Expert Author Cynthia De La Torre

What is critical thinking? There are many different definitions on what critical thinking is; thus, to sum it up in the broadest form, it is a learned skill in which the critical thinker is able to dissect, conceptualize, apply, analyze, synthesize, and evaluate information and use that information to solve a problem, find an answer, or come to a conclusion. Critical thinkers, not only use the information presented to them, but they also use past acquired knowledge or experiences and they are able to skillfully "read between the lines".

Why it helps - You will find that most of the kids that are in honors classes, AP classes, or other advanced placement classes, are typically children who have their critical thinking skills refined. These kids typically are able to look at things in more than just one way and they are able to dissect information more critically. Most of these children receive high grades and perform very well on exams. Although these individuals were born with many of their intellectual abilities, a lot of their skills were also learned and perfected. Therefore, any child can improve her or his critical thinking skills and improve their understanding of the information presented to them in and out of school.

Activities to do to help your child - During the long summer break, don't just let your children spend all their time watching TV or playing video games, assign them work. Assign your children work that will help develop their critical thinking skills. The following are just a few examples.

1. Read and analyze a book together - Have your children read a book, that is appropriate for their age and reading level, then have them write a book review in which they state what they liked or disliked about the book and why. The "why" is the most important aspect, because it causes your children to think more critically about their views and why they formed such views. You should have read the book as well. Make sure to discuss different elements the author used to get their point across - i.e. analyze the information presented and the different techniques used by the author like symbols, metaphors, foreshadowing, mood, etc.

2. Assign your children an argumentative research paper, but with a twist - Have your children pick a semi-controversial topic (you might want to pick the topic for them), then have your children write, as objectively as possible, why they are for it, then have them write another paper arguing why they are against it. Once your children are done writing both papers, have them reveal to you what they learned while writing them. Then work together to improve both of their papers - provide constructive criticism, while acknowledging the positives as well.

a. Make sure to remind your children that there are different ways of looking at things and that they should learn to take in information with a critical eye and not to allow emotions to dictate their views.

b. Objectivity is essential in becoming a critical thinker; emotions can oftentimes hinder us from thinking objectively.

c. The best argumentative papers are those in which the writer is able to predict what the opposing side will argue, in order to make their point, and is thus able to take on those arguments head on.

3. Analyze a work of art - Have your children analyze an important piece of art. Ask your children questions about the piece that will allow them to think critically and to view art in a new way. What is the point of view? Was the painting effective in presenting the desired point of view? Why or why not? Make sure to read the caption that goes along with the art piece or any other relevant information in order to gain a better understanding of the artist and their work. Keep in mind that art is very subjective; the main idea is to get your child to try to interpret an image in a critical and new way.

4. Analyze the source - Read a research article with your children. As you read it have your children analyze what the writer's argument is - is the writer trying to convince you of something? Make sure to take note of the sources provided by the author, taking into account if they are reliable or not and why that is. Also be sure to point out flaws or contradictions found in the article. Is the article mostly opinion based or does the writer provide enough factual and objective information to prove her of his argument? Help your children critically and objectively analyze the information presented; let them know your thought process as you work through analyzing the paper. Be sure to point out any obvious biases or opinions that diminish the credibility of the article.



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