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Critical Thinking

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The implementation of the Erasmus+ Collaborative Cycle of Enquiry at Colina Learning Center aimed to enhance parental engagement by focusing on developing the capacity for critical thinking throughout the community. This report describes how each stage of the cycle (Explore, Design, Deliver, and Sustain) was implemented with the community, along with the main lessons learned throughout the process. 

Stage 1: Exploration

As part of the monthly parental meetings at CLC, in the January Learning Partnership Association meeting, families began exploring possible competencies that they would like to develop in themselves and their children. The objective was to identify areas where adult learning and development could contribute to effective partnerships in student learning. Most school families participated, and critical thinking was chosen as the competency to be developed through a community vote. 

Subsequently, the following objectives were established: 

To inspire and motivate parents and improve their own capacity for critical thinking. 

To establish a shared language within the community concerning critical thinking. 

To develop skills to nurture critical thinking in both parents and children. 

It is important to note that this process focused exclusively on parents and did not include the staff or the children. To maximize the impact on all members of the community, especially the children, greater effort should have been made to involve the staff and children from the very first stage. Additionally, feedback from parents suggests that more time could have been dedicated to exploring and better understanding various competencies (such as critical thinking, creativity, communication, and collaboration) before making a decision. This would have added more authenticity to the process. 

Stage 2: Design

Various activities were initially planned to support the development of critical thinking. These activities included creating a blog or website to track progress and share resources, potentially involving a parental committee, organizing three online sessions, and arranging a face-to-face workshop with a renowned expert in critical thinking. One of the main challenges faced during this stage was not adequately considering the capacity to execute all these activities. Schools are busy environments, and day-to-day work must be completed. Unfortunately, a blog to track progress and involving parents in the planning of the sessions could not be developed. We particularly regret not prioritizing parental involvement in the planning, as our reflection indicates that their participation would have led to more impactful learning design. 

The plan was designed with specific learning goals in mind, focusing on developing critical thinking, inspiring interest, and establishing a shared language within the community. Three online workshops and a face-to-face session were organized. The order of activities was carefully considered, starting with theory and depth in the online sessions before practicing and applying the knowledge in a face-to-face session. 

ERASMUS+ funds were utilized to engage a world-renowned expert in critical thinking for the online sessions. The content of these sessions was comprehensive and academic, placing high demands on the adult learners in terms of intellectual level and time commitment. In hindsight, we realize the importance of collaborative planning between the school and the expert, as our families struggled to connect with the online sessions. 

A 90-minute face-to-face workshop was designed to build upon the learning from the online sessions. The workshop, developed by school staff, aimed to provide concrete and hands-on activities that would enable adult learners to apply academic theory and envision using it with their children. 

Actionable Insights for Future Design 

Expert Selection: Future initiatives should involve a preliminary meeting between the school and the expert to align the content with the community's needs. 

Parental Involvement: Involve parents in the planning stage to ensure that the content is relevant and engaging for them. 

Content Balance: Strive for a balance between academic theory and practical application in future courses to improve engagement. 

Stage 3: Deliver

In this section, we will provide brief descriptions of the activities and focus on the feedback and observations made by the participants and our Erasmus+ partners regarding the delivery of the sessions. 

The online sessions were delivered in a dialogic manner, introducing participants to academic material and inviting them to interpret it, share their thoughts, and engage in breakout room discussions. The expert delivering the sessions aimed to cover a substantial amount of material in a short time and had high expectations of the learners, including reading between the sessions. Unfortunately, parents did not engage well with this approach, resulting in a significant drop in attendance throughout the online sessions (24 attended the first session, 16 the second, and only 4 the third and final session). 

Participants found the content too academically focused and challenging to engage with, particularly due to language barriers. Around 56% of participants reported that the online sessions did not meet their needs, and 71% felt that the sessions were not pitched at the right level. Feedback indicated a need for more practical and accessible material and better time utilization during the sessions. However, it is worth noting that the minority who fully committed to the online course found the sessions practical and useful. 

Interestingly, CLC staff who attended the online sessions were able to improve the design of the face-to-face sessions by distilling the main learning they acquired and making it more applicable for parents to use with their children. 

The Critical Thinking Workshop and BBQ, held after the online sessions, witnessed active participation from the community. Thirty-three learners attended, representing the majority of our parent body at that time. Our Erasmus+ partners were also present to observe and collect data. During the workshop, learners collaborated to learn about the five intellectual standards of critical thinking through jigsaw activities and role-playing. Approximately 89% of participants reported that the session was relevant, practical, and useful for their needs. Additionally, 100% stated that the activities were appropriately pitched. 

One participant shared the following feedback, which was representative of a significant number of other comments: 

“The core elements of critical thinking were explained, and I feel equipped to ensure my communication with children will start with gaining clarity on the conversation in a fair way, using active listening, mirroring, and self-reflection to guide the conversation.” 

Feedback from the workshop indicated positive engagement and a desire for more interactive sessions involving both parents and children. 

Stage 4: Sustain

Our Erasmus+ partners provided a detailed debrief and shared a substantial amount of data and feedback with us, some of which is included in this report. It is evident that the parents felt involved in the process and deeply reflected on the importance of critical thinking. Overall, the workshop objectives were achieved, and parents expressed their intentions to incorporate critical thinking into their conversations with their children. 

However, we have also learned several lessons regarding what was effective and important, what should be improved, and what changes should be made throughout this process. The following is a summary of our main reflections: 

Expert Selection and Preparation: The experience emphasized the importance of thorough preparation and effective communication with facilitators. It is crucial to align their understanding with the context and ensure that the content is appropriately tailored to the participants' needs and language proficiency. 

Balancing Academics and Practicality: The online sessions were perceived as overly focused on academic aspects, leading to reduced engagement. Future sessions should strike a balance between theoretical concepts and practical application, providing participants with tangible strategies and examples to facilitate learning and implementation. 

Time and Convenience: Consideration should be given to scheduling sessions at times convenient for parents and providing adequate time to engage with the material. Recognizing their busy schedules and commitments will contribute to higher participation rates and improved learning experiences. 

Collaborative Learning: The success of the workshop demonstrated the value of collaborative learning experiences, encouraging active participation and meaningful discussions among parents. Incorporating more interactive elements and opportunities for peer-to-peer learning can enhance parental engagement. 

Ongoing Support and Follow-up: To sustain the impact of the project, providing follow-up workshops, resources, and continued communication with parents is crucial. This ongoing support can reinforce the learned concepts and ensure the integration of critical thinking into daily conversations with children. 

Community-Wide Coordination: These sessions would have had a significantly greater impact on the children if the school had ensured that staff and children were explicitly working with the same material as the parents at the same time. Coordinated activities can increase impact. 

Follow-up Plans for Sustainability 

To ensure the sustainability of the project's impact, we could: 

Conduct quarterly follow-up workshops focusing on the practical application of critical thinking in daily life. 

Distribute monthly newsletters featuring tips, articles, and resources on critical thinking. 

Create an online forum for parents to share their experiences and challenges in implementing what they've learned. 

In conclusion, the implementation of the Erasmus+ Collaborative Cycle of Enquiry at Colina Learning Center has provided valuable insights into enhancing parental engagement through the development of critical thinking. It has also highlighted important and easily applicable ideas that can be considered to improve future family projects in our school. 

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