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The Importance of Critical Thinking for Students

In years past, education was focused on rote learning and the ability to retain and repeat information. Problem-solving was confined to mathematics, and experimentation happened in the science lab. Today, learning is moving toward developing skills that will prepare young people to navigate the real world outside of and after school.

Critical thinking specialist G. Randy Kasten believes that the ability to think critically will benefit students throughout their lives. It "is one skill separating innovators from followers." The definition of critical thinking is not universally agreed upon, but Kasten says "it is merely the ability to understand why things are the way they are and to understand the potential consequences of actions."

Today students are under a steady barrage of information, particularly from online sources, friends, parents and media, and it quickly becomes evident that they need to learn how to evaluate what they see and hear every day so they can identify false ideas and look beyond superficial appearances.

Thinking Independently

Critical thinking isn't just about thinking clearly or rationally -- it's about thinking independently, according to Lee Watanabe-Crockett on the Global Digital Citizen Foundation blog. He says "Critically thinking about something means formulating your own opinions and drawing your own conclusions. This happens regardless of outside influence. It's about the discipline of analysis, and seeing the connections between ideas."

Teaching Critical Thinking

A technique Watanabe-Crockett recommends for teachers is to simply begin with a question. The question needs to be one that encourages brainstorming and discussion. Coming up with the answer will require research and problem-solving, both closely tied to critical thinking.

Knowing which information to discard and which to pursue involves mastering the proper use of information, or information fluency. Acquiring information isn't enough. Students need to analyze it to help determine if it is true or not, and then apply the data to the question or problem.

Utilizing peer groups is another technique Watanabe-Crockett recommends. Peers can be a good source of information and, when working collaboratively, students can develop problem-solving techniques.

Role playing is a method students can use to exercise critical thinking. Watanabe-Crockett says to "Pair students up and have them research an historical conflict. Ideally it should involve an interaction between two famous historical figures. Then lead them to decide which character they each choose to play. They'll each have opposite points of view in this conflict. Have them discuss it until they can mutually explain the other's point of view. Their final challenge will be to each suggest a compromise." Having to thoroughly research and understand their opponent's point of view as well as their own helps them understand and defend their choices.

Getting students to think critically involves helping them set goals. It can be helpful to divide the process into three parts: planning a task, executing and monitoring the task, and doing a post-task evaluation and reflection.

Develop and Lead a Culture of Learning

Educators who want to incorporate critical thinking for students into curriculum development can participate in programs like the online Educational Specialist in Curriculum and Instruction (Ed.S. in C&I) degree program from the University of West Florida (UWF).

Learn more about the UWF online Ed.S. in Curriculum and Instruction program.


Edutopia: Overcoming Obstacles to Critical Thinking

Global Digital Citizen Foundation: 12 Strong Strategies for Effectively Teaching Critical Thinking Skills

Global Digital Citizen Foundation: Information Fluency

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