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Mentor Program

Eight 3-day Workshops Over A Three Year Period


The aim of the Critical Thinking Mentor Program is to establish a cadre of teachers competent to teach other teachers the art of fostering critical thinking in instruction. Its success depends on a number of variables. One develops as a critical thinker in a way similar to the way in which one learns to perform well in basketball, ballet, or on the piano. First of all, one must understand the basic principles. Secondly, one must regularly engage in self-monitored, self-evaluative practice — putting the principles to work in instructional design — progressively up-grading one's understanding and skill thereby.

Teachers in the program come to recognize explicitly that critical thinking is not just one of many divergent educational aims, but is rather a way of teaching and learning at a high level of effectiveness. They learn to use all other reform trends as a support for a high level of thinking in both the teaching and learning process. Commitment to critical thinking affects how one thinks through the design of instruction and how one thinks through the content one is learning. In short, mentor teachers, over time, come to recognize that teaching in a critical manner is essential for:

    • skilled reading, writing, speaking, and listening
    • skilled reasoning within all subject areas
    • skilled decision-making and problem-solving
    • skilled analysis and evaluation of one's emotions and values
    • intelligent choices in human relationships; skilled parenting of children
    • skilled civic and personal choices, etc

Critical Thinking is the Main Instrument for the Teaching of Content

The heart and soul of all educational programs is the teaching and learning of content. The quality of thinking is the key to the success of this substantive end: the thinking of the students in internalizing the content and the thinking of teachers in making the internalization effective. At present many students fail to learn the content or forget what they learn in a relatively short time. Students typically do not know how to do the thinking that makes content a permanent acquisition. Most teachers do not know how to facilitate that permanent acquisition. Critical thinking is the missing piece. It provides the tools students need. It provides the tools teachers need. All other ideas for the improvement of education, all trends and reform nostrums, must feed into and support this substantive key: the quality of thinking of students and teachers.

Content-Driven and Question-Driven Instruction

Teachers in the mentor program learn how to design content-driven instruction; that is, how to take what students are expected to know and be able to design and do instruction that empowers students to think their way to this knowledge and ability. They learn how to make every class day question-driven, and how to layer a variety of content standards into a unified unit of instruction.

The First Workshop

What One Must Know and Be Able to Do
To Teach Teachers How To Foster Critical Thinking
In Their Instruction (A Comprehensive View)

The goal of this workshop would be to help teachers form a comprehensive and realistic self-assessment as to the various dimensions of the task before them — becoming mentors in critical thinking. The aim would be to review each dimension of critical thinking with the cadre in such a way that they could assess themselves accurately as to their level of knowledge and skill. In other words, we want lead teachers to begin, at the outset, with a clear understanding of what they do and do not know about critical thinking, what skills they have (and at what level) and what skills they have yet to acquire. For example, at what skill level are they at with respect to analyzing thinking into its elemental parts, evaluating thinking along a variety of parameters, Socratic Teaching, etc? And at what knowledge level are they at with respect to classroom examples for each of these parameters?

In this first workshop, in other words, I would spell out and model briefly what the teachers must learn and be able to do to be successful as a mentor in critical thinking. For example, we would look briefly at what constitutes a reasonable entry-level understanding of the elements of thought, clarify common misunderstandings, and discuss the difference between entry-level and more advanced levels of understanding of the elements. The teachers, by the end of the three days, would be relatively articulate about what they know well about critical thinking and what they do not know, what they are presently able to do and what they need more practice to be able to do. They would be comfortable explaining where they are at an "entry-level understanding.
Again, there would be an emphasis on giving feedback, as well as on answering questions that teachers might raise.
In summary, if we can begin the mentor program with sound self-knowledge and true intellectual humility, we will have a plausible foundation upon which to build.

The Second Workshop

Teaching the Foundations of Critical Thinking
To Other Teachers (The Art of Mentoring Initially Modeled and Practiced)

The workshop would follow-up on the first. In the interim there would be a period of time of in-class experimentation (on the basis of what was clarified during the first workshop). Here I would model teaching the foundations to others. Then the teachers would practice teaching the foundations to each other (with an observer who comments on perceived strengths and weaknesses in the presentation).

The Third Workshop

How to Teach Socratic Teaching to Other Teachers

Like the previous two workshops, there would be a continued emphasis on assessing the level of one's present understanding (focusing on intellectual humility and intellectual perseverance). There would also be an emphasis on practice Socratic Teaching with feedback (including modeling how to answer questions that teachers might raise).

The Fourth Workshop

How to Teach Intellectual Criteria & Standards to Other Teachers

One of the most important set of concepts essential to effective fostering of critical thinking is that of intellectual standards. Teachers must be able to apply those criteria to their own thinking as well as to the thinking of the students. They must also be skilled in explaining the nature and significance of these standards to students. They must be able to do this in general and with application to specific content and specific grade level students. In this workshop there would also be an emphasis on practice teaching of teachers (in this case, of intellectual standards). Again, there would be an emphasis on giving feedback, as well as on answering questions that teachers might raise.

The Fifth Workshop

How to Teach Teachers To Effectively Assess
Educational Mission, Curricula, Textbooks, Testing Modes,
Coverage, Student Reasoning, and Teaching Strategies

One of the most important practices essential to effective fostering of critical thinking is that of assessment. Teachers must be able to apply and assess a variety of variables in education (including, but not limited to: mission, curricula, textbooks, testing modes, coverage, student reasoning, and teaching strategies). In this workshop we would focus on how to teach important dimensions of educational assessment to peers, using a critical thinking approach. There would again be an emphasis on practice teaching (in this case of assessment strategies). Again, there would be an emphasis on giving feedback, as well as on answering questions that teachers might raise.

The Sixth Workshop

How to Teach Teachers To Design
Student Self- and Peer-Assessment into Instruction

One of the most essential defining characteristics of critical thinking is that it is thinking that assesses itself. It is self-corrective in nature and intention. Teaching students to become life-long learners, therefore, requires that students learn how to assess and upgrade their own work. To do this they must regularly practice assessing their own work under the direction of teachers. But teachers are not, by and large, used to emphasizing student self-assessment using intellectual standards (focused on the quality of student thinking). In this workshop, the aim would be practice teaching and practice coaching in helping fellow teachers to integrate student self-assessment into daily class work. Again, there would be an emphasis on giving feedback, as well as on answering questions that teachers might raise.

The Seventh Workshop

How to Teach Teachers
To Foster Essential Intellectual Traits in Their Students

Critical thinking is not to be understood simply in terms of intellectual skills. It also requires dispositions, or, if you will, intellectual traits. This workshop would focus on teaching teachers what intellectual traits are, why they are essential to critical thinking, and how to go about fostering them in the classroom while teaching specific subject matter at specific grade levels to specific students. Again, there would be an emphasis on giving feedback, as well as on answering questions that teachers might raise.

The Eighth Workshop

How to Teach Teachers
To Deal Effectively With the Emotional Lives of Students

Our minds do more than think. They also feel and want. The emotional dimension of our life is an essential ingredient in how and why we think as we do. Our thinking, in turn, significantly shapes our emotions and desires. It is not possible to design effective instruction that ignores the emotional responses of the students. Student emotions are crucial to student learning. In this workshop we would focus on how mentor teachers can help other teachers to deal effectively with the emotional lives of students. Again, there would be an emphasis on giving feedback, as well as on answering questions that teachers might raise.

Time and Costs

We suggest that districts schedule three workshops a year for three years. Each workshop would be three days in duration. Each would involve specific commitments for the following semester. Each, after the first, would begin with an assessment of the success of the work of the previous semester. The emphasis of all would be on long-term development and incremental improvements focused on the goal of total alignment of educational goals and practices. The third day of each workshop focuses exclusively on teacher practice sessions with feedback from me.

The cost of each workshop are 10% below our usual rates for each three-day workshop if all 24 days are contracted at one time.


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