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The power of critical thinking

For one week at the end of July, we were privileged to be in Missoula, Montana where Jon attended a course at the Rocky Mountain School of Photography. Jon learned about photographic technique and composition. But every time someone asks him about the experience, his emphatic comment is, “It was the best educational experience I’ve ever had.”

If you know Jon, you know that he’s spent thousands of hours in the classroom, both sitting in the seats and teaching. Such a statement coming from him is significant. So the question is, “What made it so excellent?” His response, “They taught me to think critically about how and what I photograph.”

I’ve written often about the importance of critical thinking. Jon’s exceptional experience is personal confirmation of its value. Some of the critical thinking his instructor asked them to do:

  • What factors do you need to think about when approaching a scene?
  • Are you identifying things in the scene that would connect with the viewer?
  • What will you choose in composing and framing the shot that will draw the viewer into the experience?
  • How will you exploit the technology in your camera to contribute to a memorable photograph?
  • What speaks to you from out of this space?

The structure of the course included classroom lecture and demonstration, field photography, and group critiques of the field work. Exposure to new ideas and processes, followed by applying the new knowledge in the field with an instructor alongside facilitating critical thinking, and finally reflecting on and examining the results led to an exceptional learning experience.

Although only an interested bystander, I found it inspiring to watch growth and development happen for everyone who engaged in this course. I continue to consider how to best apply critical thinking when I facilitate learning opportunities. Can you recall an experience where critical thinking made a significant impact?

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