Critical Thinking Challenges!

Credit: Brenden Riley

Over the past couple months I have participated in a “Critical Thinking Dinner Series”‘ hosted by Surrey’s own Stefan Stipp – a discussion based workshop looking closely at creating ‘critical challenges’ and scaffolding the development of critical thinking skills into everyday classroom activities.

Check out The Critical Thinking Consortium for more resources and ideas. The tools of critical thinking must be explicitly taught, and students need opportunity to practice and continue developing these skills across the curriculum.

As I began this adventure of scaffolding ‘critical thinking’, I posed a question to my French classes — “what is critical thinking?” to which students responded with statements such as….

  • Critical thinking is hard
  • I dont like critical thinking
  • We had to do that once
  • I dont know what it is…
  • Looking at a topic from different sides
  • Thinking really hard?

As I only see my French classes twice a week from anywhere between 50 minutes to an hour, I introduced critical challenges in three stages – even though I wasn’t able to directly integrate it into other aspects of their educational program, my focus was to expose the students to the idea of critical thinking.

I linked my ‘critical’ challenges to one of my French PLOS “responding to creative works from the francophone world”.  What I found most interesting during this scaffolding process was how the students thinking began to change.

My Observations…

During our first class discussions students were very concerned with not having the “right answer” – but after a while students began to realize that as long as they could support their response, there was not ‘incorrect’ answer — the creative juices began to flow, and students began looking closer and closer at the details within the paintings, coming with the most spectacular and deeply reflective ideas.

Below I have briefly outlined the 3 activities I tried with my classes…

1. Group Challenge I found a series of paintings by a Francophone artist, and as a classes we had a group discussion about the paintings. I posed questions to the class that almost forced them to make connections – “what story is the artist trying to tell?”,  “who are the people in the painting?”  and with each response students needed to support it with evidence from the painting, a reason WHY.  To close our off our discussion students had to give the painting a title (with an explanation)

2. Independent Challenge #1 Paralleling the first activity students picked a painting out of a bag, completed a brainstorm of ideas (what they see, feel, think, wonder), titled the painting and justified why and explained what story or emotion they felt the painter was trying to tell.

3. Independent Challenge #2 As an extension of the first two challenges students researched and choose a piece of art from the francophone world. This could be anything from a painting or sculpture, to a song and even fashion design. Depending on what the student chose they had to find the title of the piece and discuss WHY they think the artist named it that and again, what story was being told. As an extension, students looked at world or personal events that occurred during the years before the piece was created and discuss how those world events could have been an influential factor in the piece.

Closing thoughts…

  • Be patient… start small
  • It is okay to be unsure as to whether or nothing something is a ‘critical’ challenge. Try it anyways! You are probably doing these already and may not know it!




2 thoughts on “Critical Thinking Challenges!

  1. I am doing a similar activity this week with my class. Thank you for sharing your ideas and how they encourage critical thinking in a less intimidating setting!

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