To engage students and trainees in successful critical thinking skills development, and to reinforce a positive critical thinking mindset, there are a few basics to keep in mind:
- Use silence to allow everyone time to think through the question before the conversation begins.
- Pose thoughtful or insightful questions and intentionally allow 10–15 seconds of silence to elapse before calling on students to respond. Cognitive science research has shown that a pause of this length is necessary for the human brain to sufficiently process a question and formulate a reasonable response. Even 15 seconds of silence can seem a long time in a class session, but setting this expectation assures that one eager student will not end the thinking process for the entire group before all have had some time to practice their critical thinking skills.
- Work from example to theory. Discuss the examples in the text first, and then draw out the concepts they teach. This technique practices students’ inductive reasoning skills and promotes active engagement and inquisitiveness.
- Make the language of thinking a familiar vocabulary. Use critical thinking vocabulary when posing questions to students to reinforce conceptual understanding and promote recognition of reasoning. Use the names of the skills and the habits of mind that are found in the textbook. For example, use phrases such as: “What is your reason for that claim?” “Let’s interpret this statement,” “What inferences can we reasonably draw from these facts?” and “Let’s be systematic in our analysis.”
- Engage students in dynamic learning activities that promote independent thinking or exposure to the thinking of others. Suggested activities include maintaining a reflective journal; conversing with a partner, small groups, or the whole class; investigations, inquiries, and informed conversations; debates; simulations; role playing; fishbowl activities; panel discussions; brainstorming exercises; case studies; course blogs or wikis; individual or group argument mapping; social networking features such as asynchronous bulletin boards that are often found in course management systems; maintaining a paper or electronic Portfolio, and so on.
- Require students to provide reasons or explanations for all of their claims, interpretations, analyses, evaluations, and decisions. Ask why and expect a good, well-reasoned answer. Don’t let students get by with shut-down clichés such as, “That’s just how I feel,” “I was brought up to think that…,” “My parents always said that…,” and “It’s common sense.”
- Model strong critical thinking for your students. Your students watch you to see if you believe in the value of critical thinking, so what you say and what you do might be more powerful in motivating them to build their critical thinking skills than anything they read or hear in a lecture. If you show that you practice the positive critical thinking habits of mind and that you engage in problems and decisions by applying critical thinking skills, that message comes through to them. If you do not, you reflect a negative message.
Many thanks to Dr. Carol Gittens for this list of suggestions that are useful techniques an instructor can use to promote strong critical thinking. These appear in the teaching manual accompanying her book THINK Critically by Pearson Education. This is an excerpt from those materials.
If you are interested in additional strategies for teaching and training reasoning skills, check out the Resources on the Insight Assessment website.
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