What is critical thinking?There are many definitions of critical thinking, making it difficult at times to understand the concept. Some feel that critical thinking is clear, rational, logical, and independent thinking, applicable to critical any kind of subject, problem, or situation (Global Digital Citizen Foundation). Many teachers and students hear the term critical thinking often because it is considered a learning and innovation skill (P21’s Framework for 21st Century Learning) often paired with problem solving necessary for school and the workforce. The Partnership for 21st Century Learning includes phrases such as reason effectively, using systems thinking, making judgments and decisions, and solving problems. Although some of these terms are self-explanatory, truly understanding what critical thinking means can be a challenge.
|Partnership for 21st Century Learning (P21, 2007) www.P21.org/Framework|
Why is it important?
Critical thinking is an important skill that takes time and practice. It requires students to understand their own reasoning, while dissecting their thinking, and looking at how that thinking is constructed. Finally, critical thinking requires students to evaluate and judge the quality of their own or another’s thinking. These are all important skills needed to be successful in our current society. For example, with such an emphasis on improving test scores, many students are graduating school lacking critical thinking skills necessary to succeed in higher education or in the workplace (Szymanski, 2013). Current research on critical thinking indicates that by having a more in-depth focus on enhancing critical thinking skills in schools, it can increase academic rigor and the scores on the standardized assessments (VanTassel-Baska, Bracken, Feng, & Brown, 2009; McCollister & Sayler, 2010; Snodgrass, 2011; Tsai, Chen, Chang, & Chang, 2013). When teachers create and facilitate activities that enhance critical thinking, students are better able to understand why something has occurred instead of only understanding what has occurred. This deeper understanding “allows the students to better analyze the circumstances surrounding the occurrence and differing viewpoints about the occurrence” (Tsai et al., 2013).
How does one foster critical thinking in students/classroom?There are many resources available for teaching critical thinking (see Resources). In order for teachers to effectively engage their students in critical thinking, they must shift their role from that of a lecturer, imparting wisdom for the students, to a facilitator of learning, allowing for discussions and encouraging an open thought process. Teachers need to encourage students to ask questions, evaluate multiple, sometimes conflicting, answers and opinions (Henderson-Hurley & Hurley, 2013; Tsai et al., 2013). Educational philosopher John Dewey always believed that students have an “innate love of learning” based on their survival instincts (p. 611). In fact, the simple act of discovery plays a central role in learning. When students “become interested in a problem as a problem and in inquiry and learning for the sake of solving the problem, [student] interest is distinctively intellectual” (Dewey, 1939, p. 614). Students who are strong critical thinkers will grow up making better decisions as adults and be creative, imaginative people who understand the world on a deeper level.
Resources:The Elements of Thought
The Critical Thinking Community
The Importance of Teaching Critical Thinking
The Critical Thinking Workbook: Games and Activities For Developing Critical Thinking Skills Resources and Downloads for Teaching Critical Thinking
P21 Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
Critical Thinking Infographic Poster
Henderson-Hurley, M., & Hurley, D. (2013). Enhancing critical thinking skills among authoritarian students. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 25(2), 248-261. doi: 10.1080/10511250300085841
McCollister, K., & Sayler, M. (2010). Lift the ceiling: Increase rigor with critical thinking skills. Gifted Child Today, 33(1), 41-47.
Paul, Richard. (2013). Retrieved February 29, 2016, from http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/dr-richard-paul/818
Snodgrass, S. (2011). Wiki activities in blended learning for health professional students: Enhancing critical thinking and clinical reasoning skills. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 27(4), 563-580.
Tsai, P., Chen, S., Chang, H., & Chang, W. (2013). Effects of prompting critical reading of science news on seventh graders’ cognitive achievement. International Journal of Environmental & Science, 8(1), 85-107. doi: 10.1002/tea. 20385.
VanTassel-Baska, J., Bracken, B., Feng, A., & Brown, E. (2009). A longitudinal study of enhancing critical thinking and reading comprehension in title i classrooms. Journal for the Education of the Gifted, 33(1), 7-37.