Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Critical Doubt

During the last 24 hours I have been engaged online (on and off) in a dialogue with Tom Drummond and it has been one of those exhilarating kinds of dialogues that gets your head turning somersaults... and there is also a healthy sense of self doubt that is critical for making progress in your own thinking...

in fact my doubt came about in the actual phrase "critical thinking" - what is it, what does it mean.. and that Carla Rinaldi chooses not to use these words together...

I wondered why she chooses not to use the word... of course only she can truly answer that... but I have found texts where she is connected to the words critical thinking

'Research is a habit of mind, an attitude that can be developed or neglected. It is a response to curiosity and doubt. It constructs new knowledge, makes for critical thinking and is part of citizenship and democracy. Like everything else about Reggio, research is not a solitary activity, but a process of relationships and dialogue.' Carla Rinaldi and Peter Moss.

and as part of the description of the competent child...

A child who is fully able to create personal maps for his own social, cognitive, affective and symbolic orientation.

A competent, active, critical  child; a child who is therefore ‘challenging’, because he produces change and dynamic movement in the systems in which he is involved, including the family, the society and the school. A producer of culture, values and rights, competent in living and learning.

A child who is able to assemble and disassemble possible realities, to construct metaphors and creative paradoxes, to construct his own symbols and codes while learning to decode the established symbols and codes.

A child who, very early on, is able to attribute meanings to events and who attempts to share meanings and stories of meaning.”
I have put the the word critical in bold text, as it is the word that I was intrigued by... what does Rinaldi mean by this... as she was the one that wrote down/interpreted the words of Malaguzzi. So I went to look up the word -
 Merriam-Webster online dictionary... (I also checked other dictionaries, not just one)

Definition of critical

a inclined to criticize severely and unfavorably 
  • His critical temperament cost him several friends.

b consisting of or involving criticism 
  • critical writings
also of or relating to the judgment of critics 
  • The play was a critical success.
c exercising or involving careful judgment or judicious evaluation 
  • critical thinking
  • critical commentary on the mayor's proposal
d including variant readings and scholarly emendations 
  • critical edition


a of, relating to, or being a turning point or specially important juncture 
  • critical phase
 : such as 

(1) relating to or being the stage of a disease at which an abrupt change for better or worse may be expected; also being or relating to an illness or condition involving danger of death 
  • critical care
  • a patient listed in critical condition
(2) relating to or being a state in which or a measurement or point at which some quality, property, or phenomenon suffers a definite change 
  • critical temperature

b indispensablevital 
  • critical waterfowl habitat
  • a component critical to the operation of a machine
c being in or approaching a state of crisis 
  • critical shortage
  • critical situation
d crucialdecisive 
  • critical test

a of sufficient size to sustain a chain reaction used of a mass of fissionable material 
  • critical mass

b sustaining a nuclear chain reaction 
  • The reactor went critical.
 So what kind of "critical" is this child as part of being competent... and also as part of being a "challenge".
As I read the definitions of critical I rather like the idea of critical thinking being something along the lines of "being a turning point or specially important juncture", the idea that the thought process are in a state of change, that we are learning and that our thoughts are at the point of moving from one accepted idea to another... or an alteration of one, or the realisation that another idea is not somehow right... is the child in a state of change?
Or is the child exorcising judicious evaluation that can make it difficult for the adults, as the child will not just accept the status quo, but asks questions until they feel they have found an acceptable answer, come close to their truth? I hope it is not the negative definitions where the child severely criticises, or is in danger...

So then Tom pointed out - is it critical thinking or thinking critically? BUT interestingly enough the definition of critically is EXACTLY the same as critical... so does this make a big difference by swapping the words around?... or is this about our relationship with the word? 
Because I have been using the words critical thinking so much in the last few years in conjunction with working philosophically with children the word critical no longer has a negative tone for me at all... its meaning has changed... but maybe for others it is harder to dissociate the negative tone of the word critical? I don't know? But it is something worth exploring.

Over the years as part of working philosophically with children I have thought a lot about thinking, often together with others...
I am of the opinion that there are many forms of thinking... just as there are many forms of learning and many forms of play... this all ties in with the hundred languages for me...

some forms of thinking (other than critical thinking):

  • reflective
  • empathic
  • creative
  • prejudice
  • biased
  • distorted
  • partial
  • uninformed
  • abstract
  • divergent
  • meta
listening is another way of thinking
and there will be more... but I do not want to write an exhaustive list... just show there are many ways to think - including daydreaming - but is that really thinking, or storytelling in the mind? Do we need to phrase it thinking reflectively instead of reflective thinking... ? Or do we just call it reflection? How does reflection differ from thinking? What impact does that have on our perception of what that kind of thinking means?

To find out more about what critical thinking means... check out this page as they go into much greater detail and with several thinkers sharing their definition of critical thinking... far beyond my thinking capacity at this present moment... 

Tom Drummond wrote
... words we use in our dialogue can have a shared meaning because we have a relationship. The long relationship with your best friends sharpens the communication. When we use words outside of relationships, it is different.
This is, as Carla says, all in a context of relationships and dialogue. I would add trust. It is also in a context of documentation. We have artefacts to ground meaning-making. Artefacts we can revisit. Relationships that evolve. New meanings can be made in each here and now. 

If we can look back at ourselves over time, re-co-construct the meaning of our shared history, we then share that, too. This is the meta-cognition where we are up another stair in the path of life.

The Municipal Preschools and Infant Centres of Reggio Emilia, Italy, have gone up many stairs.

And it is so true relationships are so important in our dialogues and our understanding of how we use words... it is why we need to build trusting relationships with the children and with our colleagues... it is why we need enable the children to trust each other - so that their dialogues and play have the element of truth, their communication is of a kind that they can all participate in and all understand. And when we have the understanding we can push our thinking further... we continue to go up the stairs is we are to use Tom's analogy.

I think, though, that thinking is more cyclical... or in waves... or sometimes walking up the down-escalator and it feels like you are going no-where... a kind of trapped on the merry-go-round feeling.
But thinking with others can help you start in the right direction, or get off that merry-go-round to pursue new thoughts...

I also think we have to be aware that there are many of these so called "stairs" - while the municipal preschools in Reggio Emilia might have gone up many stairs in their documentation, their collegial dialogues etc... I know they have not gone up an many stairs within outdoor learning or norm-awareness (anti-bias) as Sweden has ... and I think this is so important to reflect on... that we all have so much to offer each other because we have all been focusing on climbing different stairs...

we need to be open to the thinking of others - to allow our own thinking to evolve - we need to be aware of our own thinking and whether it is there to meet an agenda or whether it is there to explore an idea... when is it doing what... ? and how do we know?

I felt working philosophically with children made me so much more aware of my own thinking and my own participation and how I shared my thinking and was more aware of the children's thinking - and how their thinking connected with each other and with things we had experienced etc etc. I realised just how much power my thinking had over the group not just when I was sharing my ideas and thoughts... but also when I thought I was not participating... my non-participation says something too (why not at this moment, and why at other moments) - my body language and facial expressions can give lots away about what I think... I do not have a good poker face...
Being aware of my power in the group was fuel for thinking about how I could empower the children...

But back to the exploration of critical thinking...

it all started in a dialogue about what is "scaffolding" in practical terms - what do you actually do to scaffold...? which developed into a question - what does encouragement mean...? how do you actually do that...?  that lead to support and what is that...? that lead to the critical thinking exploration

I so enjoy exploring words - digging deeper in my own understanding, definitions and interpretations of words... learning from how other define words... we create new relationships with words that allow us to gain a more nuance understanding of dialogues in the future... as a word used in a sentence is no longer just a word it is a symbol for a whole lot of of meaning-making.

It kind of reminds me of attempting to read James Joyce "Ullyses" - there were times when I struggled to follow, well just didn't get it... and there were times when I got it because I realised he was using one or two words to describe a situation that would require pages normally... because he would refer to something from another piece of literature or something... for example there was one sentence that only made sense if you had read Shakespeare's Julius Caesar... because without that knowledge the sentence just contained some random words in it that did not relate to the previous pages... It made me realise how much I must be missing because there were probably loads of these "hidden" meanings. Would having a dialogue and relationship with James Joyce been a key to understanding the book due to creating a common language?

Below are some quotes about thinking...

creative thinking... to be aware of what the established pattern is, whether it needs to be change, what change is needed and how to go about that...

actually "support" was another word that was questioned in the last 24 hours... what is support... how do you support... when is too much, when is too little... ????

and we need to think about how do we listen to the thinking of non-verbal children... how are we receptive to that... what enables them to share more, what in our behaviour limits them?
yeah... I like this photo of my daughter holding an egg that had just been collected from the hen house and washed - it was warm.

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