If we teach children everything we know, their knowledge is limited to ours. If we teach children to think, their knowledge is limitless. Our ability to succeed in life is directly proportional to our ability to solve the problems we encounter along life’s journey. Tragically, elementary and secondary education is mostly memorization. The biggest problem facing educators today is the inability of most students to think analytically. Educators and parents commonly see the following list of academic problems, which are directly related to a child’s ability to think.
Students read well, but fail to understand what they have just read. Reading comprehension is simply “Depth of Analysis.” Students with poor thinking skills have poor reading comprehension skills.
Students cannot present or relate written ideas logically. To communicate an idea clearly, a student must have a solid understanding of what he or she wants to say and the ability to outline a logical sequence and structure to his or her audience.
Students commonly succeed in working basic operations, but fail to reason mathematically. Students struggle with word problems—not because they can’t do the mathematics—but because they can’t comprehend the problem well enough to see the math problem. Higher level math requires several thinking skills including deductive reasoning, classification, identifying sequences, and inferential reasoning.
Students cannot apply the scientific method to their analysis of scientific studies. Critical thinking is the very foundation of the principles of science.
It is said, “Those that do not learn their history are doomed to repeat it.” Students frequently fail to see analogous events in social studies because of poor analysis skills and the inability to reason by analogy.
Students fail to perform well on the growing number of tests that assess their ability to think.
Research has found that the more often a student is exposed to critical thinking, the greater the probability that the student will transfer critical thinking to other areas of his or her life. Based on this research, it is important to expose students to critical thinking in education wherever possible.
Designing critical thinking into academic lessons not only helps students transfer critical thinking skills to other areas of their lives, it improves the effectiveness of the lessons. Critical thinking requires deeper analysis of the lesson. Deeper analysis produces deeper understanding, resulting in better grades and higher test scores. Critical thinking empowers students to be independent, innovative, and helps them succeed in school and in life.
All of us, children included, live in a three-dimensional universe—but too often parents and teachers act as if the physical world is as flat as a worksheet or the page of a book. We call kids’ attention to numbers and letters, but we neglect to remark upon the spatial properties of the objects around us: how tall or short they are, how round or pointy, how close or far. Growing evidence suggests that a focus on these characteristics of the material world can help children hone their spatial thinking skills—and that such skills, in turn, support achievement in subjects like science and math.
In a study published this month in the journal Developmental Psychology, for example, scientists from the University of Chicago reported that young children who understand how shapes fit together are better able to use a number line and to solve computation problems. Researcher Elizabeth Gunderson and her coauthors asked students in first and second grade to select the single shape from among four choices that would correctly complete a square. The kids who spotted the right shape also showed the most growth in their number-line knowledge over the following school year, and scored highest on a measure of mathematics ability at age eight.
How do children acquire spatial-thinking skills in the first place? Research shows that playing with blocks and puzzles helps. What’s really important, however, are the conversations that adults and children have as they interact with these toys, and as they observe the world around them. In a study published last year in the journal Mind, Brain, and Education, for example, Temple University psychology professor Nora Newcombe and her coauthors found that parents and children playing with blocks together were much more likely to use spatial terms like “over,” “around,” and “through,” than participants who played with a pre-assembled toy—and that it’s hearing and voicing such words that helps improve children’s spatial awareness.