Cart 0

Critical Thinking in Elementary School English Language Arts

Seminar Leader:
Karen Detlefsen & Terry-Anne Wildman


From an early age, children wonder about questions that are fundamentally philosophical. Who is freer: my mom or me? What makes a friend a good friend? What should I do when my best friend lies to the teacher? One of the most effective ways of engaging children’s natural philosophical thinking is to use literature to elicit philosophical questions and probe children’s intuitions on them. Grounded in logical thinking and the examination of assumptions and unexamined beliefs, philosophy is also a wonderful way of cultivating critical thinking capacities that are transferable across other school subjects. Studies from the UK and Australia indicate a notable increase in the standardized test scores of students who engage in formal philosophy curricula.
In this TIP Focused Seminar, fellows will read and discuss philosophy implicit or explicit in the texts of the ReadyGEN Classroom Library texts for grades 3-5. Fellows and the seminar leaders will build a critical thinking and philosophy curriculum together in light of themes that the Fellows emphasize when teaching these texts. Seminar fellows and leaders will then discuss the philosophical readings while collaboratively developing lessons plans that integrate philosophical content and critical thinking skills into the teaching of the ReadyGEN Classroom Library texts. Fellows will have the opportunity to pilot these lessons with their students throughout the duration of the seminar to share experiences with an eye to polishing lessons for future iterations of the class.
Fellows and seminar leaders will meet on Thursday, May 30th or Saturday, June 1st (the seminar meeting time will be responsive to Fellows’ needs and preferences) to collaboratively create the philosophy syllabus. Fellows will have the summer to read the philosophy texts. Throughout the fall, seminar participants will meet weekly for 2 hours on either Thursday evening from 4:30-6:30pm or Saturday from 11am-1pm to discuss the philosophy, critical thinking materials, and to develop and test lesson plans. We will set the seminar meeting time in accordance with Fellows’ preferences, as stated in the application.

Karen Detlefsen is Professor of Philosophy and Education at Penn. She offered a traditional TIP Seminar in Spring 2018 on Philosophy, Science and Society. Her research focuses on early modern philosophy, including the history of philosophy of science, the history and philosophy of education, and women in the history of philosophy. She has published on a wide range of figures in early modern philosophy, including Astell, Cavendish, Conway, Descartes, Du Châtelet, Hobbes, Leibniz, Malebranche, and Wolff, covering topics in metaphysics, the natural sciences, ethics and political philosophy. She has held grants from the National Science Foundation, the American Council of Learned Society, the Australian Research Council, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Council of Canada.

Terry Anne Wildman is a retired elementary school teacher from the School District of Philadelphia. She completed five Teacher’s Institute of Philadelphia curriculum units, served as a Teacher’s Representative, and was a Yale National Fellow for two years. In addition, she was a fellow in the Teaching American History Grant Program with the School District of Philadelphia for six years. She recently completed a project with the Museum of the American Revolution, co-writing the Teacher’s Guide for the Through Your Eyes main exhibit.

Unit TitleAuthor


Critical Thinking in Elementary School English Language Arts

Karen Detlefsen, Terry-Anne Wildman, Eliezer Gottlieb, Geralyn McGinty, Kimberly Gallagher, Kireema Sprowal, Lisa Yau, Melissa Green, Peggy Savage, Stephen Esser, Allauren Forbes
Keywords: Critical thinking, ELA, elementary, English