Strategies for Fostering Critical Thinking in Early Childhood Education

Strategies for Fostering Critical Thinking in Early Childhood Education

Katrina Woolsey Jordan (Northwestern State University, USA), Michelle Fazio-Brunson (Northwestern State University, USA) and Shawn Marise Butler (St. Vincent and the Grenadines Community College, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7829-1.ch019

Abstract

Critical thinking is not a new concept in the world of education. However, teaching it to university students in teacher education programs can be difficult. Teaching these skills to students in grade school, especially in the early childhood classroom, comes with its own set of challenges. This chapter outlines strategies for teaching critical thinking skills in interesting and innovative ways, both at the university and early childhood level. Of particular interest is the project approach. During the three phases of this approach, children act as young investigators and apply critical thinking skills in their daily work. Future trends in both teacher education and the education of young children are also identified.
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Defining Critical Thinking

Critical Thinking is by no means a recent concept. In fact, Socrates used this concept over 2,500 years ago. Other scholars such as Thomas Aquinas, Colet and Erasmus, Francis Bacon, Descartes, Locke, and Voltaire added to the discipline through the ages (Paul, Elder, & Bartell, 1997). The notion of critical thinking came to the forefront in the 20th century with the publishing of An Experiment in the Development of Critical thinking (1941) by Edward Glasser . In his work, Glasser indicated that critical thinking involved three things: (1) an attitude of being disposed to consider in a thoughtful way the problems and subjects that come within the range of one's experiences, (2) knowledge of the methods of logical inquiry and reasoning, and (3) some skill in applying those methods (pp. 5-6).

Contemporary authors continue to explore the relevance of critical thinking. Paul and Elder (2008) define critical thinking 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 taking charge of the structures inherent in thinking and imposing intellectual standards upon them” (p. 4). Ennis (2011) subdivides critical thinking into dispositions and abilities. His work, which began in the 1950s, focuses on the dispositions and abilities or skills of critical thinking. He stated that these apply whether critical thinking is explicitly taught as a separate skill or embedded in student activities. Ennis also indicated that “...the ideal critical thinker has the ability to clarify, to seek and to judge well the basis for a view, to infer wisely from the basis, to imaginatively suppose and integrate, and to do these things with dispatch, sensitivity, and rhetorical skill” (p. 5).

A further contributor to the discussion of critical thinking is Michael Austin (2012) who discusses elements which he believes compose the critical thinking process: clarity, precision, accuracy, relevance, and consistency. He states, “Clarity of thought is important…; this means that we clearly understand what we believe, and why we believe it” (p. 1). Austin (2012) also indicated that precision can be achieved by asking ourselves specific questions: “What is the problem at issue? What are the possible answers? What are the strengths and weaknesses of each answer?” (p. 1). He also asserts that accuracy is undeniably necessary in this process. Thinkers need information that is both accurate and adequate.

Moving into the 21st century, teaching students how to apply these aspects of critical thinking is a challenge but is also a greater imperative than ever before.

  • Key Point: Critical thinking involves thought and reasoning, discovering alternative approaches to solve problems and the ability to analyze and reflect on one’s thoughts and actions.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Reggio Emilia Approach: An approach to teaching young children with roots in post-World War II Italy. It is student-centered, and open-ended projects form the core of the method.

Early Childhood: A period of development lasting from birth through around eight or nine years old. Many teacher education programs consider an early childhood degree to cover pre-kindergarten through third grade.

Waldorf Approach: In this approach to teaching young children, educators use an interdisciplinary approach which focuses on imagination as a central focus of learning.

HighScope Approach: An approach to teaching and learning which incorporates learning centers. Benchmarks, anecdotal notes, and student-made plans are all a part of the educational process in a HighScope program.

Project Approach: An inquiry-based teaching technique which encourages critical thinking by encouraging students to complete an in-depth study on a topic of interest.

Creative Curriculum: Founded by Diane Trister-Dodge, this curriculum encourages educators to use a wide range of strategies in order to support student learning in all domains. Observation is key in this cross-curricular method which is easily aligned with early learning standards.

Teacher Education Programs: Programs which lead to a license to teach. These often align with a degree program and are usually administered through a university.

Bank Street Approach: Evolved from the original Play School, this teaching approach is based in the works of John Dewey. Bank Street educators see children as active learners who are think, create, explore, and learn in a social setting.

Montessori Approach: A teaching method often employed in early childhood programs. It is based on sensory experiences and includes specialized training for teachers.

Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS): A questioning technique in which instructors encourage their students to move from lower order knowledge-based learning to higher order learning that emphasizes critical thinking skills.

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