Teach Critical Thinking to Your Kids

Critical Thinking Defined

Critical thinking means making reasoned judgments that are logical and well-thought out. It is a way of thinking in which you don’t simply accept all arguments and conclusions you are exposed to but rather have an attitude involving questioning such arguments and conclusions. It requires wanting to see what evidence is involved to support a particular argument or conclusion. People who use critical thinking are the ones who say things such as, ‘How do you know that? Is this conclusion based on evidence or gut feelings?’ and ‘Are there alternative possibilities when given new pieces of information?’

Additionally, critical thinking can be divided into the following three core skills:

  1. Curiosity is the desire to learn more information and seek evidence as well as being open to new ideas.
  2. Skepticism involves having a healthy questioning attitude about new information that you are exposed to and not blindly believing everything everyone tells you.
  3. Finally, humility is the ability to admit that your opinions and ideas are wrong when faced with new convincing evidence that states otherwise.

 

 

A well-cultivated critical thinker:

  • Raises vital questions and problems, formulating them clearly and precisely
  • Gathers and assesses relevant information, using abstract ideas to interpret it effectively
  • Comes to well-reasoned conclusions and solutions, testing them against relevant criteria and standards
  • Thinks openmindedly within alternative systems of thought, recognizing and assessing, as needs be, their assumptions, implications, and practical consequences
  • Communicates effectively with others in figuring out solutions to complex problems

6 Crucial critical thinking skills (and how you can improve them)

While there’s no universal standard for what skills are included in the critical thinking process, we’ve boiled it down to the following six. Focusing on these can put you on the path to becoming an exceptional critical thinker.

1. Identification

The first step in the critical thinking process is to identify the situation or problem as well as the factors that may influence it. Once you have a clear picture of the situation and the people, groups or factors that may be influenced, you can then begin to dive deeper into an issue and its potential solutions.

How to improve: When facing any new situation, question or scenario, stop to take a mental inventory of the state of affairs and ask the following questions:

  • Who is doing what?
  • What seems to be the reason for this happening?
  • What are the end results, and how could they change?

2. Research

When comparing arguments about an issue, independent research ability is key. Arguments are meant to be persuasive—that means the facts and figures presented in their favor might be lacking in context or come from questionable sources. The best way to combat this is independent verification; find the source of the information and evaluate.

How to improve: It can be helpful to develop an eye for unsourced claims. Does the person posing the argument offer where they got this information from? If you ask or try to find it yourself and there’s no clear answer, that should be considered a red flag. It’s also important to know that not all sources are equally valid—take the time to learn the difference between popular and scholarly articles.

3. Identifying biases

This skill can be exceedingly difficult, as even the smartest among us can fail to recognize biases. Strong critical thinkers do their best to evaluate information objectively. Think of yourself as a judge in that you want to evaluate the claims of both sides of an argument, but you’ll also need to keep in mind the biases each side may possess.

It is equally important—and arguably more difficult—to learn how to set aside your own personal biases that may cloud your judgment. “Have the courage to debate and argue with your own thoughts and assumptions,” Potrafka encourages. “This is essential for learning to see things from different viewpoints.”

How to improve: “Challenge yourself to identify the evidence that forms your beliefs, and assess whether or not your sources are credible,” offers Ruth Wilson, director of development at Brightmont Academy.

First and foremost, you must be aware that bias exists. When evaluating information or an argument, ask yourself the following:

  • Who does this benefit?
  • Does the source of this information appear to have an agenda?
  • Is the source overlooking, ignoring or leaving out information that doesn’t support its beliefs or claims?
  • Is this source using unnecessary language to sway an audience’s perception of a fact?

4. Inference

The ability to infer and draw conclusions based on the information presented to you is another important skill for mastering critical thinking. Information doesn’t always come with a summary that spells out what it means. You’ll often need to assess the information given and draw conclusions based upon raw data.

The ability to infer allows you to extrapolate and discover potential outcomes when assessing a scenario. It is also important to note that not all inferences will be correct. For example, if you read that someone weighs 260 pounds, you might infer they are overweight or unhealthy. Other data points like height and body composition, however, may alter that conclusion.

How to improve: An inference is an educated guess, and your ability to infer correctly can be polished by making a conscious effort to gather as much information as possible before jumping to conclusions. When faced with a new scenario or situation to evaluate, first try skimming for clues—things like headlines, images and prominently featured statistics—and then make a point to ask yourself what you think is going on.

5. Determining relevance

One of the most challenging parts of thinking critically during a challenging scenario is figuring out what information is the most important for your consideration. In many scenarios, you’ll be presented with information that may seem important, but it may pan out to be only a minor data point to consider.

How to improve: The best way to get better at determining relevance is by establishing a clear direction in what you’re trying to figure out. Are you tasked with finding a solution? Should you be identifying a trend? If you figure out your end goal, you can use this to inform your judgment of what is relevant.

Even with a clear objective, however, it can still be difficult to determine what information is truly relevant. One strategy for combating this is to make a physical list of data points ranked in order of relevance. When you parse it out this way, you’ll likely end up with a list that includes a couple of obviously relevant pieces of information at the top of your list, in addition to some points at the bottom that you can likely disregard. From there, you can narrow your focus on the less clear-cut topics that reside in the middle of your list for further evaluation.

6. Curiosity

It’s incredibly easy to sit back and take everything presented to you at face value, but that can also be also a recipe for disaster when faced with a scenario that requires critical thinking. It’s true that we’re all naturally curious—just ask any parent who has faced an onslaught of “Why?” questions from their child. As we get older, it can be easier to get in the habit of keeping that impulse to ask questions at bay. But that’s not a winning approach for critical thinking.

How to improve: While it might seem like a curious mind is just something you’re born with, you can still train yourself to foster that curiosity productively. All it takes is a conscious effort to ask open-ended questions about the things you see in your everyday life, and you can then invest the time to follow up on these questions.

“Being able to ask open-ended questions is an important skill to develop—and bonus points for being able to probe,” Potrafka says.

Become a better critical thinker

Thinking critically is vital for anyone looking to have a successful college career and a fruitful professional life upon graduation. Your ability to objectively analyze and evaluate complex subjects and situations will always be useful. Unlock your potential by practicing and refining the six critical thinking skills above.

Most professionals credit their time in college as having been crucial in the development of their critical thinking abilities. If you’re looking to improve your skills in a way that can impact your life and career moving forward, higher education is a fantastic venue through which to achieve that.

Source: study.comrasmussencriticalthinking.org

Conference in Morroco

Last week, I gave a conference at @mazaganbeachresort about Executive Functions.
By popular demand, I gave a second lecture on the next day. Both lectures provided parents with the understanding of Executive Functions and its impact on our daily experience as parents. I also presented various strategies to enhance its development by using the ABC approach (Antecedent, Behavior and Consequences).

It was a pleasure to visit such a beautiful country. I want to thank @sarahtours_koshertrip for inviting me to speak.

I will give a private conference next week in Englewood, NJ.

Stay tuned for more dates. .

Impulse control (video)

The following video is an illustration of how impulse control can come in the way of young students. It important to remind ourselves that having weak impulse control (Response Inhibition) is NOT a character trait, rather a developmental issue that can be solved with coaching.

I encourage you to watch this video with your child (ages 5-8):

Ask them if this situation is familiar, and feel free to share with them the last time it was difficult for YOU to resist what you wanted to say/do. Talk about the how we feel after and how others might feel when we interrupt them in the middle of an activity or a conversation. Finally, invite them to join you in creating ways to deal with the need to say/do something out of turn. Some strategies that work for students in 1st through 4th grades are:

– Sitting on a cushion

– Stretching while sitting

– Asking to be the teacher’s helper.

– Asking to introduce the story (if you are familiar with it).

– Setting a signal with the teacher to take a short break.

These are just examples to help your child think about strategies that work for THEM.

You should feel free to share with me your experience and ask questions if you wish.

 

Improve Working Memory

Notepad...Working memory is the ability to keep things in mind while performing an activity. It helps in remembering while you are in the process of learning. It involves the maintenance of information in mind so that an individual can use it for planning, learning, reasoning, and producing a result. Working memory helps to hold a thought or long-term memory in mind so you can act more efficiently in the present moment. For example, working memory might involve shutting off a television and remembering to gather one’s coat and backpack before leaving a friend’s house. Improve working memory by following our recommendations below.

Home and School Situations Requiring Working Memory

  • Taking notes in class
  • Recalling plans made or an assignment due date
  • Remembering the rules to a game or sport while playing
  • Following multi-step directions at both school and at home
  • Doing math computations in one’s head
  • Recalling answers to reading comprehension questions
  • Remembering a list of chores, items, or tasks

Hints and Strategies to Improve Working Memory

1. Simplify directions as much as possible. Your child will be more likely to recall short, simple, and direct instructions. For example, saying, “When you finish those two math worksheets, you can watch one episode of ‘Adventure Time’,” is much more direct than saying “When you finish your homework you can watch some TV.”

2. Encourage your child to seek assistance from others. Emphasize to your child that it is acceptable to ask the teacher to repeat instructions or to ask a classmate to borrow their notes. Role-play these scenarios at home so that your child will feel comfortable when the situation arises.

3. Find a mode of technology that is helpful to your child. For example, use a tape recorder to record notes or directions, or a cell-phone to program in reminders and scheduling changes. Digital picture frames can show a sequence of activities that are easily forgotten, such as eating breakfast, putting dishes away, and washing up.

4. Practice verbal memory like rehearsal, chunking, or mnemonic devices. Help your child to rehearse by whispering directions or lists to him/herself. Also, practice chunking devices that can help your child to whittle down two-step instructions to one, such as brushing her teeth and washing her face together. Mnemonic devices can be especially helpful, such as how ROY G BIV is often used to recall the colors of the rainbow in order.

5. Practice reading comprehension. Read the same material as your child and then have a brief discussion about it. This may help to increase your child’s focus and stretch their memory as an active component of working memory skills.

6. Showcase your own working memory difficulties by dramatizing your strategies to compensate for them. Many adults report difficulties with working memory in simple tasks such as remembering what they meant to do when they went into the kitchen or leaving the house and forgetting something important. Use compensatory strategies such as making notes, using Post-its, asking someone else to give a reminder, or doing something immediately when it comes to mind. Exaggerating and dramatizing your strategies for compensating your own working memory difficulties may be helpful for a child who has similar difficulties.

7. Select video games for your child that require the use of working memory skills.Brain training games, such as “Mind Quiz” and “Brain Age 2,” require the use of working memory skills and visual memory tasks. Other longer narrative games, such as “The Legend of Zelda” series, require the player to keep in mind incidents and objects from earlier in the game in order to be successful in strategies on later levels. Most importantly, try and get your child to recognize how memory skills can help in games and encourage your child to try out different strategies. These strategies can include the following: visualizing what (s)he needs to remember, over-learning math facts so that they become automatic, and repeating things out loud. These strategies may help your child in a number of memory tasks.

Games and Activities That Can Practice Working Memory

Playing board games – Most board games require players to use working memory to recall rules, remember whose turn it is, and relate the spin or roll to the appropriate move. Asking your child to help you remember what happens next in the game will even further improve this working memory activity.

Grocery shopping trip – Ask your child to help you keep track of the next three or four items you have to find. Have your child count them as you find each one.

“Memory” – This card game challenges players to match pairs of cards by turning them over two at a time while they are face down, allowing your child to practice his working memory skills.

“I packed my suitcase” Game – Players in this game have to picture and remember an increasing list of items. One child starts by saying, “I packed my suitcase and in it I put a toothbrush.” The next player repeats that phrase and then adds another item. This game can continue for as long as the players enjoy adding more items, and remember what came before what they’re about to say next.

“Big Brain Academy” – This game requires your child to keep facts in mind in order to successfully play the game.

 

Source can be found here.

What are Executive Functions?

 

Executive function is like the CEO of the brain. It’s in charge of making sure things get done. When kids have issues with executive functioning, any task that requires planning, organization, memory, time management and flexible thinking becomes a challenge. The more you know about the challenges, the better you’ll be able to help your child build her executive skills and manage the difficulties.

Divergent Thinking

The goal of divergent thinking is to generate many different ideas about a topic in a short period of time. It involves breaking a topic down into its various component parts in order to gain insight about the various aspects of the topic. Divergent thinking typically occurs in a spontaneous, free-flowing manner, such that the ideas are generated in a random, unorganized fashion. Following divergent thinking, the ideas and information will be organized using convergent thinking; i.e., putting the various ideas back together in some organized, structured way.

To begin brainstorming potential topics, it is often helpful to engage in self analysis and topic analysis.

Self Analysis

Ask the following questions to help brainstorm a list of potential topics.

  1. How do I spend my time? What are my activities during a normal day?
  2. What do I know about them? What are my areas of expertise? What am I studying in school?
  3. What do I like? What are my hobbies? What are my interests?
  4. What bothers me? What would I like to change in my world or life?
  5. What are my strongest beliefs, values and philosophies?

Topic Analysis

Ask the following questions to help narrow and refine a broad topic into a specific, focused one. Substitute your topic for the word “something.”

  1. How would you describe something?
  2. What are the causes of something?
  3. What are the effects of something?
  4. What is important about something?
  5. What are the smaller parts that comprise something?
  6. How has something changed? Why are those changes important?
  7. What is known and unknown about something?
  8. What category of ideas or objects does something belong to?
  9. Is something good or bad? Why?
  10. What suggestions or recommendations would you make about something?
  11. What are the different aspects of something you can think of?

Techniques to Stimulate Divergent Thinking

1. Brainstorming. Brainstorming is a technique which involves generating a list of ideas in a creative, unstructured manner. The goal of brainstorming is to generate as many ideas as possible in a short period of time. The key tool in brainstorming is “piggybacking,” or using one idea to stimulate other ideas. During the brainstorming process, ALL ideas are recorded, and no idea is disregarded or criticized. After a long list of ideas is generated, one can go back and review the ideas to critique their value or merit.

2. Keeping a Journal. Journals are an effective way to record ideas that one thinks of spontaneously. By carrying a journal, one can create a collection of thoughts on various subjects that later become a source book of ideas. People often have insights at unusual times and places. By keeping a journal, one can capture these ideas and use them later when developing and organizing materials in the prewriting stage.

3. Freewriting. When free-writing, a person will focus on one particular topic and write non-stop about it for a short period of time. The idea is to write down whatever comes to mind about the topic, without stopping to proofread or revise the writing. This can help generate a variety of thoughts about a topic in a short period of time, which can later be restructured or organized following some pattern of arrangement.

4. Mind or Subject Mapping. Mind or subject mapping involves putting brainstormed ideas in the form of a visual map or picture that that shows the relationships among these ideas. One starts with a central idea or topic, then draws branches off the main topic which represent different parts or aspects of the main topic. This creates a visual image or “map” of the topic which the writer can use to develop the topic further. For example, a topic may have four different branches (sub-topics), and each of those four branches may have two branches of its own (sub-topics of the sub-topic) *Note* this includes both divergent and convergent thinking.

Source: Faculty of Washington

How Can I Help My Kids Develop Better Social Skills?

Today, I wanted to share with you a great article I found on LifeHacker which talks about how you can help your kids develop better social skills:

“… Your children’s social development will be a critical part of their success and happiness as they get older—even more important than their academic skills or intelligence. (Also, no one wants to be that parent who’s raised “Mean Girls”-like bullies.) You have a chance now to greatly influence your kids’ social intelligence and teach them things even we awkward adults are still perfecting, like how to build friendships and deal with rejection. They’re important lessons we all keep learning, and the sooner we start, the better.

The Social Skills All Kids Need to Learn

It seems like some kids (or people of any age) are more naturally socially adept than others—you know, the kind of people others gravitate to and for whom making friends comes easily. Don’t worry if your children don’t fit that mold or aren’t winning any popularity contests. Like any other skill, social skills can be learned, and, besides that, “being social” or outgoing isn’t the end goal in itself.

What is important, however, is that kids are able to form meaningful bonds with others, can empathize and interact with others appropriately, and have the skills to adapt in uncomfortable situations. Unfortunately, as the University of Memphis points out:

Many students do not know how to handle interpersonal social situations that involve following directions, holding a proper conversation, listening, giving compliments, proper behavior during transition times, teasing, bullying, or just “hanging out” with friends.

Those are basic skills we want all kids to be able to have. Depending on your children’s ages, they might also need more specific social skills.

Skills for Preschool and Elementary School Kids

Vanderbilt University found the top 10 social skills kids need to succeed in school, based on surveys of 8,000 elementary teachers and two decades of classroom research, are:

  • Listen to others
  • Follow the steps
  • Follow the rules
  • Ignore distractions
  • Ask for help
  • Take turns when you talk
  • Get along with others
  • Stay calm with others
  • Be responsible for your behavior
  • Do nice things for others

These might seem like social skills promoted just to turn out “nice girls and boys” who earn the “gets along with others” check on their report cards, but they’re fundamental behaviors that help kids succeed (not just survive) in a world that emphasizes social norms. The goal isn’t just to make them cooperative, but to hone their social GPS so they can both advocate for themselves and care for others. (Heck, we probably all know a few adults who could stand to learn many of these skills too.)

Social Skills for Pre-Teens and Teens

Older kids, in middle school and high school, have more complex social skills to learn, thanks to growing peer pressure and that simply awkward period called adolescence. It’s a time when they’re becoming more independent, but everyone’s forming cliques; when they’re making big decisions about who they are and what they want to be, but also might start to care a bit too much about what others think.

  • Set personal goals
  • Identify and change self-defeating behaviors
  • Be assertive about his or her needs
  • Have feelings for others
  • Handle anger constructively
  • Resolve conflicts peacefully

It’s easy to say a toddler should learn how to follow directions or a young adult should know how to be assertive; it’s another to know how to best help them do that. So let’s look at a few strategies.

Model Social Skills

The first place we learn social skills, of course, is at home, and what we do as parents is more important than what we say. As All I Really Needed to Learn in Kindergarten author Robert Fulghum says, “Don’t worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you.”

Modeling positive social skills includes showing confidence ourselves when we relate to others, being friendly to strangers, offering to help others, and also treating our kids with respect (no matter how much they might be pulling at our last straw). Dr. Laura Markham writes on Aha! Parenting:

Teach your child that people are important. All parents have to choose their battles, so put up with messiness and dawdling if you must, but teach your child consideration for others. Model it for him early on, praise it, help him brainstorm to solve peer problems, and don’t let your child intentionally or unintentionally disrespect another person. It you can’t confront it as it happens without embarrassing your child, be sure to talk about it later. As kids get older, you may need to be very explicit about insisting that they acknowledge adults in their presence, as well as other kids. Often preteens and young adolescents need to be reminded of this, and to be given coaching on how to handle interactions that feel awkward to them.

The funny thing about being a parent is it forces you out of your shell and can help you become a better person through analyzing your own behaviors and attitudes. In a great article summarizing research on children’s social skills, Auburn University professors Jacquelyn Mize and Ellen Abell write:

Parents of these socially competent children endorse interpretations of social events that encourage resilient, constructive attitudes (Mize, Pettit, Lindsey, & Laird, 1993). Rather than making a statement such as, “That’s a really mean kid!” they may say something like, “Gosh, maybe he’s having a hard day.” They make constructive attributions such as, “Sometimes kids just want to play by themselves,” rather than expressing a sentiment like, ‘They’re not very nice if they won’t let you play.” These parents avoid defeatist comments such as “Maybe they don’t like you,” and offer instead suggestions like, “Maybe they don’t want to play that, but there might be something else they think is fun.” Such positive, constructive statements encourage children to take an optimistic view of others and themselves as play partners. They reflect an upbeat, resilient attitude toward social setbacks and the belief that social situations can be improved with effort and positive behavior.

Don’t Label Shy Kids

If your kids are naturally shy or feel insecure, try not to label them as such or try to force them out of their shyness. Instead, if your child is socially anxious, Dr. Markham recommends empathy and a problem-solving approach:

Don’t label your child as shy. Instead, acknowledge his feelings and point out that he can overcome his fears. For instance, “Sometimes it takes you awhile to warm up in a new situation. Remember Billy’s birthday party, how you held my hand all through the games? But by the end, you were having lots of fun with the other kids.”

Teach your child effective strategies for dealing with shyness. The general rule of thumb is to accept the nervousness that comes up as a part of normal life that affects most people, reassure yourself that you’re ok anyway, and focus on others rather than yourself. For instance, remind your child that she doesn’t have to be interesting, just interested, and teach her to ask other kids questions and listen to their answers. Brainstorm with her how she might handle a situation that makes her nervous.

Another reason not to label young people as shy is it could become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I was told I was shy as a child, when really I think I was just naturally quiet and introverted. Having that label, though, led to me feeling tense and anxious during social situations—true shyness, which often starts out as a reinforced habit.

Give Plenty of Opportunities to Practice Social Behaviors

Kids learn social skills first from you, but then to a large degree from their peers. The more chances kids have to interact with others, the better.

That means supporting and encouraging kids’ friendships—even if it means you become Dad Taxi Service or have to spend playdate time, as Louis CK laments, with kids and parents you couldn’t care less about.

Kids also will learn crucial skills from simply playing with you. According to Dr. Mize and Dr. Abell, the research suggests that children whose parents frequently play with them have more advanced social skills and get along better with their peers. It’s especially true if you play with them on their level, following their lead and in a “peer-like” way:

Children benefit from this type of play for several reasons. From balanced, responsive play with a parent, children may learn many of the skills commonly displayed by the socially competent preschoolers described earlier. In addition, when parents are responsive to children’s play ideas, children may come to feel that they are good, effective play partners and thus are eager to play with peers. Finally, fun, balanced parent-child play may instill that positive outlook toward others that makes children look forward to play opportunities with people outside the family.

Parenting Science has a few social skill activities you can do with your kids (school-aged and teens) based on research—and they’re actually fun games like charades.

Relax

All that said, chances are your kids are learning positive social skills the way most of us do, simply as we go along and through trial and error. Don’t worry or try to intervene too much unless there are serious signs of social trouble (for example, if your kid’s teacher warns of discipline problems). Most kids are insensitive (or even unkind) or socially clumsy sometimes.

Here are some signs that your child might need more social coaching(from you and/or teachers):

  • Lacks at least one or two close mutual friends
  • Has trouble losing or winning gracefully
  • Doesn’t show empathy when others are hurt or rejected
  • Acts bossy or insists on own way a lot
  • Can’t seem to start or maintain a conversation
  • Uses a louder voice than most children
  • Seems constantly ignored or victimized by other children or constantly teases or annoys other children

In those cases, you’ll want to take a more active approach to helping your kids with their “interpersonal skills.” Otherwise, just keep playing with your kids, being a model of social grace, and helping them build their relationships.