In 2015, I co-wrote an article for the Psychology Today blog (click here to read it in its entirety). In that article, we focused our attention on the characteristics of classrooms which inspire critical thinking in classrooms.
Those characteristics include: 1) using frequent evaluative questions to simultaneously gauge student learning and foster deeper engagement with material; 2) the encouragement of active learning, through the use of small group discussion; and 3) the creation of developmental tension. As one author cited in the article stated, “…all conscious thought has its beginning in uncertainty.”
Therefore, the use of controversial topics, and the introduction of novel ways of thinking, requires students to engage with the material in an effort to incorporate the discomfort into pre-existing knowlege.
This effort of assimilation and accommodation was expertly described by Jean Piaget, who advised educators and parents to allow children to struggle with events and information which challenged their understanding of the world. Think of your life: when things are going along smoothly, and everything is falling into place, very little learning is happening. Why would it need to? You know everything you needed to know to create your situation. However, when the unexpected happens, the mind needs to figure out what went wrong. This here is where true learning and mind expansion takes place.
It reminds me of some advice my father-in-law gave me when my wife was pregnant with our first child. I asked him what parenting advice he had for a new parent. He said that parents should not try to shield their children from negative experiences, because negative experiences are the opportunities to grow the most. This advice has been borne out many times since it was spoken to me.
In what ways does this advice resonate with your own practice? What examples can you give for how teachers can inspire critical thinking in their classrooms? I look forward to your comments.