“Critical thinking” is a term more often heard than understood. Unless you’re fortunate enough to teach at a school that emphasizes it, your gut reaction may be that it’s related to “criticize” and must mean something like “thinking negative things.”
Not at all. If anything, critical thinking is “critical” in the other common sense of “vital”: no child should grow up without knowing how to use it, and no teacher can teach adequately without it.
Don’t panic at that last statement. You may well be an expert at critical thinking even if you’re unfamiliar with the term.
So What Is Critical Thinking?
“Critical thinking (n.): the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment” (Oxford Languages Google dictionary). Effective critical thinking means exercising:
Objectivity: ability to examine an issue from every angle and give due consideration to every point—including points that grate on one’s personal comfort zones.
Analysis: ability to examine all important data, contexts, and circumstances for the purpose of better understanding a larger issue.
Evaluation: ability to reach objective conclusions based on evidence.
Judgment: ability to determine—and implement—a best course of action based on evaluation of objective analyses.
Why It Matters
Without critical thinking, there would be no learning and no progress. Everyone would automatically continue doing things the way they’d always been done, and despising anyone who favored a different approach.
If that reminds you too much of the evening news, social media, or your school’s PTA meetings, you already know that critical thinking is a rare skill: it’s much easier to take the crowd’s word for everything. Worse, many people think they’re practicing reasoned thinking when they’re actually seeking evidence to reinforce their own prejudices.
Symptoms that someone is captive to thinking habits that are “critical” in all the wrong ways:
- Noticing only the facts that reinforce what one already believes, and always finding a reason to discount facts that support alternate viewpoints.
- Giving automatic credence to dubious “facts” that support one’s preexisting opinions.
- “Listening” to the other side primarily for the purpose of deciding how to refute their points.
- Making snap decisions on the basis of the first opinion heard.
- Analyzing a problem on and on, without ever feeling one has sufficient evidence to make a conclusive decision (like the pilot who was so preoccupied with a minor mechanical uncertainty that he forgot to watch his fuel gauge, people with this habit tend to recognize the most important points too late).
As a teacher, you want to encourage true learning by guiding your students away from such habits and into critical thinking.
Tips for Teaching Critical Thinking (whether or not it’s on the official curricula)
- Take a discussion-based, rather than a lecture- or media-based, approach to lessons.
- Ask as many questions as you answer, and not just yes–no questions from the official text. Especially, help kids practice critical thinking by asking questions that encourage them to explain the reasons behind their opinions.
- Have regular class activities that encourage thinking and observing: puzzles, cooperative games, outdoor time.
- Have a class rule that everyone pays full attention to whoever is speaking and respects everyone else’s viewpoints. Reinforcing self-confidence is vital to teaching effective critical thinking.
WE TEACH CRITICAL THINKING AT SHADY OAK
Shady Oak Primary emphasizes purposeful learning and the skills that prepare children to become contributing members of society. Critical thinking is just one of the 6 Pillars that support our philosophy. Contact us to learn more about our teacher resources and other educational opportunities!
Blessings to parents and children of all ages!