academic success, academics, early childhood education, student learning

Making Meaning

I’m teaching an Early Childhood (ECE) class about diverse children, families and communities this semester.  The entire first half of the class focuses on children in peril and the implications for classroom practice.  Most of my students in this class are juniors and seniors and this is a required course for them.  They are all so committed to serving children and families and this is their first deep dive into some of the difficult issues they may encounter in their future careers.

Although the students in my class have already completed at least 2 years of college, I have found that most of them are so used to memorizing and regurgitating facts, that it takes some work to get them to start thinking about how they think, recognizing their biases, and helping them to develop their own ideas and informed opinions. To encourage this transformation, I have an activity I introduce the first day of class that we build upon throughout the semester. This activity is actually adapted from one I use with first-year students in our college transition course in the module about developing critical thinking skills.

On the first day of class, I explain that we will be discussing children and families living in peril and that I really want my students to think about how they are thinking about what we will be discussing. We then discuss aspects of learning and critical thinking skills. I introduce them to Bloom’s Taxonomy of Critical Thinking and we talk through the different levels so that they begin to recognize the difference between memorizing and applying information. At their tables, students discuss the differences between the different levels of critical thinking, where they think they are on the pyramid, and what this means for their futures in the field of early childhood education.

When I ask how many people take notes as they read, fewer than 1/2 raise their hands. I pass out a modified version of the Cornell Notes template and explain that I will be expecting them to take notes as they read while thinking about the relevance of what they are reading. We watch a brief video in class and I have them practice taking notes. They exchange notes with a partner and provide feedback. One or two students do a really good job providing great insights into how the information from the video relates to their college success and futures as ECE professionals. Because so many of the students struggled to provide meaningful insights (which is expected at this point), I pass out a “Bloom’s Cue Questions” worksheet a colleague shared with me a few years ago.

As class concludes, I assign the first reading of the semester with the hopes that through the use of these critical thinking tools and application of today’s lesson, my students will begin to take their critical thinking skills to the next level. If this happens, what they will experience in this class over the course of the semester will be transformational for them.

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