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Developing Critical Thinking for

Children Through EFL Learning

4th Year Methodology II


(Curr 411)
2009

Prof. Asmaa G. Gheith

Director, Center for Developing English Language Teaching (CDELT)


Faculty of Education
Ain shams University
Cairo, Egypt
Learning outcomes

Through completion of this part, e-learners should be able to:

• Identify the concept of critical thinking;


• Identify critical thinking as a life skill;
• Identify critical thinking as an authentic context;
• Identify critical thinking as a problem solving approach;
• Suggest language activities that reflect the concept of critical
thinking; and,
• Understand, criticize, make a decision and reflect various
critical thinking skills on language activities.

Activities

• Entire group discussion in a face to face session.


• Asynchronous and synchronous online activities.
• E-group activities.

Assessment Techniques

• Peer review to deepen the learners' own understanding of


critical thinking.
• E-group activities to formulate a theoretical viewpoint
concerning critical thinking as a constructivist trend.
• Suggesting activities to reflect the critical thinking concept.
• E-quizzes.

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Developing Critical Thinking for Children through
EFL Learning

The Spirit of Inquiry: Creativity and Community

Abstract
This Paper is an attempt to determine what critical thinking means for
children. A working definition of critical thinking is specified to this paper.
Developing critical thinking skills for children is focused. As well as,
different learning strategies and activities are enhanced.
Teachers of English as a foreign language, supervisors, and
researchers in the field should increase awareness of using various activities
to develop critical thinking skills through language learning in the early
stages of education.
This is realized in an authentic and live context. So, both language and
critical thinking become a life skill. Various foreign language teaching
approaches are adopted and referred to in this paper.
Language is thought. Those attempts to separate both phenomena,
actually characterize the learning context with failure.
Active learning forms do support the context in which freedom of
action is the dominant feature. This provides opportunities for the
realization of integrative critical thinking and language skills as a common
feature of the current needs of this age.

* Paper presented to Concordia University Conference titled "The Spirit of Inquiry


Creativity and Community: Concordia, 14 – 15, May 2007

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Different approaches, teaching / learning strategies, as well as,
using interesting topics, increase the learners’ awareness of such an
integrative identity and critical thinking that takes place in a non
traditional Context

Critical Thinking: an Operational Definition

Critical thinking in this specific study is that sort of higher order


thinking that helps learners act critically through using EFL. It carries
surprise, prediction, finding solutions / alternatives, selection, decision
making, and follow up.

This critical action contains three main dimensions:

 Practicing critical thinking procedures


 Developing language skills integratively with higher order
thinking esteem.
 Individual and collaborative context.

Critical
Actions

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This three dimensional process of higher – order thinking, taking
place in a collaborative learning context to develop both thinking and
language skills, elicits the learners’ following skills:

 Awareness of the status- quo and pro- quo and accordingly,

 Formulating a different futuristic vision

 Awareness of the type of thinking they practice

 Selection of most appropriate alternatives to solve a


problem / establish a pro-quo

 Adopting some individual, as well as collaborative


strategies and techniques to proceed forward

 Developing successful self – expression and self evaluation


to create a different context
.

Critical Thinking and Foreign Language: a Life skill

In this global age, foreign language learning is not luxury.


However, learners do actually contact the others to discuss an issue, to
establish a dialogue or to express own idea. This takes place in their
daily life. This motivates them to, at least, exchange ideas through
reading and writing with the others.

This foreign language use is no longer an issue of


communication. However, with the use of worldwide technological
communication, using language takes place to realize ultimately
different purposes.

Language is currently used for discussing an issue, posing a


problem, like backwash effects of pollution, jobs all over the world,
war and peace problems… etc. Such controversial need a worldwide
awareness, in addition to the previously mentioned skills.

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At the same time, these integrative thinking and language skills
do occur in a much more comprehensive world than a mere
mechanical process of language learning.

This situation demands different visions produced by curriculum


designers, teachers, and learners who should be able to predict future
characteristics according to their own visions. So, practicing critical
thinking through language learning is a step forward for better future.

To sum up, language should be managed as an identity not


separate skills. At the same time, it should formulate an integrative
identity with critical thinking skills that develops the following skills:

 Formulating own vision out of thinking of a different future.

 Posing problems: through having a panoramic overview to


predict events / problems as a result of reading life events.

 Self esteem: through fostering skills of analysis, finding


alternatives and priorities and filterization of sources and facts in
an attempt to solve a given problem appropriately.

 Decision making; as a result of the ambiguity and


dissatisfaction of a given situation, contemplation, raising
arguments and dialoguing other colleagues and finally, creating
different new scene or even compromises.

 Self monitoring; in an ongoing process of thinking,


consulting resources, reading events and finding similarities and
differences with the others’ experiences, i.e. a formative evaluation
process that builds up experiences through feedback for further
improvement.

 Using the foreign language purposefully as an individual


need for producing ideas and sharing own constructed meaning
with the
others.

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 Refined study skills as an immediate result of feeling the
need to raise questions, write a statement, suggest an idea,
oppose / support others’ opinions. So, learners’ motives pave the
way for learning different

Thus, a coherent system of critical thinking practice can merge


side by side with purposeful language use in this global age.

In this very rapidly changing world, there are increasing needs,


not only to meet challenges, but also to predict future needs.

I dare say, that language learning challenge is not a mere


communicative process, but rather, a much more critical and genuine
production. Thus, language users are negotiating knowledge and, at
the same time, mutual understanding of people.

This interprets the language learners' continuous attempts to


create their own special world, in which language is used and not
learned about. It becomes obvious that an authentic language learning
world completely exists apart from our classroom language.

Critical Thinking, Language Use in An Authentic Context:

Thus, an authentic context should be transmitted into the school.


At the same time we should help the learners, stretch their intellectual
powers by teaching out-of-doors through interactional relationships
with life resources.

It means that thinking skills and language skills used in the


learners’ real life should formulate the base line for learning as it
simply supports both learning and product.

In short, developing integrative language and critical thinking


should not take place apart from the children real life experiences.

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Hence, children will be close to the family and community contexts
through the development of their personal skills.

Authenticity reflects the dominance of using the internet in the


children daily life; thus, learning should not follow but lead the
children attempts for improving the quality of their lives.

The current use of what is called "internet language" should be


analyzed with the purpose of bridging the gap between the actual use
and what goes on in the language classrooms. Otherwise, in the long
run, a strange language identity will emerge.

This should draw our attention to the aims we need to realize out
of teaching the language, such an interactive context, the learners’
choice of guidelines, the mental processes they demonstrate and the
decisions they evoke, which demands much more challenges other
than learning about language.

In an attempt to maximize the use of the internet, children


should be invited to:

 Identify the resource, the producer of the text and the stream
of thought.

 Investigate the issue, main and embedded ideas, and


purposes of the text.

 Understand and analyze the content.

 Find where they stand and whether they agree / disagree


and why.

 Produce own opinions concerning the raised issues


.
Hence, I need to refer to a different collaborative learning,
actually practiced by the children. It comes as a result of using
computer authentically in daily life. This sort of accidental learning is
more influential on children lives.

As well as, the reflection of environmental dimension on the language


classroom entails that:

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 Environmental topics represent a rich resource of content
 Environmental issues are real and familiar to children
 Environmental topics motivate children for further learning.

This provides learners with real rich resources for more choices
and variety of real experiences.

So, they should possess both critical thinking and language skills
to match the needs of such learning.

Inquiry Approach:

Children are not taught to live in a static world, but one with
increasing complicity. Most of our children are going to live in more
complicated contexts, and education is not to give them ready made
solutions.

However, tools for life-long education should be managed. A


most prominent learning feature should not be what to know, but the
challenge is how we come to know, and for what purposes .so, rich
contexts for learning are those which raise successful questions rather
than give readymade answers.

Questions with Why and How are often reflective questions that
elicit the children’s ability to:

 Think, select and estimate priorities

 Relate new information to prior knowledge

 Lead to further understanding of language nature

 Structure language around concepts

 Develop critical thinking skills

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 Enhance assessment skills

 Help meeting the challenge of what is not known yet.

Problem Solving:

Problem Solving implies reflecting the learner’s perspective on a


given phenomenon / problem, considering present and past interactive
factors, visioning the future and then, promoting things forward to and
supporting own vision.

Problem solving is a sort of critical thinking. It involves:

 Defining the problem, as reflected by the learner,


colleagues, teacher and community.

 Investigating resources. So, different resources are


investigated where the learner knows a lot about what is not
known in a real learning process.
 Determining different alternatives, through discussion,
brainstorming or pair / group work. All solutions are discussed to
arrive at compromises.

 Making decisions which reflects group or individual


decisions. This involves raising questions about expected changes,
steps to follow, needed resources, and determining tasks for group
members. This is the action plan of the entire group of
participants.

 Monitoring implementation and change. Some questions


such as; are there changes, are these changes positive or negative.
What should we learn from this problem solving.

It means providing positive, as well as, negative appraisal. More


or less, it is a sort of critical thinking.

Systemic Approach:

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This approach is also linked to children’s lives, interests, and
motivation to participate actively in varied learning contexts.

In the early attempts for literacy learning, freedom of action is a


domineering feature in a context that offers opportunities for
practicing problem solving, e.g. children are exposed to letters to
formulate familiar words. And then, smoothly they are required to
move up and formulate sentences, paragraphs, and even a story out of
sequential events.

The focus of this approach is to have a comprehensive viewpoint


to include all factors of a phenomenon integratively and interactively.

This Implies:

 Awareness of the whole context and its interactive factors

 Understanding and familiarity with various different


elements

 Selection, organization and reorganization of given elements

 Reflection of prior knowledge

 Testing solutions and giving priorities

 Involving individual efforts in collaborative work

 Producing language realizations out of practicing higher


order thinking.

The previously mentioned approaches, with other thinking


evoking ones, provide an area for practicing critical thinking, which
enables teachers to raise inquiries and pose thinking steering
questions, rather than mechanical teaching. There are some common
features shared by such approaches.

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The following features support critical thinking practice in a
linguistic context:

 Formulating futuristic vision

 Increasing an area of awareness

 Internalization of individual learners’ prior knowledge

 Posing questions

 Analysis of a given context / problem

 Keeping an inquiring active mind that enlarges the area of


awareness

 Increasing self confidence

 Identifying and increasing thinking skills

 Learning things outside oneself

 Stretching risk taking attitude

 Development of self - evaluation skills

Parallel to the approaches and strategies evoking critical thinking


teaching, some techniques provide support to the context. Also,
language collaborative activities that encourage the learners to act
positively increase self-realization and self-confidence.

The maximum benefit out of practicing critical thinking in


English as a foreign language Context is producing authentic language
realizations integratively with a critical thinking attitude.

Linguistic activities should not draw a traditional scenario that


focuses on memorization of idioms and grammatical rules. But rather,
efforts should be made to increase children’s abilities to write about
things they like / dislike, to write about journals and short stories, to

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talk about dreams and their future hopes and the imaginative world
they dream to live in.

Thus, linguistic and thinking context should be an enjoyable


interesting place for children.

Assessment and Evaluation

Assessment of such activities is not a problematic area. Such


activities could be assed on the spot through the teacher’s observation.

Some Key- question words and expressions can be used to satisfy


formative evaluation as well as administrative purposes such as;

 Plan for a project that reflects….


 Tell a story about….
 Tell a dream you had last ……
 Suggest a solution for the problem of ….
 Compare those two pictures
 Draw a picture of that (event) and write a phrase to describe
it.
 You are alone at home, you are in trouble.
 How can you solve the problem

MCQ

1. Find whether the following statements are true or false:

1.1. Critical thinking increases learners' awareness of the status-quo


and pro-quo ( ).
1.2. The challenges of foreign language learning are merely
communicative ( ).
1.3. Critical thinking activities promote individual, as well as
collaborative strategies ( ).
1.4. Foreign language can be used purposefully for producing ideas
and sharing them with others ( ).

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1.5. We cannot depend on environmental topics as a rich resource of
content ( ).

2. Complete:

2.1. Using computers authentically in daily life is a sort of ………


learning.
2.2. To enhance learners' critical thinking skills, teachers can
implement many approaches such as ………
2.3. Critical thinking activities can be assessed on the spot through the
teacher's ……….
2.4. The……… approach is linked to children's lives, interests and
motivation.
2.5. In order to be able to discuss controversial issues, EFL learners
need a worldwide ………

3. Choose the correct answer between brackets:

3.1. Children are taught to live in a (static- complicated- stable) world.


3.2. (Reflective- Objective- Direct) questions elicit the children's
ability to think.
3.3. Learners can find different alternatives through (discussion-
brainstorming- both discussion and brainstorming).
3.4. Having a comprehensive viewpoint requires understanding and
(familiarity- challenge- disagreement) with various different elements.
3.5. The maximum benefit of practicing critical thinking in an EFL
context is promoting (authentic- individual- accurate) language use.

4. Match the statements in columns A and B:

A B
1. Rich contexts for learning 1. as a result of raising arguments
2. Critical thinking practice and creating new comprises.
can 2. should formulate the base line
3. Thinking skills and for learning to support both
language skills learning and product.
4. Individual and 3. raise successful questions rather
collaborative contexts than give readymade answers.
5. Critical thinking enhances 4. enable learners to formulate
learners' decision making futuristic visions.
process 5. represent a main dimension of a
given critical action.

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Further Readings
Helping Students Learn Critical Thinking Skills: A Resource for Teachers
http://www.etsu.edu/criticalthinking/default.asp

Creative Thinking Strategy Websites


http://www.teachers.ash.org.au/researchskills/thinking.htm

Chatter, Clatter, and Things That Matter


http://chatterandclatter.blogspot.com/

Developing Critical Thinking through Cooperative Learning


http://www.ceeol.com/aspx/getdocument.aspx?logid=5&id=C753B42C-4EAE-4166-
83FE-45F01E8C7BE8

Developing critical thinking


http://info.emeraldinsight.com/learning/study_skills/critical_thinking.htm?
PHPSESSID=9g7jqo8fdtd8rcam32eup8u227&

Introduction to Critical Thinking


http://www.freeinquiry.com/critical-thinking.html

Critical Thinking & Problem Solving Skills


http://falcon.jmu.edu/~ramseyil/critical.htm

What is Critical Thinking?


http://www.criticalreading.com/critical_thinking.htm

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