But this is a blog about gifted parenting and the children they parent. I've come to the conclusion that teaching gifted students how to think more effectively is the most important thing we can teach them. It provides fuel for their insatiable curiosity. It trumps subject matter, job training, gym class, and learning how to select color coordinated outfits for the first day of school. By encouraging gifted children to think and providing them with an environment conducive to good thinking, we help them to fulfill their potential as leaders, problem-solvers and decision-makers.
Teaching any type of thinking seems to go in and out of fashion more often than mini-skirts. But, it’s no laughing matter. It is, in fact, critical that we encourage critical thought. Parents play an important role in this facet of their child’s education. Some would argue that critical thought is second-nature to gifted children. It may be for some, but our society has de-valued the need for it in many insidious (classroom inclusion comes to mind) ways and our children will suffer the consequences.
So, where did the idea of critical thinking come from? Most people would agree that Socrates had a lot to do with it. He loved to ask questions! In fact, it was his fellow Greeks that gave us the word ‘critical’ – kritikos – being able to discern or judge. Socratic questioning can be used to develop critical thought because it seeks a depth of understanding in a systematic way while considering the plausibility and truthfulness of the answers being sought. In 1605, Sir Francis Bacon defined critical thinking as a “desire to seek, patience to doubt, fondness to meditate, slowness to assert, readiness to consider, carefulness to dispose and set in order; and hatred for every kind of imposture [fraud].” I think he summarized it quite nicely.
In her article, Discovering the Gifted Ex-Child (Roeper Review, August 1994), Stephanie Tolan writes, “Our relentless focus on achievement rather than the unusual mental processing that constitutes giftedness makes the necessary recognition and understanding difficult if not impossible for many.” She goes on to say, “… it is in childhood that the gifted individual begins to form that critical sense of self, his initial understanding of his own mental processing, his own mind.” This speaks to the crux of the matter – gifted children have a unique capacity for critical thinking.
“… it is in childhood that the gifted individual begins to form that critical sense of self, his initial understanding of his own mental processing, his own mind.”
Why don’t many of our schools teach critical thinking? Critical thinkers have a knack for challenging the status quo. And the status quo likes things just the way they are. It can be difficult to control a thinking populace. Another consideration to keep in mind is that teachers of critical thinking really need to know what they’re talking about! It’s one thing to teach ‘out of the book’ … something administrators continually stress to their faculty as a good thing … it’s quite another thing to reach outside the box! Finally, critical thinkers are truth seekers and what constitutes ‘truth’ these days has been marred by charlatans posing as media experts and politicians as well.
Zoe Burgess, in a recent blog post, asked the question, “Can We Teach Creative and Critical Thinking?” She provides excellent suggestions for how critical thinking can be taught and cultivated through modeling by the teacher, project-based learning, cross-curriculum teaching, and service learning. Assessing this type of learning requires the teacher to move out of their comfort zone. One must possess the ability to pose questions of students which will allow them to demonstrate their depth of understanding.
As the parent of a gifted student, where do you start? Provide your child with a place to think; an area with resources to aid in thinking. Encourage them to get rest and provide a healthy diet. Value their independent thinking through discussion and listening to your child. Prompt their thinking through Socratic questioning. In their book, Critical Thinking: Tools for Taking Charge of Your Learning and Your Life, Drs. Richard Paul and Linda Elder list 9 strategies that students can use themselves to develop critical thinking. The full list can be found here. They include using wasted time, keeping an intellectual journal, and by redefining the way one thinks about oneself. Good advice for students and parents alike!