Monthly Archives: March 2015

Critical Thinking in the Classroom

A major debate that has been taking place in the world of education over the past thirty to fifty years is the question of whether or not critical thinking is an important skill to teach students in the classroom. There, at least in my opinion, is no question. The goal of education, in a vast majority of educators’ minds, is to prepare students to solve the problems of the world that do not even exist yet. The only true way to do this is to teach students how to think and learn, not how to pass a History test, or their SAT. This is an odd concept, teachers allowing students to learn how to learn. That sentence in and of itself is a little confusing, but its meaning is what many educators think needs to be at the heart of education all over the world.

So, what does it mean to think critically? The Foundation for Critical Thinking defines it as, “that mode of thinking — about any subject, content, or problem — in which the thinker improves the quality of his or her thinking by skillfully analyzing, assessing, and reconstructing it” (“Our Concept and Definition of Critical Thinking”). They go on to emphasize that critical thinking is an incredibly intrinsically motivated skill, and relies heavily on the thinker wanting to become a better, more thoroughly educated person (“Our Concept and Definition of Critical Thinking”). But what does this formal definition mean? It means that in order for someone to think critically, she must first accept that her thinking has been tainted and prejudiced. Without her knowing it, her thinking has been molded, and almost barricaded, by her experience. In order to begin thinking critically, she must break down these walls, and look inward, to try and rid her thoughts of these stains and prejudices. After she has done this, she can look out into the world and begin to evaluate the actions and thinking of those around her, and evaluate what is true, and what has been said without validation. Many view critical thinkers as skeptics, not willing to accept anything as true, forever hoping to prove someone wrong. This is the exact opposite of the goal of critical thinking. Because of her ability to fairly evaluate every situation, the critical thinker has an incredibly open mind, and is willing to accept truths that counter her beliefs. She is able to look at the world in its true form, and benefit greatly from this higher level thought process.

So, how do we teach students to critically think? A huge responsibility is placed on teachers for this to happen. In the 1980’s, teachers attempted to implement critical thinking as its own entity into their curriculum, and found that it needs to be interwoven into pre-existing curricula to be taught successfully. Due to the malleability of critical thinking, teachers need to be creative in weaving in critical thinking into their everyday lessons. That being said, there are multiple ways to do this. In Vera Schneider’s article, “Critical Thinking in the Elementary Classroom: Problems and Solutions,” she shares some methods of implementing critical thinking into the classroom that have worked. These include: “Do not readily find solutions for students… Always seek opportunities for brainstorming… Compare and Contrast anything and everything… Categorize… Encourage Creativity… [and] Teach students to think critically across the curriculum” (Schneider).

I would like to touch on the first of these methods with an analogy. This idea of not revealing the solution to students immediately is much like the scenario where a driver is lost and asking for directions. Would it be more effective to tell the driver that she should drive to her destination, or tell her which roads to follow to get to her destination? Now, back in the classroom setting, for students to be able to solve future problems, it is almost unimportant that they know the exact solution to that singular problem. What is more important is that they understand how to look at the problem, and know how to approach it.

Think of some of the problems that may arise in the future, or problems that already exist in today’s society. Would the issue of alternative energy still be a problem if we knew how to solve the crisis? Do we know how to participate in digital warfare? Do we know how to truly reverse the effects of Global Warming? Do we know an equation to describe all prime numbers? The answer to all of these questions is no. So, education must prepare students to answer these problems that do not yet have solutions. How can this be done? By teaching students how to think critically.

Writing a Book: Things Get Saucy

Okay, so before I get to the title of this post, I want to just give a quick update of the progress (if you could call it that) that I have made since last week. Thankfully, I had about an hour to write this past week, and actually put some words down on the page, 233 to be exact. In those words is where things get “saucy,” and will continue to marinate for a few paragraphs, pages, whatever. However, I am more excited about the directional progress I have made. I decided to continue along the vein of John and Angela’s budding relationship. While I have not even reached John and Angela leaving the office after he asked her out, I now know what direction I am going to take the remainder of this chapter in. After detailing the end of John’s day at the office, I will follow him home, and detail his preparation for his date. The thing that will be interesting about this part of the book is that it is one of the only things that John does not have a routine for. So, I think it will be interesting to show this new, non-meticulous side of him. Every other detailed account of his life has been fit into a mold of how he does things – getting ready in the morning, cooking breakfast, at the office, and as we will see later, how he kills his victims. However, because he has never gone out on a serious date before, this is a whole new realm, and I think I will explore how this inability to control his actions shakes him emotionally. Then, we will “join” Angela and John on their date, and see their love start to bloom. Now, that is all the tomatoes being simmered to a saucy goodness; what comes next is all the things that make the sauce extra saucy.

The part of Chapter Four that I actually wrote this past week talks about Mayor Stanley Jacoby, and the struggle he had in his recent reelection. Eight months before the election, news broke that Jacoby had an affair, and his opponent, Herschell Gallagher, jumped at the opportunity to slander Jacoby. Through incredibly crafty wording of speeches, and an unbelievable increase in public events, Jacoby was able to win back the hearts of Atlanta’s people, and get reelected, leaving Gallagher fuming. So, this side of the story gives me an avenue that I could stride down later in the book if I so choose, and maybe I could interweave more characters into this already complex story.

My next big goal for Perspectives, other than finishing the fourth chapter (however that ends up happening), is to concoct the next murder scene, this time, from the point of view of the killer. Two of the hardest things about doing this will be the actual creative way in which the killer does his deed (his mark, how he kills, etc.), along with choosing the right words and stooping down to the dark level necessary to write with the detail I want. It may be a little hard at first, but hey, I watch enough daytime television to know what a good murder scene looks like. Anyway, that is what I have been up to. Hope to share some more physical progress next week.


Writing a Book: The Plot

So, I am both happy to say, and sad to say, that I took Emma’s advice, and left my book alone over Spring Break. Sometimes writing this book can stress me out, and I really need(ed) a break from the stress that is college life. While my Spring Break was a lot of fun, I still managed to be incredibly busy, and my book was one of the last things on my mind. That being said, I do wish I had taken the time I actually had to write, and done just that, written. I have hit a roadblock, and I am not quite sure where I want to go from where I am right now. Hopefully this step away from my book, and away from school for a week, will allow the creative juices to get flowing. Again, that being said, with two exams this week and the next project just being assigned for this class, Perspectives will not be a priority until I have more time to work on it.

So, where did we leave off? John has just asked out Angela, and he is preparing for his big, real-life date. While I feel there is definitely a lot more I could flesh out in this chapter to make it longer, as well as make the story a little more continuous, I am not quite sure if I want to do that. I am considering one of two alternative options if I do not continue with Angela. The first would be simpler. In this option, I switch back to the perspective of Commissioner Howell in his search for the killer of Jennifer Rhodes. The second option is having another murder take place, but this time from the perspective of the serial killer.

This is where the title of this blog post comes in. SPOILER ALERT. John is the serial killer. I know you probably have gathered enough information to figure this out on your own, but let me explain what is going to happen over the course of this book. The police are chasing what they believe to be a band of serial killers (five to be exact), each with their own distinct mark, as well as the mark of the group. The mark of the group is the Roman Numeral, V, and a message cleverly placed on the body, like that on the fingers of Jennifer Rhodes (TAG YOU’RE IT). So, as the story progresses, and we learn more about John and his childhood, it becomes clear that he suffers from Multiple Personalities Disorder. In total, John has seven personalities. John Usher, five serial killers, and the Overlord personality. The Overlord is the mastermind behind all of the killings that will occur throughout this book, and he is the first voice heard in the prologue of this book. He instructs his disciples on what to do to the bodies, and make sure everything is up to the group’s standards. Much later in the book, the seemingly separate paths of John Usher and Commissioner Howell cross when the secret of Multiple Personalities is revealed. Along with this complex struggle, I would like to add a love story with Angela, this too being very complicated.

So the second option of continuation would be more difficult, because I would create a time discrepancy between events, and it may give away some of the plot that I would like to hide for more of the book.

So, I am sorry that I gave it away to you so soon, but it is what it is. Hopefully you forget all that I have said so that the surprise can hit you like I intend it to.

Deliberation Reflection

I attended Deliberating the Learning Objectives of the Modern Classroom on Sunday, March 1. Given my strong interest in education, I was very excited to attend this deliberation. Before I went, I thought of the possible topics that could be brought up at this deliberation. I thought immediately of standardized testing and the various methods that can be used to teach in a classroom. These two topics were both touched on, but the overall goal of the deliberation focused more on the “pillars” of education. These pillars were Knowledge, Independent Thought, and Social and Civil Development.

In the first pillar, Knowledge, the main method of education matched the model that so many students are used to: Students are given the tools they need to learn the material, the teacher lectures, and the students are evaluated. In this category, standardized testing was brought up a lot, and many of the problems of this approach were brought up. One such problem highlighted the problem of trying to generalize evaluation systems when students all have very unique interests and skills.

In the second pillar, Independent Thought, the idea of critical thinking was brought up a lot. The main question brought up was, “What is critical thinking?” As a group, we seemed to land on the idea that critical thinking was the ability to take the knowledge gained in the classroom and creatively apply it to the world. This approach highly valued the individual’s interests, but proved difficult to fairly evaluate all students.

In the third and final pillar, Social and Civil Development, the main topic of discussion was group work. An intriguing thing happened during this approach. The facilitators asked how many of the participants would rather do a group project than an individual assignment, and one person of all of the twenty or so participants raised their hand. This is a very startling and worrying result. In the “real world” we are all going to have to interact and work with a lot of people to try and solve complex problems. This approach was the only one that seemed to be left without much resolution, and the overarching question we were left with was, “How do we improve group work to prepare people for the ‘real world’?”

Overall, this deliberation worked really well. There were a lot of people in attendance, so there were a lot of different opinions being shared. This kept conversation interesting, and none of it seemed forced. The facilitators created an environment conducive to discussion, and allowed each person to freely share their mind. We were all sitting in a big circle, and the room felt connected. The three approaches, while seemingly simple, were three very separate methods that I had not fully thought of before. They led very nicely into one another, and each approach on its own created a lot of valuable conversation. I had an amazing time at this deliberation, and came out with a much deeper level of thought in terms of education. As a future educator, these topics are all things I am going to have to take into consideration for my own classroom. This deliberation was exceptional, and I hope more like this take place in the future.

Writing a Book: Writer’s Block Hits Hard

So, as this post’s title suggests, this week I came face to face with incredibly strong and unwavering writer’s block. Sadly, I had the time to write, but almost nothing came out of my skull and onto the page. I guess I will fill you in on the small amount I did write, because I know you are probably sitting on the edge of your seat waiting (hahaha not true at all).

So, in the mere 389 words I wrote this week, we learn a little more about the mysterious John Usher. In this portion of chapter four, one of the secrets of John’s success and prolific architecture career iis revealed. Due to his father, John learned at an early age to compartmentalize and put the past in the past. This allows John to completely immerse himself in whatever project he is working on at the time being, and because he is free of distraction from almost everything else in the world, he is able to work incredibly efficiently. John’s disturbingly habitual nature is also fleshed out a little more, which is an area that will add to that “uncomfortably detailed” aspect I want this book to have.

While I have painted John Usher as very robotic, this chapter also lets us peek into his human side through his reaction to Angela’s acceptance of his date proposal. John was incredibly shy as a child (understandable given his father), but has since started coming out of his shell. After Angela says yes to going to dinner with him, John thinks to himself that he has finally reached the final step of becoming a normal social citizen: asking out a pretty girl.

So, because I do not have that much of the actual story to share, I figure I will let you into my thoughts behind some of the “logistical” aspects of this book. So, let’s talk about the title for a second, Perspectives. As I mentioned in a past blog post, I want this book to read a lot like a movie or television show looks. With the tool of a camera, it is very easy to create different views, or perspectives, of the same event. So, in that sense, I want to create multidimensional environments to a lot of the events that take place later in this book.

Along the lines of storytelling, I want to give the perspectives of various characters. By doing this, moral and ethical lines are blurred because you learn the inner workings of each character: what drives them, what they are going through, etc. This is done very well in the Netflix series House of Cards. If you have not seen the show, first of all, crawl out from the rock you are living under and start watching it, it is incredible. Also, this show does an amazing job of blurring the lines of right and wrong, and makes a lot of issues that I previously thought were black and white appear much more gray. So, I hope to accomplish this in Perspectives, because I think this distortion of reality makes the story incredibly interesting, makes it exhilarating, and makes the reader think about their own moral code.

For after Spring Break, I hope to have completed another two chapters, so hopefully I will have a lot more to tell you when we get back.