How to Activate Student Critical Thinking

How to Activate Student Critical Thinking

Growing evidence points to the role of critical thinking in educational achievement. Students need to activate critical thinking — higher-order thinking skills and metacognition — to effectively master and retain new content knowledge, synthesize it with prior knowledge, and apply it to new scenarios and domains, according to eSchool News. But most students are not explicitly taught how to do this.

Teaching students how to activate critical thinking and metacognition will enable them to learn more efficiently and effectively. Fortunately, that can be done within the context of the existing curriculum. Here are five ways teachers can get started:

1) Integrate critical thinking with content

Critical thinking should not be separate from and on top of everything else teachers are doing in the classroom. It should be fully integrated with the content that is being taught. For example, if the standard requires students to understand the causes of the Revolutionary War, they need to know specific content, but they also need to understand cause-and-effect thinking. Teachers can explicitly call out the type of thinking required–e.g., defining, classifying, part-to-whole relationships, sequencing, etc.–and making sure students know what this kind of thinking looks like.

2) Give students a framework for thinking

Making thinking visible and concrete helps students activate the type of thinking required by the task and organize their ideas effectively. It’s most beneficial to have a consistent framework for thinking that spans grade levels and content areas. This supports the growth of automaticity in activating cognitive skills.

3) Make learning active

You don’t have to upend your entire curriculum or implement a complicated model to make learning more active. Building in time for debate and discussion and collaborative learning activities are simple ways to make learning more active and engaging. Students can work together to construct meaning using a thinking map. Look for learning activities that require students to go beyond simple recitation of facts and engage deeply with the content as they solve a problem, develop and defend a point of view or create something original.

4) Ask better questions–and teach students to ask their own

This means asking questions that go beyond basic knowledge and comprehension to require higher-order thinking skills such as application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation. Even better, teach students how to ask their own questions. After introducing new content, for example, pause for a class brainstorming session where students come up with as many questions as they can, including basic clarification questions and higher-order “why,” “what if,” and ‘what else” kinds of questions. Students can work together to start answering some of these questions using the active learning methods.

5) Get metacognitive

Metacognition is critically thinking about one’s own thinking. Students skilled in metacognition recognize how well they understand a concept, where they need extra help or support, and how to apply and adjust learning strategies. Metacognitive skills include planning for learning, monitoring understanding and evaluating the learning process. Like fundamental cognitive skills such as cause-and-effect or sequencing, metacognitive skills can also be explicitly taught.

These essential strategies can be applied across all grades and content areas. When students develop fundamental cognitive and metacognitive skills, learning becomes easier–and a lot more fun.

eSchool News

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