According to Scribbr, critical thinking is “the ability to effectively analyze information and form a judgment”. Critical thinking is at the core of effective learning. It is about asking questions, examining things from different angles, and making sound decisions.
In today’s information-saturated world, it is important for children (and adults) to be able to think critically. Critical thinking allows children to “read between the lines”, and to analyze and understand text wholly. If a child develops this habit early, he/she will continue to practice it later in life, even in different contexts (i.e. work, business). In a time of ‘fake news’ and disinformation, this skill is invaluable. Critical thinkers are active decision-makers and not passive observers.
It has been proven that reading has a significant impact on the ability to think critically, especially for children. By learning to fully engage with text, children can gain valuable, lifelong skills that they can apply to the world around them.
So, what skills does critical thinking involve?
One commonly used framework is the cognitive learning domain of Bloom’s taxonomy, a helpful guide that lists thought objectives from the lowest level to the highest. The levels, from lowest to highest, are the following: remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating.
In the context of a guided reading session, with the intentional building of critical thinking skills, children would analyze a text with these 6 objectives. Let’s look at an example, using one of our books, Three Brave Brothers. For some context, Three Brave Brothers is a children’s fiction book that is set in the midst of the LRA war in Uganda. Three brothers, Oryem, Otim, and Onen go to the pit latrine late at night. While there, they overhear a group of rebels planning to burn down their Internally Displaced People’s camp. Through a series of exciting, suspenseful events, the three brothers are able to prevent the destruction of the camp and lead the soldiers to the rebels.
Let’s take a look at the six levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy (along with some sample questions):
1. Remembering: basic recall (memory). This level is simply background knowledge. It is important: critical thinkers must be armed with adequate, relevant knowledge.
“In Three Brave Brothers, what are the names of the main characters?”
2. Understanding: comprehension of facts and ideas. The ability to identify and explain the main idea; compare one view with another.
“Summarize the plot of Three Brave Brothers”; “Compare and contrast Oryem and Onen.”
3. Applying: using existing knowledge to solve new problems. Critical thinkers can use relevant information to solve new problems/ answer new questions.
“Use a Frayer Chart to define the word “raucous”, as seen on page 12. In the four boxes, fill in the following: definition, characteristic, examples, and non-examples.”
4. Analyzing: drawing conclusions from information, with the evidence to support them. This skill involves considering different ideas/solutions and making a final judgement.
“Which of the brothers played the most important role in saving the camp from destruction? Why?”
5. Evaluating: making judgments/forming individual opinions. This skill involves someone deciding (for themselves) whether or not they agree with a given idea.
“Do you think the three brothers did the right thing? Why or why not?”
6. Creating: combining existing information/elements to propose new solutions.
At the end of the term, students will write a suspenseful story.
The sample questions above are just that, samples. However, as you can see, they guide the student toward thinking deeper about the book. Additionally, the process involved in answering the questions in the higher order levels is different: there are no ‘right’ answers. Instead, these questions require the reader to really think and come up with an individual response.
- Before you begin reading a book, ask, “By looking at the cover of the book, what do you think our story will be about?”
- As you read the story, pause occasionally and ask your child what they think will happen next.
- After you read the book, talk about it! Who were your favorite characters? Why? Children can learn so much by observing your thought process.
- Lean into a child’s natural curiosity. When you can, answer the “why?” questions children ask. You will increase their background knowledge and build a habit of lifelong learning.
By being intentional as you read with your children/students, you can nurture a culture of critical thinking.
If you have any questions, please leave a comment or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.