Reading, Writing, Arithmetic – and ‘Oracy’ and Critical Thinking
While the 3 R’s – reading, writing and arithmetic – are undoubtedly important, they’re not the only skills that students need to succeed. Some K-12 schools are modifying the core curriculum to reflect that. For example, at School 21, a public school in London, eloquence is a core value, and the school teaches “oracy” or oral communication in every grade. Others are adding critical thinking.
What does oracy entail? Students learn voice projection, tonal variation, fluency and pace of speech, and rhetorical technique. But beyond the physical and linguistic aspects, these pupils also learn the cognitive, social, and emotional facets of oral communication. What accounts for changes in the core curriculum? Several factors. No less an authority than Warren Buffet recently highlighted the importance of public speaking skills. And beyond that, a report by MindEdge reveals that almost half of Millennials get an “F” in critical thinking.
As part of these oracy classes, students learn how to listen and respond, take turns, gauge the audience, and manage interactions. They are also taught how to structure their ideas, build on the opinions of others, ask questions for clarity, and provide reasons to support their ideas. In other words, they learn the foundation for critical thinking.
Bringing more skills to U.S. students
Closer to home, GEMS World Academy Chicago, part of the international GEMS Education network, is a pre-K through 12 school that teaches emotional and social skills, in addition to problem-solving and critical thinking techniques. GEMS believes that children should be taught these strategies at an early age: Learning how to analyze data and make decisions based on facts instead of emotion lays a foundation for success in every area of life.
“In a global world, children encounter diverse thoughts and opinions,” explains Denise Gallucci, CEO of GEMS Education and The Education Partners. “As educators, it is our job to ensure that students are learning how to develop their own thoughts, communicate effectively with their peers, and accept differing opinions,” Gallucci tells GoodCall®.
She believes it’s never too early to start teaching these skills. “Kids need to learn how to develop arguments rooted in fact as early as kindergarten,” Gallucci says. “Five- and six-year-olds are still developing cognitively, and this is the time where students are learning how to work together as a team while also figuring out where they fit in the world.”
While many adults struggle to receive negative feedback, these youngsters are learning the benefits of criticism in honing their views and arguments. “At GEMS, students learn to provide and receive peer feedback, equipping them with the skills to defend their work and grow from constructive criticism.”
Collaborative, diverse experiences are also a part of the GEMS experience, and students are taught how to have meaningful interactions with fellow peers from a variety of backgrounds. “GEMS World Academy Chicago works with seven other world academies: our students spend four days in the school and one day in the field, and students have collaborative working groups with students in Dubai, France, and Singapore, providing a truly global perspective.”
Never too young or too soon
Some people might think that students are not able to firmly grasp oracy and other concepts at such a young age. However, Gallucci explains, “Critical thinking skills should be developed at an early age and can be challenged and strengthened over time.” The school uses various types of projects that include technology, global studies, and language to stimulate imagination and inquisitiveness. “As students transition in grade level, their studies become deeper and more comprehensive – by building on previous skills, we encourage complex thinking.”
There is strong support for stimulating analytical and critical thinking skills among young students. For example, Jeff Gray, Ph.D., a professor in the department of computer science at the University of Alabama, is an advocate for teaching kids to code and tells GoodCall® that coding helps to develop problem-solving and computational skills at an early age.
At GEMS, field studies are also used to foster an analytical mindset. “Recently, first- and fifth-grade GEMS students collaborated on releasing trout into Lake Michigan,” Gallucci says. “The field study focused on helping students examine why fresh water is an important resource and why they have a responsibility to preserve it.”
Gallucci believes that critical thinking should be taught to students of every age, and notes that it can help them become future innovators. In fact, MIT has a program that helps high school students become entrepreneurs. However, Gallucci explains, “This unique approach to education requires a greater integration between schools and new technologies of learning.” And she believes that organizations such as GEMS and School 21 are creating schools of the future. “We are developing education ecosystems that act as a strong catalyst preparing the next generation to engage in an innovative economy.”
Collision course for critical thinking
Ironically, GEMS and School 21 are teaching critical thinking at a time when students and young adults are less likely to gain exposure from other sources. Dr. Jennifer L. Schneider, the Eugene H. Fram Chair in Applied Critical Thinking at Rochester Institute of Technology, tells GoodCall®, “Fundamentally, it takes work to think critically, and very often, time; in our fast paced, just-in-time world, this type of consideration is not rewarded.”
That doesn’t mean these skills are not needed, but due to a variety of factors, they’re just less likely to be cultivated. “Our flattening management structures with less hierarchies and formal mentoring, gig economy, ever changing technological impacts and disruptions are contributing to a society that builds less of a supportive environment to practice critical thinking, just when we collectively need it the most,” Schneider explains.”
Critical thinking is important on an individual level, but its significance extends beyond personal benefits. “Critical thinking skills are the basis of being a well-functioning member of society as it allows you to be truly informed and engaged in the world around you, and make quality decisions for yourself and your world . . . in other words, if you cannot critically think, you cannot contribute to your own wellbeing and success and then, certainly, you cannot contribute meaningfully to our larger world,” Schneider concludes.