Nurturing Critical Thinking

Hi! I’m Kelly Urlacher and I’m a curriculum designer for Dreambox Learning. I taught sixth grade for ten years prior to joining the Dreambox team. And in that time I learned several experience-based insights into helping students think. I’m a firm believer that kids are brilliant, but as teachers, we need to nurture their critical thinking.

 As children learning grow, they ask questions. Everyone has a child in their life that is constantly asking why. I joked that it was my nephew’s favorite word when he was four to six years old. Why? Why? Why? He knew that when he asked a question, he would be answered and then he could move on to another area of interest.

As a teacher, I was asked thousands of questions each week. As a new teacher, I answered all of them to the best of my knowledge. But later, as an experienced teacher, I stopped answering questions. I started asking them. What I found was that my students had to start thinking rather than relying on me to do the thinking for them. Sometimes my answer would be simple such as, “What did the question ask you to do?” And the student would read the question back to me. In my personal experience, about fifty percent of my students would realize their own answer while reading the original question aloud. Other times, my answer would be a rephrasing of what my student just asked. For example, I had one student that would ask if he was doing it right. I would ask him right back, “Do you think you’re doing it right? Why? What are you doing? Talk me through it.” He was forced to explain his thinking rather than just get affirmation from me. Through his explanation, I was able to easily see where he may need support in the future or if he understood the concept.

 Asking a question is an excellent way to answer. It gets kids to think, explore, and even inquire more. It isn’t just limited to questions as answers, but it is important to consider what you want kids to take away from that learning experience before you just answer the question for them. Do you want them to think on their own? Can you lead them to critical thinking? Are they truly learning anything with your answer? And, will they be able to apply this information elsewhere if you just tell them what to do? 

In our Dreambox lessons we ask kids to think critically. If they don’t have any idea what to do, they can click on help button which reiterates how the problem works without any academic hints. If they click on the hint button, we give them something to think about. The hint is not an answer or a partial answer. But it is an avenue to critically think about previous knowledge. This allows the students to build on what they already know to make sense of what they are learning.

Thank you for your interest in how Dreambox can help your children learn. You impact kids in amazing ways. The next time a student asks a question, try responding in a more challenging way by making them do the thinking. Have a great day.

Kelly Urlacher
Teacher & Curriculum Designer