Wednesday, November 11, 2015

2 Ways Not to Use The Basics of Critical Thinking {A Review}

I am always impressed with products by The Critical Thinking Co., so when we were offered a chance to review The Basics of Critical Thinking I was delighted. 

Critical thinking is a skill that I think many in today's world sorely lack.  It is also something I thought my oldest child would enjoy studying on his own. 

My assumption was wrong.  My approach to using The Basics of Critical Thinking was erring, too.

It IS Reproducible!

First, between the time when I was offered the review and when the book came in, life got harried.  So, I forgot that I had been told we could copy the book for use with more than one child and, then, failed to notice the permissions written inside the book, which allow for up to 35 copies a year for use by a single family or classroom.

So, my advice #1:  Do not have your child write in the book right away.  Unlike me, copy The Basics of Critical Thinking before using it!  It is a quality resource which can serve subsequent children or a co-op class quite well when copied.

The Basics of Critical Thinking is designed for children at a fourth through ninth grade level.  The 246-page, soft-covered book is laid out with full-color illustrations, a child-friendly balance of white-space, and wide ruled lines for filling in written answers.  It breaks the basics of critical thinking own into 20 easy-to-digest pieces which are presented in bite-size exercises.  It also contains a pretest and posttest.  Perfect for a semester-long study at home or for a co-op class!

With such a user-friendly design and approach, then, what could possible cause me to have a second piece of advice about what not to do with this resource.  Well, desire for my son to work independently coupled with my lack of forethought about his distaste for writing.

Consider Your Child's Strengths and Play to Them

Do you remember how I said life was hectic when the book came in? 

Well, it was, so instead of getting my son excited about the book and considering his strong distaste for writing, I simply gave him the pretest, then went voer it with him, sat with him through the first lesson, made sure he "got" how to use the book, and then began putting the use of the book on our weekly S.K.I.L.L. T.I.M.E. + assignment sheets for him. 

Because my son and I have an agreement that if he finishes his S.K.I.L.L. T.I.M.E. + work responsibly, he can earn time online to use as he wishes, my boy dutifully completed 10-15 minute periods using The Basics of Critical Thinking the book without complaint, and, spelling and punctuation aside, without many mistakes, too.  Periodically, I paged through the book to see how he was progressing, noticed the seeming "success" of pages completed with suitable answer and left things at that. 

Easy-peasy,somewhat enjoyable independent study in critical thinking for him and 1:1 time with his siblings or with housework for me, I thought.

I thought wrongly, however. Come to find out, I was failing to use my own critical thinking, parenting, and educating skills well.  My son's seeming diligence and lack of loud complaint did not equal enjoyable independent study for him. In fact, when I asked him about the book as  sat down to write this review, he did not miss a beat before speaking with his typical candor: "It is hard and I hate writing, so I don't like to use it."

Ouch!  Mama fail!  I should have checked in earlier with him on this and also should have done some together orally.  Still, maybe he liked part of it and will want to continue it, I thought.  So, aloud, I said, "Okay, I know you don't like writing, but was there anything you did like about the book?"

At that point, my boy gave me one of those looks only a nine-year-old trying not to say anything "bad" might and simply shook his head with a curt, "No."

I wonder if he even learned anything as he worked through the first half of the book, I thought.  So, paging through the 68 pages of The Basics of Critical Thinking that he's completed, I asked if he might, without looking over my shoulder, tell me what he knows about each of the topics he has covered in the book so far. He offered the following:

  • Critical Thinking is when you think hard about something and make a decision...
  • Decisions are when choose what to do or what to think.  Conclusions are when you come up with something that you think is going to happen or when you make a choice that you've decided...
  • A belief is something we think is truth.  A claim is something we say or write is true. You have to make sure you understand what the claim is about... 
  • Evidence helps you decide if something is true and false.  We need to find evidence and then put it all together to decide is we think something is true or false... 
  • Inference is believing something after thinking about evidence... 
  • A fact is something that is true.  An opinion is something that might be true...
  • A truth is something that has been proven true.  A probable truth is something that might be true but is not definitely true.  There is evidence to make you believe it is true, but it is not definite...
  • Something that is false has been proven to be untrue. Something that is probably false is something that is most likely false, but that has not been proven false.  So, it could be true...
  •  Venn diagrams help you see differences and similarities...
  • And and or connect logical statements...

Then, as my son went off to do his own thing, I thought, Whew!  At least he can spit out some definitions and concepts. I also formed advice piece #2:  Do not give this book to someone who does not like workbooks nor writing and expect it to be an enjoyable, independent study.  Instead, move through the book orally and pair it with games and other activities.  I so wish I had done this.  Had I, my son would have benefited from the wonderful presentation and exercise of the basics of critical thinking that the book offers instead of begrudging the fact that we received the book for review. 

Live and learn.

That is what I am doing, so it will be a bit before my son begins the rest of the sections of the book: 

  • Advertising
  • Agreements and Contracts
  • Common Errors in Reasoning
  • Arguments
  • Valid and Invalid Arguments
  • Fallacies
  • Analogy Argument

Plan Your Approach 

Since I cannot undo what I have already done, I have decided to move forward with what I can do: planning an approach that will work before tarnishing such a quality resource again by throwing it at a child without considering the child's strengths.

What is my plan?

  1. Do penance by erasing as many of the 68 pages that my son completed (thankfully mostly in pencil), so our copy of The Basics of Critical Thinking will be photo-copy ready in the future since photcopying is allowed  by the initial user of the product.
  2. Squirrel the book away where it won't be seen for a while so my son's association between it and his negative feelings about writing will subside.  (I truly believe it was the writing and the lack of connection with me that shaped his feelings about this book.)
  3. Re-present the materials to my son, my daughter (who will be the "right" age  for it in a year), and, perhaps some co-op friends in a year or so in an interactive way with an opportunity for oral answers, since doing so would play to my children's strengths (as opposed to throwing the wonderful "baby" of this book out with the "bathwater" of "I don't like to write and prefer to have social lessons".)
  4. Perhaps design a co-op course around the book.  For, yes, despite my son's current distaste for the The Basics of Critical Thinking, I can see him (and his buddies) loving it as part of a group study in the future!  In fact, the more I looked at the book as I went to write this review, the more I potential for a superb group study I saw once life has room for such a thing.
  5. Let others know about this resource (thus, this review and future word-of-mouth), since it is a quality one.  Well-designed, straight-forward and friendly for "workbook kids", it can work as an enjoyable independent introduction to Critical Thinking (even if it did not here).  It can also work as the core of a group study, which it will make its comeback doing here.
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