What does a critical thinking activity look like?

There are may ways to teach critical and createive thinking ... here's an example of one

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 & paper or a digital platform like reasons.io. Others still provide this focus outside of a philosophical context.

There is no 'one right way' to teach critical and creative thinking in the classroom but rather, there are a rich diversity of effective pedagogies. So it might be useful to explore what a critical thinking activity in the class room actually looks like.

A useful example from Teaching for Thinking.

Teachers at one Brisbane school, who have extensive training in critical thinking pedagogies from our Teaching for Thinking program, developed a task that asked students to determine who is or was Australia’s greatest sportsperson.

Students needed to construct their own criteria for greatness. To do so, they had to analyse the Australian sporting context, create possible evaluative standards, explain and justify why some standards would be more acceptable than others and apply these to their candidates.

They then needed to argue their case with their peers to develop criteria that were robust, defensible, widely applicable and produced a choice that captured significant and relevant aspects of Australian sport.

This required students to not only consider what claims and justifications would be acceptable to themselves but importantly, what values and therefore justifications would be acceptable to others. They had to not only consider other points of view but evaluate their own reasoning in the context of those other views.

Note that this deliberately application of critical thinking pedagogy in the classroom didn't involve a stand alone critical thinking activity or subject, nor did it take valuable time away from 'content learning'. It was an activity embedded within the existing subject and content matter - one which both demanded an undertanding of, and motivated inquiry into, the subject's content matter.

Learning experiences and assessment items that facilitate critical thinking skills include any of those in which students can:

In engaging in these activities students develop through necessity the ability to (among other skills) analyse, understand, explain, evaluate and justify. Not only do they do these things, they understand their nature and purpose.

It is this understanding that is most readily transferable between context but only if it becomes an object of study during the activity. With out this explicit attention the knowledge and skills that are in use remain vaguely defined and hence difficult to for students to utilise elsewhere.

Critically, this task also allows teachers to give feedback to students on the quality of their thinking as that thinking is happening in real time through discussion, questioning and peer-to-peer dialogue. It is a rich environment for applying the values inquiry.