February 28, 2015

Critical Thinking and the Common Core Standards

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In our post The Third Generation of Standards Alignment we floated the notion that aligning instruction with the Common Core would involve not only attending to the immediate goals of the standards themselves but also holding fast to our grander missions for students as learners.  In order to do this, we need to take the time to reacquaint ourselves with our philosophies and ideologies about learning. What does it mean to be a lifelong learner?  As students go forward into the world, what are the skills we believe they will need to take them there?

For example, one skill universally beholden by educators is critical thinking.  We all wish for our students to leave our classrooms capable of analyzing complex situations.  We intend for them to recognize multiple layers of problems and emerge with new ideas that will continue to inspire their thinking well beyond the last bell of the school day.  With this as one of our primary objectives, we must then look to the Common Core to explore the ways the standards support our aspirations for students to become critical thinkers.

Let’s begin to consider the Common Core’s position on critical thinking by looking at the reading anchor standards.  A quick scan forces us to notice language like “analyze how individuals, events, and ideas develop” and  “interpret words and phrases” and “integrate and evaluate content.” These words—analyze, interpret, integrate– reflect the vernacular of critical thinking, suggesting that the intent behind the Common Core isn’t simply better scores on a particular test, but to impact the lives of students in meaningful, long term ways.

Whether learners practice critical thinking while examining a piece of literature, a work of art, or a complex workplace or life problem, analyzing, interpreting, and integrating nurture critical thinking.  Inasmuch as educators embrace these and other habits of mind associated with living as lifelong learners, so do the Common Core State Standards.

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