Hands shot up like a fast-growing forest. Students used clues read aloud by their teacher to fill in the blanks in an exercise in logic.
Guests in the back of the classroom watched, soaking up ideas.
The kids were kindergartners. The guests were teachers attending a Spokane conference held by the Washington Association of Educators of the Talented and Gifted. The conference started Thursday and will run through Saturday.
“We need to give (students) systematic ways of thinking. We don’t even know the questions they’ll be called on to answer” in coming years, said Mary Damascus, a Central Valley teacher who has spent three years developing ways to teach reasoning skills to elementary school students.
“Critical thinking” is one of today’s educational buzzwords. But what is it exactly?
Damascus dissected the concept into small strands and sent her teacher-students off to watch hands-on activities in classrooms around Ponderosa Elementary School. Later, she shared a series of visual tools to help students better organize their thinking.
She started with two major categories: “convergent thinking,” focusing on one specific problem, and “divergent thinking,” or creativity.
“When we want to use an ATM, for example, we can’t be very creative,” she said. “Convergent - there’s just one right way. But a lot of life is divergent. We need to be able to figure out what to do when we don’t really know the answer.”
Damascus offered a list of 55 reasoning skills. They ranged from pattern finding and determining cause and effect to metacognition and determining bias.
“Bright kids do these naturally. Other kids can be taught,” Damascus said.
But even bright kids need to become aware of what they’re doing when they’re thinking. That is metacognition, or the ability to monitor, describe and reflect on one’s own thinking.
One question Damascus asks students is: “How do you know when you’re done?”
“I’m at the end of my thought. I have a period. I’m done,” murmured one participant, paraphrasing the way her students think.
Other questions Damascus suggested teachers use include: How did you figure out what to do? How did you plan a strategy? How did you monitor your work?
“Thinking is action,” she said. To a generation raised on TV, it’s natural to think of learning as something passive. That’s a fallacy that teachers must expose, she said.
“I hope you’re thinking about your thinking,” Damascus said she advises students.