The role of the teacher within the critical thinking model can be easily simplified using the steps “tweak, invite and fortify”. First, we as teachers must identify the “big idea” and design a critical challenge that requires reasoned judgment – that is, tweak the curriculum to fit within the TC² model. Next, we need to engage out students by ensuring the challenge is relevant and meaningful – that is, invite them into and give purpose to the learning activity. Finally, we must set the context for learning by establishing or limiting the background knowledge required, providing students with the necessary intellectual tools – that is, fortify their understanding of the critical challenge by setting them up for success!
If we tweak questions early on in the critical inquiry process, we will more effectively foster significant curricular understanding! Think of this when planning a unit using the backwards design model – decide on the culminating activity, or curriculum challenge as Garfield Gini-Newman suggests, then factor in the subsequent learning activities, or critical challenges, based on the specific expectations.
The transcendent question, on the other hand, should be a general topic that can be returned to throughout the course of the year using a diverse range of curriculum challenges.
Here’s a great tip – turn any list type question into a critical thinking question by adding “rank order from… or “pick the most…”! Remember to utilize the appropriate vocabulary, and more importantly, teach students unfamiliar critical thinking terms beforehand to ensure that the criteria are understood.
For example, you might tweak the following question accordingly:
Locating Fact Type 1 Question
Making Assessment Type 3 Question
List three significant female authors in the 20th century.
Pick the most significant female author of the 20th century among the following three…
…but how do you define “significance” in criteria? -Think “Richter scale” in terms of impact!
- Breadth – Did it have widespread impact?
- Duration – Was it long lasting? Is in enduring?
- Profound – Has it had an important impact? Or is it trivial?
Once you have established the criteria, you and/or the students can assess! It is KEY, however, that the criteria is developed before the curriculum challenge is presented, else students will simply “back fill” rather than think critically about the criteria.
Six Ways to Critique Critical Challenges
1. Critique the piece - students assess the merits or shortcomings of a person, product or performance
2. Judge the better or best - students judge from among two or more options
3. Rework the piece - students transform a product or performance in light of additional information or an assigned focus, perspective, genre, or change in audience
4. Decode the puzzle - students suggest and justify a proposed solution, explanation or interpretation to a confusing situation
5. Design to specs - students develop a product that meets a given set of criteria
6. Perform to specs - students perform or undertake a course of action that meets a given set of criteria
For subject-specific examples, check out these prompts and tasks to get you critically thinking about your own teaching practice!
To learn more, be sure to check out the following workshops presented by Garfield Gini-Newman: