Critical Thinking: Centering Teachers' Knowledge and Understanding

Critical Thinking: Centering Teachers' Knowledge and Understanding

Karen S. C. Thomas (St. Vincent and the Grenadines Community College, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7829-1.ch014
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Teaching critical thinking skills to students has become a central focus the language arts classroom. It is therefore important to examine what critical thinking may look like for the language arts teacher: How do language arts teachers come to know and understand? How do language arts teachers engage in critical thinking in order to enhance their pedagogical practices? This chapter examines the ways in which teachers' involvement in developing their critical thinking skills can aid them in establishing their knowledge and understandings. The chapter explores findings from a study that involved teachers in Grades 2 and 4 in the development of a framework for reading instruction in the primary grades. These findings make a case for encouraging teachers to engage in critical thinking in professional learning communities that foster professional development and collaboration in an active and reflective process.
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Interwoven in the evolving quilt that shapes effective pedagogy at all levels of learning is the construct of critical thinking. Critical thinking is one of the skills that employers require of their novice and experienced employees. In the classroom, the ability to think critically is one of the major indicators of successful learning and application. The ability to think critically is an essential life skill (Frijters, ten Dam & Rijlaarsdam, 2008). Often, emphasis is placed primarily on determining exactly how teachers develop critical thinking skills among students. In some professional development sessions, teachers receive resources that provide numerous strategies, activities, routines and protocols that can be used to develop critical thinking skills among their students (Guskey & Suk Yoon, 2009). These approaches have had some success in the classroom. In conjunction with the general consensus that students must be explicitly taught how to think critically across disciplines, is the acknowledgement that the quality of critical thinking in which teachers themselves engage must also be targeted.

There is an interdependent relationship between teaching and learning and so, the expectation is that language arts teachers who teach critical thinking skills to students, must also be critical thinkers themselves. An essential question that this chapter seeks to address is how language arts teachers can centre their sense of knowing and understanding through critical thinking. There is no one simple response to this question; nonetheless, there are some understandings that teachers can embrace in an effort to harness their critical thinking skills. In an attempt to centre teachers’ knowledge and understandings, transactions that result in a collective conceptualization of critical thinking are paramount. Similarly, the processes that facilitate the ways in which language arts teachers come to know and understand must be explored. The anticipated result is that these understandings will highlight some ways in which teachers come to know and come to understand language arts content and pedagogy, in an effort to improve teaching and learning in the language arts classroom. Since the goal of teachers’ understandings through critical thinking is improved instructional practice, the contexts that best facilitate teachers’ coming to knowledge and deeper understandings must also be examined.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Pedagogical Content Knowledge: The skills, methodologies, and approaches that language arts teachers use in order to teach the content, in this case, the language arts content to students. Pedagogical content knowledge is the effective union between how teachers teach what has to be taught.

Professional Development: On-going, regular sessions conducted in a collaborative setting to provide training for teachers. The goals include improving pedagogical skills, content knowledge, and instructional practice in the classroom.

Critical Reflection: The ways in which teachers use questions to examine and re-examine their instructional practices, justify their decisions and think of ways in which to improve or change their instructional practice.

Critical Thinking: For the language arts teacher, critical thinking refers to the quality of in-depth, multifaceted and complex examination of how teachers think about their teaching, in order to reconstruct that thinking and reshape it into something better that influences decision making and instructional practice.

Questioning for Thinking: The art of asking questions that do not focus on memorization and or recall. Questioning for thinking means that teachers ask themselves (and their students) questions that are sufficiently probing to require higher order thinking that requires reasoning, assessing, analyzing, synthesizing, and reshaping thinking and responses.

Collaboration: Teachers working together with their colleagues, through regular and systematic interactions; dialoguing and participating in supportive teamwork in order to improve teaching and learning.

Content Knowledge: The general details, gist, and elements of a subject or discipline that all teachers should know. In language arts, this refers to the elements of language, its structure, components, and concepts such as composition, grammar, and devices that language arts teachers should know.

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