How might a teacher develop critical thinking in their students? It’s useful to have a definition of what critical thinking means.

Paul and Elder provide  a useful starting pint.

“Critical thinking is a process by which the thinker improves the quality of his or her thinking by skilfully taking charge of the structures inherent in thinking and imposing intellectual standards upon them. Critical thinking is, in short, self directed, self disciplined, self monitored, and self corrective thinking.”

(my emphasis from The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts and Tools, 2004, pg 1)

I know I sometimes struggled with designing quality tasks that  aimed to develop students’ critical thinking skills and which would engage them in more powerful ways and without resort to a ladder of questions. Designing a great task is part of professional experience, knowing your learners on that thinking continuum and extending them into their Zone of Proximal Development. It is a crucial part of our toolbox that we bring to planning.

Examples of thinking processes
Decision making, problem solving, inventing, investigating, inquiring
Examples of thinking skills
Comparing, classifying, observing, inferring

This quick summary from Dr. Douglas Fisher is helpful in sorting out what is merely difficult as opposed to what is complex. Difficult tasks can be very unmotivating for many learners. Complex tasks require a mental effort to work through the task and each learner is on a developmental continuum in these different processes and skills.

         Difficulty            Complexity
  • A measure of effort required to complete a task
  • In assessment, a function of how many people can complete the task correctly
  • A measure of the thinking, action, or knowledge that is needed to complete the task
  • In assessment, how many different ways can the task be accomplished