- Monday 13 January 2020
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For years theorists have studied the importance of developing critical thinking skills in pupils to create confident and independent citizens of the world— people who can hypothesise about, analyse, create and evaluate the world they live in. However, while many teachers agree on the importance of developing these skills, time restraints and a push to teach content often impacts the time spent developing critical thinkers.
Critical thinking involves the ability to gather information, process it, evaluate it using evidence and apply the information to new situations. Developing these skills is a time- consuming and progressive journey which is enhanced through immersion in opportunities to practise and discussions.
Both Linda Elder and Richard Paul from the Center for Critical Thinking explain that critical thinking is a stage theory in which pupils progress from the unreflective thinker to the accomplished thinker in a series of six stages. During each stage, pupils must demonstrate they can transfer their critical thinking skills into all aspects of their lives. For this reason, progression through stages is time-consuming and requires a multitude of practise opportunities.
Other stage theories, including Bloom’s Taxonomy of the Cognitive Domain (Bloom et al. 1956) highlight the importance of progressing through hierarchical stages to develop higher- order thinking skills. Bloom et al. (1956) believe that simply recalling facts is the lowest level of thinking, progressing into comprehending, applying and analysing as the levels of thinking become more complex. Higher-order thinking occurs when pupils can evaluate the quality of information presented and use their knowledge to create and/or improve an item or a situation.
While adaptations have been made to Bloom's Taxonomy, the hierarchical nature of thinking still remains consistent. It is also imperative to note that pupils will progress through the stages at different rates, as with all skill development.
'Education is not the learning of facts but training the mind to think.' – Albert Einstein
So how can teachers promote critical thinking in the classroom?
- Oral language plays an important role in developing critical thinkers. Encouraging discussions where pupils question phenomena or points of view, justify their personal opinions using evidence, and use prior knowledge to find solutions or alternative methods, are vital. Providing pupils with opportunities to communicate with other pupils, teachers and school staff allows them to examine alternative points of view and ways of thinking about a topic.
- While critical thinking can be developed throughout all learning areas, some—such as science and design and technology—provide greater opportunities to develop these skills through hands-on investigations.
Science naturally lends itself to developing critical thinkers as it requires pupils to hypothesise about a topic, analyse or test the information, provide evidence to prove or disprove the theory/idea and evaluate the evidence. It requires pupils to constantly question the world around them and seek alternative solutions to local, national or global issues. Conducting experiments and open-ended tasks creates engaging lessons where pupils can develop their higher-order thinking skills.
Likewise, design and technology provides opportunities for pupils to use their prior knowledge to plan, create and evaluate a designed solution (a product or a service). Hands-on projects should be centred around an identified local, national or global issue/ need, such as planning and building a bird feeder for the local ranger. Pupils must use their lower-order thinking skills to plan the project and higher-order thinking skills to create and evaluate the effectiveness of their designed product.
Lastly, encouraging cooperative learning provides additional opportunities for pupils to justify their point of view, explore other pupils' points of view and reason with their peers to find the most effective solution/answer.
In summary, it is clear that developing pupils' critical thinking skills through oral discussions, hands-on investigations and cooperative learning activities is imperative and should be a priority in all schools to create critical thinkers of the future.
Looking for resources to encourage your pupils’ thinking skills, then take a look at our new release Higher-order thinking skills here.
Have you any other great ideas on teaching critical thinking in the classroom?
We would love to hear about them in the comments below.
- L Elder & R Paul, Critical thinking development: A stage theory, The critical thinking community, viewed 8 December 2015, http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/critical-thinking-development-a-stage-theory/483
- B Bloom, M Englehart, E Furst, W Hill & D Krathwohl, Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals, Handbook I: Cognitive domain, Longmans, Green, New York, Toronto, 1956, viewed 8 December 2015, http://www.edpsycinteractive.org/topics/cognition/bloom.html