Catlin Gabel students learn to think, write, and speak critically via small classes with inspiring teachers and an innovative curriculum that includes science, the arts, math, writing, and history.
Critical Thinking at Catlin Gabel
By Tim Bazemore, Head of School
In 2009 I joined a national committee charged with finding the best way to assess critical thinking in our schools. We were quite confident it would be a straightforward task. After all, critical thinking processes such as the scientific method, mathematical proofs, humanities theses, and logic models are taught in most schools. What we learned, however, was surprising. The term itself has many definitions; there was little professional agreement on the “best” ways to assess critical thinking; and teaching critical thinking was so dependent on context that it defied standardization.
So what does critical thinking mean at a progressive school like Catlin Gabel? We start where most schools start: students across all the grades learn to analyze sources, determine salient information, draw conclusions supported by evidence, and share their thinking. But that’s just the start. Critical thinking here is not merely a dispassionate process and skill. It’s a personal commitment to exploring ideas and seeking understanding. From the Beehive to Dant House, teachers at Catlin Gabel share an approach to teaching critical thinking that includes the following features:
Deep critical thinking and understanding is shaped by increasingly complex questions—usually asked first by the teacher and then taken further by the student. This can be done deductively (a general question that steers the learner to seek specific evidence) or inductively (specific questions that lead the learner to draw conclusions). The point is that there is always a next question—sometimes suggested by the topic or information itself and sometimes by the pleasure or interest the topic inspires in the learner. A question-driven approach to critical thinking is more open-ended and unpredictable, which makes it more engaging and personal.
Creative and Original Ideas
In our list of school values, we purposefully pair critical and creative thinking. If we are to develop independent-minded graduates and citizens, the process of thinking critically must encourage trial and error, imagination, and “what if ” thinking. Sir Ken Robinson defines creativity as “original ideas that have value in the world.” That expansive view of creativity tells students to revel in possibility, to pursue novel solutions, and to value purposeful nonconformity. The freedom and encouragement to think in ways others do not can lead to new insights for all.
A Social Experience
Asking questions and thinking creatively happens best in a social context that is safe and respectful. At Catlin Gabel, every teacher knows that fostering a healthy learning environment is an absolute priority. Strong critical thinking skills are shaped and sharpened through social interaction with other talented peers and an attentive teacher. Active listening, respectful disagreement, reflection, and clarifying comments all contribute to deeper understanding and appreciation for diverse points of view. This is essential practice for the social context of work and democracy.
Research shows that engagement, understanding, and application improve when the content used to teach skills is relevant and meaningful to students. At Catlin Gabel, we understand that there is knowledge and information our students must learn to be informed citizens, and we do our best to make that relevant to their lives and developmental stages. We also allow for student choice and what lower grades teachers call “emergent curriculum”: topics that students themselves are drawn to that can be vehicles for teaching critical thinking.
Our goal is to educate independent learners. That can only happen if we teach them to push back, ask why not, and to be skeptical of received wisdom. We want them to ask good questions, think creatively, hone their opinions through feedback from others, and care about their beliefs. Developing those habits requires them to push beyond knowing a critical thinking process and be emotionally engaged, have the courage of their convictions, and become highly-effective communicators. Every student at Catlin Gabel is a unique and valued thinker; it’s our job to help them learn that, believe that, and act on that.
The humanist philosopher Montaigne argued that the purpose of education is to develop the capacity for judgment, not just to know something or prove a point. We agree, which is why we employ such an expansive and dynamic approach to teaching critical thinking here at Catlin Gabel.
Follow him on Twitter @TimBazemore.
Diversity & Inclusion at Catlin Gabel
Don't believe everything you think
by Jasmine Love, Director of Equity and Outreach
One of the things I so appreciate about the Catlin Gabel community is our willingness to engage in courageous and difficult conversations. Those conversations where you feel so passionately about an issue that you cannot imagine, even for a second, that your belief is not the truth of the matter.
One of my favorite quotes is, “Don’t Believe Everything You Think.” It is something we try to teach our students at Catlin Gabel every day. No matter their age, we want them to have open minds and consider the opposite of what they are thinking. This is a skill honed over time, and one that is becoming more and more necessary to be successful in the world. No matter what you think, there is no way you can be right 100% of the time; it’s simply not possible if you are a human being.
As we continue to struggle as a nation with widely varying perspectives, here at Catlin Gabel, we provide our community with opportunities to engage in these courageous conversations in the hopes they will become less difficult. One of the hardest and most fraught conversations is the conversation about race. Join us for a screening of the movie (not yet out in public distribution) “I’m Not Racist.. Am I?” on Feb. 16th from 7 – 9 pm in our Cabell Theater. The film’s producer, Andre Lee, will lead a discussion and Q &A afterward.
Admission is free and open to the public, but only appropriate for middle and upper school students and parents. Please RSVP.
The film follows a diverse group of teens through a yearlong exploration to get at the heart of racism. Through some tense and painful and wonderful moments, we see them develop deeper bonds, and a deeper sense of self. Watch the trailer.
From Your Admission Team
Admission outcomes: What to expect
If you have submitted your application for admission, congratulations! Regardless of the outcome, the fact that you went through the application process demonstrates the commitment you have towards your child’s education. The time is over for working on applications, tracking down school records, and meeting various deadlines, and now you await decisions. March 10 is Catlin Gabel’s decision day, the day when applicant families receive admission decisions via email. For each of your children in the applicant pool, one of three scenarios will play out on that day: you could receive an offer of admission, receive an invitation to our wait pool, or be denied admission. Below are a few things to consider as your family prepares for decision day:
Offer of admission
What would your response be if your child were admitted to Catlin Gabel? Would you enroll your child on the spot or need additional information to make a decision? How would you seek answers to your additional questions? Would it be helpful to have a conversation with a current Catlin Gabel family or another review of the school’s curriculum? What is your order of school choice, and does it match with your child’s? What other factors are in play, such as affordability and financial aid? Catlin Gabel, as well as other schools, often hosts events for admitted students and/or parents who want one last look before making a final decision. If you are offered admission, the turnaround time to accept the offer is often just a couple of weeks, so be sure to have your questions and thoughts organized so you can make an informed decision.
Invitation to the wait pool
Students who meet the admission standards but are not offered admission due to space limitations are invited to join our wait pool. Students in our wait pool aren't ranked: if an opening becomes available, we look to the wait pool and select an applicant who has the best potential to fill the needs of the class. Openings can occur any time between our initial offers of admission in March and shortly before school starts. We do not admit students after the start of the school year or keep our wait pool lists from year to year. Our best advice to families placed in the wait pool is to “hang in there,” as every year we admit a number of students later in the spring and into the summer, but certainly have a back-up plan in case a spot does not become available for your child. If your child is placed in the wait pool, please know that we thoroughly review the wait pool before any openings are filled, so you will not be forgotten.
To be denied admission is very difficult news to deliver and for families to receive. It may be the first time your child has been through an evaluation process and faced what feels like rejection. As you manage your response to this news, keep in mind that you will be modeling resiliency for your child. We encourage you to remain positive about the experience of having gone through the application process, which is quite an accomplishment. At the appropriate time you may also want to discuss as a family the prospect of reapplying in the future. The application process starts again every September; because children grow and change a tremendous amount in a year, we ask all families to complete the full application process and resubmit new admission materials each year. We encourage families to take a few months in the fall to assess how their school year is going before making the decision to reapply to Catlin Gabel. The admission office staff is more than happy to discuss the decision to reapply at that time.
Begin to prepare for each possible scenario and make sure you have multiple options for school next year in case your first choice does not materialize. Regardless of the admission decision you receive on March 10, celebrate your children as they are all terrific!