LifeGoals Critical Thinking Curriculum

A child entering the first grade is a curious combination of strengths and weaknesses-clever at one moment, unreasonable in the next, and "off the wall" in another. Children develop many kinds of analytic skills as they mature. The Critical Thinking Curriculum focuses on developing three specific types of analytic skills that are closely related to personal growth in the child. These are:

  1. Logico-mathematical growth stems from thinking about the abstractions of likelihoods and probabilities of future consequences. This also involves increasing the ability to generate and assess logical choice options.
  2. Understanding of "self" and the way we think is derived from enabling a child to think through the development and assessment of choice options by connecting them to their logical outcomes and their potential effect on achieving personal goals. Indeed, the ability to think abstractly about, and then define one's personal goals, provides a rich context in its own right for the child to develop a strong sense of self-identity and purpose.
  3. Understanding of other individuals and what drives their behaviors results in a sense of self-confidence, particularly when dealing with what could be classified as potentially anxiety-ridden situations. Basically, as one increases this type of analytic skill the uncertainty associated with new, unanticipated situations is greatly minimized.

It should be clear that the value of the LifeGoals GOOD Decision Model goes even beyond its primary intent to teach children critical decision-making skills; namely, it serves to increase these three important types of analysis that can help accelerate the child's mental growth.


There are four strategic imperatives that define the development of the GOOD Decision Model. The first imperative involves the basic psychological and philosophical perspective of the GOOD Decision Model. Simply put, the GOOD Decision Model focuses solely on linking the right choice to one's own personal goals, and not on determining what the goals ought to be. Certainly, goal-related discussions will emerge in the classroom, but the philosophical belief of the GOOD Decision Model is that the most appropriate and beneficial discussions concerning a child's specific goals should take place at home with one's parents.

The second key imperative is to teach children how to develop and ultimately assess the causal linkages between choice options and consequences of that choice, and, ultimately, to link the longer-term consequences or outcomes to personal goals. Lessons used in the GOOD Decision Model rely on the child making connections, or associations, across all of the component levels of the GOOD Decision Model. That is, as the curriculum advances, children learn and re-learn the definitions of each of the components involved with the decision-making model. They learn how to mentally identify the future implications of their choice options across each of the levels in an interactive fashion.>

Third, it is imperative we teach children to think about their future. To this end, every module of the curriculum will focus on developing the concept of time, continually expanding upon it for every age group.

The fourth imperative-and the principal goal of the GOOD Decision Model approach to providing the foundation for character development-is to enable the child to construct a complete decision network for any choice situation that s/he may encounter. Once a child can work with the decision-making model as a unified whole and integrate all levels of choice implications, the GOOD Decision Model will serve as a basis for constructive communication. This includes teaching the child how to deal with complex situations, like drug use, sexual behavior, or of explaining, after the fact, why a particular choice was not-so-good. Importantly, the ability to "mentally rehearse" and prepare for potentially problematic life-situations is a significantly differentiating positive for the GOOD Decision Model approach.

Basically, then, the premise of the GOOD Decision Model is that a teaching framework for decision-making will enable students to discuss the degree of fit, or conflict, between choices and goals in an open, constructive atmosphere. The central assumption of the GOOD Decision Model is that young people can learn to think clearly if they are taught a logical framework for assessing choice options in the context of the their own personal goals. Teaching this Model of decision-making essentially means GOOD decisions. GOOD decisions, meaning Goal-Oriented Option Development, is the defining descriptor underlying the Critical Thinking Curriculum.


There are six fundamental reasons why the GOOD Decision Model is different from the standard methods of trying to provide character education.

  1. The GOOD Decision Model is grounded on the premise that character should be taught in the home, and that a character community of parent, child and school can help reinforce these principles. The Critical Thinking Curriculum focuses upon teaching a comprehensive decision-making model and process of thinking that helps children understand how the bases of character can be translated and used in everyday real-life choice situations.
  2. The GOOD Decision Model is based upon real-life scenarios and the potentially conflicting factors therein, including social relationships involving peers, siblings and parents. These scenarios are organized by type of setting: school, home and community environments.
  3. Teaching the GOOD Decision Model involves decision-making homework assignments (real-life scenarios) in which parents are asked to participate, facilitating the development of the "character community" through parent-child-teacher discussions.
  4. Assessment of the child's ability to understand and utilize the decision-making process of the GOOD Decision Model is a key component of the curriculum, which permits tracking of these Critical Thinking skills from year to year.
  5. The GOOD Decision Model is generalizable into other academic areas, both in the elementary grades and into secondary school. In elementary school, for example, decision-making can be included in the reading curriculum given its key teaching components of understanding and reasoning. In secondary school, extensions to analyzing the decision-making of others, ranging from literature characters to historical figures to even mathematics, offers unique opportunities to reinforce decision-making as one of our universal life-skills.
  6. LifeGoals is the only curriculum that is based upon a theoretically-grounded and proven model of decision-making.

In brief, recent efforts to teach Character Education in our schools have consistently fallen short of their intended goals for three reasons:

  1. Character education is usually defined as "what should you do" without presenting the choice situation in a real-life context, which fails to account for the dominant factors that influence our children's choices.
  2. Teaching character with a top-down approach, such as taking an abstract concept (i.e. value or virtue), and focusing on its meaning and assuming the student can apply this abstraction to real-life decisions is ineffective in that it requires the student to make the important associations and translations, which most are not equipped to do.
  3. The essence of good character is decision-making. Without focusing on decision-making, generalizable to all types of choice situations, how can any character curriculum be effective? Character first involves making a decision, and secondly, acting upon it.

What we need to teach our children, then, is a simple, everyday model of decision-making that applies to all choice situations from "brushing your teeth" to "studying for a test" to "telling the truth." A person of character is defined by all of his or her decisions, not just a select class of decisions that some individuals may think are important.


The underlying method in the Critical Thinking Curriculum is to teach the process of understanding and elaboration of choice options by way of Goal-Oriented Option Development (GOOD), which frames and graphically represents the entire decision-making process. Rather than simply constructing a model of desired behavior, the teacher will serve as a coach or facilitator by posing questions, and then assisting the children to work through the components of the GOOD Decision Model. The questions enable students to uncover their own thinking about choices, and then guides them through a rational decision-making process.

It is important to remember, the answers are in the students' heads, and it is the teacher's role to help uncover them. The teacher focuses on communicating the decision-making process, not the decision.

The LifeGoals Critical Thinking Curriculum focuses on explaining and working with each component of the GOOD Decision Model, adding a higher level of complexity each year of elementary school. In every lesson there is continual reinforcement of the need to step back and analyze choice options using examples from the students' everyday lives.


For elementary grades 1-6, there are basically 30 lessons to be covered each semester, which is two sessions per week, typically ranging from 20-30 minutes on average. In the later grades, as more involved applications are taught, longer time for class discussion is recommended. The teacher determines the order of the lessons. The opportunity to select a lesson to reinforce what is going on in the classroom on a particular day offers a unique learning experience.

Graphic diagrams of decisions, or decision networks representing the most frequent choice pathways, are included with each lesson, but the teacher is encouraged to lead the discussion and use the decision concepts generated by the students.


Assessment stands as a necessary element of any educational curriculum, and is one that clearly sets apart the decision theory-based LifeGoals curriculum from any other concept-based curricula, such as character education. The development of a methodology to measure the "depth of thinking" process of elementary-aged students in a reliable and easily communicated format was a significant breakthrough. The written assessments, which begin in the third grade, use a real life decision problem that requires the students to answer five sequential questions that parallel the decision-making process. Students basically move from selecting choice options, to identifying the positive and negative aspects of each choice option, to explaining why they chose the option they did. This open-ended format utilizes a scoring system that focuses on the levels of thinking utilized by the student, and does not simply score "right versus wrong." Multiple measures corresponding to each aspect of the decision-making process are scored.

One of the great advantages of the LifeGoals curriculum is that these assessments can be used as homework to be worked through with their parents. This offers a unique opportunity to build communications across the three groups of the character community - child, parent and teacher. Six assessments are provided for each semester, with the intent that three will be used as homework assignments and three will be used for in-class assessment.


Critical Thinking skills represent a fundamental element of the reading curriculum that is rarely, if ever, focused upon with specific teaching materials or lessons. And, even though Critical Thinking is typically listed as a key reading curriculum building block, no direct assessment of these abilities are made. LifeGoals offers a solution both to teaching this basic set of skills our children require and to assess their progress in achieving these skills.

In addition, the Critical Thinking Curriculum teaches the student how to analyze a real-life problem situation and reason through the available choice options available to them. The GOOD Decision Model focuses on the decision-making process, which has direct and very relevant implications with regard to their overall education, not to mention their chance of future success in life.