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Critical Thinking – a crucial 21st century skill
As English language teachers our primary focus is on the 4 language skills - Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking. While our students get a hang of these, we have to nudge them towards the 21st century skills especially the 4 Cs - Critical thinking, Creativity, Collaboration, and Communication.
All these can be seamlessly fostered in the English language classrooms. Critical thinking can be introduced with effective questioning. Teachers must guide the students towards the fine art of questioning. Students many times struggle to understand the nuances in a question and are not able to give the expected answer. They lose marks because of this. There is subtle difference between the question words such as ‘contrast’ and ‘differentiate’. Explain, Discuss, Elaborate, Comment and Describe are a few other question words which need answers to be presented in different styles.
There is a simple critical thinking activity which has given positive results with my students. After teaching and discussing the major and minor points of a text, I set this home task for my students.
- Every student gets as many questions as possible from the text along with the expected answer.
- During the next class, every student gets a chance to ask one question to the class. The teacher facilitates the session by making students volunteer to answer the question.
- The answer is evaluated with respect to all the value points. The student who prepared the question is actively involved in the evaluation process as it is his/her question. When the answer is satisfactory, other students record the answer as a point sheet which includes all the value points.
- The class then proceeds to the next question and the question and answer session goes on till we have exhausted all possible questions.
- Factual, extrapolative, descriptive as well as questions based on Lower Order Thinking Skills (LOTS) and higher Order thinking Skills (HOTS) are asked as well their answers discussed in the class.
The first few times, the questions were mainly based on remembering, understanding and applying – LOTS of Bloom’s Taxonomy. As I continued this exercise after each text, I was able to make my students realize the importance of moving to applying, analyzing, evaluating and creating (HOTS of Bloom’s Taxonomy). It can be observed that applying begins the transition from LOTS to HOTS.
With proper guidance they started thinking critically and became more creative in framing questions. They are now able to frame questions that go beyond the text. My announcement that their question(s) may make an appearance in the next test acted as incentive.
Students have now got the grasp of the art of questioning which has enhanced their critical thinking and creativity.