what is critical thinking?

Teachers treat consultants like us as a “wild animal” in their domesticated zoo (I mean school), where there is times tested rules and regulations. So when we say new jargon words like critical thinking, creative thinking, it creates more sense of uneasiness than motivation for action. “How can we teach critical thinking to kids as young as six year old?” Teachers always wanted to teach (???) and I told provide opportunities that lead to critical thinking rather than teaching critical thinking.

So instead of trying to define what is critical thinking and how to impart it, I thrown a challenge to myself and told them I am going to spend 30 minutes with seven year old kids and demonstrate the method to give opportunities for developing critical thinking skill. I gave a piece of paper with a question to every kid in the class. The question reads “Take any three objects in the class room and measure its length and width”. Below the question three columns with heading object name, length, width put. I distributed the question paper asked the kids to read and carryout as required in the question paper. Most of the time, I was silently observing, answering only after they ask specific queries to me. They are allowed to talk with their peers freely.  Initially few questions like “can I take a bag?” “can I use the eraser?” “can I use the water bottle?” kind of question came.  Once the affirmation is given, and soon they literally found out that “any object in the class room” means any object as they wish. One student took the scale itself to measure. Soon one student asked “what is length?”.  I told them “whichever side is lengthier, consider it as length” and “shorter side as width”. Then whenever few kids had confusion, this kid demonstrated the length and width of their object.

Then most interesting thing happened. A boy was measuring box. He measured the width of the box using one feet scale and put as 20 in his sheet. He found out that he can’t measure length of the box with one feet scale and asked for another scale. He got a one meter steel scale and measured the length as 14. Before entering, some thought came to his mind asked in a confused way. How come length (14) is smaller than the width (20)?. Looking puzzled he came to me and told about this. Then after interaction, I figured out he used the “inch” side of the scale to measure the length.  Basically his measurement has to be read this  -- box length 14 inch and width 20 cm. Then I explained when he measured 14, he used the bigger units as seen in the scale. He could not grasp the “cm” and “inch”, but he understood that he need to measure the same side.  He will figure out what is “cm”, “inch” in due course. But his mind evaluates two pieces of information viz, 20 is greater than 14, length is greater than width and the logic is not fitting in one instance. So he questions the truthfulness of his experience. This is called critical thinking.

Providing time and freedom to explore and ask questions about their experiences is a way to develop these important skills. Imagine if the above activity is done through teaching with complete flow of information starting from how to measure, how to write to  where to write, I am not sure, whether the kids would learnt any of the skills.  Opportunity to observe, to explore, to make mistakes, to reflect and to figure out themselves the complexity of their experiences is simply not exist in our schools. This is the environment which prevents the development of critical and creative thinking skills.   

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