As a teacher, I love when my students ask questions, but the one that used to break my heart was, “Will this be on the test?”
I’m thrilled to tell you I rarely hear that anymore and no, it’s not because today I’m teaching more adults than children. Trust me: adult learners can ask that question just as much—if not more—than their children
The reason this question comes up so infrequently in my classrooms today is because of a very genuine change in the design of my pedagogy. All that I design and teach is built upon a cross-curricular base to infuse the learning experience with critical thinking—and all the motivation and personal engagement that it demands and affords.
Cross-curricular and critical thinking are rather different educational concepts. But when they work together, they can truly help reshape teaching practice. Let’s start with critical thinking, a skill we must consider to be a fundamental goal in all of our work as educators. President Obama publically identified critical thinking as a crucial 21st-century skill that learners of all ages need to master to be successful in both the educational arena and the ever-evolving global economy. Adding in the advice of our old friend, American educational icon John Dewey, we see how learning experiences that stimulate thinking by having students engage in creating meaning out of a variety of facts, scenarios, and variables (rather than just memorizing a single, linear timeline or algorithm with no context or supportive background) puts the learner in the center of the learning process.
If a student has to think through how a situation occurred, making sense of why the various components came together to play out as they did, then learning becomes a personal process of discovery, an ongoing exploration of facts and figures and events that could have turned out differently had the variables not played out as they did at those given times. Critical thinking empowers students to care about their learning because they are a part of it. They are figuring out mysteries of history and science and math rather than simply being passive receptacles of data handed over to them wholesale.