#38: Think critically

Picture taken by Akila Venkatesh

I love acronyms and make up many of them for my own pleasure, particularly to summarize topics that I’m passionate about. E.B.R.O.C.A is yet another one of those acronyms I’ve made up, and it stands for Evidence-Based Reason, Objectivity and Critical Analysis. I’m a firm believer in using E.B.R.O.C.A to guide our thoughts and actions, particularly for decisions we deem as important to our overall life mission and/or decisions that can have an impact on other people. Engaging in Critical Analysis involves looking at a given idea from multiple perspectives with an Objective lens. Objectivity involves identifying and removing personal bias from the equation. Evidence-Based Reason involves justifying your thoughts based on logical evidence–evidence that ideally comes from empirical research (research that uses systematic, scientific methods).

We go through our lives forming opinions and making personal observations and decisions on a regular basis.  Some of these decisions and observations are minor, everyday occurrences, while others are part of larger life goals and thoughts. Inevitably, we encounter people who hold different ideas and viewpoints, based on their own personal experiences, including what they themselves may have done, heard, seen or read. When wading through the large array of life questions and issues that come up on a regular basis (some more important to a particular individual than others) everyone has their own story or opinion, but how can we objectively make sense of it all, ultimately for the best course of action for ourselves and the world? As adults and decision-makers, using E.B.R.O.C.A helps provide greater consistency, awareness and accountability for the actions we take.

As an educator, this is a key thinking and learning tool that I strive to develop in the middle school students I teach as well, as they learn to makes sense of ideas related to the world around them, communicate their thinking and take action with their budding sense of autonomy and individuality (I love teaching students between the ages of 8-12 because they are still in their formative years and can be greatly influenced in their development of core character traits, but are also quite grounded and independent in the choices they make). Children being children, will often state their opinions as facts and act based on their limited knowledge, so practicing and emphasizing E.B.R.O.C.A is essential in their development of well-rounded knowledge acquisition and the decisions they make.  Drawing upon various teaching methodologies, I approach the teaching and learning of E.B.R.O.C.A in a few ways with my middle school students (ways that would be adapted when teaching younger or older students). Here are some examples:

  • Communicating using clear, precise language: students often say they ‘know’ something as a fact (i.e., “I know that all sharks are always dangerous!”). In my classroom, unless they can produce a valid reference, we use the language of ‘I think I know’ and try and avoid using overarching words such as ‘always’ or ‘never’. Instead, a student would learn to say “I think I know that many sharks are usually dangerous”. It’s important to explicitly model this way of communicating at the beginning of the school year. As the year progresses, the students become independent in habitually using more precise and objective language. We also examine the difference between a fact versus an opinion/comment and learn how to state opinions and comments using appropriate language (“In my opinion…” or “From my personal experience…”).
  • Justifying one’s ideas: teaching students to justify their thinking (i.e., “I think I know that sharks are typically dangerous because…”) and specifically teaching them how to communicate their explanation by accessing prior experience, knowledge and/or ideally, a valid resource, is important in their E.B.R.O.C.A tool kit (i.e. “I think that I know that  most sharks are typically dangerous because I have a book at home that says that they are at the top of the food chain. I’ll try and bring in the book to school tomorrow!”).
  • Citing valid references: I teach students how to identify whether a particular source of information is more or less valid than another source (i.e., a website they came across, versus a published book from our school library) and how to cite their reference using a child-friendly, yet accurate format (title, author, publisher, year, pages).
  • Evaluating pros and cons/advantages and disadvantages: We make lists of the pros vs. cons or advantages vs. disadvantages of various courses of action. We typically do this in groups in order to gain several different perspectives and then I guide the students in evaluating the relevance of the lists they’ve come up with.
  • We use a R.A.N. chart (Reading and Analyzing Non-fiction, by Tony Stead) to graphically organize our thinking surrounding non-fiction texts.

N.B. that integrating the critical thinking process into various subjects (math, science, language, social studies etc…) is part of our provincial curriculum expectations and is taught while respecting various religious and cultural belief systems.

I am continually working on practicing E.B.R.O.C.A myself. It takes time, intention and effort, as there is so much information out there and one needs to know how and where to access the most relevant evidence-based data. E.B.R.O.C.A is not an end in and of itself but a way of thinking that takes continual practice and refinement. It’s not possible to always be perfectly objective, but I try and be critical and reasoned when dealing with decisions that hold particular importance to my life goals and/or affect others. I believe that the Evidence-Based Reason, Objectivity and Critical Analysis behind the decisions we make holds great importance in being effective agents of change for a better world.

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