Bob Bain
Big Historian

Can you think of a curriculum or an approach to teaching that doesn’t promise critical thinking as an outcome? I can’t.

Unfortunately, most curriculum projects I’ve seen stop at the grand language, never defining what such thinking entails or where in the curriculum you might actually find students engaging in it. However, by regularly using the Big History Project’s claim testers to “see” and evaluate people’s assertions, BHP teachers and students give shape to one the most important and immediately useful thinking practices. Claim testing is one of the major reasons I’m very excited about the thinking students and teachers are doing in BHP. It is one of the course themes woven throughout every unit of BHP, and it is paramount to critical thinking and historical analysis.

How is claim testing connected to critical thinking? Whether in the media, schools, workplace, or our personal lives, we are all surrounded by people asking us to accept the assertions they’re making. In order to think clearly about these, we first must “see” the claims and then determine their support. This isn’t easy to do, even for adults. However, BHP’s claim testers—intuition, authority, logic, and empirical evidence—provide students with memorable and accessible language to do this analysis. Plus, all the claim-testing activities in the course give students regular opportunities to sharpen their thinking skills.

Class Discussion:
The BHP course equips students with the language and practice needed to analyze claims made in many forms, including primary and secondary sources, data charts, videos, infographics, and even in-class discussions. It’s very important for students to see teachers modeling claim testing by making it a regular part of class work. Teachers might stop a video to ask about the support David Christian offers for one his claims, might ask students to highlight an article’s major and minor claims, or use claim testers to shape a discussion of a current issue in the news or in school.

In class discussions, teachers might encourage students to respond to each other with questions such as:

  • Do you think that’s a trustworthy authority? Why?
  • What’s the evidence for that claim?
  • Can you explain the logic for your statement?
  • This makes logical [or intuitive] sense to me but I don’t have much evidence. Can someone suggest some evidence to support this?

Some teachers even create a poster of such phrases to scaffold the regular use of the claim testers in class. Of course, claim testing should also become evident in students’ writing as they use these same strategies to show how they arrived at or are supporting their conclusions.

Learning to analyze claims is one of the most exciting, important, and useful outcomes of the BHP course. Critical thinking is alive and well in the BHP as long as our students learn to use the claim testers. And that’s a claim I’m very happy and proud to make.

We love hearing new ways that teachers use claim testers with their students. We enjoy even more when we see a student pinpointing the strength or weakness of a claim based on intuition, authority, logic, or empirical evidence. So please send along examples.



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