Wednesday, February 11, 2015

A review of Critical Thinking

Critical Thinking Book One Critical Thinking Book Two 

 Grace, Christopher and I just finished up  Critical Thinking Book One from The Critical Thinking Company. This book, along with Book 2, are recommended in The Well-Trained Mind for sixth grade logic. I purchased both books a couple of years ago, planning to use them with Grace for her sixth grade year. It turned out that she was just not ready for them that year. What I thought would be a series of fun discussions quickly turned into massive frustration and even tears. So I put the books away until this year, Grace's 8th grade and Christopher's 6th grade year. Now she really enjoys the discussions and is getting a lot more out of the books. Christopher doesn't "get it" as well as she does, but he doesn't mind the challenge. We just started Book 2, so here I'm going to talk a bit about Book 1.

 How the program is set up.....There are 8 chapters in Book 1, and each chapter is divided into multiple sections (1.2, 1.3, and so on). Each section begins with an overview of the concept, followed by examples and problems to discuss. There are tons of topics covered in this book...not jumping to conclusions, allegories, eyewitnesses, inferences, common errors in critical thinking, propaganda and advertising schemes, learning to be open-minded, and a lot more. The books are soft cover with black and white text and no illustrations. A teacher's manual is available for each level, and I could not possibly do this program without it. The manual includes an overview of each chapter with what to expect from your students, teaching pointers, and background information. Most importantly, it has the answers and explanations for the problems.

True confession time:  I can't always figure out what the answer should be! Logic can be hard! So the teacher's manual is a very, very valuable resource to me. During our discussions, I always have the manual open to the section we are covering in the book.

How we do it....We generally spend about twenty minutes, four days a week, discussing the examples and problems. I aim to cover about half of a chapter each week and this should put us on target to finish both books by the end of our school year, if not before.  I usually do this subject at lunchtime, because  Christopher focuses better when he has something else to do, plus it frees up the rest of our day a bit. James and Rose enjoy listening in and occasionally participating in the discussion.  We just read, discuss, and then move on to the next section. There is a lot of review built in and I have never felt the need to do any more.

A note on the dreaded chapter 2.....I almost dropped this program when we reached chapter 2,  which focuses on logic symbols. Grace actually mostly understood it, but I was totally lost and Christopher just got frustrated when I tried to help him.  I turned to The Well-Trained Mind forum and found out that this is a common issue . Lots of families had struggled with this chapter, some even quitting the book entirely because of it. Advice was given to just skip it and continue with the rest of the book. This was very heartening since we had enjoyed the first chapter so much! We ended up just skimming through chapter 2 without sweating it, then going right into chapter 3. I do not feel that this hampered our ability to do the rest of the book at all.  The rest of the book does not involve converting arguments and thoughts into logic symbols, except occasionally for review. Chapter 2 of Book 2 is also on logic symbols and we did the same - just skimmed through it and went on to chapter 3.

Final thoughts....  Critical Thinking Books 1 & 2 are both winners around here. The author clearly loves the subject and it shines through in the books. I was skeptical about paying so much money for just two books with answer keys, but these are very meaty, well-though out books which cover a ton of ground, plus the answer keys are uncommonly thorough and helpful. There is a surprising amount of humor in the books too! We often get a little laugh out of the problems. You can check out sample pages on The Critical Thinking Company's website, where, incidentally, they recommend these books for grades 7-12.  In my experience, sixth grade is a bit young for these books, but obviously, that will vary child to child. The best prices I have seen for these books is from Rainbow Resource Center. I have also found that if you sign up for emails from The Critical Thinking Company, they will often send out coupon codes. Both Grace and Christopher used some of the other Critical Thinking Company products in the two years prior to beginning Critical Thinking Book 1. I have a little review on the blog of Think-A-Grams, which Grace used last year. We have also used and enjoyed the Dr. Funster line.

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