“If I use the ACE curriculum, will my children be learning the important critical thinking skills I keep reading and hearing about?” Maybe you’ve wondered the same thing or heard critics knock the PACES as only teaching the lowest levels of knowledge.
In short, the answer is Yes and No.
NO CURRICULUM on the market can teach critical thinking skills. Hear me out on this one. I want to help you as a parent understand what is meant by “higher levels of thinking,” why that is important for your child, and how you can teach thinking skills to your child. The bottom line is that the ACE curriculum is a great resource in that process! Let me explain critical thinking skills for you.
What is Bloom’s Taxonomy?
In the early 1950’s Benjamin Bloom was teaching teachers about how students learn. He organized different types of thinking into categories and ranked them in an order (taxonomy) from simple knowledge to understanding and application, with even higher (or more complex) types of thinking such as “analysis”, “evaluation”, and “synthesis” at the top of a pyramid. This became known as “Bloom’s Taxonomy.”
Entire college books and courses have been written on this topic and define these terms, as have numerous articles and blog posts, but I will share a brief summary of each term, so we are on the same page.
- Knowledge – remembering, memorizing, recalling, recognizing facts and content
- Understanding – interpreting, translating, explaining in one’s own words, giving new examples
- Application – applying or using information to arrive at a solution to a problem
- Analysis – finding underlying organization, bias, purpose, implications; compare and contrast, organize and categorize
- Synthesis/Creativity – creatively combining elements to produce new and unique whole; design, construct, build, plan
- Evaluation – making value judgments about issues and defending one’s own conclusions; determine fact versus opinion; critiquing others’ writings and opinions
Critical Thinking versus Wisdom
Bloom and his secular education colleagues thought they were being very creative in coming up with these categories, but I submit to you that a study of the book of Proverbs is replete with the Biblical terms for these concepts – knowledge, understanding, discretion (discernment), and especially wisdom. The glaring difference is that God’s “higher critical thinking and living skills” are based on “the fear of the Lord” which is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10, 2:5).
By contrast, the world’s emphasis with Critical Thinking Skills is to elevate humanism, reasoning, and science and undermine religion and any belief in absolute truths as found in the Bible. Their emphasis on critical thinking becomes a Trojan Horse that they will use in secular high school and college to destroy your child’s faith.
One of the best things the PACES do is lay a strong foundation of TRUTH – explaining the history and science from a Biblical viewpoint, accepting the literal account of creation in Genesis followed by the Noahic flood and the tower of Babel. American History does not overlook the contributions of our God-fearing founding fathers. The best way to identify counterfeit currency is to become an expert in handling “the real thing.” Similarly, the best thing we can do to prepare our students to apply critical thinking as adults is to be well grounded in Truth. If one of the goals of higher levels of thinking is to detect falsehoods, opinions, and underlying bias, then we must help our students learn to view the world from God’s perspective and make decisions accordingly. That is WISDOM. Thank God for a K-12 curriculum that consistently teaches every subject from a Biblical perspective!
However, it is a worthy goal to have our children learn to “think” and not just become mindless robots spouting out material they’ve memorized but do not understand. I think we should strive to have our students be wise thinkers.
Here are a few observations about thinking
- Most learning at the elementary level is KNOWLEDGE. There are many new vocabulary words, history events, parts of speech, math facts, etc. Do not be afraid of memorization and drill! Students who commit to memory important definitions, rules, and multiplication facts will be able to apply them much easier when required to solve problems.
- Strive to help your child move from rote memorization to understanding. Don’t accept cramming and filling in blanks, without probing to find out if they know what it’s all about. Ask questions while helping them study for tests to gauge their understanding.
- The higher levels of evaluation, synthesis, and analysis will be developed better in the teen years when abstract thinking kicks in.
- Here is a main point I want to make – a written curriculum can NOT teach thinking. The MAIN way that thinking skills are developed is with questions being asked, evaluated, and followed up by a live teacher/parent. Let me repeat that for emphasis – students learn to think by answering questions from a live teacher, not filling in blanks. There are some limited types of higher level thinking that the PACES can do on their own – and I believe they do a decent job trying to include them, especially in the 8th-12th levels.
How the PACES incorporate and develop higher levels of thinking:
1. Supervisor Initial strips – every time there is a place for the teacher or parent to initial an assignment, that probably indicates that the student has had to “think” and the answer must be evaluated by the supervisor. Use these as opportunities to discuss the student’s conclusion, choice of wording, and lines of reasoning. Also be sure those checks come right after the student completes the assignment, not days or weeks later.
2. Answers may vary in the score key. Many assignments in the upper grades require students to have the teacher read their responses at the scoring table and evaluate if they are correct. This is an indication that higher levels of thinking were required to complete the assignment, not just rote memory.
3. Some questions ask students to choose “the best answer” in a multiple choice section, which requires some analysis and evaluation. Sometimes students are required to change “false” statement to make them true, which demonstrates their understanding.
4. The literature and creative writing courses at the elementary level allow students to express themselves, use analysis to find elements of the story and plot, and synthesis to write summaries and creative compositions.
5. Inserts in the Word Building 7th level have puzzles and brain teasers which develop higher levels of thinking.
6. In World Geography students are taught to read and interpret maps, which requires higher order thinking skills.
7. The 10th grade Geometry puts a heavy emphasis on developing logical proofs, not making assumptions, and defending assertions with reasons.
8. Science projects in the elementary PACES and science labs in the upper levels require students to draw conclusions and inferences from observations, which utilizes higher level thinking.
9. Obviously, solving math problems, and especially story problems, requires students to apply knowledge and understanding to new situations.
10. In the high school English PACES, there are assignments to construct outlines, put items in a correct or logical sequence, write compare-contrast essays, and research topics and write summary essays. All of these utilize and develop higher order thinking skills.
11. The Word Building, Etymology, and English PACES all have activities requiring students to write original sentences using new vocabulary words correctly. Students often are ignorant of connotations or shades of meaning with words. They might use a word that technically fits the definition given but it is not “how we use that word.” Take time to explain those subtleties of our language and thereby expand their vocabulary. A healthy vocabulary helps students understanding meaning in what they read.
Tips for Promoting Higher Thinking in the PACES
1. Insist on Mastery – don’t accept lower than 90% in the elementary and 80% or even 85% with high school PACE tests. Students must master the content in each PACE before moving on.
2. Don’t skip writing assignments, “Think!” questions, and open ended questions. You may need to have a discussion before your child completes the activity.
3. Don’t ignore the Supervisor Initial strips and “Answers may vary” sections when scoring – capitalize on those right away to open discussion with your student.
4. Make sure your child is doing the best job possible when writing creative sentences for Word Building, or compositions in English. Don’t let him get by with hastily constructed dull sentences – push for creative and more descriptive writing.
5. At check-ups and Self-Tests, quiz your child and probe for understanding. Don’t settle for lazy responses like, “I know the word starts with an M and I’ll recognize it when I see it!”
6. Go over wrong answers on the tests with your child to find out why they missed them and help them learn the correct answers.
7. In math, have students “show their work” and how they got the answer. Don’t accept “I just know it!” They need to be able to set up equations and follow steps to solve.
8. Encourage students to “challenge” the scorekey when grading their PACE or on their PACE tests. If they believe their answer is right, and it varies from the key, hear them out and let them defend their answer. You’ll either end up agreeing with them, or helping them learn why they were wrong. Either way they have had to use higher levels of thinking and should not just be “shut down” with “but the score key says . . . “ With some senior high English assignments, I’ve agreed with students over the scorekey because they were able to give me a strong defense and the point of the assignment was not a major concept. One of those girls went on to become a gifted writer!
I have a separate article about how to supplement the PACES to go further with teaching Thinking Skills outside of the PACES. It would make this article way too long!
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