Critical thinking skills are a key part of learning, and something you should make time to cover during training sessions.  Unfortunately, many teachers, particularly those running training courses don't spend very much time developing these skills in their students because teaching students to think critically is more challenging than simply delivering content in a lecture format.

While it can take a little more initial planning, once you are used to incorporating these skills into your teaching you will probably find that teaching becomes easier. Your students will be more engaged and participatory in the learning process than ever before!

Interpreting, Evaluating, Reasoning, Analysing

The main skills that you should be teaching to foster critical thinking are interpreting, evaluating, reasoning and analysing. A simple way to teach and practice these skills is through group discussion and a follow up writing exercise. This type of assignment often works best when you present students with a prompt or argument that they must discuss and defend.

It can be structured into three parts:

  1. Asking questions (whole group)
  2. Writing (individual work)
  3. Assessment

Ask Questions

Keep Bloom’s Taxonomy in mind as you prepare questions. Instead of jumping straight to analysing questions, it may be wise to begin with recall or basic comprehension questions. This will generate discussion and set the stage. Once students demonstrate their knowledge and show that they are interpreting and reasoning well, push their thinking by moving to questions that evaluate and analyse. This type of teaching will take some preparation, but does not need to be intimidating!

Prepare questions that:

  • Are open ended, with no correct or incorrect answer, which will draw students into discussion
  • Require an understanding of how pieces of information fit together
  • Are relevant and appropriate to the level of your students

The most difficult part about this stage for most teachers is to step back and let the students do the work! If you have prepared good questions that generate conversation, your students should do most of the talking. This can be challenging as it is different from the often preferred lecture style of instruction. Trust that your students are capable!

Provide Answers Through Writing

Once you have gotten the ball rolling by asking questions and there has been stimulating discussion, direct students to continue to gather and evaluate evidence. They will need to have information that substantiates their argument or opinion. Students can use other sources of information or continue to discuss with classmates, but will eventually need to formally put their thoughts down on paper.

Each paper should contain the following elements:

  • A claim, or thesis
  • Evidence to support the claim
  • Reasoning as to why the evidence does in fact substantiate the claim

(You will want to make sure that these three elements are clearly defined beforehand so your students know to incorporate them into their writing! This can be done at the beginning of the class or when students begin their writing.)

Assess their Critical Thinking

Once the writing stage is complete, you will need to assess your students’ critical thinking skills. As you evaluate their writing, look for arguments and points that meet the following criteria:

  • Accurate - statements are factual, and students provide sources for information
  • Relevant - points align to the thesis
  • Clear - arguments have clarity and are concise
  • Specific - justification of the claim is specific

Each point that the student makes in their writing should support their claim in a relevant way. There should not be any information that does not coincide with the argument that they are making. Obviously, their supporting facts should be accurate and specific.

This assessment stage can be done in several ways. You can evaluate each student’s writing and assign a grade based on the outlined criteria. You could also have peers the students grade each other’s work. Sometimes students are harder on each other than you may be! When assessing, it will be helpful to design a rubric in order to clearly gauge a students’ thinking skills.

A Few Final Tips

If this teaching style is completely new to you and your students, don’t worry! Here are a few tips to ensure success:

  • Make it Interesting. Choose content that students will find interesting or compelling.  The first time that you do an exercise like this, make sure to choose a topic that will be engaging. Don’t be afraid to choose one that is controversial! Often those will generate the most discussion. That being said, be sure to set the ground rules to be respectful when sharing different opinions.
  • Get Creative.  Ask your students to relate whatever they're learning to something they're interested in personally.  For example, what does corporate finance have to do with rock music? While maybe there's nothing similar, the exercise of pointing this out and thinking things through will be stimulating and much more interesting to the student.
  • Model Your Expectations. Nothing will hinder you more than being unclear. Tell your class from the beginning what the structure is of each section, and what the assessment rubric will look like. It is okay to walk them through a prompt as a group, where you model the writing process for them initially.
  • Have Fun! Critical thinking skills are important, but they don’t need to be stressful. Start simply and enjoy seeing your students learn and think.