Why schools should teach critical thinking

From online misinformation and divisive political discourse to science skepticism, there are many challenges when it comes to making sense of the world around us. Having critical thinking skills is essential in ensuring students can navigate the increasingly complex events and contexts they will encounter throughout their lives.

And in a world calling out for problem-solvers, the value of critical thinking skills is recognized far beyond the classroom walls. Let’s take a look at how prioritizing teaching critical thinking skills benefits students and sets them up for success.

What are critical thinking skills for students?

Critical thinking is the art of clear thinking that is rational and reasoned. Critical thinkers don’t simply accept information at face-value but rather interpret and analyze it to arrive at their own conclusions grounded in evidence. They come at a question from different perspectives, seeking out opposing viewpoints, and questioning their assumptions.

For students, critical thinking skills are relevant across subject areas and crucial in guiding them to become independent thinkers. What’s more, schools are in a good position to help nurture the required skills! Let’s explore their role and the benefits of making critical thinking an educational goal.

Why schools are well-placed to teach critical thinking skills

Developing critical thinking skills is an ongoing process, requiring guidance and deliberate practice. Schools can take a longer-term and systematic approach to teaching critical thinking by integrating it into the curriculum. This provides students with a structured learning environment with access to expert educators who use pedagogy to support students in building on existing skills, promoting transfer, and fostering thinking skills. 

Added to that, domain knowledge is a crucial factor in thinking skills and educators can integrate domain-specific skills to support critical thinking alongside content delivery in the classroom.

How educators can successfully teach critical thinking skills to students

Educators are in a strong position to teach critical thinking skills, whether by cultivating a classroom environment that values inquiry, modeling thinking processes through think-alouds, or giving attention to key skills such as perspective-taking. 

Importantly, educators can foster critical thinking skills in real-world contexts while building curriculum knowledge to emphasize their practical application. 

Using collaborative learning strategies, teachers can expose students to different perspectives or integrate activities that prompt students to justify their thinking, such as through discussion or argument mapping on Kialo Edu. And though developing critical thinking skills takes time, students reap unparalleled benefits that last them a lifetime. 

How students benefit from critical thinking skills

Critical thinking improves student learning outcomes

Helping students learn how to think critically ensures they aren’t simply passive recipients of information, but rather can interpret and apply their knowledge across subject areas. It is immensely satisfying to watch them learn to take control of their learning, ask important questions, and actively engage with material with a discerning eye. This type of dialogic teaching sets them up to become independent learners. 

Not only that, critical thinking skills also help students become better communicators. Effective communication relies on the ability to organize our thoughts clearly and logically — a central element of developed thinking!

Students hone 21st-century skills with critical thinking

Critical thinking sits alongside creativity, collaboration, and communication as a key 21st-century skill. These skills are vital to helping students respond to the demands of a rapidly changing world, whether that involves dealing with information overload, adapting to new technologies or understanding diverse perspectives in a multi-cultural context.

By working on critical thought in the classroom, students will be better equipped to deal with whatever the future brings. For example, you can encourage students to become active participants in conversations on changes happening around them by having a Kialo discussion on how AI will impact the world.

Students use critical thinking skills to battle against misinformation

To fully benefit from today’s information-rich world, students need to successfully identify and evaluate good sources, assessing the reams of (credible and not-so-credible) content at their fingertips. A combination of information literacy and critical thinking skills makes for a well-rounded skill set, supporting students to come to reasoned conclusions amid the deluge of information available. 

Critical thinking skills complement civic literacy

As another closely intertwined skill set, civic literacy works hand-in-hand with critical thinking skills to nurture informed and engaged citizenship. An ability to recognize different points of view, question political and media rhetoric, and understand the broader implications of policy decisions empowers students to participate in meaningful discussions about how society and structures function around them. 

To engage students on these topics, try choosing a Kialo discussion from the Civics and Society section in our Topics Library to help scaffold these complex topics. Students might discuss the relevance of democracy to their lives or debate whether voting should be a civic duty expected of all!

Is democracy a good form of government? kialo-edu.com

Students can make better decisions with critical thinking skills

The power to make thoughtful, well-informed decisions can positively impact every aspect of our lives, and critical thinking is the linchpin for effective decision-making. A critical thinker makes decisions from a place of objective understanding and sound evidence. Educators can help students weigh up arguments from different perspectives and become aware of cognitive biases, making students better placed to compensate for such influences as groupthink, the availability heuristic and confirmation bias.

To develop decision-making skills in a clear context, try a classic desert island survival discussion. This lighthearted approach can still emphasize real-world applications in making difficult choices around resource allocation. You might even get students to explore their own capacity for decision-making with a discussion on the implications of turning 18!  

Students can better their problem-solving skills through critical thinking

Problem-solving is a highly complex skill, essential in our personal and professional lives to deal with the inevitable challenges that come our way. And critical thinking is a core component of good problem-solving, helping students systematically approach a problem and ask the right questions to get to the root cause.

By giving students the opportunity to work on true problems in the classroom, teachers can contextualize and model effective problem-solving processes and rational thinking. One approach is to task your students to practice engaging with more than one solution to a given problem, such as exploring an argument map on proposed responses to climate change. Or create your own to get your students exploring challenges in your preferred curricular area.

Critical thinking boosts student creativity

Another 21st-century skill, creativity has the potential to enhance learning and student well-being. Closely intertwined with problem-solving, creative thinking is essential to generating novel and innovative solutions. Those solutions, however, need to be useful and address the underlying issue! 

Students versed in critical thinking can examine their creative ideas, identifying areas for modification or recognizing fundamental flaws that make them unfeasible. Not only that, students can reflect on the outcomes of their ideas to inform future creative processes, enhancing the quality and effectiveness of their ideas beyond the task they’re working on.

Critical thinking helps student self-reflect on their actions

An ability to engage in meaningful reflection is integral for students to develop positive relationships and work towards meaningful goals. These goals can be for an academic achievement, or other personal goals that motivate them. By utilizing critical thinking skills, students are better placed to identify lessons learned from past experiences or to engage in an honest assessment of their personal strengths and weaknesses. 

We’d love to know what benefits you see from working on critical thinking in your classroom! Get in touch at feedback@kialo-edu.com, or on any of our social media platforms. And if you haven’t yet tried a class discussion to activate your students’ critical thinking skills, take some inspiration from some of our ready-made debate topics!

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