How to Teach Critical Thinking in Class

How do we teach critical thinking in the classroom? When my friend Naza asked me this question some time ago, I was on the spot. I mentioned a few things like you’ve got to ask open-ended questions; you’ve got to give students the opportunity to ask questions and relate lessons to their real-life so that they can feel invested in it. You should also use project-based learning where you give them a problem to solve and they can analyze how to do it.

Learn Techniques to Teach Critical Thinking

Let’s look in more detail at how we as teachers can teach critical thinking.

Benjamin Franklin said, “Tell me and I’ll forget, teach me and I might remember, involve me and I’ll learn.” I think that’s a great quote for critical thinking, for it makes us think, right?

As teachers, we sometimes simply stand in front of our class and impart wisdom as the most basic form of sharing information with students, but other times teachers just babble on simply because they don’t know of better methods to transfer knowledge effectively to their learners.

Of course it’s important to give detailed instruction to your students, but the best way we can actually teach them critical thinking is to involve them and to make them part of something bigger. That way you know they learn by doing and that’s the best way to learn.

Critical thinking is one of those things that a lot of teachers talk about when you attend a teacher’s meeting or your principal says we have to improve teaching using critical thinking methods because it’s such an important part of teaching.

Herein lies the big problem: To TEACH Critical Thinking.

A major study among American schools showed that 90% of faculty members considered critical thinking to be of primary importance to instruction, however, only 20% could actually explain what critical thinking is.

So, let’s first define what critical thinking is, and then from there, we can look at how can we teach it in the classroom and some extra techniques we can use.

Definition:

What is critical thinking? There are many definitions of critical thinking, but the man who coined the term was the American pragmatist philosopher and educator John Dewey (1859-1952) who introduced the term ‘critical thinking’ as reasonable, reflective thinking that is focused on deciding what to believe or do. As a progressive educator, Dewey encouraged a child-centered approach and identified critical thinking with a scientific attitude of mind.

“Critical thinking refers to the ability to analyze information objectively and make a reasonable judgment. It involves the evaluation of sources, data, facts, observable phenomena, and research findings.” Another definition states, “Critical thinking is the ability to think in an organized and rational manner in order to understand connections between ideas and/or facts.”

Good critical thinkers can draw reasonable conclusions from a set of information and discriminate between useful and less useful details to solve problems and articulate it.

The Best Way to teach Critical Thinking

The best thing you (as teachers) can do, is to teach people to write. Because there’s no difference between that and thinking!” This is the opinion of Dr. Jordan B. Peterson, the Canadian clinical psychologist and an influential intellectual in Western culture.

Jordan B. Peterson

“One of the things that just blows me away about universities is that no one ever tells students why they should write something!” Doing assignments is not for the grades, but because students need to learn to THINK critically.

“Because thinking makes you act effectively in the world. Thinking makes you win the battles you undertake, and those could be battles for good things.

“If you can think, and speak, and write, nothing can get in your way. So that’s why you learn to write. The most powerful weapon you can provide someone with is… the power of thinking critically.

“If you can formulate your arguments coherently, and make a presentation, if you can speak to people, lay out a proposal… People give you money, they will give you opportunities, you have influence.

“Teach people to be articulate! Because that’s the most dangerous thing you can possibly be. Why are you learning to write? Because it’s (like) your sword, your M-16, your bulletproof vest. Learn how to use them. It’s just an endless mystery to me, why that isn’t made self-evident.”

Strategies to Teach Critical Thinking

There are basically five strategies to teach critical thinking. If you have some kind of lesson that you’re doing in class or you’ve got a project or some type of work activity that you’re doing with your students.

  1. Compare: What is compare? You look at the similarities between things.
  2. Contrast: You can contrast by looking at what the differences are.
  3. Analyze: You break it into parts and you explain it.
  4. Categorize: You put it into different parts and examine it.
  5. Evaluate: Measuring the results and discussing it.

For teachers, I think the most important thing is teaching our students how to use information and also to understand that information also comes from an angle, especially in today’s milieu where you know there’s so much fake news. People in organizations present information from a certain viewpoint and there is a reason for them doing that and we have to take that into account. Our students shouldn’t believe everything. They should actually analyze it and then see what the value is and why.

Examples of Critical Thinking Strategies

The website ThinkThought postulates sixty examples of critical thinking strategies, stating that “A critical thinking strategy is simply a way to encourage or facilitate the cognitive act of thinking critically.”

They define Critical Thinking as “the application of analysis, interpretation, contextualizing, and synthesizing of data sources and cognitive perspectives in the pursuit of understanding.”

The best strategies, of which some overlap, are:

  • To use the Heick Domains Of Cognition Taxonomy
  • To Separate Cause and Effect
  • To Prioritize things
  • To Deconstruct something
  • To Reverse Engineer something
  • To Write properly “is one of the most cognitively demanding things students commonly do”
  • To Observe and Reflect is “a basic pattern for thought itself”
  • To separate the Subjective from the Objective, fact from opinion
  • To distinguishing between Beliefs, Facts or perceived Truths
  • To Connect Data, seeing the relationship between things
  • To use Formal and/or Informal Inquiry
  • To ask the 5 W’s – who, what, where, why, and when
  • To do Concept Mapping (a diagram that illustrates the relationships between different ideas)
  • To use Bloom’s Taxonomy
  • To apply Informed Skepticism (balanced judgment and analysis, using analytic skills)
  • To use Question and Statement Stems
  • To Explore the History of a Theory, an Idea, Stance, social norm
  • To Debate, Take and Defend a position
  • To Analyze from Multiple Perspectives
  • To Study Relationships between Facts, Observations, Ideas
  • To Revise Questions after Observation
  • To Observe, Revise or Critique something
  • To Compare and Contrast things
  • To Test the Validity of a model
  • To Create an Analogy
  • To Identify Cognitive Biases
  • To Use Model-based Learning.

Techniques to Teach Critical Thinking Early on

Critical Thinking must be introduced to students early on in the education process. This will enable them to become better problem solvers when presented with difficulty.

The following easy classroom techniques are prescribed in most American states to help students learn critical thinking, even from kindergarten on, and are in line with the USA’s Common Core Standard.

  1. Brainstorm before starting new activities. Give students the opportunity to think about what they’re about to do. “What will the book be about?” “Why do we study this?” “What will we learn about?”
  2. Encourage Creativity at each opportunity. Avoid using templates when students can use prior knowledge to do projects on their own.
  3. Guide students to learn Problem Solving by themselves. Use difficulties students experience as learning opportunities and do not just provide answers.
  4. Working in Group Settings exposes students to the thought processes of their peers and different routes to explore.
  5. To Categorize and Classify is important in critical thinking because it requires learners to understand and apply a set of rules, to compare and contrast and also to connect the dots.

“When the importance of critical thinking is introduced to students early on in the education process, students will be capable of having complex thoughts and become better problem solvers when presented with difficulty. It’s important for students to possess a variety of skills, but it’s just as important for them to understand how and when to use them.” – Janelle Cox, TeachHub.

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