Thoughts

Our latest thoughts about critical thinking pedagogies.

  1. How can questioning improve our pedagocial practice?

    Peter Ellerton Oct 19, 2020
    We all appreciate the value of questions in the classroom. They are a fundamental means of students and teachers finding out what each other is thinking. But the concept of questioning itself is poorly theorised and not well researched. While questions can of course come from both teachers and students, let's just consider teacher questioning for the moment. There is a lot of talk of "open" questions, for which no definitive answer might exist, and "closed" questions, fo... Read more ...
  2. Why a fear of failure stops students from learning

    Dave Kinkead Sep 21, 2020
    Fear of failure can seem like it's becoming an epidemic in the classroom these days. High stakes testing, an ever increasing pressure to perform and get top marks, or an instagram-generation growing up in an environment where only the perfect is made visible are just some of the many possible things contributing to this phenomena. But whatever the cause, the effect is typically the same. Fear of failure prevents students from taking action, from experimenting, exploring concepts, and havi... Read more ...
  3. Finding the time to teach thinking

    Peter Ellerton Sep 7, 2020
    A common objection we hear about shifting the focus of teaching from content to inqury is that there just isn't enough time in the school day. So let me begin by saying a focus on Teaching for Thinking does not take extra time in the classroom. The fact is, Teaching for Thinking saves you time. This may seem counterintuitive as after all, aren't we adding something to the curriculum? How can that possibly save time? The answer to this conundrum comes with the realisation that Teaching... Read more ...
  4. Understanding Pedagogical Change

    Adam Kuss Aug 12, 2020
    School leaders channel vast amounts of time, energy and resources towards achieving pedagogical change. However, enacting the required shift in teaching practice is complex, extending beyond teaching tools and strategies. Changes in classroom practices are necessary, yet they are the by-product of a more significant personal transformation. To gain further insights into this leadership challenge, understanding the role of teaching strategies in successful pedagogical change is an important cons... Read more ...
  5. Why most of what you know is wrong

    Dave Kinkead Jul 24, 2020
    I'm sure you've heard of radiation before - the emission of energy and its transmission through space or matter. When radiation has enough energy, it can break the chemical bonds within molecules and atoms and release particles at very high speed. This is known as ionising radiation and it can be quite nasty to organic life like plants and animals. One way to measure radiation (or radioactive decay more specifically) is by its half-life - the time it takes for half the energy of some u... Read more ...
  6. Critical thinking is so much more than being smart

    Dave Kinkead Jul 18, 2020
    The Federal Government recently announced a major shake-up of university fees – it included a decision to more than double the cost of studying humanities and social sciences. It sparked furious debate, including about the important role these kinds of degrees play in helping to develop critical thinking skills. Do we as a community and society still value critical thinking? Can it help us tell fact from fiction? Should we value it more? Peter Ellerton, Clark Wight from Guildford Grammar Prepara... Read more ...
  7. Philosophy & Critical Thinking MOOC

    Peter Ellerton Jul 13, 2020
    There's a new update to UQ's Philosophy & Critical Thinking MOOC. Created by the University of Queensland Critical Thinking Project (including some names you might be familiar with) on the edX platform launched by Harvard and MIT, it covers some of the big issues in philosophy and critical thinking and is intended as a resource for those keen to delve more deeply into all things philosophical and into the intricacies of critical thinking and argumentation. The first version was made... Read more ...
  8. Rationality & intellectual humility

    Dave Kinkead Jul 6, 2020
    Despite what you might have heard about the Dunning-Kruger Effect, most people are pretty good at acknowledging when they aren't good at something ... most of the time. Lot's of people are happy to say they aren't very good with foreign languages or at mathematics. Some people are even prepared to admit that they aren't good drivers (not us men, though). But I'm yet to meet someone who is happy to say they are irrational. Yet despite this, for many of those who think they... Read more ...
  9. How you think about knowledge influences how you teach and learn

    Peter Ellerton Jun 15, 2020
    There are many undercurrents in the classroom, related to student and teacher assumptions, experiences, or expectations. But there is one particularly strong influence that can dramatically affect the dynamics of the classroom and how students are set up to be lifelong learners — or not. It has to do with the way that students — and importantly teachers — understand the nature of knowledge. Understanding what we mean by knowledge and how we process knowledge claims is the subject of a field of... Read more ...
  10. What do experts mean when they talk about critical thinking?

    Dave Kinkead Jun 8, 2020
    Critical thinking is a trendy term at the moment. Well, as much as anything in academia can be trendy. Critical thinking is in high demand - employers demand it, HR managers select for it, and education systems try to develop it. Perhaps critical thinking is in such demand precisely because there just isn't enough of it. But hold on a minute, if you've followed those links, you might now be wondering ... what bloody hell is critical thinking exactly? The Cheshire Cat Critical thinking h... Read more ...
  11. Understanding our Political Nature

    Peter Ellerton May 25, 2020
    Last year we were invited to Belgium to work with the European Commission on their Enlightenment 2.0 project. Sixty experts from across the globe working in the fields of behavioural and social sciences as well as the humanities, contributed to the research that underpins the EU Joint Research Commission report that calls upon evidence-informed policymaking not to be taken for granted. Work from the project on how thinking skills are challenged by today's information environment and make us... Read more ...
  12. Why democracy needs more critical thinkers

    Dave Kinkead May 17, 2020
    Democracy is a pretty good way to run a government. Sure, it's not perfect, and perhaps rule by Philosopher Kings and Queens would be better (for philosophers at least), but the fact that people who don't have democracy agitate, protest, and fight for it shows that it remains a highly desirable way of governing. (Quick aside - I'd be happy to volunteer my services as Philosopher King should anyone require it.) This idea is best summed up in Winston Churchill's famous quip that de... Read more ...
  13. Why writing in the first person is a good thing

    Peter Ellerton Apr 30, 2020
    The use of the word “I” in academic writing, that is writing in the first person, has a troublesome history. Some say it makes writing too subjective, others that it’s essential for accuracy. This is reflected in how students, particularly in secondary schools, are trained to write. Teachers I work with are often surprised that I advocate, at times, invoking the first person in essays or other assessment in their subject areas. Why first person writing is important An essential aspect of written... Read more ...
  14. Critical Thinking in the Curriculum

    Dave Kinkead Apr 20, 2020
    How does critical thinking relate to the school curriculum? How can you plan for student think? How do you give feedback on student thinking? Dr Peter Ellerton explores these and other issues as part of the Australian Curriculum Studies Association's webinar series. ... Read more ...
  15. Using critical thinking to tackle difficult topics

    Dave Kinkead Apr 10, 2020
    In this one hour session, Dr Peter Ellerton shared how you can use the power of critical thinking to tackle difficult topics such as climate change denial and COVID-19. This webinar was proudly hosted by four Young Alumni Advisory Board members Avrithi, Eka, Caty and Tim. ... Read more ...
  16. How students can collaborate online

    Peter Ellerton Mar 31, 2020
    The first thing teachers usually worry about when teaching online is what programs to use and how to drive them. Figuring out what is possible and then how to do it can be very daunting, particularly if you're not at home with computers to begin with! Once we learn how they all work, the next concern is getting a whole bunch of content uploaded so students can access it. This can include things like Powerpoints, worksheets, videos, weblinks and so on. The last thing teachers usually worry ab... Read more ...
  17. What does a critical thinking activity look like?

    Peter Ellerton Mar 20, 2020
    Recently, we looked at some of the confusion around critical thinking and why this leads to claims that critical thinking can't, or shouldn't, be taught in schools. Now there are a number of approaches to teaching critical and creative thinking. Many approaches to developing critical thinking are based on Philosophy for Children, a program that involves teaching the methodology of argument and focuses on thinking skills. Other approaches are based on argument mapping using a pen &... Read more ...
  18. What is argument mapping and how can it help critical thinking?

    Dave Kinkead Mar 9, 2020
    There are a number of possible ways to teach critical and creative thinking in the classroom. One approach, very common in university undergraduate courses, is to teach critical thinking as a stand alone subject focusing on a range of concepts like psychology, informal logic, and argumentation. Another approach, best realised in the Philosophy for Children movement, is to incorporate a small session (approximately an hour per week) of collaborative inquiry into the weekly class schedule. Altern... Read more ...
  19. The Myth that critical thinking can't be taught

    Peter Ellerton Mar 2, 2020
    There is a steady beat of assertions that critical thinking can’t, or shouldn't, be taught. My colleagues and I are putting together a paper to answer these claims in detail, but broadly speaking these revolve around quite limited ideas of what critical thinking is (you need it to play chess?) and some quite odd inferences from similarly limited definitions and examples of critical thinking to the claim that it can’t be taught. The data on this is very clear. Not only can critical thinking... Read more ...
  20. What's the role of argumentation in critical thinking education

    Dave Kinkead Feb 17, 2020
    Critical Thinking is a broad church. As an academic program, it draws from a wide range of disciplines including psychology, philosophy, and logic. All these areas are important - descriptive psychology gives us insight into our cognitive biases and heuristics, philosophy helps us understand the nature of truth and helps to understand what it means to be rational, and logic provides the tools for making valid inferences. Yet amongst them, one area stands out as especially critical - argument... Read more ...
  21. The how and why of collaboration in the classroom

    Peter Ellerton Feb 10, 2020
    Collaboration, and the reasons for it, is sometimes as poorly understood as the term "inquiry". Collaboration does not simply mean a group of students working together and it certainly does not mean a group of students dividing a large task between them and reporting back to each other on its completion. Collaboration is critical in developing thinking for the reason that learning to think well is a bit like learning to speak a language. Just like learning a language, you cannot learn... Read more ...
  22. What is Critical Thinking anyway?

    Peter Ellerton Feb 3, 2020
    There are many different definitions of critical thinking. Some definitions suggest it's just about being able to solve problems or puzzles. Other definitions suggest that critical thinking really shines in complex discipline contexts. In other words, those people who are able to crack difficult problems must be good critical thinkers. Because of this perceived connection between critical thinking and complex subject matter, there are also some definitions that equate expertise with critica... Read more ...
  23. Thinking about thinking helps kids learn. How can we teach critical thinking?

    Peter Ellerton Jan 28, 2020
    Few people doubt the value of developing students’ thinking skills. A 2013 survey in the United States found 93% of employers believe a candidate’s demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important [the emphasis is in the original] than [their] undergraduate major. (source) A focus on critical thinking is also common in education. In the Australian Curriculum, critical and creative thinking are known as “general capabilities”; the US h... Read more ...
  24. Critical Thinking vs Content Knowledge

    Peter Ellerton Jan 15, 2020
    Content knowledge is very valuable and is an essential part of the project of Teaching for Thinking. There is nothing about teaching thinking that minimises the importance of content. In this lesson we will try and better understand the relationship between content knowledge and thinking. Previously, we looked at the concept of understanding and saw that this involved relational knowledge. To understand something is to know how the elements of the concept hang together, how they relate to one an... Read more ...
  25. Incorporating Critical Thinking into STEM Education

    Dave Kinkead Jan 7, 2020
    Science and mathematics are an essential ingredient for developing students who can effectively participate in a complex and diverse 21st century society. Current and future generations face a range of wicked problems that will require innovation and ingenuity to solve. Yet as essential as STEM in eduction might be, it is far from sufficient. Today's student's need to develop much more from their education than the ability to pipette peroxide, code software, build machines and solve eq... Read more ...
  26. Aren't we already teaching critical thinking?

    Peter Ellerton Oct 10, 2019
    Everyone seems to agree that critical thinking is an essential component of whatever list of 21st-century skills we might assemble. Other elements of this list include things such as creative thinking, entrepreneurship, problem-solving, decision-making, personal and social skills, and working collaboratively. It is misleading, however, to think of critical thinking as simply one of a long list of essential skills. Critical thinking is better understood as underpinning all the other skills. Witho... Read more ...
  27. Understanding and Expertise

    Peter Ellerton Sep 5, 2019
    The word understand is not always used very precisely. It is often seen in the phrase "knowledge and understanding". But how is knowledge the same or different to understanding? Here's how we can understand that particular problem. If I give you a list of people on a basketball team, it would not make sense to ask if you understood the list. You might realise that it's a list of basketball players, but that's about it. We don't use the word understand for such straightf... Read more ...
  28. Minds still matter in education

    Peter Ellerton Jul 5, 2019
    First of all, let me make it clear that I’m not suggesting we all become dualists. As far as we know at the moment, the human brain is a sufficient (and possibly necessary) condition for the human mind. But although we might acknowledge the material or causal connection between the mind and the brain happily enough, that doesn’t mean we talk about them in the same way. Arguably, there are good reasons to separate them when speaking in educational contexts. In this post, I will offer some reasons... Read more ...
  29. Thinking Skills in an AI World

    Dave Kinkead Dec 3, 2018
    What might students need to thrive in an Artificial Intelligence driven future? Join Dr Peter Ellerton, UNSW academics, and other experts for a panel discussion hosted by the NSW Department of Education as part of their series on #ThinkingForTheFuture. ... Read more ...
  30. Why you don't have the right to be taken seriously

    Dave Kinkead Sep 3, 2018
    In an age of fake news and social media echo chambers, Dr Peter Ellerton argues that while all people are worthy of respect, not all ideas deserve the same treatment. ​By separating our ideas from our identities, we are able to look at ideas through the lens of a brutal meritocracy, where we can discriminate between a good or bad idea without disrespecting the person who delivered it. Peter Ellerton is a director of the University of Queensland Critical Thinking Project and a lecturer in ... Read more ...
  31. How to use critical thinking to spot false climate claims

    Peter Ellerton Feb 7, 2018
    Much of the public discussion about climate science consists of a stream of assertions. The climate is changing or it isn’t; carbon dioxide causes global warming or it doesn’t; humans are partly responsible or they are not; scientists have a rigorous process of peer review or they don’t, and so on. Despite scientists’ best efforts at communicating with the public, not everyone knows enough about the underlying science to make a call one way or the other. Not only is climate science very complex,... Read more ...
  32. How do you know that what you know is true? That’s epistemology

    Peter Ellerton Aug 3, 2017
    How do you know what the weather will be like tomorrow? How do you know how old the Universe is? How do you know if you are thinking rationally? These and other questions of the “how do you know?” variety are the business of epistemology, the area of philosophy concerned with understanding the nature of knowledge and belief. Epistemology is about understanding how we come to know that something is the case, whether it be a matter of fact such as “the Earth is warming” or a matter of value such a... Read more ...
  33. How to teach all students to think critically

    Peter Ellerton Dec 18, 2015
    All first year students at the University of Technology Sydney could soon be required to take a compulsory maths course in an attempt to give them some numerical thinking skills. The new course would be an elective next year and mandatory in 2016 with the university’s deputy vice-chancellor for education and students Shirley Alexander saying the aim is to give students some maths “critical thinking” skills. This is a worthwhile goal, but what about critical thinking in general? Most tertiary ins... Read more ...
  34. Teaching how to think is just as important as teaching anything else

    Peter Ellerton Aug 18, 2015
    A new paper on teaching critical thinking skills in science has pointed out, yet again, the value of giving students experiences that go beyond simple recall or learned procedures. It is a common lamentation that students are not taught to think, but there is usually an accompanying lack of clarity about exactly what that might mean. There is a way of understanding this idea that is conceptually easy and delivers a sharp educational focus – a way that focuses on the explicit teaching of thinkin... Read more ...