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Published: May 8, 2011

Critical thinking

The intellectual evaluation of a variety of assumptions and empirical data and the ability to arrive at logical conclusions on the basis of that evaluation. Critical, or high-level, thinking is an essential part of the curriculum from kindergarten through high school and college. It is usually taught by teacher questions that call for lengthy, subjective, oral and written responses. The goal is not only to elicit correct answers to questions but to teach children the reasoning process that leads to correct answers.
A major criticism of American public school education has been its failure to teach high-order, critical thinking. In a scathing report, the U.S. Department of Education found that “students at all grade levels are deficient in higher order thinking skills.” The department blamed overuse of short-answer, multiple-choice tests for part of the problem.
Like knowledge, memory and comprehension, critical thinking abilities increase with development, maturity and training. The teaching of critical thinking begins in kindergarten with prereading and postreading discussions to analyze character traits and map a possible future course of events for those characters after the story ends. As they progress, kindergarten and early elementary school teachers encourage children to make up their own stories from a picture and summarize in a few sentences a story they have heard or read. Inviting students to retell stories in their own words, whether orally or in writing, and to pinpoint causes and effects are basic methods of teaching critical thinking. By fourth grade, students with standard comprehension and critical thinking skills should be able to distinguish between the main and subordinate ideas in a reading, to select the climactic statement or event and to describe the feelings and emotions of the characters. They should also be able to solve mathematical story problems.
Secondary school comprehension skills include the ability to describe the main idea of a reading; the unstated ideas, places or settings; and the reasons for character actions. At MODEL SCHOOLS that teach critical thinking skills, science students are able to describe the atomic, molecular, cellular, tissue, systematic and organic differences between any two organisms, and history students can detail in essay form the differences between the En glish parliamentary system and the U.S. system of government. In mathematics, a typical seventh-grade test question at schools that teach critical thinking might ask students to measure a U-shaped figure and calculate its area, while writing out the reasoning for each step in their calculations.
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