Using Tech to Develop Critical Thinking Skills

Critical thinking goes beyond memorization, encouraging students to connect the dots between concepts, solve problems, think creatively, and apply knowledge in new ways. (7 Ways to Teach Critical Thinking in Elementary Education) We use critical thinking skills every day, to make good decisions and to solve problems. In 21st century classrooms, students are given opportunities to build critical thinking skills and educators are using teaching methods to intentionally build students’ critical thinking skills. Critical thinking is vital for success in all subject areas – and everyday life! 

Who Should be Introduced to Critical Thinking Skills?

Every student should learn critical thinking skills. Toddlers begin by building foundational critical thinking skills through simple problem-solving; critical thinking is a life-long skill! Students who are visually impaired will need strong problem-solving skills – not just for academic situations, but also how to problem-solve different strategies to complete tasks that might be easily completed with the use of vision.

How can TVIs Support Critical Thinking Skills When Introducing Technology to Young Students?

  • Provide opportunities to explore and to be curious
  • Pause and Wait
  • Do not intervene immediately
  • Use general directions (not step-by-step directions) after initial introduction to a tech skill or app
  • Ask open-ended questions
  • Listen to the student and observe the student’s thinking process
  • Try a different way

Example

Jeanne has participated in a 12-week Perkins eLearning course, ABC’s of iOS, an introduction to VoiceOver on the iPad for students ages 3 – 8. Throughout the course, Jeanne worked with her 7 year-old student, Ian. Jeanne shares, “We are making huge progress. We have went from a student who wouldn't touch the iPad or if he had to couldn't perform any tasks with it at all to a student who actually enjoys some of the activities and is independent in turning VO on and off, reading books, knowing how to pause and start again, continuing to perfect his basic gestures, and can play a few games independently. We continue to make progress on spatial learning, grids, fine-motor manipulation, etc. Even though, we are moving very slowly, the changes have been amazing. I can't wait to see what happens. . .” Ian is in first grade and has some developmental delays.

Through her weekly videos, it was fascinating to watch how Ian’s tech skills progressed, and how his independence blossomed. Initially he always required step-by-step instruction. The apps used were simple cause-and-effect apps that only required a tap to make something happen. He began listening to the auditory information in simple self-voicing apps and when introduced to VoiceOver, he began to truly listen and began to process the auditory information. As Ian’s listening skills improved, Jeanne was able to back away, providing Ian opportunities to fill in the gaps. With decreased intervention, Ian started to complete tasks with more independence. Ian was given opportunities to try a gesture and to problem-solve when it did not work as anticipated. 

Initially, it was challenging for Ian to drag his finger in a straight line – an important tech skill to be able to move across a row of apps on the iPad’s Home screen or across a row of items in an app. Jeanne used tactile graphics to help teach him the concept of a row (and column) and how to drag in a straight line. As Ian’s tech skills advanced, he transitioned to the next level of apps which require the drag and double tap (or split tap) gestures, navigating within the app and thinking in order to select the correct choice. The Math Melodies app, an accessible math app, has several math games appropriate for Ian, which can be used to build critical thinking skills. In the video below, Ian is introduced to the Sequencing game in the Math Melodies app.

In the ABC’s of iOS Course, Ian has already been introduced to the basic gestures, spatial layout of the app and spatial terms (top, middle, bottom, etc.), concept of rows, listening skills, etc. In the video below, he is learning to apply these skills to this game. The video is Ian’s introduction to the Sequencing app. Pay particular attention to how Jeanne set him up for success and Ian’s thinking process as he learns strategies to complete the game.

Video 1 Seven year-old Ian being introduced to Math Melodies' Sequencing game.

Critical Teaching Strategies (review)

  • Provide opportunities to explore and to be curious
  • Pause and Wait
  • Do not intervene immediately
  • Use general directions (not step-by-step directions) after initial introduction to a tech skill or app
  • Ask open-ended questions
  • Listen to the student and observe the student’s thinking process
  • Try a different way

Jeanne’s Critical Thinking Teaching Methods

Jeanne did a great job of balancing between giving Ian time to explore and to problem-solve while teaching a new game.

  • Had Ian find the two animal choices at the bottom of the page before exploring the sequence.
  • Used general directions. Example: “Go up and look at your sequencing.” (Did not give specific directions on what gesture to use, etc.)
  • Gave opportunities for Ian to explore
  • Waited; did not intervene
  • Gave praise while correcting. Example: “You went a little high (when dragging). You’ve been doing a really good job of staying straight!”
  • Listened to student and observed: Ian did not identify the names of the animals or did not know how to sequence?
  • Tried a different way by saying names of animals aloud while Ian dragged his finger.

In the second video, Ian is given the opportunity to practice what he just learned. 

Video 2: Ian practicing and perfecting his critical thinking skills with the Sequence game.

 

Look at Ian go! He quickly dragged his finger across the row twice and then verbalized what was first and second. Verbalizing what he was thinking is so helpful, as was thinking what was first and second, not what came next in the sequence. He did not need prompts on how to navigate or play the game, only with the strategy of how to come up with the correct answer!

Are you embedding opportunities to build critical thinking skills during your assistive tech lessons?