Nine ways to improve teaching critical thinking

by / Tuesday, 25 June 2013 / Published in Critical Thinking

Critical thinking skills are fast becoming the most important tool of education today, to teach children how to think and to think critically should be central to your approach of whatever subject you teach.

However if you are a beginner and have never taught these skills continue reading and you will find 10 suggestions that will help you develop the teaching skills to help your students excel not only in the classroom but when they move into the world at large.

 1. Questioning, questions, and more questions.

Questioning makes critical thinking what it is today coming from the time Socrates to today it is the heart of critical thinking. You as a teacher, you want to create environment where your students curiosity is developed, where questions are encouraged.

So often today, students only sit back and regurgitate the thoughts and ideas of their teachers because they’re trying to get a grade or want to make the teacher happy. What you want is a classroom where the intellect is stimulated and thoughts abound

Eventually your class will begin thinking at a higher level and ask questions that you probably have never anticipated and that is the beauty of this method.  Sometimes you will find the students leading the class, and this is what you want. You may also misdirect your students using wrong answers to see if they can pick up the fallacy in your arguments.

 2. Prompt your students at the beginning and help them take apart your argument.

At the beginning of class, give your students an outrageous question that provokes thought.

Then help them build a logical argument around it showing them how to break it down. How do they identify the question’s ambiguity, and the subjective terms.

3. Demonstrate the tools of conversation.

Highly experienced teachers at the start of a new class provide for students sentence starters, connectors and partial phrase fragments used to construct questions and responds to questions.

For example:

I agree

I think that…

I disagree because….

This gives students the habit of using proper argumentative language that allows them to organize, analyze, and properly convey their thoughts.

4. Encourage controversy constructively.

Active discussions are usually between differing perspectives. Usually involves some degree of conflict between perspectives. Using a “devil’s advocate” is a good technique to setup controversy.

An idea is to secretly give one of the students a card, in beginning of the class, with the opposite viewpoint of the topic coming under discussion.

This usually guarantees a lively discussion as students may often not normally think in opposing viewpoints with the group unless prompted.

However, before attempting this, the teacher should demonstrate the proper way that politely expresses opposing views in a logical and non-subjective manner.

This prevents the discussion from degenerating into chaos. Arguments are thought out before being spoken aloud. After this, the teacher should stand back and let the students run the discussion. You will be on the sidelines as a coach and facilitator.

5. Choose topics that the students can relate to and are relevant to them.

Choosing the topic is very important. If the students are not interested in the topic and it doesn’t motivate them to speak it is impossible to get good discussion from that.

So getting a selection of topics that strike a chord with the students is a skill that takes time to develop. Topics should be selected based on the student’s life experiences and this will be depend and change from class to class. Having said that, usually it is safe to choose topics based on art, music, and travel. After the students get used to the techniques of discussion then it is possible to branch out into topics that are more controversial.

6. Setup Socratic discussions.

Socrates over 3000 years ago created a method of instruction based on questions.

It has since been discovered that if you have 30% of the knowledge while discussing or writing. A synthesis occurs and up to another 70% knowledge is created during this process.

Socrates knew this. Which is what made The Socratic Method and its use so powerful in the development of western civilization.

Using the Socratic Method students ask one another questions logically not subjectively with that goal of furthering and deepening the understanding of a given topic.

This creates in the students a higher level of thinking and organization of thought.

This is the point where teachers need to back away and allow the students to discover for themselves new knowledge and understanding.

Only when there is a drop-off in the conversation or discussion may the teacher prompt with a question to get the flow going again.

 7. Assess the students’ understanding of the techniques.

As a teacher you need to discover if in fact their students are thinking critically. You need a snapshot of how they’re thinking during class discussions.

To do this you need to use a variety of tools to gauge and measure how the students are doing.

Challenge questions and evaluate how they respond to them gets you an idea of whether they are thinking and analyzing or just regurgitating rote knowledge.

Having them give discussions on random topics on the fly promotes rapid thinking skills.

Even an examination with the questions properly worded and the students having to give an essay type answers to demonstrate their thinking process and argumentative abilities helps you to see at what level their thinking, understanding, and their ability to communicate it.

8. Allow the students to observe and evaluate each other.

By giving the students the same criteria that the teachers use you help the students use the same standards that they use in evaluating the level of critical thinking in the classroom.

The next step is to set up a discussion where half the class forms a circle and a discussion topic is presented.

The other half the class forms a circle around the first circle and these students observe, evaluate, and take notes on the discussion.

This critique of the discussion used later in class so both halves of the class gain greater insight into their skills and abilities. The teacher also presents his evaluation to compare with the students to see the contrasts and points of agreement.

9. Step back.

This is the hardest skill to learn. Yes, you are the teacher.

Your job now is just to facilitate and allow your students to teach you and teach themselves.

This is the true secret of the Socratic Method. Whereby new knowledge is created from nothing.

So relax a little let the students do the work of teaching for you.

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