How do we get students to think critically? How do we get them to take an interest in our disciplines, to move beyond a concern with «just making the grade» or merely preparing for some standardized test that guards the gates to graduate and professional schools? How do we arouse their curiosity? How can we make a sustained difference in the way they think and act? How can we help students to become active intellects, human beings who are able to understand important ideas, to analyze and evaluate the arguments and evidence that support those ideas, to collect and use evidence in reaching their own conclusions, and logically and consistently to examine conflicting claims? In short, what can we do to help and encourage more students to become like the best ones, and how can technology help us accomplish that goal? Before we consider technology and its applications, however, we must, first, determine how and why people learn?
At least a partial answer might come from the investigators who have studied intrinsic motivations. Two fairly simple theories have emerged from the research. First, human beings are naturally curious animals. Anyone who has spent much time with a five year old might echo this claim. Second, human beings are both rational and emotional creatures. We must appeal to the whole person, the attitudes and emotions as well as the ability to understand. In other words, people learn naturally while trying to solve problems that concern them. They develop an intrinsic interest that guides their quest for knowledge, and an intrinsic interest – and here's the rub – that can actually diminish in the face of extrinsic rewards that appear to manipulate that interest.
So what must we do as teachers? One big key may be very simple: We must pose questions that intrigue and fascinate, fundamental questions, «big» questions, questions that lie at the heart of our disciplines. Often scholars debate questions that are significant only because of some earlier question, which in turn, is significant because of some still earlier question, which derived its own significance from some still earlier question, and so forth. We often live our scholarly lives focused on questions that lie several layers beneath the surface of questions that first intrigued us. In teaching, we must be willing to dig back toward the surface and to meet our students there, to recapture the significance of our inquiries, and to help students understand why our current deliberations capture our attention. We cannot simply call out from our position deep within the ground and ask our students to join our subterranean mining expeditions. We must, instead, meet our students on the surface and help them understand the value and the location of the ores we pursue. We must help them understand why anyone might want to solve this problem or answer this question. We must remind them of the connection between today's smaller question and the larger issues.
We must also recognize that students are most likely to become intellectually excited and motivated to work if we appeal to their emotions, if we show some concern for them and some faith in their ability to succeed, if we ask about their attitudes and their values as well as about their ability to understand, if we act excited, and if we ask them both to understand abstract concepts and to see the relevance of those concepts to people's lives. We must appeal directly to their curiosity.
A critical thinker:
1. Is open-minded and mindful of alternatives
2. Desires to be, and is, well-informed
3. Judges well the credibility of sources
4. Identifies reasons, assumptions, and conclusions
5. Asks appropriate clarifying questions
6. Judges well the quality of an argument, including its reasons, assumptions, evidence, and their degree of support for the conclusion
7. Can well develop and defend a reasonable position regarding a belief or an action, doing justice to challenges
8. Formulates plausible hypotheses
9. Plans and conducts experiments well
10. Defines terms in a way appropriate for the context
11. Draws conclusions when warranted — but with caution
12. Integrates all of the above aspects of critical thinking
Critical thinking, as it pertains to teaching and learning,
can be considered an open-minded process of
discovery and understanding
analysis and application
synthesis and evaluation.
These three groupings and their six components reflect B. S. Bloom’s (et al-1956) hierarchical taxonomy or breakdown of cognitive educational objectives.
Teaching students to be critical thinkers presumes an environment where learners, building upon their knowledge and experience set, strive to understand how data and information can be used to develop, recognize, and/or critique general patterns of knowledge. The facility to work in patterns may be affected by the learner's «intelligence» as defined by Howard Gardner in three groupings:
object related: visual/spatial, body motion/kinesthetic, naturalist
symbol-related: verbal/linguistic, logical/mathematical, musical
person-related: interpersonal, intrapersonal, existential
What does the application of critical thinking look like in the class or school room?
New learning is introduced with what is already known
Goals and objectives, and their framework, are clear
for considering and acquiring new material
Generalization and conceptualization are integrated
into the learning process; and are frameworks for understanding what is taught
Internalization of knowledge is a goal,
and a risk
Learning not only draws upon the teacher,
but also fellow learners and content in many media formats, and can follow non-traditional avenues
Inquiry and questioning are teaching tools;
as is lecture
Demonstration of learning is integral to the learning process
Standards of evaluation are clear at the outset
What does a typical class period look like?
(accommodates 20 minute attention spans)
Review previous day, homework assignments
Bridge new material with advanced organizers
Lecture or content presentation
Perhaps through Socratic method of questioning
Small group discussions and tasks
Period of reflection or exercises in applying new material,
Helpful Techniques & Guides related to teaching critical thinking
Strategies for using questioning in the classroom
An active learning technique
Demonstrate thinking through problems, also that answers are not always readily available
Model the process of developing ideas, solutions, etc.
Cooperative conflict resolution
As an alternative to outlining or environment for brainstorming
Learning portfolios/records of progress
Develop opportunities for individuals and groups to develop documents
that reflect learning progress over time (minutes/journals; blogs/media productions; speeches/presentations)
Classroom space accommodates interaction
between small and larger groups of students as well as the teacher
Seize the moment/Gestalt/ah ha
Intentionally attack a current controversy or issue
Strive to develop mutual understanding of the issues on both sides
as well as the alternative processes of arriving at resolution(s)
with examples out of the students' own experiences to correlate concepts and applications
Provide feedback to the learner; considerations:
Were the objectives and standards understood?
What external events influenced behavior/outcome?
What will feedback contribute to the learner's self-understanding and development?
Is feedback based upon the results/answers/etc. or how they were developed (process)?