So children are so overwhelmed with information that they don't recognize lies. Critical thinking also tests teachers

People must learn to think critically to form opinions based on reliable sources. According to the strategy of the Ministry of Education, children should be guided by this already in primary school. This is why teachers at Hovorčovice u Prahy combine regular teaching with critical reading and writing lessons. Students are taught to distinguish emotionally colored statements from facts already in first grade.

The Ministry of Education already pointed out in 2016 that a significant part of the Czech population failed to receive information or distinguish unverified or alarmist messages from the truth. This was confirmed during the coronavirus pandemic. A massive wave of lies and misinformation has led many to succumb. Some actually even.

In 2020, when the pandemic broke out, critical thinking entered the strategic plan for the development of education. Some schools subsequently began incorporating it into their teaching. This includes the elementary school in Horkovice. The teachers here use a variety of methods that force students to look critically at the information presented. They hone their skills even in topics that have nothing to do with critical approach to master everything in the syllabus.

“Today we're going to look at climate zones,” says young teacher Lucy Dayoff as she begins the lesson for fifth graders. Instead of talking to students from the blackboard, she sits with them on a brightly colored rug in the corner of the classroom and engages in discussion. He invites them to tell what they already know about the topic. Most respond without hesitation, competing to see who knows more.

“They're places with different weather,” replies the blond boy in the yellow t-shirt. “That's true. The Czech Republic has a temperate climate,” says his classmate. They also have paper where they can record their thoughts and stick it on the board. At the end of the lesson, they can compare what knowledge they brought with them and what they left behind.

Sometimes the teacher deliberately gives texts to the fifth graders with a hint that everything they are reading is not true. “In such a case, we look at passages together that indicate it's an assumption or advertisement, not facts. I encourage the kids to check things and make sure they're not manipulated,” she explains. According to her, this leads to more caution. “At least if they see something higher in the text, they'll know to think about it,” he says.

Teachers at Hovorčovice combine regular teaching with critical reading and writing lessons. | Photo: Jakub Blihal

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If the students make mistakes, the teacher does not correct them. Instead, he asks them follow-up questions and guides them to the right answer. “There is no wrong answer, only one we can create,” he says during the discussion. “Or deny it if it's not right,” says one student. Lucy Tayef agrees. “It happens to us sometimes because of our ideas. We can accept it, but we don't have to,” he points out.

After the discussion, he divides the children into several groups. Each of them gets a section of text related to a type of climate. “I use the 'puzzle learning' method. It combines work with the written word and discussion,” explains the teacher. He uses a popular method of teaching critical thinking when he has to go through longer or more demanding reading with students.

Literacy is often low

Reading literacy levels related to critical thinking were tested last year by a Czech school inspector. Of the more than 41,000 first-graders, one-fifth failed the test outright. About a third managed to pass the exam with only the minimum required marks.

The situation is similar for the second class students. Of the nearly 22,000 students, one-third passed with borderline scores, putting most students in the group with the minimum required reading literacy.

Children should read their lesson section and write down the most important points from it so that they can share their knowledge with their classmates later. “Then they explain everything to each other and get an overview of the topic. They learn how to work with information at the same time and not get overwhelmed by it. In the age of the Internet, there are more people, new news and facts are constantly coming. If these are reliable claims, it is important to pick and differentiate them,” Says Dayaf.

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Teaching takes place in three phases. “First, they remember what they know. Then they read some text and compare the information obtained with others. Finally, they discuss with the teacher what they learned from it and what new things they learned,” the process describes. Deputy director of the school Barbora Kosinova. According to him, personal involvement in the subject is important for children. “Today when they come home and mom asks them what they did at school, they will have a lot to talk about,” she adds.

“We don't go through critical thinking exercises.”

In the Czech Republic, the hope was to help students in training critical thinking. That According to the 2018 Talis International Survey, only 0.7 percent of primary educators. Compared to other European counterparts, they are significantly behind. Young lecturers from Finland, the Netherlands or Austria have about a third of success in trying to lead children to skills such as critical thinking, but are less motivated to learn or motivate weaker students.

“The demands on us are really high. We have not learned critical thinking. So it is up to the teachers and the school management to continue education by giving due importance to talent, expanding our horizons,” says the awardee. Pavlína Loňková is a teacher at the Labyrinth School in Brno and editor of the blog Pančelčino .cz.

According to him, schools will need materials that focus directly on critical literacy. “They need to be available to schools, in the form of manuals or textbooks. That way, teachers don't have to do all the preparation on their own and 'on their knees',” he adds.

The school in Hovorčovice received materials from the We Help Schools Project to Succeed, helping lecturers with the academic program Reading and Writing for Critical Thinking. The latter offers teachers accredited courses in which they become familiar with specific techniques that can be used to teach children to be critical.

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“This skill is not given enough space in schools. However, it is a learned skill. We must always push ourselves to do it. Our nature tells us not to stray too far from the group, to agree rather than disagree. We want to. Act according to the group's expectations. Criticism Thinking moves away from this line,” explains Katerina Safrankova, lecturer at the Critical Thinking program.

Deficiencies in media literacy are reflected

Inadequate ability to work efficiently with reasoning and logic can represent a problem, especially with regard to media literacy. In 2018, the Czech School Inspectorate tested its level among pupils and students from 107 schools. Only 1 in 100 high school and middle school students do not pass ninth grade.

Recognizing the type of essay and describing the development of the medium is usually not a problem for students. The problem came when they were tasked with assessing the authenticity of texts. Less than a tenth made it.

Monika Kropakova, a lecturer and pedagogical consultant at Baška u Frýdek-Místek Primary School, agrees that schools should give more space to critical thinking. “Small schools often apply for courses. It depends on their management whether they give room for teachers to grow in this way. Unfortunately, educational institutions today put too much emphasis on performance, they want children to be the best. It is a shame to get results in high school admissions or to win competitions, because today a “A teacher cannot carry a chalk and a blackboard,” he points out.

At the end of the 64-hour course led by Kropakova, teachers can take on the role of a student. “Critical thinking is not only about methods and techniques, but also about creative thinking. The teacher should not dictate to students how to learn, but rather be a guide. That is why, after completing the theory, in our course teachers try to be in the shoes of someone who learned to think critically at school. “We analyze why we chose a particular activity in the lesson, what impact it had and whether the lesson met their expectations,” the guide adds.

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