Critical thinking in the 21st century : pre-service elementary teachers perceptions and application of critical thinking in a social studies methods course
Dallman, Dallas Ann.
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Critical thinking can be described as the process by which an individual or group of individuals collects, organizes and evaluates information with the purpose of making judgments that guide beliefs and actions. While the development of critical thinking skills has long been a goal of education, and is thought to be even more critical in the world of the 21st century, there is evidence to suggest it is not an easy outcome to realize. It is unknown whether todays pre-service teachers are prepared to encourage and support the development of critical thinking skills in the k-8 classroom. This mixed methods study explores the perceptions of elementary pre-service teachers with regard to their personal application of critical thinking skills and their ability to promote the development and application of critical thinking skills in a k-8 classroom. Both quantitative and qualitative data were collected from participants who were enrolled in an elementary social studies methods course. Data collection included a self-reporting survey of everyday critical thinking, a document analysis of civics and government lesson plans, and face to face interviews. These three different data points help build a complete picture of the ways in which critical thinking is or is not promoted in elementary classrooms. The results demonstrated that pre-service elementary teachers believe themselves to be critical thinkers at least some of the time, however, few critical thinking skills were required in the lesson plans designed by participants. While the interviews help to shed some light on the reasons, the study is not conclusive in this area. The study certainly reinforces the idea that critical thinking is a complex and abstract idea - difficult to define, measure or teach at any age level.