Critical Thinking: Internet Resources

After reading our post on Critical Thinking and Science, you may wish to review some additional resources.  Here are just a few from around the web —

Indiana University Clearinghouse on Reading, English, and Communication
This site, formerly called ERIC, at the University of Indiana has many informative documents you can download, some of which are about critical thinking.
Documents on Critical Thinking

The Foundation for Critical Thinking
“Critical thinking is the art of analyzing and evaluating thinking with a view to improving it.”  The link I selected here provides portals for teachers, students, business people, and… homeschoolers.  They have a tremendous (overwhelming) wealth of information on this site, and they also offer products to augment your curriculum.  Stop by and check it out, you’ll see what I mean.

Critical Thinking across the Curriculum Project, Metropolitan Community College – Longview
Site includes a history of logic, a discussion of the purpose of studying critical thinking, and a review of the language and vocabulary of logic, with resources for printing.

Critical Thinking, What it is and Why it Counts
This report by Peter Facione of Santa Clara University attempts to develop a concise definition of “Critical Thinking.” Discusses analysis, inference, explanation, evaluation, self-regulation, and interpretation.

How to Critically Analyze Information
Cornell University Library, Reference Services Division publishes this overview of how to critically analyze information sources.

What Is Critical Thinking?
This page is a concise summary of critical thinking, with other pages on grammar, ways to read, inference, choices, and critical reading.

The Critical Thinking Company
Formerly Critical Thinking Press.  Their core curriculum, including the Building Thinking Skills series, is phenomenal.  Check it out!

Strategies for Critical Thinking in Learning
Sections on:

  • Thinking critically I
  • Thinking critically II 
  • Thinking creatively
  • Thinking like a genius I
  • Radical thinking
  • Reading critically

Have you employed a Critical Thinking curriculum in your homeschool?  Leave a comment and let us know what you used!

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Perfectionism

A bright child is truly a gift from God, however, the characteristics of a gifted child are not always pleasant and one of the more unpleasant ones is perfectionism. This is the trait that forces your little Mike to correct everyone. This is the characteristic that may cause Mary to copy an assignment over and over until it is “right”. Another perfectionist may not try to write a creative story, saying “I don’t know what to write.” or simply “I can’t”.

Children who never attempt something for fear of failure are perfectionists, too. This is the essence of perfectionism — trying to get the world, or a piece of it, to conform to a picture of the “way it should be”.  A perfectionist individual will try to correct a problem whether it means writing a paper over one more time, correcting Mom’s memory of an event, or refusing to write a story if he is doomed to failure anyway. These look like very unpleasant characteristics.

However, perfectionism in a healthy adult who has learned to deal with the trait looks very different. This perfectionist is able to accept mistakes especially when he can learn from them, is able to be a good sport, is able to forgive and to be forgiven, and, most especially— is able to accomplish great things because of his (or her) persistence and desire to “get things right”.  Add a sense of fairplay and justice, and this person can accomplish wonderful things. The trick for parents is to train the child to that point, so let us go back to the more unpleasant aspects of perfectionism.

What about the child who constantly corrects others? While most adults know that you don’t win friends by correcting them, a child will have to be taught this. Parents should analyze the cause. Does the child simply want to set the record straight, or is he deliberately trying to be obnoxious? Although it can seem like the latter, the gifted child is not doing this for fun, or because of a heart attitude, but because he feels that he must. At times this sense of rightness is so strong that the child may take years to learn the simple concept of dealing with people, and may have social problems because of it. The child has a sense of rightness, not a sense of self-righteousness.  Perfectionism is normal for a gifted child.  Perfectionism, with training and tempering, can become a great characteristic in an adult.

What about arguing to prove a point? This problem also starts in perfectionism, as it is normal for the child who corrects people constantly to also be an arguer. A mom may find herself arguing with a five-year-old over something unbelievably inconsequential. As before, this may take a long time to deal with, but the rewards are great. I suggest two things: first, determine the true cause, and then secondly, work out a method, or a ritual, for getting the child to stop and think about his actions.  One ritual might be to silently, hold up a hand, palm outward, in the universal “stop” sign. After you teach him that this means to be silent, you can then shoo him on to another topic or action.   (All done silently). The ritual also helps the mom to distance herself from the argument.

What about dealing with a mistake? Two characteristics of all people, including gifted children, are the fears of making a mistake and admitting a mistake. For a perfectionist to say, “I am sorry”, he must admit having made a mistake, a difficult thing. We have all met adults with whom relationships are difficult because of this attitude problem. So, the gifted child must learn how to make mistakes, that all humans do, and that he must go on with the job. For a child, this means learning to accept not-quite perfect papers, but for an adult, it means being able to apologize, being able to forgive himself, and being able to accept forgiveness from others, even God.  This, too, can be trained.

What about refusing to do an assignment? This young perfectionist has a totally different problem: being willing to give up in the face of non-perfection. This child needs understanding and to be taught how to do a reasonably good job, not perfect but good. An assignment broken into many smaller parts is easier to contemplate. He may need help organizing himself, his work, or his time. He may need someone to take a dictated story.  Many very young gifted children can imagine a great story, but cannot write well enough or fast enough to get it on paper. Give these children a little help because they need to be trained not to give up and that is more important than one paper.   This training must be done one step at a time.

On the other hand, what about the parents?   Is Mom or Dad a perfectionist?  Does she make the children do every math problem on every page until perfect?  Does she make the children rewrite everything?   Does Dad expect perfect work, chores done without reminders, and the food on the table at 5:30 sharp?   If so, lighten up!  It is time to expect a good job, not perfection.  It is time to allow mistakes— time to teach forgiveness.   After all, we are all very human.  You really can skip a chapter or some problems.   You should move on if your child understands the material, especially if he has already mastered it.

Perfectionism is a common characteristic of gifted people, but living with it can be very frustrating. Train your children to accept failures, learn from mistakes, to be good sports, and how to tackle difficult assignments. Above all, teach them to accept their own humanity and others’ imperfections, and to ask for and accept forgiveness.

Leave a comment about your strategies for working with your perfectionist child!

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How Gifted Kids Learn to Read

By Deborah L. Ruf, Ph.D.

One of my doctoral studies’ advisors specialized in how people learn to read. I paid little attention to that research at the time, and by the early 1990’s, my own understanding was still mostly anecdotal or from my own experiences. I had some personal family stories, taught school in a very intellectually diverse community, seen differences between generations and when they started to read, and watched my own three children’s learning paths.

When I was a little girl in the 1950’s, my mother read Dr. Spock’s baby book and anything else she could get her hands on to make sure she was doing all the “right things.” Parents were told not to push their children. This meant that many in my generation were not encouraged to read before starting school. “Don’t interfere with what the trained educators will teach your children,” our parents were told. So, I started school not knowing how to read, although I certainly knew how to sight read many signs, logos, record labels and book titles because I’d memorized their associations, e.g. we stop at the “stop” sign. When I started school, my mother was alarmed that I wasn’t learning to read. She made flash cards and taught me phonics. I remember the hardest word in the stack of flashcards for me was “baby.” How do you phonetically sound out “baby”? I kept saying “baa-bye,” which rhymes with rabbi. My mother was a yeller. This was not a good experience.

Then one day when I was about 7 years old, I simply started to read. The first book I read was Lassie Come Home by Erik Knight. One day I couldn’t read … and the next day I could literally read and understand anything. I see this with my client children all the time except that it usually happens when they are younger than I was. My own children’s father grew up a 1,000 miles away from me, but he experienced much the same reading delay as I had. He got very ill when he was in second grade—still not a reader—and the school sent a tutor to his home to work with him while he was recuperating. Same thing happened; he went from not reading to reading anything – in one day. What happened?
My mother, on the other hand, born in 1927, came from a generation that got to do what they were ready to do whenever that time arose. Grade skipping was common. If a child was ahead of age-mates, she got moved up a grade level or two to learn with older students. My mother was the fourth child in her family. One summer morning when she was four years old, she walked to the public library and wanted to take some books home. The librarian told her she needed a library card. “How do you get a library card?” she asked. “You have to know how to read,” came the answer. Mom ran home, confronted an older brother, and told him she needed to learn to read “right now!” She went back for her library card—and some books to bring home—that afternoon.

I currently tell parent clients that gifted kids learn to read after they develop their vocabularies and learn to know what should come next in a sentence. The brighter the children, the earlier they start absorbing verbal—language—information from their surroundings. Phonics is a useful tool later, but teaching smart children to read with phonics is very confusing to most of them and sometimes slows them down. Phonics works to teach “decoding” skills, but a child who knows how to decode still may not understand what he reads. Most really bright children appear to start reading almost spontaneously. Most parents of such children report that they aren’t sure how their children learned to read.
Bright kids learn to read when they are exposed to how the printed word gives information or tells a story. There are studies showing that the parents of poor children use fewer words with their children, read to them less, and have fewer books in their homes than do typical parents from higher socioeconomic status groups and even some specific racial and ethnic groups. But the big question is this: is it equally effective for all children—regardless of the intellectual abilities and overall interests that the children individually possess— for parents, teachers, and other adults to talk and read to them more? Our public school policy is largely driven by the assumption that all children learn to read the same way and with the same tools and approach. Will providing the same level of vocabulary, conversation, books in the home, and parents who read to them turn the vast majority of American children into capable, high-level readers? Right now the adult literacy rate in the United States is only about 86%. But even that number is misleading because regular reading for information or pleasure is done by only a very small percentage of our population.

It is precisely these questions that makes typical public school classes so problematic for so many gifted children and their parents. For example, research by McCoach & Reis at the University of Connecticut shows that gifted children learn more over the summer than during the school year. Although some interpret this as proof bright children come from stimulating rather than impoverished homes, I propose it is more often due to these smart children finally being freed to read and learn what they are ready to learn—at their own pace and in their own time. The No Child Left Behind school day is set for the majority of learners, not the brightest ones who are still required to be there with others their age who learn much differently and more slowly.

Studies consistently show that the brighter the child, the earlier in their lives they start to absorb vocabulary, normal sentence structure, and the nuances of language in general. When Sesame Street first aired, the goal was to give children in poverty the same early start as their higher socioeconomic counterparts. This is one reason I ask new clients when it was that their children started to pay attention to television, movies, and videos. How early in their lives did they begin to absorb language and verbal skills from their environment? The Sesame Street study uncovered the fact that there appears to be a difference not in how much parents from different socioeconomic groups use TV as a babysitter, but in what the preferred TV programs were for children from each group. Brighter children have an earlier ability to attend—pay attention to—educational programming than do less intelligent children regardless of whether they live in poverty or affluence. Gifted children start learning sooner than other children. They start school “better prepared” because their intellectual profile allows them to absorb sooner and more intensely from whatever environment they are in. Please note that the excellent article linked here—like most educational policy examinations—does not adequately address how intellectual level and profile affects readiness.

Because most children have no options except to attend public schools, it is imperative that those schools instruct all children appropriately–taking their abilities and readiness into account–if they are to learn. It is not true that “by third grade (or fourth grade) we can’t even tell who the early readers were.” It is an unacceptable excuse for keeping all children of the same age in the same classes for instruction. I’ll talk about the topic of gifted children and reading much more in future blogs.

This article has been reprinted with permission from the author.  She says this about her website:  “I founded Educational Options to provide accurate information regarding intelligence, what it is, where it comes from, and how our family, school, relationship and workplace environments either nurture or stifle its expression. When someone is highly intelligent – different from the majority in thoughts, expression, and interest – the wrong environment can lead to confusion, sadness, and underachievement. My continuing purpose is to open the eyes and awareness of adults in ways that will benefit them and the children under their care.”

Check out Dr. Ruf’s latest project at http://www.talentigniter.com/, especially the page on Ruf Estimates of Levels of Gifted Assessments.

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