Critical Thinking, Second (World) Language Learning, and AIM

February 24, 2016
Critical Thinking, Second (World) Language Learning, and AIM

by Beth Poulin

The Critical Thinking Consortium ( defines Critical thinking as:

The thinking through of a problematic situation about what to believe or how to act where the thinker makes a reasoned judgment that reflects competent use of the intellectual tools for quality thinking.

As teachers we ask questions all the time. These questions can be broken down into three categories:

1)      Factual   ex. Where does your mother live?
2)      Personal preference   ex. What is your favourite kind of ice cream?
3)      Critical inquiry   ex. What would be the best action for the character to take next?

So why would it be a good idea to use critical thinking strategies in a second language learning situation?

1)      We shape thinkers out of those who struggle with the language and challenge them to grow.
2)      Students who are asked to think critically are more engaged in their learning.
3)      Critical thinking gives students a chance to interact while using the language (Pair/share is a critical thinking strategy!)
4)      Students are more likely to remember something as they are more invested in the task and it has more meaning to them.

Very often in assigning tasks to students, we miss an opportunity to stretch their thinking and ask simply for things that are required. They are either there or they are not and can be assessed with a checklist. This definitely makes marking 200 projects easier but doesn’t challenge or engage the students enough. Yes, there will be some necessary requirements, you don’t want 200 projects with no names, but can we stretch them and not overwhelm ourselves with marking?

Teaching that criteria are the factors or attributes that help us recognize whether something is what we say it is, we can then use criteria to make reasoned judgements about the quality of student’s work. We can teach students to create a list of criteria and share those criteria before and during an assignment so that the thinking is extended as well as the learning.

Students can work in pairs to create criteria then work as a small group to choose the better or best to suit the project, then as a class the list can be pared down to a reasonable number.

Essentially there are 6 types of critical thinking tasks.

1)      Critique the piece…based on set criteria, how does the piece measure up
2)      Judge the better or the best…based on criteria, which is the better/best
3)      Rework the piece…using criteria, how can you make the piece better and/or different.
4)      Decode the image…what is happening? Where? When? Why? Who? And how do you know this?
5)      Design to specs… what it says, design something to specifications/criteria
6)      Perform to specs…as above only performance based

Within any second language learning but particularly with AIM, we see these tasks in the following areas:

1.       Critique the piece – assessment of the play performances,
2.       Rework the piece – story retelling, mets les mots en ordre,
3.       Design to Specs – story extension, creative improvisational storytelling,
4.       Perform to Specs – actual play performance.

With the above tasks we hit 4 of the 6 types. We can include all types by adding challenging activities or questions to the basic tasks as set out in the teacher guide. (Let’s face it, you use the guide as a GUIDE once you are familiar with it and can expand to limitless horizons.)

Take a look at the play you are using currently and ask yourself:

·         How you can I extend the thinking and add that critical element?
·         Do I do it frequently?
·         How can I increase the thinking as well as the language production?

If you are at the very beginning of a play or working at the beginning of the year with students who have no previous language, you will do more vocabulary learning and less critical thinking. As the year progresses though, you should be able to include the thinking pieces even with limited vocabulary.

This week, add a goal of noticing when you are encouraging the extra thinking and start to incorporate it into the Teacher led self- expression and spontaneous talk in your classes. These are the key areas where language blossoms and is owned by AIM students. Making them think adds icing to the cake!

Check in to the next blog post for specific ideas on how to use judging better or best tasks in large and small activities with your AIM class!


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