Hone your child’s critical thinking skills

Capability to analyse and evaluate evidence, arguments, claims and beliefs, summed up as critical thinking, is acknowledged as essential for academic and workplace success in the 21st century. Therefore it’s become incumbent upon parents to introduce children to this 21st century skill at early age – Jayalakshmi Vaidyanathan

Cogito, ergo sum (I think, therefore I am) — said French philosopher Rene Descartes (1596-1650) famously.

Unfortunately the development of thinking skills has been ignored in favour of developing the memorisation skill in 20th century education, especially in India. However, in the new millennium there’s a new awareness that capability to analyse and evaluate evidence, arguments, claims and beliefs, aka critical thinking, is essential for academic and workplace success in the 21st century. The US National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking defines critical thinking as an “intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualising, applying, analysing, synthesising, or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action”.

During the past three decades several research studies have demonstrated that children, who are introduced to critical thinking from early age, excel in academics and the workplace. For instance a research study published in the Journal of Research and Science Teaching (Zohar & Tamir, 1993) found that students who completed specific activities in biology to address ten elements of critical thinking performed better in assessment tests than students who didn’t complete those activities.

The US-based Partnership for 21st Century Learning (P21) lists critical thinking as one of the four Cs — the others are collaboration, creativity and communication — required for success in the 21st century. Moreover in a recent survey conducted by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, 95 percent of chief academic officers listed critical thinking as one of the most important skills for students, and noted that 81 percent of employers wanted higher ed institutions to make greater effort to develop this capability of students.

In a recent TEDx lecture Jesse Richardson, president and founder of The School of Thought, observed that if children are to succeed in the dawning age of artificial intelligence, it’s vital to teach them ‘how to think’ and not ‘what to think’.

Unfortunately, though a handful of progressive schools in India are transforming their teaching-learning pedagogies to develop students’ thinking skills, the overwhelming majority of the country’s schools follow rote learning pedagogies with the examination system also awarding children’s memorisation rather than critical thinking skills.
Therefore it’s become incumbent upon parents to introduce children to this 21st century skill at early age and encourage them to ask questions — how, what, where, when, why — instead of uncritically accepting received information.

Exercises for primary school children

Tangram, Sudoku, matchstick puzzles and crosswords are excellent ways to introduce young children to critical thinking. These games and puzzles are driven by evidence and logic.

Puzzle 1

In the matchstick arrangement below, remove 3 match sticks to leave only 3 squares. You can move the matchsticks around to see the various combinations.

This puzzle helps develop self-corrected, self-monitored, self-directed thinking.

Puzzle 2

Draw a square on a cardboard and divide the square as shown in the image below. Cut along the lines.

This is a tangram, i.e, a dissection puzzle. There are various shapes like the one below which children can try to make by arranging the pieces. Many combinations and images are available online.

Exercises for secondary school children

• Introduce children to concept mapping, i.e, drawing a conceptual diagram/map that depicts relationships between concepts. This is a great way to encourage children to develop logical thinking, decision making, and problem solving skills.

• Encourage structured arguments and debates at home.

• Promote active learning activities including brainstorming, reflexive writing, active listening and purposeful research.

• Encourage study of case studies and their conclusions.

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