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How to Improve Students’ Critical Thinking Skills

Kelly Nelson-Danley

Person drawing a brain on a wall. The brain has the words leadership written on it.Strong critical thinking skills are needed to perform effectively in both high school and college. Consequently, it is imperative that we begin teaching these skills to students as early as possible. Critical thinking skills in the classroom will ensure that students learn to analyze data and problem solve. The earlier students learn these skills, the more prepared they will be to apply these skills in the real world.

Importance of Critical Thinking in the Classroom

Critical thinking in the classroom is important in a number of ways. First, it helps students strengthen their problem solving ability and helps them make decisions by excluding guess work. Additionally, critical thinking helps students increase creativity and teaches students how to prioritize time and resources, thus allowing students to adapt quickly in an environment where such skills are needed. Critical thinking is a skill that students will need in high school, college, life, and in their careers. By teaching critical thinking skills in the classroom, educators are preparing students for the future ahead. 

Strategies for Encouraging Critical Thinking

In order to create a classroom environment where critical thinking is encouraged, educators must give students more freedom to create. Instead of giving students templates and a set plan of how to tackle a problem or task, teachers will provide students with the freedom to solve problems in their own way with the tools that they already have. The following are strategies in which teachers can use to encourage critical thinking in the classroom:

  • Model critical thinking.
  • Don’t be quick to assist, instead ask guiding questions.
  • Brainstorm before presenting students with a problem.
  • Provide opportunities for group work to expose students to peer thought processes.
  • Allow students time for creative writing.
  • Use stories to draw conclusions.
  • Connect stories to related concepts.
  • Allow students to struggle through rigorous work.
  • Ask questions that require students to think critically.

Provide students with frequent opportunities for discussion. Expand Students’ Learning Horizons

One of the most wonderful gifts educators can give to their students is an expansion of their learning horizons. Most days in school are spent within the four walls of classrooms. Educators have the task of bringing the real world into those classrooms to provide students with a glimpse of the world around them and an idea of what they might do when they graduate from high school. Teachers can do this by utilizing technology to give students experiences that they may never have the opportunity to experience, such as virtual field trips, research, interactive labs, exposure to other cultures around the world, and opportunities to use technology to develop critical thinking skills. 

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Additionally, educators can expand students' learning horizons by providing them with the critical thinking skills needed to be successful in an everchanging world that requires critical thinking. When teachers help students learn how to think, not what to think, they are preparing them to be successful problem solvers. 

Critical Thinking and the Future 

If we want students to succeed in today and tomorrow’s world, we need to teach students how to think. Flexible minds that can take in new information and respond to complicated problems will help students be prepared to live and work in  a contemporary global society.

The changes we’ve seen in the areas of education and careers in general show that we should offer specific types of learning experiences for students. Providing ways for students to participate in active learning and exploration can help students develop skills and real world awareness that will equip them for a constantly changing job market. 

Resources for Educators

Several helpful resources for incorporating critical thinking in the classroom are available to educators. Some of these include:

  • The Teach Thought Taxonomy for Understanding, a taxonomy of thinking tasks broken up into 6 categories, with 6 tasks per category.
  • A Collection Of Research On Critical Thinking by criticalthinking.org.
  • 6 Hats Thinking, a model for divergent thinking.
  • 4 Strategies for Teaching With Bloom’s Taxonomy. 

There are also several programs that teachers and schools can use that will encourage critical thinking in students and automatically differentiate for them when using one-to-one devices. Discovery Education is one online program that schools can purchase to use as a tool for critical thinking in the classroom. The program has a virtual textbook that allows students to experience real world science and follows a to teaching science and provides students with online labs. 

It is important for educators to remember that as the world changes, so does the instruction we provide to students. By staying informed on how the future of education and jobs are changing, we can better meet the needs of students. Educators have a responsibility to prepare students for the future and they can do this by encouraging and implementing critical thinking in the classroom.

#CriticalThinking
#Education
#Teachertips

Oct. 14, 2019


Kelly is an assistant elementary school principal in NC; She holds a master's degree in elementary education.

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