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Day 20: Neil Stephenson, District Principal (SD37)

October 4, 2012

Last week I had the great pleasure of sitting in on a presentation on Critical Thinking by Stefan Stipp.  This was a wonderful workshop and throughout the evening, two things in particular really resonated with me. A week later, both of these ideas are still rolling around in my head.

1. The honesty of Stefan. Stefan is a high school teacher in an inner-city school in Surrey. His workshop started at 4 pm, which means Stefan had rushed over from a long, and admittedly frustrating day of teaching. What I greatly appreciated was Stefan’s honesty as he started his workshop. He was tired. His kids had been difficult. At the beginning of the workshop he did not want to be there.

Stefan also talked about how he been working with the Critcal Thinking Consortium’s model for 10 years, and for him it’s still a journey with its highs and lows. He shared how he has seen the incredible impact that a classroom focused on critical thinking can have on students, while at the same time admitting that his classroom is never perfect and never easy. It was a great reminder that there is no one-size-fits-all, ‘silver-bullet’ solution to the complexity of teaching and learning.  It was also a great reminder that even important and engaging work such as critical thinking takes practice, support and perseverance.  And while Stefan was there as ‘the expert’, there was a genuine humility that came from attempting to change his own practice day after day.

“Thinking needs to be the primary activity in school.” Stefan Stipp

2. The importance of critical thinking. Like Stefan, my own journey with the Critical Thinking Consortium started about a decade ago. I remember loving the model when I first heard about it at a Social Studies Conference in Alberta. I worked to integrate it into my own classroom and tried to spread the idea around my staff. I attended all the Critical Thinking workshops I could, and eventually was part of a team of Alberta teachers who built resources for an online guide for a new Social Studies curriculum in partnership with TC2

Last week Stefan reminded me about all the things I appreciate about the Critical Thinking Consortium. Having tried many  of their resources, I find that their tools and critical challenges allow classrooms to be explicitly focused on student thinking.  I find their materials to be concrete and thoughtfully put together. I also like the notion of critical thinking as ‘criterial thinking’ – as it provides a clear model and framework for designing a critical thinking task.  I also think getting student involved in generating criteria is a great step into assessment for learning. The two go hand in hand.

One of my passions is trying to build authentic, real-world learning opportunities for students. I love thinking about how to connect students beyond their classrooms and give them opportunities to share their ideas in different ways. However, thinking of learning this way can sometimes be a very big leap for both students and teachers. For me the framework and thinking tools of the Critical Thinking Consortium have always been the foundational building blocks of larger inquiry projects. They help to structure the learning and make student thinking visible. They help take big idea and break them down into smaller, manageable pieces for successful student learning.

With all that in mind, I’m thankful to Stefan to have been given a great reminder of the importance of helping our students become better and better critical thinkers.

**If any Delta teachers are interested in more info on Critical Thinking, please email me. Delta has purchased a district license for all of TC2’s online resources. Email me and I’ll help you access all the fantastic resources.

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