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Applying Critical Thinking in Teaching

By Dr Art Lynch

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General Teaching Methods for Applying and Promoting Critical Thinking Skills

Developing critical thinking skills is a process, not an event. Use the following suggestions to guide students through the critical thinking process. These suggestions are designed to increase the depth of discussions and lead to a greater understanding of materials while improving critical thinking skills.

  • Ask direct questions to guide discussions and learning. This method effectively stimulates student thought and alerts students to areas they may not understand. This technique frequently generates additional discussion, especially in an online environment.

  • Socratic questioning asks questions designed to make students think in deeper terms. These questions tend to be open and inviting in response. You might ask: “What do you mean when you say this?” “How did you arrive at that conclusion?” or “What evidence supports that statement?”

  • Focus questions are designed to recapture the original question’s meaning, which might be obscured during discussions. To return to the original focus, consider questions such as: “What is the question you are trying to answer?” “Is this a historical, scientific, ethical, or political question?” or “What important questions are embedded in this issue?”

  • Encourage team collaboration, which plays a vital role in developing critical thought. This opportunity fosters the exchange of feedback as students evaluate others’ work.

  • Identify concept application when possible. Understanding how to apply knowledge helps students value the learning experience and aids in learning transfer.

  • The role of language in critical thinking is an integral part of the process. Help students explore language by defining terminology related to key concepts early, present alternative terms, encourage paraphrasing, ask students to summarize others’ views, and question the use of specific terms, words, or phrases.

  • Encourage independent thinking by posing open questions; organizing debates; presenting alternate problem-solving methods; having students compare and contrast views with the facilitator, author, and other students; and asking students to provide additional information, perspectives, or opposing views.

  • Be a model of qualities and skills that are promoted to students. Take opportunities to model skilled thinking, intellectual humility, perseverance, autonomy, integrity, and fair-mindedness. Additionally, provide feedback on students’ reasoning processes, clarify your thought process to students, and share how you discovered a faulty process.

Working with students unaccustomed to using critical thinking skills may present challenges. Noncritical thinkers miss many opportunities to generate new ideas and possibilities. To assist students in developing and fostering critical thinking skills, encourage students to do the following:

  • State what they mean and provide examples.

  • Explain how they know their claims are true or how to find out.

  • Explain how their ideas relate to the topic.

  • Explain how their ideas mesh, why they make sense, and how they reached conclusions.

  • Consider how their ideas or behaviors make others feel or think.

  • Practice intellectual integrity.

  • Treat oneself and others with respect.

When asking noncritical thinkers to address problems or assignments, encourage them to do the following:

  • Consider the goal or purpose.

  • Restate the question in various ways.

  • Gather information.

  • Be aware of inferences and assumptions.

  • Clarify ideas used to understand the problem.

  • Understand their point of view.

  • Think through implications or possibilities.

Wrap-Up
Faculty have many ways to encourage, develop, and nurture critical thought in students. Employ a variety of techniques as you guide students through the critical thinking process.