Posts for November 2011

Thoughtful Learning Blog

The Thoughtful Learning blog features articles about English language arts, 21st century skills, and social-emotional learning. Insights come from the teachers, writers, and developers at Thoughtful Learning, who have been creating top-notch instructional materials for more than 40 years.

I knelt beside my sons’ toy closet, hauling out a strange menagerie of action figures. Here was a headless Tauntaun from Star Wars. There was the Smog Monster from Godzilla. How about the empty robe of a Nazgul from Lord of the Rings, or the Pokemon that kids call Gyarados but that most adults couldn’t name—let alone describe?

“What are you doing with all those old toys, Dad?” asked my youngest son.

“Teaching descriptive writing,” I replied cryptically.

Twenty-four hours later, I arrived in Chicago at the Annual Convention of the National Council of Teachers of English, towing that huge suitcase full of weird action figures. I met PBL teacher Cindy Smith there, and the two of us presented “Using Inquiry Projects to Teach Language Arts.”

Cindy and I have collaborated over three years in her project-based-learning classroom, and we’d come to the NCTE convention to share eight of our projects and inquiry experiences.

Despite the lateness of the hour (last session on Saturday) and the location (it was on a half floor that most of the elevators didn’t stop at), we had 30 or 40 educators at the session, and we dived right in.

Which is more important for today’s students, critical thinking or creative thinking? It’s a trick question. I may as well ask which is more important, breathing out or breathing in? “Whichever one I need to do right now” is one good answer to this last question. Another is “Neither—since I need both to stay alive.” It’s the same with critical and creative thinking.

The Thought Exchange

Creative and critical thinking are two halves of a cycle: inspiration and expiration.

  • Creative thinking draws in possibilities. It is an expansive process, filling you with new ideas from the outside. Creativity reaches beyond what is known and into the unknown . . . to discover something new. Creativity is not necessarily discerning. You don’t separate the nitrogen from the oxygen in the air before you breathe it in. Your chest simply expands, and in it comes. Creative thinking can be exhilarating, flooding you with new possibilities.
  • Critical thinking, on the other hand, sorts through the possibilities to do something practical. Critical thinking analyzes, applies, and evaluates. It categorizes, compares, contrasts, and traces causes and effects. It’s like separating the oxygen out of the air you breathe in, in order to enrich your cells, or extracting the carbon dioxide from your blood, in order to exhale it. Critical thinking takes what creative thinking has amassed and sorts it, keeping the best and discarding the worst.