How Critical Thinking Promotes Excellence in ECE

If you have ever watched a master teacher at work, you may have wondered how they reached such a high level of excellence in their work with children. You may have reflected on ways to enhance your own practice or compared your experience to theirs. Do master teachers have more years of experience? Higher levels of education? More resources? Natural gifts?

Honestly, the answer may be some, none, or all of the above. One common thread that is evident in the work of master teachers is the use of critical thinking within their practice. Critical thinking encompasses a number of different skills that one uses to gain, evaluate, use, and communicate knowledge.

We can clarify what critical thinking is by examining what it is not; emotional thinking. Have you ever been in a situation where you were experiencing such strong emotions that you were unable to think clearly or make an informed decision? Critical thinking is also not memorization or rote learning.

The illustration shown here, created by Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching, shows Bloom’s Taxonomy. In his work, Bloom organized different kinds of thinking into categories. Notice that thinking skills become more complex as you work your way up the pyramid.

The skills above the Remember level are sometimes referred to as higher order thinking skills. In addition to practicing these skills, critical thinkers remain open-minded, observe, reflect, consider different perspectives, and ask questions in their pursuit of the best possible solutions to everyday scenarios.

Critical thinking skills help teachers analyze all types of classroom situations in order to make appropriate decisions about how to respond to a child, approach a parent, organize the environment, and introduce new materials. Being able to think critically will allow you to use all of the knowledge you have acquired in your career in ways that benefit children, families, and coworkers.

Work to not only use critical thinking skills, but to promote them with children as well. Some teachers find it helpful to have a list of Bloom’s Taxonomy in front of them when they plan lessons. This allows teachers to incorporate higher order thinking skills into lesson objectives.

For example, a lesson that asks children to repeat the numbers from one to five (remember), might be changed to children will use five blocks to build a tower (apply). A lesson that asks a child to identify the main idea of a story (understand), might be changed to relate the story to a moment in their own lives (analyze).

Of course, we must consider what is developmentally appropriate when planning lessons and creating critical thinking objectives for children. Take a look at the Infants & Toddlers, Preschoolers, and School-Agers categories found in the September newsletter here to get some ideas for how to promote critical thinking in meaningful ways for children of different ages.