**Please refer to Lesson Plan #10 and Lesson Plan #11 for recommended class discussion, class activities, and homework assignments that utilize the following theories while addressing the issue of Violence in America.**
Lesson Plan #10: Gun Violence and Under the Gun
Critical thinking is a skill that every student in every classroom must learn to master. However, this seemingly obvious task is not so easy to achieve. Daniel Willingham, in his essay “Critical Thinking: Why Is It So Hard to Teach?” sheds light on the issue: “After more than 20 years of lamentation, exhortation, and little improvement, maybe it’s time to ask a fundamental question: Can critical thinking actually be taught? Decades of cognitive research point to a disappointing answer: not really” (Willingham, 2007, p.8). Willingham, like many others, describes the complexity of critical thinking as a process that some people naturally master quite beautifully and others simply do not. Though, while Willingham takes a hard and fast stance that critical thinking cannot be taught, other scholars take a softer approach pointing to the difficulty in teaching students to think critically.
Willingham firmly states: “Critical thinking is not a skill. There is not a set of critical thinking skills that can be acquired and deployed regardless of context” (Willingham, 2007, p.17). If critical thinking is not seen as a skill to be learned, then it would pose an obstacle to educators who are trying to help guide their students to become better critical thinkers. Though many scholars vary in the degree they believe that critical thinking can be learned through pedagogy, all scholars agree that metacognitive processes are at work in the act of critical thinking. For Willingham, these metacognitive processes canbe learned: “there are metacognitive strategies that, once learned, make critical thinking more likely” (Willingham, 2007, p.17). For Willingham, educators can help guide their students to become critical thinkers by equipping them with proper metacognitive strategies, namely through what he calls “domain knowledge” or factual knowledge.
Lisa Snyder and Mark Snyder, in their essay “Teaching Critical Thinking and Problem Solving Skills,” hold a much more lenient view of critical thinking. They state: “Students are not born with the ability to think critically, and their prior learning experiences often do not require them to think critically. Therefore, instructors who wish to integrate this skill in their classroom experiences must first model the behavior (Hemming, 2000)” (Snyder & Snyder, 2008, p.93). For Snyder and Snyder, students can absolutely be taught how to think critically, but this is dependent upon the educator’s ability to walk students through the process by giving adequate examples. Unlike Willingham who creates a dichotomy between metacognition and critical thinking, Snyder and Snyder equate metacognition with critical thinking: “Critical thinking has also been referred to as metacognition (Tempelaar, 2006) or the process of ‘thinking about thinking’” (Snyder & Snyder, 2008, p.90). Snyder and Snyder take the notion of metacognition one step further. For them, metacognition is not merely a subconscious memory bank of facts that lays the foundation for critical thinking, but rather is actively at play and inextricably bound to the process of critical thinking: “Because critical thinking is a mental habit that requires students to think about their thinking and about improving the process, it requires students to use higher-order thinking skills – not memorize data or accept what they read or are told without critically thinking about it” (Snyder & Snyder, 2008, p.91). The best way to teach students to “think about their thinking” is through group projects, whether it be interactive discussions as an entire class or through partner pairings. Snyder and Snyder continue: “actively engaging students in project-based or collaborative activities can encourage students’ critical thinking development if instructors model the thinking process, use effective questioning techniques, and guide students’ critical thinking processes” (Snyder & Snyder, 2008, p.90). Critical thinking is not a solipsistic activity that can be mastered by the individual alone. Mastery of true critical thinking skills can only emerge from interactive learning. Tim van Gelder, in his essay “Teaching Critical Thinking: Some Lessons from Cognitive Science,” like many others points to the fact that critical thinking is a learned skill that one can only become proficient at after much time. van Gelder states: “critical thinking is hard. Although it can seem quite basic, it actually is a complicated process, and most people are just not very good at it” (van Gelder, 2005, p.42). van Gelder suggests that it can take many years of education before one develops skillful critical thinking processes. Some may never master these processes. van Gelder, like Willingham, holds that the foundation of critical thinking processes is made up of factual knowledge that is then applied to critical thinking: “critical thinking involves skillfully exercising various lower-level cognitive capacities in integrated wholes” (van Gelder, 2005, p.42). And like Snyder and Snyder, van Gelder believes that true critical thinking skills can only be honed by actively practicing in conjunction with others. He states: “Unless the students are actively doing the thinking themselves, they will never improve … We cannot simply hope and expect that critical-thinking skills, once learned in a particular situation, will be applied spontaneously in others. Rather, students also must practice the art of transferring the skills from one situation to another” (van Gelder, 2005, p.43). van Gelder points out that students cannot learn to think critically merely by imitation. They can only do so by actively creating criticism – by actively writing or speaking, not merely reading. Deanna Kuhn, in her essay “Metacognitive Development,” explores the relationship between metacognition and self-reflective critical thinking: “There would seem few more important accomplishments than people becoming aware of and reflective about their own thinking and able to monitor and manage the ways in which it is influenced by external sources, in both academic, work, and personal life settings. Metacognitive development is a construct that helps to frame this goal” (Kuhn, 2000, p.181). Kuhn, like the other scholars mentioned in this piece, believes that critical thinking and metacognitive processes are learned over long periods of time. She states: “metacognition develops. It does not appear abruptly from nowhere as an epiphenomenon in relation to first-order cognition. Instead, metacognition emerges early in life, in forms that are no more than suggestive of what is to come, and follows an extended developmental course during which it becomes more explicit, more powerful, and hence more effective, as it comes to operate increasingly under the individual’s conscious control” (Kuhn, 2000, p.178). There is nothing simple, quick or superficial about critical thinking and the metacognitive processes that bear on that thinking. In sum, critical thinking and metacognition are complex thinking operations that are very difficult to learn from a set of concrete rules. Critical thinking is an abstract and highly individualized skill that is obtained over the course of many years and through active engagement with others. Critical thinking mastery cannot be achieved alone, but each individual will acquire their own level of adeptness in it. And some people may never master the skill of critical thinking at all. References Kuhn, D. (2000). “Metacognitive Development.” Current Directions in Psychological Science, 9(5), 178-181. Snyder, L. G., & Snyder, M. J. (2008). “Teaching Critical Thinking and Problem Solving Skills.” Delta Pi Epsilon Journal, 50(2), 90-99. van Gelder, T. (2005). “Teaching Critical Thinking.” College Teaching, 53(1), 41-46. Willingham, D. T. (2007). “Critical Thinking: Why Is It So Hard to Teach?” American Educator, 31(2), 8-19. Lesson Plan #11: Genocide and Broken Memory Halx, Reybold, and Arend (as cited in Watanable-Crockett, 2015) concluded “to engage students in critical thinking, the educator needs to act as a facilitator to allow for discussion and encourage a freer thought process”. With this is mind, in an attempt to engage students in more critical thinking, this lesson plan on genocide puts the students in charge, while the remain observing from the background and only interjecting when students have questions or seem to be going off task. It is the intent of this lesson to not only actively engage students in critical thinking, but that by making students reliable for reading, for developing a presentation, and questioning classmates, the lesson will also serve as a mechanism of cognitive development, which Siegler (1989) defines as “any mental process that improves children’s ability to process information” (p. 354). One reason to lead a more student-centered lesson plan where students make the decisions about what they want to “teach” to their classmates is to step away from the normal instructional methods of teachers telling students what to think. To develop students’ critical thinking, teachers need to move away from teaching what to think and move towards teaching students how to think (Clement as cited in Synder & Synder, 2008). This is important for improving students’ critical think, which do not develop overnight. Students need to be taught using various methods and be trained to develop such skills (Synder & Synder). Requiring students to present to the class will also tell me if students’ cognitive skills have developed over the course of the term. If students have been encoding relevant information in regards to successful presentations to their classmates (Siegler, 1989), student will use methods and presentation aids that they have previously found to engage the class and that their classmates are responsive to. The more experience students get learning material, analyzing material, and presenting/teaching material, the more students will experience cognitive development that will allow them to improve each assignment. They will be exposed to the mechanism of cognitive development, which will help improve students’ abilities to process information (Siegler, 1989). By having the students create such an in depth presentation, participating in questioning and answering period, and also having students respond to one another, it goes beyond making students repeat and memorize information. It forces students to analyze the information they read and evaluate it and decide what is important, all instructional techniques used to support critical thinking (Synder & Synder, 2008). This lesson will also force students to draw analogies and use analogical reasoning, which further students’ cognitive development (Siegler, 1989). Furthermore, the question and answer portion will present students will some arguments at time, which is a core part of critical thinking (van Gelder, 2005). Additionally, by allowing students the freedom to interpret the text and assess the story on their own, it prevents teachers’ preconceptions, which can prohibit students’ “ability to think critically about the material” (Synder & Synder, 2008, p. 93). Critical thinking is hard and one of the hardest parts about critical thinking is being able to support one’s opinion with evidence (van Gelder, 2005). Thus, by setting up a group activity that not only requires students to develop an opinion on what information in the novel is important enough to teach and share with the class and provide justification as to why, it allows students to practice gathering evidence, which is crucial to developing critical thinking. As Ennis (as cited in Synder & Synder, 2008) suggest, my grading assessment will not be based on memory recall, but will emphasize the thinking portion of the assignment. In other words, the students presentations, which should not only illustrate their understanding of the material, but will identify what they thought pivotal parts of their given chapters and provide explanations as to why that was. Students will also be assessed on their question and answer portion, which will highlight their critical thinking and analysis skills. To assist and enhance students’ skills, the teacher will interject and correct students and explain answers if they are not delivery correct information (Brown & Kelly; Duplass & Ziedler; Schafersman, as cited in Synder & Synder, 2008). Overall, the lesson plan is a learning activity that “guides student through the critical thinking process and utilizes learner collaboration” and requires “students to apply their knowledge by constructing a real-world product” (Synder & Synder, 2008, p. 96). References Combres, E. (2007). Broken memory: A novel of Rwanda (Tanaka, S., Trans.). Toronto, ON: Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press Inc. Siegler, R. S. (1989). Mechanisms of cognitive development. Annual Review of Psychology, 40(1), 353-379. Synder, L. G., & Synder, M. J. (2008). Teaching critical thinking and problem solving skills. The Delta Pi Epsilon Journal, 50(2), 90-99. van Gelder, T. (2005). Teaching critical thinking. College Teaching, 53(1), 41-46. Watanabe-Crockett, L. (2015, July 24). The importance of teaching critical thinking. Global Digital Citizen Foundation. Retrieved from https://globaldigitalcitizen.org/the-importance-of-teaching-critical-thinking