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The ultimate test of learning is quality of thinking

What a child learns must be assessed in terms of the quality of thinking it leads to

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Once attitudes and motivation have been understood and are being inculcated, and your child is learning through cognitive strategies and metacognition, then it is time to look at the intellectual standards you will expect when she solves a problem, prepares an essay, answers questions about what is being learned, etc. We can think of them as values or principles about what is quality thinking.

The general concept of standards should be clear, but can often be confusing. In its basic form, standards are values or principles set up and established by authority as a rule for the measure of quantity, weight, extent, value, or quality. They are criteria, a word which comes from the Greek and means judging or deciding.

Intellectual standards

Intellectual standards are benchmarks or goalposts against which you and your child can measure his or her progress in thinking. In your efforts to help your children learn to think critically, you will want to adopt standards that are directly related to the quality of thinking and the expression of the results.

Good quality thinking is the examination and test of suggestions which are offered for acceptance, to find out if they adequately match reality. Critical thinking is a mental habit and a developed power. It is a safeguard against delusion, deception, and superstition. By our nature as humans, we are subject to uncertainty, in the form of:

1) Our mind does not always naturally grasp the truth,

2) We do not always naturally see things completely as they are,

3) Do not always automatically know what is reasonable or unreasonable,

4) We frequently see things as we want them to be, not as they are (confirmation bias),

5) We unconsciously twist reality to fit our preconceived ideas.

In order to reduce errors and particularly in order to teach our children how they can reduce errors in thinking, we should take rational control of our thinking processes to help to determine what to accept and what to reject and what to be dubious about or more willing to trust. That means we (and our children) need standards, principles, guidelines that direct us to consistently excellent thinking.

So, what are such standards?

1) Clarity: How to ensure your child is thinking clearly

Clarity is the condition of being clear, lucid, sharp and apparent. It is the opposite of cloudiness, opacity, or obscure. This is a major standard: the biggest goal post for your children to achieve. It means that what is said or written is easily understandable, can be grasped free from ambiguity, is not obscure or vague. When a child makes a statement at home or in class, when he or she answers a question, the response should be clear, the concepts used should be appropriate.

Development of clarity should begin very early. Parents must place emphasis on clarity, in a guiding fashion and through use of clear examples, modeling what are clear statements.

Developing clarity is done by two basic actions: pointing out when something is not clear and demonstrating how to make it clearer. The first step is easy but requires vigilance. 

Questions that encourage clarity: 

  • Excuse me that was not very clear.
  • Can you repeat that more clearly, please.
  • What did you mean by ….?
  • Would you say more about_____?
  • Can you give an example of what you are talking about?
  • That was vague. Can you restate it more clearly?
  • Can you be more explicit?
  • If I understand, you mean _____. Is that right?
  • Do you know what that word means? Can you tell me using a different word?
  • Would this be an example? Can you give another example?

2) Accuracy: How to ensure your child does not commit errors

Accuracy means free from error especially as the result of care, such as an accurate diagnosis. It means conforming exactly to truth or to a standard or being able to give an accurate result. For example, when you weigh yourself you want the devices to give you answers that are free from error.

This standard means that what is presented does not contain errors, mistakes or distortions. How can your child check to see if her ideas and thoughts and statements are true? How can parents teach our children to verify the alleged facts?

Questions that encourage accuracy:

  • Can you be more specific?
  • How many kids were in the park?
  • Are you sure that number is correct?
  • When did that happen? What date?
  • Who said what to whom?
  • Are you sure that is correct?

3) Precision: You can be clear and accurate but are you precise as well?

To be precise means to be exact to the necessary level of detail, to be specific. It requires exactitude, fineness, preciseness, rigor, and veracity. A statement can be clear and accurate but not precise (Jack is overweight). What do we mean by overweight? How does it differ from obesity? Thinking and speaking should be as precise as possible.

At the primary school level, and at home, precision is taught first through spelling and math. The words your child learns must be spelled correctly and pronounced correctly. The math answers must be precise: two plus two cannot be five.

If you wish to teach quality standards to your child you will help them to learn about the importance of precision, when it is necessary and how to avoid exaggeration.

Questions that encourage precision:

  • Can you give me more details about that?
  • Could you be more specific
  • Could you express your claims more fully?
  • Have you exaggerated any aspect of your position?

Have you used questions most relevant to your current situation? Teach your child to answer with the core ideas and concepts first, then provide more details. 

4) Logic

The fourth pillar is logic, i.e., do the parts and how they are arranged make sense, do they make for sound judgment and reasoning. Obviously, thinking can vary in its degree of logic. The main point is to lead them to think in an orderly way that closely resembles reality and is “logical.”

When we teach our children to be logical we ask them if what they are saying or thinking is consistent and integrated. Does the whole thought or the components of the thought fit together sensibly and plausibly? Does the answer demonstrate the correct structure? Does it fit into a recognizable pattern?

One of the main tests of logic to answer is if what your child says follows from the evidence. Can your child identify and provide examples which help to establish the veracity of what has been said?

And there is always the test of: “does this really make sense?” 

Questions that encourage logical thinking 

  • Does the solution make sense?
  • Do the pieces of the solution fit together tightly?
  • What is the line of reasoning that brought you to this point?
  • Can you explain the process you have used to come to this conclusion?
  • Can you show how this answer fits into the overall structure of the domain? 

So, these are the Big Four: Clarity, Precision, Accuracy and Logic form a group of very important standards, call them “The Big Four.” They are the fundamental standards which children must learn. As a parent, you should pay close attention to them and encourage your children to develop respect for them. They should have a strong grasp of the significance of these standards and most of their learning behaviour should be guided by the big four.

Summarising intellectual standards

Your child is learning to think critically. He or she has developed a general grasp of what it means to learn and with your help has learned cognitive learning strategies which notably increase the effectiveness and durability of learning.

He or she has learned to use mindfulness, metacognition, to facilitate learning and problem solving and to help provide personal feedback on progress and adequacy of learning. You have paid attention to, and have understood, the importance of developing dispositions and managing their interactions with emotions. You know that self-efficacy is the key to motivation and successful learning and application.


Fact Box

The importance of Relevance, Significance and Meaningfulness



Something is relevant when it bears upon or relates to the matter at hand. It is pertinent, appropriate, apt and fit. Normally we look for a close logical relationship with the matter under consideration. This is part of the development of the underlying structure of the subject at hand. When your child is responding to questions related to problems being solved you will want them to give relevant responses.

When your child is asked to work on solving a problem, then the relevance and coherence of original learning become apparent. If she can make relevant responses, it is evidence that during original learning, she was able to relate pieces of learning in a articulate structure.

Keep bringing your child back to respecting the importance of relevanve.


Questions that emphasise relevance

• How does this fact bear upon the issue?

• How does this idea relate to this other idea?

• Can you explain how your example, statement or story is connected to the current issue?

• How does your question relate to the issue?

• How can that idea or concept be applied in practice.

• Can your idea be related to an everyday application?

• How is it relevant? What is its relationship to the issue at hand?



It means having importance, being of consequence, having substantial meaning (meaningfulness). Though many ideas may be relevant, they often are not be equally important so we want our children to be able to identify the most significant information they need to deal with a particular issue? They should be able to identify which of a given group of ideas is the most important, which of these questions is the most significant?


Questions that emphasise significance


Which of these ideas is the most decisive in formulating your answer?

Which of these elements is the most essential?

Does one of these components have more strategic importance than the others?

Is there an element in this explanation or solution that appears to be more crucial or distinctive than others?

Is there an idea here that is exceptional or impressive in terms of the solution to the problem?

What part of this idea most likely has great meaning or lasting effect?


Meaningfulness: Depth of Thinking

When we talk about depth of thinking we mean that the person knows more than a little, has a more profound knowledge of the subject. In the case of literature a person who has read ten major works of classic literature has a good start but cannot be compared to a person who has read over one hundred works. Depth means containing complexities and multiple interrelationships, with thoroughness of thinking that probes beneath the surface, goes deeper, ask is this question simple or complex? Depth includes information: how well does the child know the subject? How much time and information has he acquired in relation to the subject? Depth means complexity, thoroughness, an understanding of intricate details about a subject. It typically involves engaging students’ imaginations and emotions in learning and it builds confidence and pride in their knowledge.


Questions to stimulate depth as well as to ascertain your child’s depth are:

What makes this concept so complex?

What are the components of the concept that must come together?

Can you provide further details of the subject, idea or concept?

In thinking, depth also means to use reasoning processes that are not superficial but truly deal logically with the complexities inherent in the question.