Yes, teachers, it IS up to you!
The 2020 election brought different kinds of fears and tears to most, for different reasons. But one glaring term stood out to me: “uneducated.” I have something to say about that.
As a reading specialist who dealt mostly with students who would not eventually attend institutions of higher learning, I might say some of the “uneducated” have figured out something smart– going into high debt for a non-existent, “good” job is not a great plan.
Instead, I will tell you that I did encounter some difficulty teaching critical thinking skills to my students. Ninth grade English textbooks assumed that students had a foundation in critical thinking, but many did not have it. The texts often gave lip-service to higher-order skills, just a question here and there, but not an adequate procedure. I was also poorly educated to deal with kids who couldn’t decode the words in the textbooks they were provided. I discussed this problem and how I tried to solve it in this post:
Teaching ninth grade English for three years, I found very few materials that truly helped my students actually develop critical thinking skills. I returned to the same university for a Masters’ Degree in Reading, and I became a reading specialist.
As I taught struggling readers in middle school for 10 years, I discovered that I had to spend at least 40% of my effort in motivation of children who had been unsuccessful for many, many years. When an opportunity opened, I moved to elementary school for 17 years until I retired.
With motivation less of a problem—beginning readers are mostly enthusiastic about learning to read—I decided that, besides decoding skills, I should also introduce young readers to important higher-level reading skills early so that these skills evolve more easily in higher grades. I developed some sequencing activities for grades K-3, such as
Here is a different, interesting, and effective activity that I enjoyed with my second-grade classes. I think it made a critical thinking impression on them, even at their young age.
When reading Arnold Lobel’s Caldecott Medal Book Fables, I saved the fable The Frogs at Rainbow’s End for last. It is a story about three frogs who tell each other that there is gold in the cave at the end of the rainbow. They all go inside and are eaten by a snake.
After reading this fable and discussing its inferential meaning with the students, I looked at my watch. I told them that we had to stop right then for a few minutes because I had been told that there would be a man at the back door of the school giving out five-dollar bills to everyone, so they should get up quietly and silently go to the back door. Granted, I could do this because my classroom was fairly close to the back door.
They all looked at each other, unsure what to do. I urged them on, and they all left, except one girl. We laughed together as they all sheepishly returned slowly, one by one, some taking a bit longer than others.
Rather than preaching or teaching from a worksheet, I had found one way to really make an impression about following the crowd to something they knew had to be ridiculous. I know part of the reason for doing it was that an authority figure was urging it, but I made the exact inferential meaning from this fable more meaningful to them in a memorable way. I still chuckle when I think about it.
I hope you did, too, while reading it, and I hope you will look for creative ways to teach critical thinking to all students at all levels. If we don’t teach these skills, who will?
© Reading Spotlight 2020
Here are some other interesting posts from my friends at TBOTEMC:
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