What is Critical Thinking? How do we teach it? And how does it fit into great PBL? | Edutopia
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What is Critical Thinking? How do we teach it? And how does it fit into great PBL?

What is Critical Thinking? How do we teach it? And how does it fit into great PBL?

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Laura Thomas in another post in this group mentioned the Critical Skills Classroom model, and this reminded me of one of my favorite topics, both when I teach students and when I teach teachers about PBL—namely, Critical Thinking. Education has been talking about Critical Thinking for centuries it seems, yet do we have a good definition for what it is? More importantly, do we have a good set of tools and ideas with which to teach it? And perhaps most importantly, do we know how to teach it to ALL students, not just the ‘better’ students? I have an article on some of these ideas (at least the definition part) that I would like to share with you, perhaps as a thought stimulator, but prior to that I would be really curious if any of you would like to share your thoughts as they stand currently. Any takers?

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Greg Holmberg's picture

I don't know much about it myself, but here's the information I've come across.



That last one has developed materials for teaching critical thinking explicitly (as opposed to it being some sort of side-effect of a science class), which I think is exactly what's needed. Of course, they're trying to sell you something, but it's still useful.

I would really like to see an entire course on critical thinking in our high schools. The state (CA, in my case) should develop or approve a curriculum.

I wonder if I could get my local my parent-funded "art & science foundation" to pay for such a course...

Erika Saunders's picture
Erika Saunders
6th-8th Special Ed, LS & Mentally Gifted teacher

This is one of those topics that continues to baffle me. Not that I don't believe in critical thinking - to the contrary. I thinking ALL thinking is critical. Isn't the act of thinking trying to make sense out of what we experience, trying to make meaning out of life?

Yes, much of what our students do day-to-day is not considered "academic". But have you ever listened in during lunch time, or out on the playground, or before class? Our students are constantly processing some of the most complex information - hearsay, hidden messages, body language, peer pressure, adult expectations, etc. Is this not critical thinking?

I work in a high-poverty, high-crime, section of a large urban city. What I see my students facing every day would challenge the best of us; we who are "critical thinkers". They navigate a world that lessor humans would crumble in, where critical thinking is truly a matter of life or death.

Much of what I do, in both classroom teaching and PBL environments, is to help my students understand what strong "thinkers" they already are. I help show them how they can take the logic of their thinking from home, the "streets", and with friends, and apply it to the educational setting.

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program

I've never triggered a thread before. I"m oddly thrilled! Just to clarify, Critical Skills isn't just about critical thinking instruction- though it's a common mistake. The Critical Skills progam (CSP) is about teaching skills and dispositions like problem solving, communication, collaboration, organization, and self-management alongside the existing curriculum. I'm inclined to agree that all real thinking (as opposed to rote response) is critical thinking, and the CSP is about helping teachers mover from teacher-centered instruction in which the thinking is largely regurgitative or rote to problem-based, student centered instruction that connects the student to his/her community via the curriculum and his/her passions. You can learn more and see examples at antiochne.edu/acsr/criticalskills. We're also on Youtube (courtesy one of our teachers) at http://www.youtube.com/user/CarpentryRVTC.

Pamela Blizzard's picture

I'd like to hear your definition and an experienced comments about how to teach critical thinking.

Jan Fall's picture

I am always looking for new, innovative ways to design learning for TEACHERS to better teach critical thinking to all kids. It has typically been included in gifted education but the strategies need to be presented so all students have the opportunity to stretch.

Rees Midgley's picture
Rees Midgley
Developing serious, educational games; our future depends on educ of kids

Our small non-profit, 501(c)(3) company, inDepthLearning, has been working to develop web-based, educational software. Supported exclusively by grants, most recently a large project from the NIH (NIDA), we have developed a serious game on the science behind illegal drugs: http://dsihome.org. Perhaps more importantly, the game focuses on critical thinking which we take to be thinking that can discern the importance of evidence from any source and use it to reason probable conclusions including those that that can make a difference in one's life. We believe this essential skill can be taught. The game (Drug Scene Investigator) starts with a problem (a mystery as to what drug caused a problem to a young person), provides opportunities to seek evidence in the form of clues from scenes, answers of witnesses, and laboratory experiments, and record this evidence as notes. Factual information is available from a library that presents the properties of drug classes and of individual drugs. Students seek relevant facts from the library, link them with evidence they gathered as notes, and then, for each linkage, they reason as to whether the linkage is supportive or refutive of the selected drug being causative. We combine this with questions providing formative feedback to all answers and opportunities to practice cooperative learning by chatting with other members of their team. In a pilot test students (grades 7-10) clearly learned about the science behind drugs of abuse and many said the game was "awesome." We are seeking schools to evaluate the game starting in January. For those who help with the evaluation, access is FREE, now and for the following year.

Sophie B's picture

To me, critical thinking reflects Bloom's taxonomy, in other words, besides just understanding and remembering information and concepts, people can also apply it to different situations, analyze it using logic, create or synthesize, and evaluate.

Erika, above, makes a good point that kids in many high poverty, high crime areas become very good at these skills for survival's sake. But, no, unfortunately, not all thinking is critical thinking in my opinion.

I took a Critical Skills class that Laura Thomas mentions, and it is indeed a terrific way to integrate all of these critical thinking skills in school.

Jack Drury's picture
Jack Drury
Professional Development Consultant - Leading EDGE

In "Critical Thinking:What It Is and Why It Counts" by Peter A. Facione


He refers to a consensus based definition of critical thinking:
"We understand critical thinking to be purposeful, self-regulatory judgment which results in interpretation, analysis, evaluation, and inference, as well as explanation of the evidential, conceptual, methodological, criteriological, or contextual considerations upon which that judgment is based. CT is essential as a tool of inquiry. As such, CT is a liberating force in education and a powerful resource in one's personal and civic life. While not synonymous with good thinking, CT is a pervasive and self-rectifying human phenomenon. The ideal critical thinker is habitually inquisitive, well-informed, trustful of reason, open- minded, flexible, fair-minded in evaluation, honest in facing personal biases, prudent in making judgments, willing to reconsider, clear about issues, orderly in complex matters, diligent in seeking relevant information, reasonable in the selection of criteria, focused in inquiry, and persistent in seeking results which are as precise as the subject and the circumstances of inquiry permit. Thus, educating good critical thinkers means working toward this ideal. It combines developing CT skills with nurturing those dispositions which consistently yield useful insights and which are the basis of a rational and democratic society."

I too am a "Critical Skills Program" Instructor as mentioned by Laura Thomas and believe you teach critical thinking by giving learners authentic opportunities to make and defend their decisions. Included must be opportunities for learners to reflect on their own and others' decisions. They must constantly be asking the questions, what worked? what didn't work? what will I do differently next time.

Steve Dahlberg's picture
Steve Dahlberg
Director, International Centre for Creativity and Imagination

... though so often our conversations about critical thinking omit the role of doing generative, divergent, creative thinking in the front-end of the thinking process BEFORE we do evaluative, convergent, critical thinking. We should talk more and more about "teaching and applying the skills of critical and creative thinking". Neither works nearly as well without the other.

Neal's picture

I think critical thinking in schools must involve asking students to practice the thinking required (and hopefully becoming skillful) to live successfully in a society such as ours. Why type of thinking does capitalism? a democracy? human plurality? raising kids? doing algebra? require? What we decide the answer is, is what students should be taught in K-12 schools and beyond. At least they is my opinion.

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