Critical thinking

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The what-what method Teach teachers to make thinking visible to the learning mind. This is a teacher's wisdom. We want to make this wisdom come to life online with curriculum and method as much to teach teachers as students.

The following is by David Perkins:

Consider how often what we learn reflects what others are doing around us. We watch, we imitate, we adapt what we see to our own styles and interests, we build from there. Now imagine learning to dance when the dancers around you are all invisible. Imagine learning a sport when the players who already know the game can't be seen. Bizarre as this may sound, something close to it happens all the time in one very important area of learning: learning to think. Thinking is pretty much invisible. To be sure, sometimes people explain the thoughts behind a particular conclusion, but often they do not. Mostly, thinking happens under the hood, within the marvelous engine of our mindbrain.
Not only is others' thinking mostly invisible, so are many circumstances that invite thinking. We would like youngsters, and indeed adults, to become alert and thoughtful when they hear an unlikely rumor, face a tricky problem of planning their time, have a dispute with a friend, or encounter a politician's sweeping statement on television. However, research by our group and others shows that people are often simply oblivious to situations that invite thinking. For a number of years, we have been building what is called a dispositional view of good thinking that pays as much attention to people's alertness and attitudes as it does to thinking skills as such. We ask not only how well do people think once they get going but how disposed are they in the first place to pay attention to the other side of the case, question the evidence, look beyond obvious possibilities, and so on. Everyday thinking suffers more from just plain missing the opportunities than from poor skills.
Fortunately, neither others' thinking nor opportunities to think need to be as invisible as they often are. As educators, we can work to make thinking much more visible than it usually is in classrooms. When we do so, we are giving students more to build on and learn from. By making the dancers visible, we are making it much easier to learn to dance.
There are many ways to make thinking visible. One of the simplest is for teachers to use the language of thinking. English and all other natural languages have a rich vocabulary of thinking: hypothesis, reason, evidence, possibility, imagination, perspective. Routine use of such words in a natural intuitive way helps students catch on to the nuances of thinking and thoughtfulness that such terms represent.
Using the language of thinking is one element of something even more important: being a model of thoughtfulness for one's students. Teachers who do not expect instant answers, who display their own honest uncertainties, who take a moment to think about "What if" or "What if not" or "How else could this be done?" or "What's the other side of the case?" express respect for the process of thought and implicitly encourage students to notice problems and opportunities and think them through.
Thinking routines are simple patterns of thinking that can be used over and over again and folded easily into learning in the subject areas.
One thinking routine useful in many settings involves two key questions: "What's going on here?" "What do you see that makes you say so?" For example, a teacher might show students a satellite photograph of a hurricane without identifying it, and ask, "What's going on here?" One student says, "That's a storm over Florida." The teacher asks, "What do you see that makes you say so?" The student points out the distinctive profile of Florida, visible through the clouds. Another student says, "It's a hurricane." The teacher: "What do you see that makes you say hurricane?" The student mentions the size of the cloud structure and its spiral formation. Another student adds by identifying the eye in the middle.
"What's going on here?" "What do you see that makes you say so?" asks students in informal language for interpretations and supporting reasons. As students respond, one can easily label their suggestions as hypotheses and support for their hypotheses as reasons, bringing the language of thinking into play. One can focus disagreements and call for evidence on both sides. The same pair of questions works very well across a range of subject matters and draws rich responses from young children through adults.
The ultimate aspiration is building a strong culture of thinking emphasizing the fundamental learning process of internalization: making part of one's silent repertoire cognitive processes played out through social interaction.

About the author

David Perkins is a senior professor of education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a founding member of Project Zero.