Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Review: The Basics of Critical Thinking

One of my favorite perks of homeschooling is being able to tailor the curriculum to suit my children's needs and address their weaknesses. For a long time, I have known that critical thinking skills were an area that I needed to focus on, so when the opportunity came along to review The Basics of Critical Thinking from The Critical Thinking Co. I was thrilled to receive the book and start in on it with Melissa and Kelly.

As you may remember from my past review of Math Analogies from The Critical Thinking Co., I thoroughly enjoy the emphasis this company places on teaching real life skills to children of all ages through a wide variety of curriculum choices.

About The Basics of Critical Thinking: This is a softcover 144 page book that introduces the student to all concepts of critical thinking through twenty lessons. Each colorful lesson is about 4-6 pages long, and first explains a concept, followed by a sample problem, and then several pages of student practice problems. There is an answer key in the back of the book that thoroughly explains the correct answer and how it came to be. Text is large print, nicely spaced, attractive, and easy to read.

Age Recommendations: Critical Thinking Co. lists this book for grades 4-9, which I think is a very accurate range. Children younger than that really do not have the mental capacity for the abstract thought processes and deduction/reasoning skills that are required for this book.  I also think that older students could benefit from this book if they have not yet had exposure to critical thinking skills or are struggling in that area.

Topics covered: The lessons do not need to be done in order. In fact, we skipped around and did a little from multiple lessons, just to mix it up a bit. After reading and learning the concept, the student can do one or more of the practice problems. Lessons focus on the following:

  • Decisions & conclusions
  • Beliefs & claims
  • Finding & evaluating evidence
  • Inferring & inferences
  • Facts & opinions
  • Facts, probable truths, & probably falsehoods
  • Venn diagrams
  • Logical connectives
  • Advertising
  • Agreements & contracts
  • Common errors in reasoning
  • Arguments, including valid and invalid arguments such as straw man or red herring
  • Fallacies
  • Analogies
There are also a few pages of teacher notes that explain what critical thinking is, why it is important, and some myths that people cling to regarding critical thinking.

How we used this:  Although the lessons are designed to be worked independently by the student, I decided to do these exercises together with Kelly (grade 5) and Melissa (grade 9). They would take turns filling out the page as we discussed the lesson. There was so much information that I really wanted to teach them and be sure that they were fully grasping the concepts. I would first go over the presentation of the concept, then we would read and discuss the sample problem before allowing them to take over and answer the questions on their own. It was interesting to see how quickly they grasped the material and were able to 'solve' the practice problems. 

Another interesting phenomenon occurred as we sat at the table and worked through this book. My two college kids migrated into the room and began enthusiastically participating in the lessons. They were thrilled to know that critical thinking skills were being addressed in our home school in such a fun way, because they have come to realize how important that is when attending college. They eagerly jumped into the animated discussion, and we really had a great time working through the pages of this book as a family. Every time we have worked on this book we get the same result - a fun time and kids who don't want to stop, begging for just one more page please!!

My opinion: I am hooked on this book, and am so glad that we have been able to use it. The kids really enjoyed the argument lesson that focused on straw man and red herring arguments, and have begun pointing those out in everyday discussions, asking whether a certain statement qualifies as one of these. I love that there is very little lecture time or wordiness, and that the students learn through the repetition of interesting activities. There is little writing. Really, there is absolutely nothing that a kid could complain about when completing these lessons. The entire time they are working, they are learning. I liked this book so much that I am planning on purchasing the next level, Practical Critical Thinking,  to work on once we finish this book.

The Kids' Favorite: The girls enjoyed working on "Finding Evidence" the most, because it involved solving mysteries. A problem was presented, then four choices were given as possible solutions. By evaluating evidence, a reasonable solution was found. Here is an example of one of those pages, where they figured out which suspect was the thief.

  They also really liked the colorful Venn Diagrams, even though they found them to be pretty easy.

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