Saturday, April 26, 2008

Critical Thinking

I got linked (I think it was through David Warlick, but it might have been through Doug Johnson) to a blog called Artichoke and her post about the value of technology (and you thought Betty Bunhead was a bizarre title for a blog. Although when you think critically about the artichoke, you'll find that it represents a multi-layered concept so it's probably not as bizarre as you think. If you think critically about Betty Bunhead, you'll see my reasoning behind the title. I invite you to post comments about the origin of B.B.)
Anyway, one of her replies to the extensive comments, was about the key questions in critical thinking by Richard Paul. Here is a summary of them:

Paul's Key Questions for assessing claims (Critical Thinking: How To Prepare Students For a Rapidly Changing World, p84)

1. To what extent could I test the truth of this claim by direct experience?
2. To what extent is believing this consistent with what I know to be true or have justified confidence in?
3. How does the person who advances this claim support it?
4. Is there a definite system or procedure for assessing claims of this sort?
5. Does the acceptance of this information advance the vested interest of the person or the group asserting it?
6. Is the person asserting this information made uncomfortable by having it challenged?
There was a link to an article written by Paul about critical thinking in schools entitled Why Students and Teachers Don't Reason Well

The article is well worth the time to read it. He argues that:

"... most students are not good at it. What is more, he presents evidence to suggest that most teachers are not good at it either — at least not at assessing it when students are called upon to use it in their work. One of the major reasons, combining with ignorance of what reasoning requires, is a systematic confusion between intelligent subjectivity (wit, articulateness, cleverness without substance), and reasoned objectivity (careful, disciplined, reasoning about an issue), between subjective opinion (however “bright”), and reasoned judgment (however mundane)."

In a companion article, Critical Thinking: Basic Questions and Answers, Paul lists examples of critical thinking questions about books:
"Take the apparently simple matter of reading a book worth reading. The author has developed her thinking in the book, has taken some ideas and in some way represented those ideas in extended form. Our job as a reader is to translate the meaning of the author into meanings that we can understand.
This is a complicated process requiring critical thinking every step along the way.

What is the purpose for the book?
What is the author trying to accomplish?
What issues or problems are raised?
What data, what experiences, what evidence are given?
What concepts are used to organize this data, these experiences?
How is the author thinking about the world?
Is her thinking justified as far as we can see from our perspective?
And how does she justify it from her perspective?
How can we enter her perspective to appreciate what she has to say?

All of these are the kinds of questions that a critical reader raises. And a critical reader in this sense is simply someone trying to come to terms with the text.
So if one is an uncritical reader, writer, speaker, or listener, one is not a good reader, writer, speaker, or listener at all. To do any of these well is to think critically while doing so and, at one and the same time, to solve specific problems of communication, hence to effectively communicate."

Our goals and expectations for education are to produce citizens who can participate fully in our democratic society. To participate fully in a democratic society, one must be able to think critically. This one of the essential literacy skills for the 21st century.

In a previous post, I commented that thinking was the skill that I was most passionate about for students to learn. But it certainly is not an easy skill to teach and to learn as Paul's two articles suggest. However, these two articles can certainly can be a starting point to helping develop critical thinking skills in both teachers and students.

What about incorporating some of the reader critical thinking questions into our lit/reading circle with the texts that we are using? What about using the other critical thinking questions listed above in media literacy and evaluation of websites? What about providing models of good critical thinking and models that are poor examples and having students analyse them (just like we do with the 6 traits of writing)? What if we slow down and give students longer response times and push them to think more deeply, instead of superficially? What if we backed off teaching as much content and put more of our efforts into process?

Questioning is the key - the right questioning is the key if we are to develop thinking students.

Image: Sculpture of a Thinking Woman,

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Digital Nomads - Knowledge Workers of the Future

I have been up since 5:00 am reading blogs, Twittering and changing the appearance of my blog and avatar. I really don't have time to all of this but it's becoming a compulsion. However, I have been limiting it to the weekends. Sometimes I wish I were more of a Ludite :-)

The Economist magazine ( April 12 -18) had a 14 page special report section on Mobile Telecoms (this is the print version - we get it at home). You can access the opening article online and the other articles are posted to the right of the page on a side bar.

We now have a third term to add to our 2.0 vocabulary: digital nomads (the other two are digital natives [kids who have grown up with technology] and digital immigrants [us]). When we think about how our students' future will look, the era of office cubicle may be coming to an end. Basically the report outlines how more and more business is being transacted through Blackberries and mobile phones, how paper documents are no longer needed because they can be stored online and accessed from anywhere. In Working from Anywhere (one of the side bar articles), the author states:

"James Ware, a co-founder of the Work Design Collaborative, a small think-tank, says that nomadic work styles are fast becoming the norm for “knowledge workers”. His research shows that in America such people spend less than a third of their working time in traditional corporate offices, about a third in their home offices and the remaining third working from “third places” such as cafés, public libraries or parks. And it is not only the young and digitally savvy. At 64, Mr Ware considers himself a nomad, and accesses the files on his home computer from wherever he happens to be. "

So what does this mean as educators? We need to re-think how we ask students to do things and incorporate 'digital workplaces' if we want to prepare students for the future. How can we use our libraries as meeting places and collaborative spaces (libraries as corporate offices - interesting thought)? Again, I see the tools of blogs, wikis, google docs, RSS, etc. as being ways to support students for this new information landscape (David Warlick's term).

Lastly, I just have to share this link to an article in the Journal of the Research Centre for Educational Technology out of Kent University. It's a small study that outlines how they used technology in a primary research project - very short article but clearly outlines the project and provides links to pdf files that can be used in the classroom. It's called Using Digital Tools to Support Children's Inquiry. This was posted by M. Guhlin on Twitter.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Can Someone Please Explain?

One of the things I find myself doing lately is thinking about my weekly post - what will I write? Well this week I found myself composing my blog post in my head on a drive into work after I heard the news regarding the proposed closing of one of the branches of our local public library. To give a little background, the city council in their budget deliberations asked the library board to cut $800 000 from their budget without closing branches or cutting services. $800 000! Seriously! In conversations with some of the public librarians, to meet this target they were even talking about not buying books! I am the only one who finds this ludicrous?

So this brings to mind a couple of questions:

1. Why are libraries (and school libraries are included in here) always a target of cost-cutting?

2. How, in this age of information, can people even think of cutting library programs and services?

I've ranted about this before in a previous post. The powers that be in this particular city have a propensity to cut and slash the very programs that make cities attractive to people - and then they wonder they nobody wants to come and live here! Libraries are a reflection of the values of a city. A city that has vibrant libraries and library programs shows that it values learning and literacy and equity. I just don't get how some people think. One of the city politicians thinks that just because his family has the Internet, public libraries are not needed. Obviously his family is well off. Obviously his family can afford computers, Internet access, a trip to the the local bookstores to buy books (or maybe they don't - perhaps they don't see the value in books?).

Ok, I'm not going to rant about this anymore because there is another piece to this post. The same week that they announced the proposed closing of a library branch, I received my Educational Leadership journal in the mail (yes even though I can get this stuff through the Educators Collection on the Knowledge Ontario Professional databases, I still love the paper copies). The theme of this issue was Poverty and Learning. On the cover sits a young (about 9 or 10) girl with a book. In the journal, there is an article called "Got Books?" written by Richard Allington and Anne McGill-Franzen, two professors from the University of Tennessee. Basically, their study concluded that increasing summer reading can prevent low-income children from losing ground during summer vacation. How did they find this out? Well, what they did was provide books to students over the summer - they mailed a new book a week to the child (and asked that they return it when they got back to school in the fall). Neat idea.

What was key to a significant increase in reading achievement? ACCESS TO BOOKS!!! No kidding! Did we need another study for this? Haven't teacher librarians and library researchers like Haycock and Todd been saying this for years. Don't we have numerous studies that connect access to superior book collections in libraries with increased reading scores?
And yet, libraries both in the community and in schools continue to be first on the chopping block. If school system and communities and governments say we value literacy and a literate citizen then why do we keep cutting libraries????

We need to practice what we preach as educators and as citizens. As one California parent put it after they had to fund raise to actually pay the teachers in their school: "Our nation chooses to bail out investment houses rather than insuring our children." Are we headed down the same slope?

Can someone please explain this to me - 'cause I don't get it!

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Meme: High School Daze to Praise

My colleague and fellow blogger Paul C. who writes so eloquently on his blog quoteflections has started a meme. A meme is sort of like a blog chain letter but without the warnings of gloom and doom attached if you don't pass it on. This is the second meme in which I have participated (the first was a meme that asked bloggers to write about the most important learning that our students need).

Paul has asked us to recommend a book for use in English classes that will knock the socks off disengaged young adult readers. Since I've been working on some pd for teachers about the use of graphic novels in the classroom, I decided to chose a graphic novel for this meme. However, I have about 6 more books I'd like to add: there are so many great books that will engage students. However, when it comes right down to it, matching the book to the reader is the key to hook students into reading. One book will never do it for all students.
So here are the instructions:
1. Select and briefly review one teen novel, classic or modern, which is a sure antidote to the daze of high school.
2. Title your post Meme: High School Daze to Praise
3. Include an image with your post.
4. Tag four blog colleagues.

The book I've chosen is Maus: A Survivor's Tale, Volume 1 by Art Spiegelman. "A survivor of Hitler's Europe, and his son, a cartoonist, tries to come to terms with his father, his father's terrifying story, and history itself." (descriptor from Webcat, our online library catolog). The main characters in this graphic novel are humanoid, with different groups depicted as mice (Jews), cats (Germans), dogs (Americans), etc. The graphic novel format appeals to many readers and, unlike film, allows students to linger over images, move forward and back between panels and interact with the text at their own speed to understand the message. This book's subject is not easy - it is very 'graphic'. Among other themes, Maus illustrates how the effects of significant family tragedies can be passed on to subsequent generations. This book won:

1988 Angoulême International Comics Festival Awards - Religious Award: Christian Testimony & Prize for Best Comic Book: Foreign Comic Award (Maus: un survivant raconte).
1988 Urhunden Prize - Foreign Album (Maus).
1990 Max & Moritz Prizes - Special Prize (Maus).
1992 Pulitzer Prize - Special Awards and Citations - Letters (Maus). [1]
1992 Eisner Award - Best Graphic Album: Reprint (Maus II).
1992 Harvey Award - Best Graphic Album of Previously Published Work (Maus II). [2]
1993 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction (Maus II, A Survivor's Tale). [3]
1993 Angoulême International Comics Festival Awards - Prize for Best Comic Book: Foreign comic (Maus: un survivant raconte, part II).
1993 Urhunden Prize - Foreign Album (Maus II).