By Tim Bedley
A paradigm shift needs to occur in our classrooms to get the students thinking critically. Teachers must reduce the amount of feedback they give and ask the students to critique each other’s answers. This sounds simple, but it’s not. I’ve spent considerable time watching others teach, and without exception, every teacher immediately responds to students during discussions with judgments of all student answers. When teachers are the first to give feedback, the students grow lax and learn that their opinions don’t really matter. I taught for 17 years before I figured this out. My classroom was revolutionized after making the shift. Students began sharing more, they had greater boldness and confidence, and they developed deeper thoughts which they were able to express with more clarity.
Teacher: What do you think is wrong with this sentence? (Calls on a raised hand.)
Student: It’s too long. It’s a run-on.
T: That’s almost it. Try again.
S: Oh, yeah. It’s a fragment. It’s not a whole sentence.
T: Yes! There you go. Good job.
Critical Thinking Classroom
T: What do you think is wrong with this sentence?
S: It’s too long. It’s a run-on.
T: Thanks Sarah. Who else has a thought?
S: I don’t think it’s a run-on. It just doesn’t really sound like a run-on.
T: Who else?
S: It seems to be missing something more than being a run-on.
T: Raise your hand if you think this sentence is a run-on. (Looks) Raise your hand if you do NOT think it’s a run-on.
The discussion would progress like this. Some teachers are not willing to spend the time to develop this sort of class discussion. It’s laborious for sure and takes a great deal of teacher self-control. But the kids will enjoy taking the driver’s seat, they will develop deeper critical thinking skills, and you will know more about the way your students think. Try it. You’ll like it.