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School Leaders Discuss New Initiatives

Critical Thinking Examined In-Depth

By Kate Rogers, Special to the Independent

PTA’s adult-education arm welcomed over 70 parents and educators last week for its inaugural meeting at the Aliso Creek Inn & Golf Course. There was a feeling of excitement and change in the air due to the new venue, and the speakers continued the theme.

Superintendent Sherine Smith and Asst. Supt. Nancy Hubbell announced that the Laguna district’s  Academic Performance Index (API) hit 904 this past year, where anything over 800 is considered excellent.  This represents a 7% increase over the past five years.

Administrators also described a move to adopt “Common Core Standards,” which are to be adopted nationwide by 2014. Described as the “four C’s,” these skills are:  critical thinking, collaboration, creativity and communication, where fewer areas are mastered in more depth and where a higher-order of active thinking is engaged.
Whether students move on to college, vocational schools or jobs, there is a 90% overlap of skills required, says a recent study by the American Diploma Project. This simplifies the goal of primary education and reinforces just how important it is to develop these skills.

Coffee Break Chair Cindy Newman-Jacobs introduced Dr. Enoch Hale, a fellow of the Foundation of Critical Thinking, and a longtime teacher and researcher. Hale works with teachers, educators and parents to help them understand the value of critical thinking and how they can foster it.  He defined critical thinking as the “art of analyzing and assessing thinking in order to improve it.”

Dr. Hale enlivened the topic with examples of how teachers can deepen the level of thinking in their classrooms in a refreshingly old-fashioned way: break into groups, select 10 significant ideas to analyze, vote to choose the top three, develop criteria by which your choices were made, and be prepared to present to the class at the end.

Dr. Hale confessed he knew how to get good grades without really learning. Too often we reward students for simply regurgitating the facts or opinions they have been fed, he said.

Teachers and students often complain there is “too much content to cover in too little time.”  They are focused on and often overwhelmed by compartmentalized information, said Hale, who emphasized that looking for a pattern that organizes seemingly random data is easier to grasp and use in problem-solving.
Critical thinking is “disciplined, self-guided thinking aimed at living a well-reasoned life,” Hale said. High school principal Joanne Culverhouse hopes to engage Hale to work with faculty.

Kate Rogers is a Laguna parent.

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