Thinking. It's Critical.

It can be difficult to generalize about Chinese education when there are literally hundreds of millions of students and I have only worked here for a seven months in primarily one context in one city.  So I share these perspectives humbly and carefully, based only on my experience teaching and tutoring as well as on my conversations with others.

As a whole, Chinese students have many assets.  Overall, they are diligent, focused, motivated, and respectful.  They have big hearts especially for teachers.  While it is overly simplified to say that they are all good at foreign language, it is easy to see evidence that most students nowadays have been studying English since they were in elementary school.  These qualities derive from a culture that values success in education at all levels.

Just like the visual/optical illusions I used in one of my lessons (thanks Anna from BSP), it is possible to see many different things when observing the Chinese education system.

Just like the illusions I used in one of my lessons, it is possible to see many different things when observing Chinese education.

Despite these strengths, many foreign teachers will attest to the fact that Chinese students do lack some important skills.  It can be a struggle for most to manage long-term, self-directed projects and papers.  They are more at ease in lecture than they are in discussion – sometimes freezing when asked open ended questions or when invited to share personal opinions.  Team projects can also be a challenge given that Chinese schools generally emphasize individual over group learning.

Above all, however, I believe the most essential skills Chinese students generally lack are their critical and creative thinking skills.  As my students go to study abroad in western universities for four years and as they come back to work in Chinese industries that have moved up the value chain, these are the skills that will be demanded of them.  Yet as of now, it appears that they and their education system are ill prepared to meet those demands. 

This is why I have been very excited to have the opportunity to teach critical and creative thinking to my students this semester.  Not only is it a passion of mine, but I also feel as if the goals are extremely relevant and important for my students.  So I wanted to share a little bit about the course with you in this blog.

For one hook, I had students do a critical thinking word find that was missing two words "Challenge Assumptions." They were frustrated by learned the lesson.

For one hook, I had students do a critical thinking word find that was missing two words "Challenge Assumptions." They were frustrated but got the lesson.

The objective of the course is to help students learn to think critically, which includes being able to:

  1. Think independently
  2. Remain appropriately skeptical and ask insightful questions
  3. Maintain intellectual humility by withholding judgment when evidence or knowledge is inadequate and to admitting when incorrect
  4. Anticipate, appreciate, and encourage other points of view
  5. Recognize and employ various patterns of reasoning toward a conclusion
  6. Identify and challenge assumptions made while reasoning
  7. Clarify and interpret complex expressions and ideas
  8. Evaluate the credibility of claims and sources
  9. Identify, evaluate, and use inferences, deductive reasoning, and inductive reasoning
  10. Generate and evaluate creative solutions to complex problems
  11. Recognize contradictions, inconsistencies, double standards, and hypocrisy
  12. Reflect on their own behavior, bias, and thinking patterns
  13. Use critical thinking skills when making personal decisions

The plan of the course, which you can see in this syllabus, is straightforward.  We focus on roughly one of these skills each week.  I have enjoyed putting together fun hooks and activities that bring the concepts to life, and I have found some great readings to use for various points. 

On Fridays we have an hour that emphasizes creative thinking, especially in groups.  Needless to say I have had the opportunity to work many of my favorite BSP lessons and activities into the mix.   One of my favorite activities thus far involved having students draw one third of a random monster (without seeing the other parts).  Then they had to name them, create the monster’s identity, and finally make a story involving their partners’ monsters too.

Two of the class' new monsters.

Two of the class' new monsters.

Three of my most engaged students displaying their creations.

Three of my most engaged students displaying their creations.

The students had a lot of fun with this activity.  Afterwards they laughed and took pictures of their monsters will their cell phones.

The students had a lot of fun with this activity. Afterwards they laughed and took pictures of their monsters will their cell phones.

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