Sunday, December 28, 2008

A Review of Building Thinking Skills Level 2, by Critical Thinking Company

While academic excellence is one of my main reasons for homeschooling, I'm not that concerned about my kids learning to read well, write fluently or solve math problems. This may sound contradictory until the following is considered:

A child can read well, but understand little of what they read.

A child can spell and have a grasp of grammar, but produce lack-luster compositions.

A child can solve a math problem by following the steps, yet lack numerical understanding.

The ability to think and problem solve is really what I'm after. If a child can think and problem solve, the road to success is within grasp. The application of basic phonics, grammar and math skills is more important than going through the motions. If struggles with a particular concept exist, strong problem solving skills will aid in overcoming the challenges. As an adult, the ability to think through problems, to apply what is known to what isn't, and to know what information is needed and how to obtain it will lead to greater success than having the formula for the area of a cone memorized.

For 50 years, The Critical Thinking Co. has been helping children to learn to think. Their wide selection of products are a reflection of the following mission statement:

The Critical Thinking Co.™ is committed to developing children's critical thinking skills for better grades, higher test scores, and success in life. We do not teach through drill and memorization or teach to the tests—we empower the mind!

Just what is critical thinking? The Critical Thinking Co. gives the definition of,

"Critical thinking is the identification and evaluation of evidence to guide decision making. A critical thinker uses broad in-depth analysis of evidence to make decisions and communicate his/her beliefs clearly and accurately."

I was given Building Thinking Skills Level 2 for review. Building Thinking Skills Level 2 is a hefty 408 pages targeted at grades 4-6. This particular title is reproducible and can be used with multiple children in your family. Both verbal and non-verbal reasoning activities are included in the ten chapters, along with an answer key. There are 1347 activities which will lead to improved vocabulary, reading, writing, math, logic, and figural-spatial skills, as well as visual and auditory processing. Not only will critical thinking skills be sharpened and applicable to academics and life, but higher grades and test scores will result.

Building Thinking Skills Level 2 is not your typical fill-in-the-blank-with- regurgitated-information workbook. These are higher order thinking activities that require the student to describe, observe, compare, analyze, and process information. Chapters 1-5 have figural activities and chapters 6-10 cover verbal activities of the same categories. For example, in Chapter 2, Figural Similarities and Differences, students are given activities such as dividing shapes into equal parts, paper folding visualization, and shape comparison. In Chapter 7, Verbal Similarities and Differences, students are asked to examine language through analysis of words with similar and opposite meanings, supplying multiple meanings of a given word and providing a compare and contrast of two words. A sample page from one of the figural chapters is located below. A complete Table of Contents and other sample pages are available at The Critical Thinking Co website.
Each set of activities is sequenced developmentally. First, the semi-concrete figural-spatial form is introduced. Once the child has had practice, then the activities are presented in the abstract verbal form. Many skills are first introduced by having the student select the correct answer from several provided answers. Next, the skill will be taken further by having the student supply the answer on their own, applying what they learned in the first set of activities. Building Thinking Skills Level 2 really is a wonderful tool for developing and engaging the mind.

A software version of this title is also available. I already owned the software version and had the benefit of comparing the two versions. Many of the activities are identical. However, the software version has multiple choice and graphics added to some of the activities. For example, one activity included the words "basin", "canyon" and "mesa" for word choices to be matched up to given definitions. In the workbook, just the words were given. The software included a graphic of each, giving more information. All of the same areas and topics are covered in the software version. For children that don't like to write or favor computer work, the software is ideal. Features such as multiple-user capability, self-grading, difficulty level adjustment, and word puzzle reward games may make this version appealing over the workbook, depending your needs and child's learning style.

Last year my son, age 9, worked out of the Level 1 book of this series and I was very pleased with the results. There were some areas that he did extremely well on and others I was surprised to see him struggle. For example, breaking a shape into separate components was difficult. This may not seem like a skill that would have a verbal component, but breaking a word down into components had been a struggle with our language lessons that year. The needed skill of breaking down a whole part into components runs across many areas. Through this series, weak areas can be strengthened for all subjects. Level 2 covers the exact same skills at Level 1 at a higher level and will be a nice continuation of what we did last year.

My 11-year-old daughter has used many other products from The Critical Thinking Co in the past that focused on a particular area (e.g. Word Roots), but this was her first time using a title from the Building Thinking Skills series. She commented on the increasing complexity of the activities and said this would be a fun alternative to some of her regular school work. She is on the upper end of the targeted age and I will definitely consider purchasing Level 3 in the near future. Because many things come naturally to my daughter, I've noticed a lack of appropriate problem solving techniques when roadblocks are experienced. This series will develop and continue to build skill in this area.

Building Thinking Skills Level 2 can be purchased for $29.99. The software version is $36.99. Free shipping is offered on orders $35 or more and you can save over 30% off on some of their other products with the current clearance sale. Many of the software titles have free demo downloads to allow you to try before you buy. Each printed product has sample pages available to help determine appropriateness for your student. The Critical Thinking Co. offers a 60-day money-back guarantee on all of its products, which promises you a risk-free purchase.

I've been collecting The Critical Thinking Co products for some time. I have yet to be disappointed. I have confidence that if this particular title does not fit your needs or targeted level, perhaps one of the other 200 titles offered will, including other levels of the Building Thinking Skills series. Help your children learn to use the brain that God gave them and teach them to think!

Be sure to check out what other TOS Crew members had to say about this and other products from The Critical Thinking Co by visiting the official Crew blog.

1 comment:

Alison said...

I agree wholeheartedly with your thinking on the difference between knowing how to memorize and go through the motions and being able to research, learn, understand and apply.

I like some of the critical thinking company products and have been using them for language arts with my son. I was interested to see that you are sent products to review through an arrangement with The Old Schoolhouse. I just came across your blog today - you do a very thorough job of your evaluations.