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Critical Thinking

From the classroom of Rachel Schmitt,
Neighborhood House, St. Paul

21st Century Skills Resources

The 21st Century Skills Resources from New World of Work offer a soft skills curriculum complete with lesson plans, PowerPoint presentations, and two video series. The curriculum is divided into modules that focus on 10 critical skill areas:

  • Adaptability (Open to Change)
  • Analysis/Solution Mindset (Problem Solver)
  • Collaboration (Team Player)
  • Communication (Good Communicator)
  • Digital Fluency (Good with Technology)
  • Empathy (Sensitive to Others’ Feelings)
  • Entrepreneurial Mindset (Go-Getter)
  • Resilience (Plans for Success and Bounces Back from Failure)
  • Self-Awareness (Self-Understanding)
  • Social Diversity/Awareness (Sensitive to Difference in Backgrounds and Beliefs)

The assessment video series that was created to be used with each module is a particularly useful component, as it can be challenging for instructors to assess soft skills. These videos set up a scenario in which a certain skill is needed in order for the best outcome to be achieved. Each scenario contains three possible options, and viewers must apply what they have learned in the preceding lessons in order to choose the best one. The scenarios would lend themselves very well to both large and small group discussion, or they could be used as prompts for writing activities.

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Growth Mindset Toolkit

Having a growth mindset helps learners to be more successful and persistent as they work towards their goals. This resource includes research about the benefits of fostering a growth mindset and videos and lesson plans that will help teachers talk about mindset with their students. There are ideas for giving praise, celebrating mistakes, and providing assessment and feedback that all work to build a growth mindset culture in the classroom. Using activities from the Transitions Integration Framework (TIF) is a great way to build your students' transition skills while also developing a growth mindset.

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As adult educators, we need to build the capacity of our learners to differentiate between fact and opinion, recognize bias, and make decisions that are informed by reliable evidence. In other words, we need our adult learners to have strong critical thinking skills. The Tools for Teaching Media Literacy section of the NewseumED website includes activities, lessons, and case studies that explore how the language in news stories influence us and how to know the difference between a story that is worth sharing and one that is, well, junk. The Newseum is an actual museum located in Washington, D.C. that “promotes, explains and defends free expression and the five freedoms of the First Amendment: religion, speech, press, assembly and petition.” As part of their mission, they have developed NewseumED, which is a free online learning platform. The Tools for Teaching Media Literacy comprise just one section of their EDTools collection. The resources are all free, but users are encouraged to create an account in order to access the most content.

Visit Website is a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization devoted, in part, to promoting critical thinking. They carry out this mission by providing research on more than 50 controversial issues that help students learn how to question information, evaluate opposing views, and debate important topics. There is no registration or fee required for using the website, and the topics can be viewed by category, such as education, science and technology and health and medicine, or alphabetically by topic. 

The information for most of the controversial topics begins with a general overview that explains the core question; followed by some Did you know? facts about the topic; followed by a list of points divided by pro and con; and ends with a background reading. There is also a video gallery for some of the topics with videos that are labeled pro, con, or “not clearly pro or con.” Perhaps because has a large audience that extends beyond teachers and students, the reading level can be challenging. It is probably most appropriate for High Intermediate and Advanced ELL learners on up.

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Street Law

Street Law is a global, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization devoted to developing classroom and community resources that educate people about law and government. The Street Law Resource Library contains a vast array of teaching activities, lesson plans, case studies, and articles that are organized according to topic, audience, and type. Within the resource library, users can find lesson plans and activity ideas to support the teaching of a wide variety of high interest topics, such as consumer rights, employment rights and workplace discrimination, civil rights, issues related to family law, and tenant rights. Whether or not you think your students are at risk of running afoul of the law, the lessons and activities in the Street Law Resource Library are worth checking out. They provide excellent opportunities to engage in meaningful dialogue and sharpen critical thinking skills, and they will help our learners avoid pitfalls when navigating a wide variety of systems.

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The TeachThought website has many curated resources for teaching Critical Thinking and Digital Literacy skills. Many of the resources are articles for teachers that describe best practices, new approaches, and ways to cultivate a 21st century classroom. There is also a TeachThought podcast. The website contains a great deal of content and is searchable.

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The Learning Network

This online resource was developed by the New York Times to help facilitate both teaching and learning with NYT content. It includes a huge variety of articles with question sets, photos and videos, writing prompts, and fully developed lesson plans with high quality downloadable materials. There are lessons for doing text-to-text comparisons, evaluating sources, and a variety of materials for supporting close reading. This resource is a great way to boost your learner's critical thinking skills while also exposing them to a wealth of academic language and the sort of content-rich informational texts that are required by CCRS.

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