fetched to continually reassess my approach to just about everything from relationships to education theory.

My concern also stems from a hubris that seems to exist among many educators that prevents access to self-reflection, especially in relation to what and how they teach. I find that the most fervent arguments come from colleagues that worry so much about access to  hardware and the corruption of our children because of ease of access to information. I often wonder if they truly understand that 21st Century learning has little to do with technology (though it can be such an incredible tool for enrichment) and more to do with challenging a system of traditional structure that just doesn’t work anymore.

When I am approached by colleagues in my workshops regarding the lack of computers, Smart Boards, wi-fi, printers and projectors I often rebut with the cruel check-list of questions found below:

Start with first things first:

1. When your students walk into your class – are they sitting in groups?

2. When your students submit work – is it predominantly a word processed document?

3. Do you have a choice board up in your class for student submission?

4. Have you covered a unit on online etiquette, respect and integrity?

To be honest, if a colleague answers yes to all of those questions, the first thing I do is arrange a visit, then find a way to champion the class… but alas – the ones that complain never do.

It’s not enough to use the web for research – this is all too easy.  If a student is able to find an answer to a question on Google, then perhaps the question should never have been asked. Indeed – if we are truly going to teach our students to be critical thinkers, then the questions we ask cannot be answered by Google now can they?

If we ask this of our students – why do we not ask this of ourselves? Have we developed so much hubris that we ourselves are immune from new information and discovery? I was originally going to post the graphic below for student consumption but felt the crucial need to post it as a reflective tool for ourselves.

What kind of questions do you ask in class? Be careful how you answer – my children’s future depends on it!

Critical Thinking Skills [Source: Enokson]