Thinking, Critically

7th grade students face a good number of challenges. One of them is the shift in learning, as it becomes more challenging. As students enter content areas (5th, 6th grade), they learn in a largely black-and-white format). This isn’t wrong, but developmentally appropriate as students begin to learn about the world around them. However, as students’ brains continue to grow and develop, higher levels of critical thinking and more challenging forms of learning are necessary. This is evident in our opening unit: Foundations of Government. There are few questions which require rote memorization. Most of the questioning challenges students to apply what they’ve learned to compare governments, examine reasons why people select those governments, and decide which is best. These kinds of questions not only require knowing what the basic governments and facts are, but applying them in a constructive manner.

What’s the result? Initially, stressed students. This isn’t easy. Students are not used to it – a lot of times, they’re thinking outside the box and thinking independently. Some students do initially revel in it, but most struggle to realize that they CAN do this. It’s a fun, messy process, but by the time most students enter 8th grade, it works! The initial struggles also lead to an occasionally lower quiz score or confusion. Kids should always ask for help! One of the best aspects of this learning process is when kids realize that they CAN think, and that they know how to think independently, creatively, and critically.

One part of this is my examination of how I operate. So, I’m really pushing the idea of “if you fail it, you can re-do it!” Students aren’t immediately ready to think critically, and do struggle. They need to build confidence. I’ve done this for a student here or there, but the more I think about it, it makes perfect sense: re-do anything you fail (or are unhappy with), and I’ll improve your grade. The concept in itself, forces students to think critically (“Am I happy with what I did” “What could I do better to improve my grade?”).

And as a benefit, students learn more. I guess I can equate this to baseball. If a kid wants to take a few extra swings in the cage after practice, would any coach say no? Of course not! In fact, his/her coach would lament that more teammates aren’t enough like him. But why don’t I do this? Sure, a kids’ grade will improve as a result of re-testing or re-doing a project. Or even an assignment. But won’t they learn more? Why wouldn’t I encourage more kids to do this. So, instead of doing this every now and then when it’s needed, I’m publicly pushing it. Re-do it & learn more!

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