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Teaching Critical Thinking Skills

Teaching critical thinking skills is a vital component of modern public education. Frequently, education is torn between the desire to create critical thinkers and the need to impart an agreed-upon body of knowledge. However, content education is frequently criticized for turning students into passive learners. Therefore, the need to transform students into critical thinkers is regarded as a key educational goal when designing curriculum.

With the Internet, the amount of information available to students is vast, and can be a confusing forest of conflicting ideas. Without teaching critical thinking skills, students will be unable to navigate through this forest, and unable to make sound decisions regarding the veracity of information. Teaching Critical Thinking Skills Passive acceptance of all information is a disservice to the very idea of education. Individuals need to be able to make judgments regarding presented knowledge, and need the ability to discern paths towards good judgment.

Critical Thinking Skills

The path towards good judgement rests in the following 5 critical thinking skills that can be taught in a variety of different ways in the classroom:

  1. Reasoning - The standard of ensuring that information in pertinent or applicable to a problem.
  2. Evaluating - Ensuring that what we have heard or what we are thinking is clear, accurate, precise and relevant. Differentiating between assumption and information.
  3. Problem Solving - investigating the complexities of a problem or issue and outlining a solution.
  4. Decision Making - Ensuring that the most important information is taken into account in the reasoning process.
  5. Analyzing - Bringing thoughts together in an orderly fashion.

Right from the start, information differs from inferences and assumptions because it is generally concrete and can be evaluated for its accuracy. Assumptions however, while they can be accurate, are vulnerable to a number of forces that can distort factual information, thus rendering them inaccurate. In turn, the inferences that are made from assumptions are then vulnerable to the same inaccuracy.

The Dimensions of Problem Solving in Teaching Critical Thinking

When teaching critical thinking, note that there are several dimensions to problem solving.

  1. The first dimension of problem solving calls for establishing our goals, our purposes and our needs.
  2. Explicitly identifying the problems that prevent us from achieving or meeting them. This is one of the most important steps and yet is the one that I neglect the most. Obviously, it is impossible to even begin effective problem solving without first accurately identifying what it is.
  3. The third dimension calls for establishing what information is needed on these problems and then obtaining that information. In those cases where one has identified an obstacle to achieving a certain goal, one learns that there are numerous sources of information to address problems.
  4. Fourth is the careful analysis, interpretation and evaluation of that information. This step cannot be overlooked or it makes the search and use of information useless.
  5. Because the actions that should be taken are not always explicitly defined in the information that is gathered, the fifth dimension is necessary for figuring out and evaluating the options for action.
  6. The sixth dimension involves establishing how the selected option for action will be carried out, which requires developing and implementing a strategy that addresses the problem.
  7. Finally, take appropriate action and then monitor for implications. Monitoring or looking for both the positive or negative outcomes of a problem solving strategy is a great learning tool and preparation for the next problem that has to be solved.

Students who become critical thinkers are more likely to become open-minded individuals with the ability to understand different points of view and change position on an issue with further understanding. Argument and reason play an important role in teaching critical thinking, so that classroom teachers must be able to use different teaching techniques in order to impart this necessary life skill. Teaching critical thinking skills requires the implementation of cooperative learning strategies and open-ended discussion, where the journey towards knowledge is more important than the content goal.

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