Got Critical Thinking?

In the United States, 45 states have adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).  As yet, there are no "content standards" for History-Social Science regarding which events, topics or themes all American students should examine about the human condition.  Currently, there are only reading and writing standards for literacy in history.  With pages of itemized standards, the ultimate literacy goal is reasoning skills where students demonstrate clear understanding using logic and evidence.  Reasoning skills include decision-making and problem-solving. It's all about critical thinking.

But how can you think critically about something if you don't understand it?

The key to critical thinking is to tackle content...
complex and controversial content.

Common Core standards are a renewed commitment to critical thinking, newly defined as literacy. As always, we want an end product: clear writing that reflects deep understanding. But the process for critical thinking is not always clean & clear. And what are the criteria for deep understanding?

Our Bold Claim:
Content-based analytical tools are the missing link
and a new gateway to literacy

As outlined in our overviews of Four Worlds of History and Case Teaching & Analytical Tools, we have a different model -- a new paradigm -- for teaching and learning social sciences.  As students achieve better understanding of concepts and dynamics, they acquire the vocabulary and background knowledge they need to be better readers and writers -- better thinkers.  In the 4W model, complex content and basic literacy are merged as one authentic process. 

Students absorb greater detail through a better sense of the big picture

Karen West's 6th grade class of Developing Readers and Writers (DRW) were able to build their skills in expository reading and writing as part of increasing their understanding of history concepts and dynamics.  From the state test, Karen attributed her students’ gains in English Language Arts to her history teaching… because 4W focuses on active reading toward clear writing, allowing students to build vocabulary authentically—in context.  4W gives students a frame -- the structural support they never had before -- so they can naturally infer concepts, i.e. social science factors.  These factors of the human condition are found again and again, reinforcing learning and layering understanding. Students improve reading and writing through systematic support for content-rich critical thinking— e.g. inference, relationships, logic, significance and evaluation.

Martha Infante is a history teacher and GATE Coordinator at Los Angeles Academy Middle School in South Central LA.  Martha was part of the initial 4W Development Team in Summer 2009, and she recruited Jenn Manning, an LA Academy colleague who was teaching a 6th grade core, Language Arts and World History.  Martha and Jenn saw immediate results for all students to achieve depth and complexity.  In spring 2013, Martha reports that 4W "is being used to great success in LA Academy. Jenn Manning has the highest scores in the school and it is her first year teaching 7th grade.  She credits the 4W with the success of her students, both the lowest and highest in school being able to master the content so easily."