Thinking It Through...

"The principal goal of education in the schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done; men and women who are creative, inventive and discoverers, who can be critical and verify, and not accept, everything they are offered."
Education for Democracy, Proceedings from the Cambridge School Conference on Progressive Education (1988)

 The most valuable purpose of education is teaching our students to think. Sometimes as educators we view our job as dishing out a ton of information in the hopes that the majority of it will be retained by our students long enough to get through state testing. But as an educator and a mother, I believe our job goes beyond memorization and regurgitation. I believe my classroom should foster thinkers, questioners, inventors, revolutionists, and future citizens who will be informed and will hold their leaders accountable. These expectations are unachievable if my students aren't taught how to critically analyze the information I give them and then apply that knowledge to further their capacity of learning.

Sunday's #OklaEd chat produced many great definitions of what it means to critically think. Although there weren't any two identical definitions, they were similar in expectation and result. We all want our students to take what they learn and apply it. We want our math students to take dimensions and create an area. We want to watch them use the information and determine the amount of building materials, flooring, and paint needed to build it. As a history teacher I want my students to create their own ancient civilization using the information we learned about Sumer, Egypt, and Kush. I want them to visualize the land and recreate ancient inventions. I want my students to recall what we discussed about ancient leader's mistakes, and then explore alternate paths that could have been taken and relate the cause and effect method for later generations.

With adequate critical thinking skills, students have a greater chance at success, but with all great successes comes a long list of previous failures.  The most important tool critical thinking can provide in our classrooms is the ability to allow our students fail. I want my students to learn how to fail so they learn and strive to be better.  I want to push them to give me their best, and not what they thought would give them a passing grade.   I call it the "If it isn't good, it isn't done" approach. I want my students to use their knowledge and critical thinking skills to go back and correct their mistakes. Our students have to see and understand why it wasn't correct the first time. Even more impressive would be our students developing an argument that supports their position and flip the role of student and teacher.  Learning happens in my classroom daily, but my students aren't the only ones being schooled. I learn from my students daily, and it makes me better at my profession.

Critical thinking is vital to our students' education and their future. Many educators blame the current system of standardized tests and mandated objectives for the decreasing ability of our students to think. Many of you who are reading this might agree. As teachers, we sometimes feel like our creativity is limited inside our classrooms.  The stress of student performance on standardized tests is driving many good teachers to other professions outside of education. Regardless of what we believe standardized tests have done to our students and our classroom, we still have a moral obligation to provide the best education we can to the students we teach. Requiring our students to take control of their education, setting our expectations high and teaching them higher order thinking skills, and allowing them to fail until they get it right will in the end yield favorable results. And if not, they can't fire us all, can they?


  1. Thank you for this well thought out post. I have been thinking a great deal about this over the past few days and could not agree more with your statement about standardized tests and the pressure we all feel because of them. I have made the decision to test my students less and have them create more, starting with some RSA-style videos and writing their own e-books. There have been mistakes and lots of questions, but I am happy with the start we have made together.

    1. Thank you, Dan! And yes, I was there also. I finally decided that it was more important for my students to enjoy learning and remember my class for the knowledge I gave them. Good luck! Your student are lucky to have you!!