What have been termed "the four C's" — critical thinking, collaboration, communication and creativity — are increasingly important skills for all students. Teaching these skills effectively in the classroom has been a topic of discussion among educators for years.
More recently, the discussion has included teaching these skills effectively to English learners, who, while learning the content being presented along with these important skills, also have the challenge of learning English. In this series, we will explore teaching the four C's to English learners, examining areas of difficulty as well as instructional techniques to help incorporate these skills into instruction and learning.
Critical thinking and problem solving
The skills of critical thinking and problem solving include using knowledge, facts and data to solve problems. When applying critical thinking and problem solving, students must be able to make appropriate decisions and judgments using what they have learned or read, use inductive and deductive reasoning as appropriate to the situation, and analyze complex systems and determine how parts of a whole interact with each other.
The ability to think critically is not dictated by an ability to speak any given language. While this statement is obvious, teaching students to think critically and articulate their thoughts in a language they do not speak well is a challenge.
Most educators understand the importance of incorporating higher-order thinking skills, or HOTS, into their instruction. Yet an analysis of lesson observations often show that HOTS are not incorporated into instruction often.
Besides developing higher-order thinking and problem-solving questions and activities, teachers must consider the language that will need to be explicitly taught and shared so that English learners can be successful on the task.
It is clear that comprehension questions are important, as we need to check for understanding while teaching. These questions are easily thought up and asked during the course of instruction, and many teachers plan interesting and engaging questions as part of their checks for understanding.
Many teachers are aware that some adjustments to questions may need to be made based on the proficiency levels of the students they are working with. In order to incorporate higher-order thinking questions and activities, preplanning is essential.
Think back to one week's worth of lessons you have recently taught or observed. How often were critical thinking and problem-solving skills incorporated into the lessons? What were the linguistic demands of the questions or activities? What scaffolds were needed in order for your English learners to be successful?
Higher-order thinking skills and lesson objectives
Building lesson objectives into instruction has become increasingly common over the past several years. In addition to sharing learning objectives related to the content, teachers working with English learners also incorporate communication or language objectives.
Communication objectives include how the students will be practicing and developing academic language skills. These objectives may include developing students' recognition and use of general academic and domain-specific vocabulary, specific reading and writing skills, clarifying complex grammatical structures, and more. When planning to increase critical thinking and problem solving, these skills can and should be built into the lesson objectives to make students aware of the purpose of the lesson.
Original article by: Erick Herrmann The 4 C’s of 21st century learning for ELLs: Critical thinking