Making Critical Thinking Visible

Brian kissmanThe fundamentals of Critical Thinking are a set of cognitive processes. You might ask, “What are cognitive processes?” Cognitive processes are the types of higher level thinking we do to make meaning. Often, we do them naturally without realizing or naming what we are doing!

Let’s explore how these types of critical thinking are applied to reading. It is natural that we think as we read, but when we are able to name our higher-level thinking with a common language and shared understandings, we are empowered to become intentional about developing and exercising our thinking skills as a habit of mind.

There are ten types of cognitive processes that New York Academy refers to as the ABCs of Critical Thinking. We use them to understand complex situations, generate solutions to problems, and nurture new insight.

These cognitive processes become even more powerful when we reflect upon how we have used them, aiming to self-evaluate and improve our cognitive processes. We refer to this as meta-cognition (thinking about thinking).

Meta-cognition involves three types of knowledge:

> knowledge of cognitive process
> knowledge of strategies and tasks (which cognitive process to apply to which problem or task)
> knowledge of self

At New York Academy, we model and exercise one to two types of cognitive processes with most every lesson across all grade levels and subjects. In time, our students know, understand, and apply these critical thinking skills as a habit of mind; they do it as simply as saying ABC.

The Ten Types of Cognitive Processes are:

1. Connect Background Knowledge

Make connections to what is being read with prior knowledge and personal experiences.

2. Generate Questions

Ask open-ended questions to propel reading forward. Ask why a character behaves or feels a certain way. Ask,“What are the implications of specific events or choices?”

3. Visualize

Form mental sensory and emotional images to make meaning and deepen understanding. Read, think, and create movies in the mind.

4. Make Inferences

Think about what is implied. Read between the lines and put two and two together. Make predictions and come to conclusions supported by evidence.

5. Gain Perspective and Empathy

See through the eyes of the character (perspective) and feel the character’s emotions (empathy). Walk in the shoes of the character.

6. Compare and Contrast

Identify and think about similarities and differences between people, places, objects, and events – within the text and between the text and the real world.

7. Identify Cause and Effect

Determine why an event happened and the impact it has on a character or situation. Think, “because this happened, that happened.”

8. Analyze and Synthesize

Understand by taking apart the constitution or structure of a person, place, object, or event (analyze). Understand by putting knowledge and ideas togetherto solve problems and create solutions (synthesize).

9. Determine Importance

Decide what ideas and details matter most to make meaning, to make decisions,and to solve problems.

10. Monitor Comprehension

Recognize when understanding breaks down. Ask questions and reread to make meaning and clarify understanding”

An example of what this might look like in the classroom for a reading lesson is
when the teacher reads a passage from a book and then pauses to think aloud and make their thinking visible:

“Hmmm. I think I know why Max is struggling. Something is happening at home.
I make this inference because he is most angry when he arrives to school every morning. But this inference has me generating a question, “What is it that is happening at home to make him so angry?” Students, what do you think?

Be a lifelong learner.

Think about and practice your critical thinking skills –Ten Types of Cognitive Processes.

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