One of the most difficult aspects of teaching is ensuring that your students are actually evaluating the information, rather than just regurgitating it back to you. Little wonder, most students can barely remember salient aspects of the content they have studied in recent past, much less apply the knowledge.
One of the ways to cultivate a rich learning culture is to develop critical thinking- a gift that will keep giving. As a matter of fact, the earlier students cultivate critical thinking, the more skilled they will be at producing sophisticated, thoughtful analyses of the challenges they face. That being said, what is critical thinking and how can we help learners to develop it?
Describing critical thinking as merely thinking clearly or rationally is an oversimplification. It’s about thinking independently- formulating your own opinions and drawing your own conclusions. This should happen regardless of outside influence. It’s about the discipline of analysis, and seeing the connections between ideas.
The best part is that teaching this skill doesn’t require hours of lesson planning. You don’t need special equipment or guest speakers. All you need are curious and open minds, along with a few strategies.
Instead of simply throwing the topic to the students, you might want to consider using guided discovery. This is the simplest foray into critical thinking. This can be done by developing essential questions that inspire a quest for knowledge and problem-solving. When you pose your question to students, encourage brainstorming. Have both small groups and big open discussions where students can dissect and discuss questions.
Second to this is creating a foundation. Students cannot think critically if they do not have the information they need. Begin any critical thinking exercise with a review of related information. This ensures they can recall facts pertinent to the topic. These may stem from things like: reading assignments and other homework, previous lessons or critical thinking exercises, a video or a text.
In addition, a great part of critical thinking is having information fluency, which involves knowing when to pursue and when to discard information. Students must learn to amass the appropriate knowledge to inform that thinking. Mastering the proper use of information is crucial to our students’ success in school and in life. It’s about learning how to dig through knowledge in order to find the most useful and appropriate facts for solving a problem.
You may also need to utilize peer groups. There always seems to be a comfort in numbers. Digital kids thrive on environments where critical thinking skills develop through teamwork and collaboration. Show kids their peers are an excellent source of information, questions, and problem-solving techniques.
Another thing you can try out is encouraging learners to sketch what they have learnt in plain diagrams or using info graphics. We are inherently visual learners. While it can be challenging to effectively communicate an idea without words, translating thoughts to picture form will encourage learners to think using a different mental skill set. It’s a great way for them to become truly invested in an idea.
There are many other ways to foster critical thinking among our learners, but these are the ones that have made the biggest impact for me. Critical thinking is a key skill that our students need to have in order to become life-long learners and self-advocates for themselves.
The writer is a Language Consultant