Increasing Critical Thinking Skills in Education

This morning a joined the #HackLearning chat moderated by @pammoran and @irasocol.  There were so many great questions and learned a lot. The chat focused about changes we can make in learning and much more.  Questions 1 asked: What do you know about the world of 2050 that lets you plan an education for that? 

My answer was

A1: We can’t predict the jobs but whatever they are students will need to think critically to do them. So, our job is to teach our students HOW to think, not WHAT to think

After many more awesome questions (such as If you woke up tomorrow and the education system was “destroyed” what might be needed to get kids from age 4 to age 18?

And What current rule or significant constraint must be broken to build schools from scratch?

 I wanted to expand my thinking and thought it was a good next post. I like the twitter chat structure of 1 hour and just let your stream of thinking be visible. SO, this post I am going to complete in under an hour and just put my thinking down and if I run out of time, no proof reading….so here we go.

My answer in the twitter chat hit on the need to empower our students to be critical thinkers. I believe to be critical thinkers; educators need to provide students with the strategies and ask more than surface level questions. Questions to students must motivate them to dig up background knowledge and make some connections to real world scenarios to make the learning more memorable and meaningful. Critical Thinking is a general term. I believe this term means – students effectively identify, analyze, and evaluate content or skills. In this process, they (students) will discover and present convincing reasons in support of conclusions, answers, or their thinking.

You can look up critical thinking and get many definitions like this one from Wikipedia

“Critical thinking consists of a mental process of analyzing or evaluating information, particularly statements or propositions that people have offered as true.”

My current role is the director of digital learning and innovation.  I work and promote the use of 21st century tools and more importantly  thinking. Some key skills are

  • Communication and Information skills
  • Thinking and Problem Solving skills
  • Interpersonal and Self- Directional skills
  • Collaboration skills

The four bullets are skills students are going to need in any field and in all levels of education. Hence my answer to question 1 that we need to teach our students to think critically and for themselves.  I feel one of the goals of education is to prepare students to learn through discovery learning.  Providing opportunities to learn how to be Critical thinkers will assist students to analyze others thinking and examine the logic of others. This is an important skill in collaboration and in life.  Critical thinking will allow students to do more than just memorize knowledge.

So how do we do this?  A few recommendations for educators is to work deep questioning strategies into a lesson launch.

Ask thoughtful questions to allow for answers with good reasoning.  Students thinking is shaped by the world around us (quick answers often in very few words and no eye contact). When you are asking students questions and they provide an answer – try some of these to promote critical thinking:

  • Could you elaborate further on that point?
  • Could you express that point in another way?
  • Could you give me an illustration?

  • Could you give me an example?
  • Could you give more details?
  • Could you be more specific?
  • Should we need to consider another point of view?

  • Is there another way to look at this question?

Utilizing critical thinking skills could be seen as a change in the paradigm of teaching and Learning. However, thinking about some of the questions today on the #HackLearning chat, the  

Engagement in learning and application of knowledge will enhance the collaboration among teachers and students and provide the way students can succeed even if the school system had to start over. Engagement, application, and collaboration are skills that withstand the test of time.

I have blogged in the past (feel free to check it out) that active learning is necessary for the teaching of critical thinking. I am also promoting critical thinking be integrated into every aspect of instruction. 

A few recommendations to make this happen are:

Begin lessons/units with a probing question: It shouldn’t be a question you can answer with a ‘yes’ or a ‘no.’ These questions should inspire discovery learning and problem-solving.

Encourage Creativity: I have seen many times teachers prepare projects before they give it to their students (i.e designing snowmen or other “creative” projects). By doing this or cutting all the circles  out beforehand, it removes creativity options. Yes, it may help the classroom run more smoothly if every child’s material is already cut out, but then everything looks the same or is the same color. Not having everything prepped in advance is a good thing. Instead, give students all the supplies needed to create a snowman, and let them do it on their own. This will allow students to become critical thinkers because they will have to create their own with only the supplies you give them. Yes, a very simple example, but was the first one to jump to mind and it is getting close to the 60 minute mark.

Speaking of “Jump” – try not to jump to help too fast – let the students work through a productive struggleClick here to view my last post on this topic.

Build in opportunities for students to find connections in learning: Encouraging students to make connections to a real-life situation and identify patterns is a great way to practice their critical thinking skills.  The use of real world scenarios will increase rigor, relevance and critical thinking. 

A few other techniques to encourage critical thinking are:

  • Use analogies 

  • Promote interaction among students 

  • Ask open-ended questions 

  • Allow reflection time
  • Use real-life problems 

  • Allow for thinking practice 

It is minute 52 so I will wrap up (unfortunately, no proof read because I still have to post it to WordPress and tweet it out, so feel free to send feedback or jab fun at any errors). Critical thinking prepares students to think for themselves for the rest of their lives.  I also believe critical thinkers are less likely to just go along with the crowd because they think for themselves.

I am hopeful this blog post will encourage educators to design lessons with the goal and time for students to internalize and analyze concepts they are learning.

SO, I will revisit question 1 from this morning and add to it

Q 1: What do you know about the world of 2050 that lets you plan an education for that? 

A1: We can’t predict the jobs but whatever they are students will need to think critically to do them. So, our job is to teach our students HOW to think, not WHAT to think in order to increase critical thinking skills.

2 thoughts on “Increasing Critical Thinking Skills in Education

Add yours

  1. Nice work, especially in such a limited time. Critical thinking is something that needs to be experienced to be picked up from what I’ve noticed, as it is most certainly a skill that students acquire rather than explicitly learn. Most are even unaware of the fact that they are being led down the path of critical learning skills in the first place because they are so busy molding the concepts and playing with them in their minds.


  2. Really loved this one… I have been identified as a jumper in my professional as well as personal life!! Xxoo

    Sent from my iPhone



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