As you probably know we live in the 21st century. All of the problems and challenges our ancestors had before, now seem different for us. Due to the new age requirements most of them appear to be outdated, easy and irrelevant. The 21st century or information age requires a set of skills in order to be successful in the modern society and we, as educators, should convey and develop this knowledge in our students.
Inside various frameworks of 21st century skills (21st century skills, 2014) there is a constant component corresponding to the basic ability of a human – thinking, and thinking critically. But what do we actually mean by critical thinking? Robert Ennis (1993), an undisputed authority in the field of critical thinking and one of the authors of famous critical thinking assessment tool, represents educational understanding of the term: “reasonable reflective thinking focused on deciding what to believe or do” (p. 180). At the same time, we may also refer to comprehensive definition given by the National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking (1987): “intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action” (par. 3). Putting it all together, the critical thinking is a skill, giving ability to look on common things in a new way, distance yourself from an issue and evaluate it independently. The majority of modern job offers requiring intellectual effort will not be productive without such aptitude.
Finally, being acquainted with the term, you may logically ask me how to develop critical thinking in students. There are a number of strategies and techniques stimulating critical thinking. In order not to be too broad and give you exact directions, I prefer to use tactical and structural recommendations by Richard W. Paul and Linda Elder (2000).
First. Design lesson with a purpose to retain more knowledge in students’ minds. Do not overload them with information.
Second. Speak less, let students talk and think.
Third. Give students possibility to read a text; do not provide them with ready explanation. In other words, teach them how to process a text and make conclusions.
Fourths. Introduce big concepts generally; spend more time on analysis and application of the concept rather than discussing 50 terms of the concept in details.
Fifth. Present concepts as far as possible with the examples of concepts’ application in real life. Draw interconnections between them in subject areas. Always refer to the general concept in relation with current.
Sixth. Think aloud in front of your students, let them observe how you process the information and establish connections between ideas.
Seventh. Develop or use developed specific strategies for cultivating critical reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Use Socratic questioning.
Eights. Engage students who do not raise their hands up. After receiving answer switch to another passive students ask them to explain expressed idea in their own words.
Ninth. Break the class frequently into small groups and give specific task with a time limit. Then let them report findings and problems they faced with.
Tenth. Design all activities and assignments, including readings, so that students may think in their way through them.
Eleventh. Clearly articulate what you are expecting from students.
And finally, spell out as completely as possible what your philosophy of education is, how are you going to structure the class, and why the students will be required to think their way through it.
In sum, as can be seen the importance of critical thinking skill development plays irreplaceable role in the digital age. We may observe that the objective to nurture students’ ability to think critically is quite achievable. All we need is to use pedagogical experience and be totally passionate about the idea of educating our students.
Check out this video and you will know that magic kills critical thinking!
21st century skills. (2014, September 15). The glossary of education reform. Retrieved from http://edglossary.org/21st-century-skills/
Paul, R., & Elder, L. (2000). Critical thinking: Basic theory and instructional structures handbook. Foundation for Critical Thinking. Retrieved from http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/tactical-and-structural-recommendations/467
The National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking. (1987). Critical Thinking. Retrieved from http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/defining-critical-thinking/766