Saturday, December 27, 2008

Critical Thinking Press... Building Thinking Skills Series

I hate workbooks. I really do. You can only imagine my enthusiasm as I opened my mailing from Critical Thinking Press and found two hefty workbooks to review, Building Thinking Skills Primary for grades K-1 and Building Thinking Skills Level 3 Verbal for grades 7-12. I knew I needed help in opening up my mind, so I immediately gave the workbooks to my less judgmental children and asked them to use a few pages and get back to me. Interestingly, both young and old (children) gave Critical Thinking Press two thumbs up for, and I quote 14 year old Jonah, these “pretty fun” workbooks.

Both texts I received from Critical Thinking Press, a company dedicated to “teaching thinking in core subject areas”, are classified as “new” in their 60 page catalog of offerings and considered to be a part of their “core curriculum”. Founded in 1958, the company’s products have received numerous awards including “Dr. Toy Best Toys” award and the “Informal Education Product of the Year for 2004”. I have received their catalog many times over the years, read the description of their curricula offerings, been intrigued, but never purchased their products due to my aforementioned lack of enthusiasm for workbooks.

Sierra, age 7, grade 1, tested Building Thinking Skills Primary for grades K-1. Unfortunately, Critical Thinking Press forgot to send us the necessary colorful attribute blocks and interlocking cubes so we were unable to make use of the first half of the worktext, pages 1-122, dedicated to math skills. After looking over the math pages, however, I thought they looked very interesting and readily appealed to my “hands on” preference of education for little people.

If you choose to purchase the workbook for $29.99 you will want to factor in the need for the attribute blocks priced at $20.99 and interlocking cubes for $11.99 also available from the Critical Thinking Press catalog or website. Suggested lesson plans and an answer key in the form of a PDF document is available for download from the website after typing in the product number of your purchased product. After looking at the lesson plan PDF I thought it would appeal more to a classroom teacher than a homeschool teacher, but a great resource to have access to nonetheless.

Sierra completed 5 pages of the verbal section of the workbook giving her practice with listening comprehension, analytical skills, copy/trace work, handwriting and reading. Page 124 for example, titled, “Describing Family Members” asked me to read a description of a person and then have Sierra circle the correct photograph of the person described. Subsequent pages building on the family theme had her copy words like young, old, child, adult and then link those words to similar photographs of a grandmother, grandfather, toddler boy or girl, mother, father, boy or girl. All photographs were labeled with the correct word encouraging reading practice.

I was not impressed with these seemingly boring, simple exercises, but Sierra enjoyed them. On the practical teaching side, the description I was supposed to read for page 124 was buried on page 262, but Sierra was supposed to look at the photograph on page 124 as I read the description. This was physically impossible due to the construction of the workbook which could easily have been resolved with perforated tear out pages. I also found the workbook, due to its 260+ page size difficult to manipulate because the pages would not lay flat. Again, perforated tear out pages would have made me happy, but none of these issues seemed to bother little Sierra.

Sierra was able to complete all workbook pages by herself after we reviewed the instructions together. This gave me 5 mins. of uninterrupted time to run and change the laundry, answer another child’s question, etc. I noted that the workbook would make a great educational supplement for days when Sierra needed to have a quick activity to stay occupied, say at a waiting room of a Dr. office, restaurant, dance studio, etc.

When asked her opinion of the book, she was very positive. “I really liked the pictures and the writing and the copying the writing. I like to see real people in the pictures.” She also agreed that the book would be perfect to keep for times when she tends to be “so bored!” I liked that the workbook could challenge her to develop valuable thinking skills and not just entertain her.

Jonah, age 14, 9th grade student, tested Building Thinking Skills, Level 3 Verbal. Jonah loves logic and simplicity with his schoolwork. He has plans to become a lawyer, a perfect career path for his type A personality. He found the pages he completed in the workbook interesting and engaging. He completed pages 1, 5, 24 and 25 easily in a span of about 20-30 minutes one afternoon.

All the work pages within the text, obviously, focused on verbal thinking skills. I noted how important success with these types of questions might be in developing thought processes for future ACT or SAT tests. Page 1 had a list of 12 different words and asked him to choose the appropriate antonym. Page 5 followed the same format, but asked for the synonym of the word. Pages 24 and 25 built on synonym practice, but with a unique twist making use of “word benders”.

Word benders begin with one word and “bend” it by replacing a single letter one step at a time changing the original word into new words. For example, beginning with a simple word like “dark”; the line below dark has a dash for each letter of the new word plus a clue for the meaning of the new word. You must choose the new word based on its meaning and by spelling it with only changing one letter of the old word. The word underneath“dark” has dashes representing four letters and a clue…a synonym for playground. Change the D in dark to a P and you have a new four letter word for playground, “park”. You have just completed round 1 of the word bending exercise. Each page of word benders asks the student to determine 16 different new words all stemming from the first. Word benders truly feel more like a puzzle game than language arts practice. As Jonah noted, “The word benders were different from regular English assignments. They were fun!”

All answers for the work pages of Level 3 Verbal are in an answer key conveniently located in the back of the student text for easy grading. The 350 page work text retails for $29.99 and considering the skill practice gained from working through it, I see it as a real value. Jonah will definitely continue using this workbook a few pages a day as he edges closer and closer to those dates for the ACT.

Critical Thinking Press has a lot to offer home educators with over 50 years of expertise, 74 award winning products, and a multitude of curriculum offerings for grades pre-school to high school. Their products are designed to help students “achieve better academic results with highly effective lessons that sharpen the mind as they teach standards-based reading, writing, mathematics, science, and history.” The company guarantees success or your money back. You can choose to sample products on-line at including activities and software. While on the Critical Thinking Press website you will want to sign up for their monthly newsletter that promises exclusive special offers, free activities and more.

If you are a self-professed workbook hater like me I encourage you to open your heart and mind to Critical Thinking Press. You won’t be sorry. They guarantee it!

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