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When I'm working
on a problem,
I never think about beauty.
I think only
how to solve the problem.
But when I have finished,
if the solution
is not beautiful,
I know it is wrong.
R. Buckminster Fuller
1895 - 1983, American futurist

Teaching critical thinking

Critical thinking, as it pertains to teaching and learning,
can be considered an open-minded process of

  • discovery and understanding
  • analysis and application
  • synthesis and evaluation.

These three groupings and their six components reflect B. S. Bloom’s (et al-1956) hierarchical taxonomy or breakdown of cognitive educational objectives.

Teaching students to be critical thinkers presumes an environment
where learners, building upon their knowledge and experience set, strive to understand how data and information can be used to develop, recognize, and/or critique general patterns of knowledge. The facility to work in patterns may be affected by the learner's "intelligence" as defined by Howard Gardner in three groupings:

  • object related: visual/spatial, body motion/kinesthetic, naturalist
  • symbol-related: verbal/linguistic, logical/mathematical, musical
  • person-related: interpersonal, intrapersonal, existential

What does the application of critical thinking look like in the class or school room?

  • New learning is introduced with what is already known
    (Ausubel 1968)
  • Goals and objectives, and their framework, are clear
    for considering and acquiring new material
  • Generalization and conceptualization are integrated
    into the learning process; and are frameworks for understanding what is taught
  • Internalization of knowledge is a goal,
    and a risk
  • Learning not only draws upon the teacher,
    but also fellow learners and content in many media formats, and can follow non-traditional avenues
  • Inquiry and questioning are teaching tools;
    as is lecture
  • Demonstration of learning is integral to the learning process
  • Standards of evaluation are clear at the outset

What does a typical class period look like?
(accommodates 20 minute attention spans)

  • Introductory phase
    Review previous day, homework assignments
    Bridge new material with advanced organizers
  • Lecture or content presentation
    Perhaps through Socratic method of questioning
  • Small group discussions and tasks
  • Period of reflection or exercises in applying new material,
    or review
  • Reports
  • Summaries/exercises/developmental/application/demonstration activities

Helpful Techniques & Guides related to teaching critical thinking

  • Questioning
    Strategies for using questioning in the classroom
  • Problem-based learning
    An active learning technique
  • Thinking aloud
    Demonstrate thinking through problems, also that answers are not always readily available
    Model the process of developing ideas, solutions, etc.
  • Active listening
  • Cooperative conflict resolution
  • Concept mapping
    As an alternative to outlining or environment for brainstorming
  • Learning portfolios/records of progress
    Develop opportunities for individuals and groups to develop documents
    that reflect learning progress over time (minutes/journals; blogs/media productions; speeches/presentations)
  • Classroom space accommodates interaction
    between small and larger groups of students as well as the teacher
  • Seize the moment/Gestalt/ah ha
    Intentionally attack a current controversy or issue
    Strive to develop mutual understanding of the issues on both sides
    as well as the alternative processes of arriving at resolution(s)
  • Illustrate concepts
    with examples out of the students' own experiences to correlate concepts and applications
  • Provide feedback to the learner; considerations:
    Were the objectives and standards understood?
    What external events influenced behavior/outcome?
    What will feedback contribute to the learner's self-understanding and development?
    Is feedback based upon the results/answers/etc. or how they were developed (process)?
Curricular guides and resources:

Using feedback in the classroom | Teaching critical thinking | Bloom's taxonomy |
Teaching with questioning | Preparing guided notes |
A curricular idea! | Curricular resources and guides |
Learning Exercises & Games | Exploring learning styles |
Constructing true/false tests | Constructing multiple choice tests |
Constructing essay exams | Cross language resources including digital translators |
Online Learning/eLearning books and resources for teachers