Developing Critical Thinking

  • Posted January 10, 2018
  • By Iman Rastegari

Critical Thinking

In a time where deliberately false information is continually introduced into public discourse, and quickly spread through social media shares and likes, it is more important than ever for young people to develop their critical thinking. That skill, says Georgetown professor William T. Gormley, consists of three elements: a capacity to spot weakness in other arguments, a passion for good evidence, and a capacity to reflect on your own views and values with an eye to possibly change them. But are educators making the development of these skills a priority?

"Some teachers embrace critical thinking pedagogy with enthusiasm and they make it a high priority in their classrooms; other teachers do not," says Gormley, author of the recent Harvard Education Press release The Critical Advantage: Developing Critical Thinking Skills in School . "So if you are to assess the extent of critical-thinking instruction in U.S. classrooms, you’d find some very wide variations." Which is unfortunate, he says, since developing critical-thinking skills is vital not only to students' readiness for college and career, but to their civic readiness, as well.

"It's important to recognize that critical thinking is not just something that takes place in the classroom or in the workplace, it's something that takes place — and should take place — in our daily lives," says Gormley.

In this edition of the Harvard EdCast, Gormley looks at the value of teaching critical thinking, and explores how it can be an important solution to some of the problems that we face, including "fake news."

About the Harvard EdCast

The Harvard EdCast is a weekly series of podcasts, available on the Harvard University iT unes U page, that features a 15-20 minute conversation with thought leaders in the field of education from across the country and around the world. Hosted by Matt Weber and co-produced by Jill Anderson, the Harvard EdCast is a space for educational discourse and openness, focusing on the myriad issues and current events related to the field.

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Eight Instructional Strategies for Promoting Critical Thinking

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(This is the first post in a three-part series.)

The new question-of-the-week is:

What is critical thinking and how can we integrate it into the classroom?

This three-part series will explore what critical thinking is, if it can be specifically taught and, if so, how can teachers do so in their classrooms.

Today’s guests are Dara Laws Savage, Patrick Brown, Meg Riordan, Ph.D., and Dr. PJ Caposey. Dara, Patrick, and Meg were also guests on my 10-minute BAM! Radio Show . You can also find a list of, and links to, previous shows here.

You might also be interested in The Best Resources On Teaching & Learning Critical Thinking In The Classroom .

Current Events

Dara Laws Savage is an English teacher at the Early College High School at Delaware State University, where she serves as a teacher and instructional coach and lead mentor. Dara has been teaching for 25 years (career preparation, English, photography, yearbook, newspaper, and graphic design) and has presented nationally on project-based learning and technology integration:

There is so much going on right now and there is an overload of information for us to process. Did you ever stop to think how our students are processing current events? They see news feeds, hear news reports, and scan photos and posts, but are they truly thinking about what they are hearing and seeing?

I tell my students that my job is not to give them answers but to teach them how to think about what they read and hear. So what is critical thinking and how can we integrate it into the classroom? There are just as many definitions of critical thinking as there are people trying to define it. However, the Critical Think Consortium focuses on the tools to create a thinking-based classroom rather than a definition: “Shape the climate to support thinking, create opportunities for thinking, build capacity to think, provide guidance to inform thinking.” Using these four criteria and pairing them with current events, teachers easily create learning spaces that thrive on thinking and keep students engaged.

One successful technique I use is the FIRE Write. Students are given a quote, a paragraph, an excerpt, or a photo from the headlines. Students are asked to F ocus and respond to the selection for three minutes. Next, students are asked to I dentify a phrase or section of the photo and write for two minutes. Third, students are asked to R eframe their response around a specific word, phrase, or section within their previous selection. Finally, students E xchange their thoughts with a classmate. Within the exchange, students also talk about how the selection connects to what we are covering in class.

There was a controversial Pepsi ad in 2017 involving Kylie Jenner and a protest with a police presence. The imagery in the photo was strikingly similar to a photo that went viral with a young lady standing opposite a police line. Using that image from a current event engaged my students and gave them the opportunity to critically think about events of the time.

Here are the two photos and a student response:

F - Focus on both photos and respond for three minutes

In the first picture, you see a strong and courageous black female, bravely standing in front of two officers in protest. She is risking her life to do so. Iesha Evans is simply proving to the world she does NOT mean less because she is black … and yet officers are there to stop her. She did not step down. In the picture below, you see Kendall Jenner handing a police officer a Pepsi. Maybe this wouldn’t be a big deal, except this was Pepsi’s weak, pathetic, and outrageous excuse of a commercial that belittles the whole movement of people fighting for their lives.

I - Identify a word or phrase, underline it, then write about it for two minutes

A white, privileged female in place of a fighting black woman was asking for trouble. A struggle we are continuously fighting every day, and they make a mockery of it. “I know what will work! Here Mr. Police Officer! Drink some Pepsi!” As if. Pepsi made a fool of themselves, and now their already dwindling fan base continues to ever shrink smaller.

R - Reframe your thoughts by choosing a different word, then write about that for one minute

You don’t know privilege until it’s gone. You don’t know privilege while it’s there—but you can and will be made accountable and aware. Don’t use it for evil. You are not stupid. Use it to do something. Kendall could’ve NOT done the commercial. Kendall could’ve released another commercial standing behind a black woman. Anything!

Exchange - Remember to discuss how this connects to our school song project and our previous discussions?

This connects two ways - 1) We want to convey a strong message. Be powerful. Show who we are. And Pepsi definitely tried. … Which leads to the second connection. 2) Not mess up and offend anyone, as had the one alma mater had been linked to black minstrels. We want to be amazing, but we have to be smart and careful and make sure we include everyone who goes to our school and everyone who may go to our school.

As a final step, students read and annotate the full article and compare it to their initial response.

Using current events and critical-thinking strategies like FIRE writing helps create a learning space where thinking is the goal rather than a score on a multiple-choice assessment. Critical-thinking skills can cross over to any of students’ other courses and into life outside the classroom. After all, we as teachers want to help the whole student be successful, and critical thinking is an important part of navigating life after they leave our classrooms.

usingdaratwo

‘Before-Explore-Explain’

Patrick Brown is the executive director of STEM and CTE for the Fort Zumwalt school district in Missouri and an experienced educator and author :

Planning for critical thinking focuses on teaching the most crucial science concepts, practices, and logical-thinking skills as well as the best use of instructional time. One way to ensure that lessons maintain a focus on critical thinking is to focus on the instructional sequence used to teach.

Explore-before-explain teaching is all about promoting critical thinking for learners to better prepare students for the reality of their world. What having an explore-before-explain mindset means is that in our planning, we prioritize giving students firsthand experiences with data, allow students to construct evidence-based claims that focus on conceptual understanding, and challenge students to discuss and think about the why behind phenomena.

Just think of the critical thinking that has to occur for students to construct a scientific claim. 1) They need the opportunity to collect data, analyze it, and determine how to make sense of what the data may mean. 2) With data in hand, students can begin thinking about the validity and reliability of their experience and information collected. 3) They can consider what differences, if any, they might have if they completed the investigation again. 4) They can scrutinize outlying data points for they may be an artifact of a true difference that merits further exploration of a misstep in the procedure, measuring device, or measurement. All of these intellectual activities help them form more robust understanding and are evidence of their critical thinking.

In explore-before-explain teaching, all of these hard critical-thinking tasks come before teacher explanations of content. Whether we use discovery experiences, problem-based learning, and or inquiry-based activities, strategies that are geared toward helping students construct understanding promote critical thinking because students learn content by doing the practices valued in the field to generate knowledge.

explorebeforeexplain

An Issue of Equity

Meg Riordan, Ph.D., is the chief learning officer at The Possible Project, an out-of-school program that collaborates with youth to build entrepreneurial skills and mindsets and provides pathways to careers and long-term economic prosperity. She has been in the field of education for over 25 years as a middle and high school teacher, school coach, college professor, regional director of N.Y.C. Outward Bound Schools, and director of external research with EL Education:

Although critical thinking often defies straightforward definition, most in the education field agree it consists of several components: reasoning, problem-solving, and decisionmaking, plus analysis and evaluation of information, such that multiple sides of an issue can be explored. It also includes dispositions and “the willingness to apply critical-thinking principles, rather than fall back on existing unexamined beliefs, or simply believe what you’re told by authority figures.”

Despite variation in definitions, critical thinking is nonetheless promoted as an essential outcome of students’ learning—we want to see students and adults demonstrate it across all fields, professions, and in their personal lives. Yet there is simultaneously a rationing of opportunities in schools for students of color, students from under-resourced communities, and other historically marginalized groups to deeply learn and practice critical thinking.

For example, many of our most underserved students often spend class time filling out worksheets, promoting high compliance but low engagement, inquiry, critical thinking, or creation of new ideas. At a time in our world when college and careers are critical for participation in society and the global, knowledge-based economy, far too many students struggle within classrooms and schools that reinforce low-expectations and inequity.

If educators aim to prepare all students for an ever-evolving marketplace and develop skills that will be valued no matter what tomorrow’s jobs are, then we must move critical thinking to the forefront of classroom experiences. And educators must design learning to cultivate it.

So, what does that really look like?

Unpack and define critical thinking

To understand critical thinking, educators need to first unpack and define its components. What exactly are we looking for when we speak about reasoning or exploring multiple perspectives on an issue? How does problem-solving show up in English, math, science, art, or other disciplines—and how is it assessed? At Two Rivers, an EL Education school, the faculty identified five constructs of critical thinking, defined each, and created rubrics to generate a shared picture of quality for teachers and students. The rubrics were then adapted across grade levels to indicate students’ learning progressions.

At Avenues World School, critical thinking is one of the Avenues World Elements and is an enduring outcome embedded in students’ early experiences through 12th grade. For instance, a kindergarten student may be expected to “identify cause and effect in familiar contexts,” while an 8th grader should demonstrate the ability to “seek out sufficient evidence before accepting a claim as true,” “identify bias in claims and evidence,” and “reconsider strongly held points of view in light of new evidence.”

When faculty and students embrace a common vision of what critical thinking looks and sounds like and how it is assessed, educators can then explicitly design learning experiences that call for students to employ critical-thinking skills. This kind of work must occur across all schools and programs, especially those serving large numbers of students of color. As Linda Darling-Hammond asserts , “Schools that serve large numbers of students of color are least likely to offer the kind of curriculum needed to ... help students attain the [critical-thinking] skills needed in a knowledge work economy. ”

So, what can it look like to create those kinds of learning experiences?

Designing experiences for critical thinking

After defining a shared understanding of “what” critical thinking is and “how” it shows up across multiple disciplines and grade levels, it is essential to create learning experiences that impel students to cultivate, practice, and apply these skills. There are several levers that offer pathways for teachers to promote critical thinking in lessons:

1.Choose Compelling Topics: Keep it relevant

A key Common Core State Standard asks for students to “write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.” That might not sound exciting or culturally relevant. But a learning experience designed for a 12th grade humanities class engaged learners in a compelling topic— policing in America —to analyze and evaluate multiple texts (including primary sources) and share the reasoning for their perspectives through discussion and writing. Students grappled with ideas and their beliefs and employed deep critical-thinking skills to develop arguments for their claims. Embedding critical-thinking skills in curriculum that students care about and connect with can ignite powerful learning experiences.

2. Make Local Connections: Keep it real

At The Possible Project , an out-of-school-time program designed to promote entrepreneurial skills and mindsets, students in a recent summer online program (modified from in-person due to COVID-19) explored the impact of COVID-19 on their communities and local BIPOC-owned businesses. They learned interviewing skills through a partnership with Everyday Boston , conducted virtual interviews with entrepreneurs, evaluated information from their interviews and local data, and examined their previously held beliefs. They created blog posts and videos to reflect on their learning and consider how their mindsets had changed as a result of the experience. In this way, we can design powerful community-based learning and invite students into productive struggle with multiple perspectives.

3. Create Authentic Projects: Keep it rigorous

At Big Picture Learning schools, students engage in internship-based learning experiences as a central part of their schooling. Their school-based adviser and internship-based mentor support them in developing real-world projects that promote deeper learning and critical-thinking skills. Such authentic experiences teach “young people to be thinkers, to be curious, to get from curiosity to creation … and it helps students design a learning experience that answers their questions, [providing an] opportunity to communicate it to a larger audience—a major indicator of postsecondary success.” Even in a remote environment, we can design projects that ask more of students than rote memorization and that spark critical thinking.

Our call to action is this: As educators, we need to make opportunities for critical thinking available not only to the affluent or those fortunate enough to be placed in advanced courses. The tools are available, let’s use them. Let’s interrogate our current curriculum and design learning experiences that engage all students in real, relevant, and rigorous experiences that require critical thinking and prepare them for promising postsecondary pathways.

letsinterrogate

Critical Thinking & Student Engagement

Dr. PJ Caposey is an award-winning educator, keynote speaker, consultant, and author of seven books who currently serves as the superintendent of schools for the award-winning Meridian CUSD 223 in northwest Illinois. You can find PJ on most social-media platforms as MCUSDSupe:

When I start my keynote on student engagement, I invite two people up on stage and give them each five paper balls to shoot at a garbage can also conveniently placed on stage. Contestant One shoots their shot, and the audience gives approval. Four out of 5 is a heckuva score. Then just before Contestant Two shoots, I blindfold them and start moving the garbage can back and forth. I usually try to ensure that they can at least make one of their shots. Nobody is successful in this unfair environment.

I thank them and send them back to their seats and then explain that this little activity was akin to student engagement. While we all know we want student engagement, we are shooting at different targets. More importantly, for teachers, it is near impossible for them to hit a target that is moving and that they cannot see.

Within the world of education and particularly as educational leaders, we have failed to simplify what student engagement looks like, and it is impossible to define or articulate what student engagement looks like if we cannot clearly articulate what critical thinking is and looks like in a classroom. Because, simply, without critical thought, there is no engagement.

The good news here is that critical thought has been defined and placed into taxonomies for decades already. This is not something new and not something that needs to be redefined. I am a Bloom’s person, but there is nothing wrong with DOK or some of the other taxonomies, either. To be precise, I am a huge fan of Daggett’s Rigor and Relevance Framework. I have used that as a core element of my practice for years, and it has shaped who I am as an instructional leader.

So, in order to explain critical thought, a teacher or a leader must familiarize themselves with these tried and true taxonomies. Easy, right? Yes, sort of. The issue is not understanding what critical thought is; it is the ability to integrate it into the classrooms. In order to do so, there are a four key steps every educator must take.

  • Integrating critical thought/rigor into a lesson does not happen by chance, it happens by design. Planning for critical thought and engagement is much different from planning for a traditional lesson. In order to plan for kids to think critically, you have to provide a base of knowledge and excellent prompts to allow them to explore their own thinking in order to analyze, evaluate, or synthesize information.
  • SIDE NOTE – Bloom’s verbs are a great way to start when writing objectives, but true planning will take you deeper than this.

QUESTIONING

  • If the questions and prompts given in a classroom have correct answers or if the teacher ends up answering their own questions, the lesson will lack critical thought and rigor.
  • Script five questions forcing higher-order thought prior to every lesson. Experienced teachers may not feel they need this, but it helps to create an effective habit.
  • If lessons are rigorous and assessments are not, students will do well on their assessments, and that may not be an accurate representation of the knowledge and skills they have mastered. If lessons are easy and assessments are rigorous, the exact opposite will happen. When deciding to increase critical thought, it must happen in all three phases of the game: planning, instruction, and assessment.

TALK TIME / CONTROL

  • To increase rigor, the teacher must DO LESS. This feels counterintuitive but is accurate. Rigorous lessons involving tons of critical thought must allow for students to work on their own, collaborate with peers, and connect their ideas. This cannot happen in a silent room except for the teacher talking. In order to increase rigor, decrease talk time and become comfortable with less control. Asking questions and giving prompts that lead to no true correct answer also means less control. This is a tough ask for some teachers. Explained differently, if you assign one assignment and get 30 very similar products, you have most likely assigned a low-rigor recipe. If you assign one assignment and get multiple varied products, then the students have had a chance to think deeply, and you have successfully integrated critical thought into your classroom.

integratingcaposey

Thanks to Dara, Patrick, Meg, and PJ for their contributions!

Please feel free to leave a comment with your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at [email protected] . When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo .

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Helping Students Hone Their Critical Thinking Skills

Used consistently, these strategies can help middle and high school teachers guide students to improve much-needed skills.

Middle school students involved in a classroom discussion

Critical thinking skills are important in every discipline, at and beyond school. From managing money to choosing which candidates to vote for in elections to making difficult career choices, students need to be prepared to take in, synthesize, and act on new information in a world that is constantly changing.

While critical thinking might seem like an abstract idea that is tough to directly instruct, there are many engaging ways to help students strengthen these skills through active learning.

Make Time for Metacognitive Reflection

Create space for students to both reflect on their ideas and discuss the power of doing so. Show students how they can push back on their own thinking to analyze and question their assumptions. Students might ask themselves, “Why is this the best answer? What information supports my answer? What might someone with a counterargument say?”

Through this reflection, students and teachers (who can model reflecting on their own thinking) gain deeper understandings of their ideas and do a better job articulating their beliefs. In a world that is go-go-go, it is important to help students understand that it is OK to take a breath and think about their ideas before putting them out into the world. And taking time for reflection helps us more thoughtfully consider others’ ideas, too.

Teach Reasoning Skills 

Reasoning skills are another key component of critical thinking, involving the abilities to think logically, evaluate evidence, identify assumptions, and analyze arguments. Students who learn how to use reasoning skills will be better equipped to make informed decisions, form and defend opinions, and solve problems. 

One way to teach reasoning is to use problem-solving activities that require students to apply their skills to practical contexts. For example, give students a real problem to solve, and ask them to use reasoning skills to develop a solution. They can then present their solution and defend their reasoning to the class and engage in discussion about whether and how their thinking changed when listening to peers’ perspectives. 

A great example I have seen involved students identifying an underutilized part of their school and creating a presentation about one way to redesign it. This project allowed students to feel a sense of connection to the problem and come up with creative solutions that could help others at school. For more examples, you might visit PBS’s Design Squad , a resource that brings to life real-world problem-solving.

Ask Open-Ended Questions 

Moving beyond the repetition of facts, critical thinking requires students to take positions and explain their beliefs through research, evidence, and explanations of credibility. 

When we pose open-ended questions, we create space for classroom discourse inclusive of diverse, perhaps opposing, ideas—grounds for rich exchanges that support deep thinking and analysis. 

For example, “How would you approach the problem?” and “Where might you look to find resources to address this issue?” are two open-ended questions that position students to think less about the “right” answer and more about the variety of solutions that might already exist. 

Journaling, whether digitally or physically in a notebook, is another great way to have students answer these open-ended prompts—giving them time to think and organize their thoughts before contributing to a conversation, which can ensure that more voices are heard. 

Once students process in their journal, small group or whole class conversations help bring their ideas to life. Discovering similarities between answers helps reveal to students that they are not alone, which can encourage future participation in constructive civil discourse.

Teach Information Literacy 

Education has moved far past the idea of “Be careful of what is on Wikipedia, because it might not be true.” With AI innovations making their way into classrooms, teachers know that informed readers must question everything. 

Understanding what is and is not a reliable source and knowing how to vet information are important skills for students to build and utilize when making informed decisions. You might start by introducing the idea of bias: Articles, ads, memes, videos, and every other form of media can push an agenda that students may not see on the surface. Discuss credibility, subjectivity, and objectivity, and look at examples and nonexamples of trusted information to prepare students to be well-informed members of a democracy.

One of my favorite lessons is about the Pacific Northwest tree octopus . This project asks students to explore what appears to be a very real website that provides information on this supposedly endangered animal. It is a wonderful, albeit over-the-top, example of how something might look official even when untrue, revealing that we need critical thinking to break down “facts” and determine the validity of the information we consume. 

A fun extension is to have students come up with their own website or newsletter about something going on in school that is untrue. Perhaps a change in dress code that requires everyone to wear their clothes inside out or a change to the lunch menu that will require students to eat brussels sprouts every day. 

Giving students the ability to create their own falsified information can help them better identify it in other contexts. Understanding that information can be “too good to be true” can help them identify future falsehoods. 

Provide Diverse Perspectives 

Consider how to keep the classroom from becoming an echo chamber. If students come from the same community, they may have similar perspectives. And those who have differing perspectives may not feel comfortable sharing them in the face of an opposing majority. 

To support varying viewpoints, bring diverse voices into the classroom as much as possible, especially when discussing current events. Use primary sources: videos from YouTube, essays and articles written by people who experienced current events firsthand, documentaries that dive deeply into topics that require some nuance, and any other resources that provide a varied look at topics. 

I like to use the Smithsonian “OurStory” page , which shares a wide variety of stories from people in the United States. The page on Japanese American internment camps is very powerful because of its first-person perspectives. 

Practice Makes Perfect 

To make the above strategies and thinking routines a consistent part of your classroom, spread them out—and build upon them—over the course of the school year. You might challenge students with information and/or examples that require them to use their critical thinking skills; work these skills explicitly into lessons, projects, rubrics, and self-assessments; or have students practice identifying misinformation or unsupported arguments.

Critical thinking is not learned in isolation. It needs to be explored in English language arts, social studies, science, physical education, math. Every discipline requires students to take a careful look at something and find the best solution. Often, these skills are taken for granted, viewed as a by-product of a good education, but true critical thinking doesn’t just happen. It requires consistency and commitment.

In a moment when information and misinformation abound, and students must parse reams of information, it is imperative that we support and model critical thinking in the classroom to support the development of well-informed citizens.

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What Are Critical Thinking Skills and Why Are They Important?

Learn what critical thinking skills are, why they’re important, and how to develop and apply them in your workplace and everyday life.

[Featured Image]:  Project Manager, approaching  and analyzing the latest project with a team member,

We often use critical thinking skills without even realizing it. When you make a decision, such as which cereal to eat for breakfast, you're using critical thinking to determine the best option for you that day.

Critical thinking is like a muscle that can be exercised and built over time. It is a skill that can help propel your career to new heights. You'll be able to solve workplace issues, use trial and error to troubleshoot ideas, and more.

We'll take you through what it is and some examples so you can begin your journey in mastering this skill.

What is critical thinking?

Critical thinking is the ability to interpret, evaluate, and analyze facts and information that are available, to form a judgment or decide if something is right or wrong.

More than just being curious about the world around you, critical thinkers make connections between logical ideas to see the bigger picture. Building your critical thinking skills means being able to advocate your ideas and opinions, present them in a logical fashion, and make decisions for improvement.

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Why is critical thinking important?

Critical thinking is useful in many areas of your life, including your career. It makes you a well-rounded individual, one who has looked at all of their options and possible solutions before making a choice.

According to the University of the People in California, having critical thinking skills is important because they are [ 1 ]:

Crucial for the economy

Essential for improving language and presentation skills

Very helpful in promoting creativity

Important for self-reflection

The basis of science and democracy 

Critical thinking skills are used every day in a myriad of ways and can be applied to situations such as a CEO approaching a group project or a nurse deciding in which order to treat their patients.

Examples of common critical thinking skills

Critical thinking skills differ from individual to individual and are utilized in various ways. Examples of common critical thinking skills include:

Identification of biases: Identifying biases means knowing there are certain people or things that may have an unfair prejudice or influence on the situation at hand. Pointing out these biases helps to remove them from contention when it comes to solving the problem and allows you to see things from a different perspective.

Research: Researching details and facts allows you to be prepared when presenting your information to people. You’ll know exactly what you’re talking about due to the time you’ve spent with the subject material, and you’ll be well-spoken and know what questions to ask to gain more knowledge. When researching, always use credible sources and factual information.

Open-mindedness: Being open-minded when having a conversation or participating in a group activity is crucial to success. Dismissing someone else’s ideas before you’ve heard them will inhibit you from progressing to a solution, and will often create animosity. If you truly want to solve a problem, you need to be willing to hear everyone’s opinions and ideas if you want them to hear yours.

Analysis: Analyzing your research will lead to you having a better understanding of the things you’ve heard and read. As a true critical thinker, you’ll want to seek out the truth and get to the source of issues. It’s important to avoid taking things at face value and always dig deeper.

Problem-solving: Problem-solving is perhaps the most important skill that critical thinkers can possess. The ability to solve issues and bounce back from conflict is what helps you succeed, be a leader, and effect change. One way to properly solve problems is to first recognize there’s a problem that needs solving. By determining the issue at hand, you can then analyze it and come up with several potential solutions.

How to develop critical thinking skills

You can develop critical thinking skills every day if you approach problems in a logical manner. Here are a few ways you can start your path to improvement:

1. Ask questions.

Be inquisitive about everything. Maintain a neutral perspective and develop a natural curiosity, so you can ask questions that develop your understanding of the situation or task at hand. The more details, facts, and information you have, the better informed you are to make decisions.

2. Practice active listening.

Utilize active listening techniques, which are founded in empathy, to really listen to what the other person is saying. Critical thinking, in part, is the cognitive process of reading the situation: the words coming out of their mouth, their body language, their reactions to your own words. Then, you might paraphrase to clarify what they're saying, so both of you agree you're on the same page.

3. Develop your logic and reasoning.

This is perhaps a more abstract task that requires practice and long-term development. However, think of a schoolteacher assessing the classroom to determine how to energize the lesson. There's options such as playing a game, watching a video, or challenging the students with a reward system. Using logic, you might decide that the reward system will take up too much time and is not an immediate fix. A video is not exactly relevant at this time. So, the teacher decides to play a simple word association game.

Scenarios like this happen every day, so next time, you can be more aware of what will work and what won't. Over time, developing your logic and reasoning will strengthen your critical thinking skills.

Learn tips and tricks on how to become a better critical thinker and problem solver through online courses from notable educational institutions on Coursera. Start with Introduction to Logic and Critical Thinking from Duke University or Mindware: Critical Thinking for the Information Age from the University of Michigan.

Article sources

University of the People, “ Why is Critical Thinking Important?: A Survival Guide , https://www.uopeople.edu/blog/why-is-critical-thinking-important/.” Accessed May 18, 2023.

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The Learning Scientists

Feb 28 Can We Teach Critical Thinking?

by Althea Need Kaminske

Arguably one of the most valued and sought after skills that students are expected to learn is critical thinking. The ability to think critically, and by extension solve problems and exercise effective decision making, is highly prized among employers and academics. Instructors and programs therefore face a lot of pressure to improve this valuable skill. So what does the research tell us about critical thinking?

First, it’s helpful to distinguish between two possible definitions of critical thinking. We can think of critical thinking as a general, non-domain specific, skill. In this view critical thinking is a general skill that can be developed and then applied in a range of situations and scenarios. It’s a general mode of thinking or being and refers to a relatively stable trait of an individual. People can therefore be good or bad critical thinkers. Another way of defining critical thinking is as a domain specific skill. In this view critical thinking is specific to an area of expertise and can be developed and applied within a specific range of situations and scenarios. It’s a mode of thinking that is context dependent. People can therefore be good at critical thinking in one domain, but bad in others.

Image from Pixabay

Image from Pixabay

I suspect that when most people refer to critical thinking, and the need to improve critical thinking within schools, they are referring to the former definition of critical thinking as a general ability. However, most research on the transfer of skills suggests that the latter definition, critical thinking as a domain-specific ability, is more accurate (1). People’s ability to solve problems and make effective decisions depends on their level of expertise and experience within one area.

Does this mean that we can’t teach critical thinking as a domain general skill? Not necessarily. An excellent article by van Gelder (2005) summarizes some key lessons from cognitive psychology that can help guide instruction on critical thinking (2).

First, van Gelder notes that critical thinking is HARD. It is a higher-order skill that involves the mastery of low-level skills before you even begin to tackle the critical thinking part. For example, reading this blog post requires you to have mastered some basic reading comprehension and vocabulary skills. Before you can begin to think critically about what I am writing, you first need to be able to understand what I am writing.

Second, critical thinking takes practice just like everything else. Instruction on critical thinking needs to done explicitly and deliberately. I would argue further that it should be done in a way that encourages spaced practice and retrieval of those critical thinking skills. It’s unreasonable to expect that students will learn how to think critically just by being exposed to a topic area. If students are expected to critically evaluate an idea or theory, then they need practice and instruction on how to do that.

Third, transfering critical thinking is also hard and needs practice. As I mentioned above, the transfer of these skills is notoriously difficult. Just because we know how to solve problems in one area does not mean we will naturally transfer and apply those skills to another area (See this post on analogical transfer ). So once again, instruction needs to be deliberate and explicit. For example, I teach students how to write literature reviews as part of my course on Statistics and Research Methods. This, as it turns out, is not as simple as teaching them how to cite papers and look up appropriate references. The hardest part about this assignment is their ability to write the literature review as a persuasive essay. Their ability to think critically about the literature they are reviewing. Now, I know that every student in classroom has not only gone through twelve years of primary and secondary education, during which time I can assume some exposure to essay writing, but that they have also taken a mandatory freshman writing course at my university. This writing course focuses on writing essays and constructing persuasive arguments. I know that my students know how to do this. I also know that they have no idea how to transfer those skills to my class. So every year I refine the assignment and build in more and more explicit instruction on how to write essays and make explicit references to what they have learned in their writing course. So far it seems to be helping.

Fourth, there is a difference between practice and theory and both are valuable. This point really drives at the distinction between critical thinking as a domain general versus a domain specific skill. Having a practical understanding and working knowledge of an area can help you think more critically about it. On the other hand, having a broader conceptual framework for critical thinking can also help you think critically about it. Van Gelder uses the example of learning about beer. A beer aficionado may have a deeper understanding, a richer vocabulary, and more experience with beer. In other words, they have a theory of beer. This also allows them to perceive more than a naive, inexperienced beer drinker. They may be able to tell you about the particular balance of malt and hops in a particular brew and recommend pairings. Van Gelder argues that the more domain general knowledge about how to form arguments and recognize logical fallacies would enhance this beer aficionado’s ability to think critically about beer and presumably win more bar arguments over appropriate pairings.

Fifth, mapping out arguments can facilitate critical thinking. Van Gelder argues that drawing argument maps can be helpful, particularly with complex ideas. His reasoning here sounds very much like dual coding and concrete examples . Mapping out arguments may help to make a very high-level and abstract concept, like a chain of logical arguments used in critical thinking, easier to follow and understand.

Finally, when we talk about critical thinking we need to be aware of how people’s beliefs influence their ability to think critically. It’s difficult for us to think critically about something that conflicts with our belief structure. We tend to seek out ideas that confirm our beliefs and outright ignore ideas that conflict with our beliefs (3).

Image from Pixabay

Can we teach critical thinking? Yes, but with certain limitations. Even within a single domain critical thinking is a complex, higher-order skill that is hard to learn and even harder to transfer across domains. For example, I’m a cognitive psychologist who happens to enjoy science fiction. I have many well formed opinions about the nature of memory and conscious experience and how they are represented in popular media like Westworld, The Matrix, and Ghost in the Shell. It’s probably not very fun to watch these with me. However, my ability to think critically about cognitive psychology in these movies/shows does not necessarily mean I can think critically about the cinematography or directing. Or that I can think critically about software or computer programs (outside of turning it off and on again, I’m pretty useless). Or that I can think critically about any number of things outside of my very specific areas of training and experiences. My critical thinking is very good in a specific domains and less good outside of that domain. However, if I wanted to improve my critical thinking overall there are some strategies and tactics I could use like argument mapping and deliberate practice applying critical thinking strategies across domains.

References:

(1) Barnett, S.  M., & Ceci, S. J. (2002). When and where do we apply what we learn? A taxonomy for far transfer. Psychological Bulletin , 128 (4), 612-637.

(2) Van Gelder, T. (2005). Teaching Critical Thinking: Some Lessons from Cognitive Science. College Teaching , 53 (1), 41-46.

(3) Douglas, N. L. (2000). Enemies of critical thinking: Lessons from social psychology research. Reading Psychology , 21 , 129-144.

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The University of Edinburgh

  • Schools & departments

how does education improve critical thinking

Critical thinking

Advice and resources to help you develop your critical voice.

Developing critical thinking skills is essential to your success at University and beyond.  We all need to be critical thinkers to help us navigate our way through an information-rich world. 

Whatever your discipline, you will engage with a wide variety of sources of information and evidence.  You will develop the skills to make judgements about this evidence to form your own views and to present your views clearly.

One of the most common types of feedback received by students is that their work is ‘too descriptive’.  This usually means that they have just stated what others have said and have not reflected critically on the material.  They have not evaluated the evidence and constructed an argument.

What is critical thinking?

Critical thinking is the art of making clear, reasoned judgements based on interpreting, understanding, applying and synthesising evidence gathered from observation, reading and experimentation. Burns, T., & Sinfield, S. (2016)  Essential Study Skills: The Complete Guide to Success at University (4th ed.) London: SAGE, p94.

Being critical does not just mean finding fault.  It means assessing evidence from a variety of sources and making reasoned conclusions.  As a result of your analysis you may decide that a particular piece of evidence is not robust, or that you disagree with the conclusion, but you should be able to state why you have come to this view and incorporate this into a bigger picture of the literature.

Being critical goes beyond describing what you have heard in lectures or what you have read.  It involves synthesising, analysing and evaluating what you have learned to develop your own argument or position.

Critical thinking is important in all subjects and disciplines – in science and engineering, as well as the arts and humanities.  The types of evidence used to develop arguments may be very different but the processes and techniques are similar.  Critical thinking is required for both undergraduate and postgraduate levels of study.

What, where, when, who, why, how?

Purposeful reading can help with critical thinking because it encourages you to read actively rather than passively.  When you read, ask yourself questions about what you are reading and make notes to record your views.  Ask questions like:

  • What is the main point of this paper/ article/ paragraph/ report/ blog?
  • Who wrote it?
  • Why was it written?
  • When was it written?
  • Has the context changed since it was written?
  • Is the evidence presented robust?
  • How did the authors come to their conclusions?
  • Do you agree with the conclusions?
  • What does this add to our knowledge?
  • Why is it useful?

Our web page covering Reading at university includes a handout to help you develop your own critical reading form and a suggested reading notes record sheet.  These resources will help you record your thoughts after you read, which will help you to construct your argument. 

Reading at university

Developing an argument

Being a university student is about learning how to think, not what to think.  Critical thinking shapes your own values and attitudes through a process of deliberating, debating and persuasion.   Through developing your critical thinking you can move on from simply disagreeing to constructively assessing alternatives by building on doubts.

There are several key stages involved in developing your ideas and constructing an argument.  You might like to use a form to help you think about the features of critical thinking and to break down the stages of developing your argument.

Features of critical thinking (pdf)

Features of critical thinking (Word rtf)

Our webpage on Academic writing includes a useful handout ‘Building an argument as you go’.

Academic writing

You should also consider the language you will use to introduce a range of viewpoints and to evaluate the various sources of evidence.  This will help your reader to follow your argument.  To get you started, the University of Manchester's Academic Phrasebank has a useful section on Being Critical. 

Academic Phrasebank

Developing your critical thinking

Set yourself some tasks to help develop your critical thinking skills.  Discuss material presented in lectures or from resource lists with your peers.  Set up a critical reading group or use an online discussion forum.  Think about a point you would like to make during discussions in tutorials and be prepared to back up your argument with evidence.

For more suggestions:

Developing your critical thinking - ideas (pdf)

Developing your critical thinking - ideas (Word rtf)

Published guides

For further advice and more detailed resources please see the Critical Thinking section of our list of published Study skills guides.

Study skills guides  

This article was published on 2024-02-26

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Supplement to Critical Thinking

Educational methods.

Experiments have shown that educational interventions can improve critical thinking abilities and dispositions, as measured by standardized tests. Glaser (1941) developed teaching materials suitable for senior primary school, high school and college students. To test their effectiveness, he developed with his sponsor Goodwin Watson the Watson-Glaser Tests of Critical Thinking, whose descendants are in widespread global use under the name “Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal” (Watson & Glaser 1980a, 1980b, 1994). He found that senior secondary school students receiving 10 weeks of instruction using these materials improved their scores on these tests more than other such students receiving the standard English curriculum during the 10 weeks, to a degree that was statistically significant (i.e., probably not due to chance). More recently, Abrami et al. (2015) summarized in a meta-analysis the best available evidence on the effectiveness of various strategies for teaching students to think critically. The meta-analysis used as a measure of effectiveness a modified version of a statistical measure known as “Cohen’s d”: the ratio of a difference in mean score to the statistical deviation (SD) of the scores in a reference group. A difference of 0.2 SD is a small effect, a difference of 0.5 SD is a moderate effect, and a difference of 0.8 is a large effect (Cohen 1988: 25–27). Abrami et al. (2015) found a weighted mean effect size of 0.30 among 341 effect sizes, with effect sizes ranging from −1 to +2. This methodologically careful meta-analysis provides strong statistical evidence that explicit instruction for critical thinking can improve critical thinking abilities and dispositions, as measured by standardized tests.

Although contemporary meta-analysis provides a more justified verdict on claims of causal effectiveness than other methods of investigation, it does not give the reader an intuitive grasp of what difference a particular intervention makes to the lives of those who receive it. To get an appreciation of this difference, it helps to read the testimony of the teachers and students in the Laboratory School of Chicago where Dewey’s ideas obtained concreteness. The history of the school, written by two of its former teachers in collaboration with Dewey, makes the following claim for the effects of its approach:

As a result of this guarding and direction of their freedom, the children retained the power of initiative naturally present in young children through their inquisitive interests. This spirit of inquiry was given plenty of opportunity and developed with most of the children into the habit of trying a thing out for themselves. Thus, they gradually became familiar with, and to varying degrees skilled in, the use of the experimental method to solve problems in all areas of their experience. (Mayhew & Edwards 1936: 402–403)

A science teacher in the school wrote:

I think the children did get the scientific attitude of mind. They found out things for themselves. They worked out the simplest problems that may have involved a most commonplace and everyday fact in the manner that a really scientific investigator goes to work. (Mayhew & Edwards 1936: 403)

An alumna of the school summed up the character of its former students as follows:

It is difficult for me to be restrained about the character building results of the Dewey School. As the years have passed and as I have watched the lives of many Dewey School children, I have always been astonished at the ease which fits them into all sorts and conditions of emergencies. They do not vacillate and flounder under unstable emotions; they go ahead and work out the problem in hand, guided by their positively formed working habits. Discouragement to them is non-existent, almost ad absurdum. For that very fact, accomplishment in daily living is inevitable. Whoever has been given the working pattern of tackling problems has a courage born of self-confidence and achieves. (Mayhew & Edwards 1936: 406–407)

In the absence of control groups, of standardized tests, and of statistical methods of controlling for confounding variables, such testimonies are weak evidence of the effectiveness of educational interventions in developing the abilities and dispositions of a critical thinker—in Dewey’s conception, a scientific attitude. But they give a vivid impression of what might be accomplished in an educational system that takes the development of critical thinking as a goal.

Dewey established the Laboratory School explicitly as an experiment to test his theory of knowledge, which

emphasized the part in the development of thought of problems which originated in active situations and also the necessity of testing thought by action if thought was to pass over into knowledge. (Dewey 1936: 464)

Hence the curriculum of the school started from situations familiar to children from their home life (such as preparing food and making clothing) and posed problems that the children were to solve by doing things and noting the consequences. This curriculum was adjusted in the light of its observed results in the classroom.

The school’s continued experimentation with the subject matter of the elementary curriculum proved that classroom results were best when activities were in accord with the child’s changing interests, his growing consciousness of the relation of means and ends, and his increasing willingness to perfect means and to postpone satisfactions in order to arrive at better ends…. The important question for those guiding this process of growth, and of promoting the alignment and cooperation of interest and effort, is this. What specific subject-matter or mode of skill has such a vital connection with the child’s interest, existing powers, and capabilities as will extend the one [the interest–DH] and stimulate, exercise, and carry forward the others [the powers and capabilities–DH] in a progressive course of action? (Mayhew & Edwards 1936: 420–421)

In an appendix to the history of the Laboratory School, Dewey (1936: 468–469) acknowledges that the school did not solve the problem of finding things in the child’s present experience out of which would grow more elaborate, technical and organized knowledge. Passmore (1980: 91) notes one difficulty of starting from children’s out-of-school experiences: they differ a lot from one child to another. More fundamentally, the everyday out-of-school experiences of a child provide few links to the systematic knowledge of nature and of human history that humanity has developed and that schools should pass on to the next generation. If children are to acquire such knowledge through investigation of problems, teachers must first provide information as a basis for formulating problems that interest them (Passmore 1980: 93–94).

More than a century has passed since Dewey’s experiment. In the interim, researchers have refined the methodology of experimenting with human subjects, in educational research and elsewhere. They have also developed the methodology of meta-analysis for combining the results of various experiments to form a comprehensive picture of what has been discovered. Abrami et al. (2015) report the results of such a meta-analysis of all the experimental and quasi-experimental studies published or archived before 2010 that used as outcome variables standardized measures of critical thinking abilities or dispositions of the sort enumerated in Facione 1990a and described in sections 8 and 9 of the main entry. By an experimental study, they mean one in which participants are divided randomly into two groups, one of which receives the educational intervention designed to improve critical thinking and the other of which serves as a control; they found few such experiments, because of the difficulty of achieving randomization in the classrooms where the studies were conducted. By a quasi-experiment, they mean a study with an intervention group that receives an educational intervention designed to improve critical thinking and a control group, but without random allocation to the two groups. Initially, they included also what they called “pre-experiments”, with single-group pretest-posttest designs, but decided at the analysis stage not to include these studies. By a standardized measure, they mean a test with norms derived from previous administration of the test, as set out in the test’s manual, such as the Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal (Watson & Glaser 1980a, 1980b, 1994), the Cornell Critical Thinking Tests (Ennis & Millman 1971; Ennis, Millman, & Tomko 1985; 2005), the California Critical Thinking Skills Test (Facione 1990b, 1992) and the California Critical Thinking Dispositions Inventory (Facione & Facione 1992; Facione, Facione, & Giancarlo 2001). They included all such studies in which the educational intervention lasted at least three hours and the participants were at least six years old.

In these studies they found 341 effect sizes. They rated each educational intervention according to the degree to which it involved dialogue, anchored instruction, and mentoring. They found that each of these factors increased the effectiveness of the educational intervention, and that they were most effective when combined. They explained the three factors as follows.

Dialogue : In critical dialogue, which historically goes back to Socrates, individuals discuss a problem together. The dialogue can be oral or written, and cooperative or adversarial. It can take the form of asking questions, discussion, or debate. Some curricula designed to promote critical thinking establish “communities of inquiry” among the students. Such communities were a prominent feature of Dewey’s Laboratory School, incorporated as a means of promoting the primary moral objective of fostering a spirit of social cooperation among the children.

An important aspect of this conditioning process by means of the school’s daily practices was to aid each child in forming a habit of thinking before doing in all of his various enterprises. The daily classroom procedure began with a face-to-face discussion of the work of the day and its relation to that of the previous period. The new problem was then faced, analyzed, and possible plans and resources for its solution suggested by members of the group. The children soon grew to like this method. It gave both individual and group a sense of power to be intelligent, to know what they wanted to do before they did it, and to realize the reasons why one plan was preferred to another. It also enlisted their best effort to prove the validity of their judgment by testing the plan in action. Each member of the group thus acquired a habit of observing, criticizing, and integrating values in thought, in order that they should guide the action that would integrate them in fact. The value of thus previsioning consequences of action before they became fixed as fact was emphasized in the school’s philosophy. The social implication is evident. The conscious direction of his actions toward considered social ends became an unfailing index of the child’s progress toward maturity. (Mayhew & Edwards 1936: 423–424)

Communities of inquiry are also a feature of the Montessori method described by Thayer-Bacon (2000) and of the Philosophy for Children program developed by Matthew Lipman (Splitter 1987). Lipman (2003) examines theoretically what is involved in creating communities of inquiry. Hitchcock (2021) argues that the most obvious way for schools to develop critical thinking is to foster development of communities of inquiry.

Anchored instruction : In anchored instruction, whose advocacy goes back to Rousseau (1762) and Dewey (1910), there is an effort to present students with problems that make sense to them, engage them, and stimulate them to inquire. Simulations, role-playing and presentation of ethical or medical dilemmas are methods of anchoring.

Mentoring : Mentoring is a one-on-one relationship in which someone with more relevant expertise (the mentor) interacts with someone with less (the mentee). The mentor acts as a model and as a critic correcting errors by the mentee. Examples of mentoring are an advisor talking to a student, a physician modeling a procedure for a medical student, and an employee correcting an intern. Abrami et al. (2015) identified three kinds of mentoring in the studies that they analyzed: one-on-one teacher-student interaction, peer-led dyads, and internships.

Abrami et al. (2015) also compared educational interventions with respect to whether they were part of subject-matter instruction. For this purpose, they used a distinction among four types of intervention articulated by Ennis (1989). A general approach tries to teach critical thinking separately from subject-matter instruction. An infusion approach combines deep subject-matter instruction in which students are encouraged to think critically with explicit reference to critical thinking principles. An immersion approach provides deep subject-matter instruction with encouragement to think critically, but without explicit reference to critical thinking principles. A mixed approach combines the general approach with either the infusion or the immersion approach; students combine a separate thread or course aimed at teaching general critical thinking principles with deep subject-matter instruction in which they are encouraged to think critically about the subject-matter. Although the average effect size in the studies using a mixed intervention (+0.38) was greater than the average effect sizes in the studies using general (+0.26), infusion (+0.29) and immersion (+0.23) interventions, the difference was not statistically significant; in other words, it might have been due to chance.

Cleghorn (2021), Makaiau (2021), and Hiner (2021) make specific suggestions for fostering critical thinking respectively in elementary, secondary and post-secondary education. Vincent-Lancrin et al. (2019) report the results of a project of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development to develop with teachers and schools in 11 countries resources for fostering creativity and critical thinking in elementary and secondary schools.

Ennis (2013, 2018) has made a detailed proposal for a mixed approach to teaching critical thinking across the curriculum of undergraduate education. Attempts at implementing such an approach have faced difficulties. Weinstein (2013: 209–213) describes the attempt at Montclair State University in Montclair, New Jersey, from 1987 through the 1990s. He reports that the university’s requirement to include critical thinking in all general education courses led to the use of the concept in identifying topics and tasks in course syllabi, but without a unifying theoretical basis. The committee that approved courses as satisfying a general education requirement ignored the relation of curricular outcomes to critical thinking, and focused instead on work requirements with a prima facie relation to reflective thought: term papers, projects, group work, and dialogue. Sheffield (2018) reports similar difficulties encountered in his position from 2012 to 2015 as the inaugural Eugene H. Fram Chair in Applied Critical Thinking at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in Rochester, New York. A cross-disciplinary faculty advisory group was not ready to accept RIT’s approved definition of critical thinking, but never reached a consensus on an alternative. Payette and Ross (2016), on the other hand, report widespread acceptance of the Paul-Elder framework, which involves elements of thought, intellectual standards, and intellectual virtues (Paul & Elder 2006). Sheffield (2018) reports that many colleges and universities in the United States have received funding for so-called “Quality Enhancement Plans” (QEPs) devoted to critical thinking, many of them written by Paul and Elder or developed in consultation with them. He faults the plans for having a typical time frame of five years, which he argues is probably too short for meaningful results, since lasting institutional change is often extremely slow.

Copyright © 2022 by David Hitchcock < hitchckd @ mcmaster . ca >

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Distance Learning

Using technology to develop students’ critical thinking skills.

by Jessica Mansbach

What Is Critical Thinking?

Critical thinking is a higher-order cognitive skill that is indispensable to students, readying them to respond to a variety of complex problems that are sure to arise in their personal and professional lives. The  cognitive skills at the foundation of critical thinking are  analysis, interpretation, evaluation, explanation, inference, and self-regulation.  

When students think critically, they actively engage in these processes:

  • Communication
  • Problem-solving

To create environments that engage students in these processes, instructors need to ask questions, encourage the expression of diverse opinions, and involve students in a variety of hands-on activities that force them to be involved in their learning.

Types of Critical Thinking Skills

Instructors should select activities based on the level of thinking they want students to do and the learning objectives for the course or assignment. The chart below describes questions to ask in order to show that students can demonstrate different levels of critical thinking.

*Adapted from Brown University’s Harriet W Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning

Using Online Tools to Teach Critical Thinking Skills

Online instructors can use technology tools to create activities that help students develop both lower-level and higher-level critical thinking skills.

  • Example: Use Google Doc, a collaboration feature in Canvas, and tell students to keep a journal in which they reflect on what they are learning, describe the progress they are making in the class, and cite course materials that have been most relevant to their progress. Students can share the Google Doc with you, and instructors can comment on their work.
  • Example: Use the peer review assignment feature in Canvas and manually or automatically form peer review groups. These groups can be anonymous or display students’ names. Tell students to give feedback to two of their peers on the first draft of a research paper. Use the rubric feature in Canvas to create a rubric for students to use. Show students the rubric along with the assignment instructions so that students know what they will be evaluated on and how to evaluate their peers.
  • Example: Use the discussions feature in Canvas and tell students to have a debate about a video they watched. Pose the debate questions in the discussion forum, and give students instructions to take a side of the debate and cite course readings to support their arguments.  
  • Example: Us e goreact , a tool for creating and commenting on online presentations, and tell students to design a presentation that summarizes and raises questions about a reading. Tell students to comment on the strengths and weaknesses of the author’s argument. Students can post the links to their goreact presentations in a discussion forum or an assignment using the insert link feature in Canvas.
  • Example:  Use goreact, a narrated Powerpoint, or a Google Doc and instruct students to tell a story that informs readers and listeners about how the course content they are learning is useful in their professional lives. In the story, tell students to offer specific examples of readings and class activities that they are finding most relevant to their professional work. Links to the goreact presentation and Google doc can be submitted via a discussion forum or an assignment in Canvas. The Powerpoint file can be submitted via a discussion or submitted in an assignment.

Pulling it All Together

Critical thinking is an invaluable skill that students need to be successful in their professional and personal lives. Instructors can be thoughtful and purposeful about creating learning objectives that promote lower and higher-level critical thinking skills, and about using technology to implement activities that support these learning objectives. Below are some additional resources about critical thinking.

Additional Resources

Carmichael, E., & Farrell, H. (2012). Evaluation of the Effectiveness of Online Resources in Developing Student Critical Thinking: Review of Literature and Case Study of a Critical Thinking Online Site.  Journal of University Teaching and Learning Practice ,  9 (1), 4.

Lai, E. R. (2011). Critical thinking: A literature review.  Pearson’s Research Reports ,  6 , 40-41.

Landers, H (n.d.). Using Peer Teaching In The Classroom. Retrieved electronically from https://tilt.colostate.edu/TipsAndGuides/Tip/180

Lynch, C. L., & Wolcott, S. K. (2001). Helping your students develop critical thinking skills (IDEA Paper# 37. In  Manhattan, KS: The IDEA Center.

Mandernach, B. J. (2006). Thinking critically about critical thinking: Integrating online tools to Promote Critical Thinking. Insight: A collection of faculty scholarship , 1 , 41-50.

Yang, Y. T. C., & Wu, W. C. I. (2012). Digital storytelling for enhancing student academic achievement, critical thinking, and learning motivation: A year-long experimental study. Computers & Education , 59 (2), 339-352.

Insight Assessment: Measuring Thinking Worldwide

http://www.insightassessment.com/

Michigan State University’s Office of Faculty  & Organizational Development, Critical Thinking: http://fod.msu.edu/oir/critical-thinking

The Critical Thinking Community

http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/defining-critical-thinking/766

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9 responses to “ Using Technology To Develop Students’ Critical Thinking Skills ”

This is a great site for my students to learn how to develop critical thinking skills, especially in the STEM fields.

Great tools to help all learners at all levels… not everyone learns at the same rate.

Thanks for sharing the article. Is there any way to find tools which help in developing critical thinking skills to students?

Technology needs to be advance to develop the below factors:

Understand the links between ideas. Determine the importance and relevance of arguments and ideas. Recognize, build and appraise arguments.

Excellent share! Can I know few tools which help in developing critical thinking skills to students? Any help will be appreciated. Thanks!

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Brilliant post. Will be sharing this on our Twitter (@refthinking). I would love to chat to you about our tool, the Thinking Kit. It has been specifically designed to help students develop critical thinking skills whilst they also learn about the topics they ‘need’ to.

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  • v.6(2); Summer 2007

Learning to Improve: Using Writing to Increase Critical Thinking Performance in General Education Biology

Ian j. quitadamo.

*Department of Biological Sciences, Central Washington University, Ellensburg, WA 98926-7537; and

Martha J. Kurtz

† Department of Chemistry, Central Washington University, Ellensburg, WA 98926-7539

Increasingly, national stakeholders express concern that U.S. college graduates cannot adequately solve problems and think critically. As a set of cognitive abilities, critical thinking skills provide students with tangible academic, personal, and professional benefits that may ultimately address these concerns. As an instructional method, writing has long been perceived as a way to improve critical thinking. In the current study, the researchers compared critical thinking performance of students who experienced a laboratory writing treatment with those who experienced traditional quiz-based laboratory in a general education biology course. The effects of writing were determined within the context of multiple covariables. Results indicated that the writing group significantly improved critical thinking skills whereas the nonwriting group did not. Specifically, analysis and inference skills increased significantly in the writing group but not the nonwriting group. Writing students also showed greater gains in evaluation skills; however, these were not significant. In addition to writing, prior critical thinking skill and instructor significantly affected critical thinking performance, whereas other covariables such as gender, ethnicity, and age were not significant. With improved critical thinking skill, general education biology students will be better prepared to solve problems as engaged and productive citizens.

INTRODUCTION

A national call to improve critical thinking in science.

In the past several years, an increasing number of national reports indicate a growing concern over the effectiveness of higher education teaching practices and the decreased science (and math) performance of U.S. students relative to other industrialized countries ( Project Kaleidoscope, 2006 ). A variety of national stakeholders, including business and educational leaders, politicians, parents, and public agencies, have called for long-term transformation of the K–20 educational system to produce graduates who are well trained in science, can engage intelligently in global issues that require local action, and in general are better able to solve problems and think critically. Specifically, business leaders are calling for graduates who possess advanced analysis and communication skills, for instructional methods that improve lifelong learning, and ultimately for an educational system that builds a nation of innovative and effective thinkers ( Business-Higher Education Forum and American Council on Education, 2003 ). Education leaders are similarly calling for institutions of higher education to produce graduates who think critically, communicate effectively, and who employ lifelong learning skills to address important scientific and civic issues ( Association of American Colleges and Universities, [AACU] 2005 ).

Many college faculty consider critical thinking to be one of the most important indicators of student learning quality. In its 2005 national report, the AACU indicated that 93% of higher education faculty perceived analytical and critical thinking to be an essential learning outcome (AACU, 2005) whereas 87% of undergraduate students indicated that college experiences contributed to their ability to think analytically and creatively. This same AACU report showed that only 6% of undergraduate seniors demonstrated critical thinking proficiency based on Educational Testing Services standardized assessments from 2003 to 2004. During the same time frame, data from the ACT Collegiate Assessment of Academic Proficiency test showed a similar trend, with undergraduates improving their critical thinking less than 1 SD from freshman to senior year. Thus, it appears a discrepancy exists between faculty expectations of critical thinking and students' ability to perceive and demonstrate critical thinking proficiency using standardized assessments (AACU, 2005).

Teaching that supports the development of critical thinking skills has become a cornerstone of nearly every major educational objective since the Department of Education released its six goals for the nation's schools in 1990. In particular, goal three of the National Goals for Education stated that more students should be able to reason, solve problems, and apply knowledge. Goal six specifically stated that college graduates must be able to think critically ( Office of Educational Research and Improvement, 1991 ). Since 1990, American education has tried—with some success—to make a fundamental shift from traditional teacher-focused instruction to more student-centered constructivist learning that encourages discovery, reflection, and in general is thought to improve student critical thinking skill. National science organizations have supported this trend with recommendations to improve the advanced thinking skills that support scientific literacy ( American Association for Higher Education, 1989 ; National Research Council, 1995 ; National Science Foundation, 1996 ).

More recent reports describe the need for improved biological literacy as well as international competitiveness ( Bybee and Fuchs, 2006 ; Klymkowsky, 2006 ). Despite the collective call for enhanced problem solving and critical thinking, educators, researchers, and policymakers are discovering a lack of evidence in existing literature for methods that measurably improve critical thinking skills ( Tsui, 1998 , 2002 ). As more reports call for improved K–20 student performance, it is essential that research-supported teaching and learning practices be used to better help students develop the cognitive skills that underlie effective science learning ( Malcom et al., 2005 ; Bybee and Fuchs, 2006 ).

Critical Thinking

Although they are not always transparent to many college students, the academic and personal benefits of critical thinking are well established; students who can think critically tend to get better grades, are often better able to use reasoning in daily decisions ( U.S. Department of Education, 1990 ), and are generally more employable ( Carnevale and American Society for Training and Development, 1990 ; Holmes and Clizbe, 1997 ; National Academy of Sciences, 2005 ). By focusing on instructional efforts that develop critical thinking skills, it may be possible to increase student performance while satisfying national stakeholder calls for educational improvement and increased ability to solve problems as engaged and productive citizens.

Although academics and business professionals consider critical thinking skill to be a crucial outcome of higher education, many would have difficulty defining exactly what critical thinking is. Historically, there has been little agreement on how to conceptualize critical thinking. Of the literally dozens of definitions that exist, one of the most organized efforts to define (and measure) critical thinking emerged from research done by Peter Facione and others in the early 1990s. Their consensus work, referred to as the Delphi report, was accomplished by a group of 46 leading theorists, teachers, and critical thinking assessment specialists from a variety of academic and business disciplines ( Facione and American Philosophical Association, 1990 ). Initial results from the Delphi report were later confirmed in a national survey and replication study ( Jones et al., 1995 ). In short, the Delphi panel expert consensus describes critical thinking as a “process of purposeful self-regulatory judgment that drives problem-solving and decision-making” ( Facione and American Philosophical Association, 1990 ). This definition implies that critical thinking is an intentional, self-regulated process that provides a mechanism for solving problems and making decisions based on reasoning and logic, which is particularly useful when dealing with issues of national and global significance.

The Delphi conceptualization of critical thinking encompasses several cognitive skills that include: 1) analysis (the ability to break a concept or idea into component pieces in order to understand its structure and inherent relationships), 2) inference (the skills used to arrive at a conclusion by reconciling what is known with what is unknown), and 3) evaluation (the ability to weigh and consider evidence and make reasoned judgments within a given context). Other critical thinking skills that are similarly relevant to science include interpretation, explanation, and self-regulation ( Facione and American Philosophical Association, 1990 ). The concept of critical thinking includes behavioral tendencies or dispositions as well as cognitive skills ( Ennis, 1985 ); these include the tendency to seek truth, to be open-minded, to be analytical, to be orderly and systematic, and to be inquisitive ( Facione and American Philosophical Association, 1990 ). These behavioral tendencies also align closely with behaviors considered to be important in science. Thus, an increased focus on teaching critical thinking may directly benefit students who are engaged in science.

Prior research on critical thinking indicates that students' behavioral dispositions do not change in the short term ( Giancarlo and Facione, 2001 ), but cognitive skills can be developed over a relatively short period of time (Quitadamo, Brahler, and Crouch, unpublished results). In their longitudinal study of behavioral disposition toward critical thinking, Giancarlo and Facione (2001) discovered that undergraduate critical thinking disposition changed significantly after two years. Specifically, significant changes in student tendency to seek truth and confidence in thinking critically occurred during the junior and senior years. Also, females tended to be more open-minded and have more mature judgment than males ( Giancarlo and Facione, 2001 ). Although additional studies are necessary to confirm results from the Giancarlo study, existing research seems to indicate that changes in undergraduate critical thinking disposition are measured in years, not weeks.

In contrast to behavioral disposition, prior research indicates that critical thinking skills can be measurably changed in weeks. In their study of undergraduate critical thinking skill in university science and math courses, Quitadamo, Brahler, and Crouch (unpublished results) showed that critical thinking skills changed within 15 wk in response to Peer Led Team Learning (a national best practice for small group learning). This preliminary study provided some evidence that undergraduate critical thinking skills could be measurably improved within an academic semester, but provided no information about whether critical thinking skills could be changed during a shorter academic quarter. It was also unclear whether the development of critical thinking skills was a function of chronological time or whether it was related to instructional time.

Numerous studies provide anecdotal evidence for pedagogies that improve critical thinking, but much of existing research relies on student self-report, which limits the scope of interpretation. From the literature it is clear that, although critical thinking skills are some of the most valued outcomes of a quality education, additional research investigating the effects of instructional factors on critical thinking performance is necessary ( Tsui, 1998 , 2002 ).

Writing and Critical Thinking

Writing has been widely used as a tool for communicating ideas, but less is known about how writing can improve the thinking process itself ( Rivard, 1994 ; Klein, 2004 ). Writing is thought to be a vehicle for improving student learning ( Champagne and Kouba, 1999 ; Kelly and Chen, 1999 ; Keys, 1999 ; Hand and Prain, 2002 ), but too often is used as a means to regurgitate content knowledge and derive prescribed outcomes ( Keys, 1999 ; Keys et al., 1999 ). Historically, writing is thought to contribute to the development of critical thinking skills ( Kurfiss, and Association for the Study of Higher Education, 1988 ). Applebee (1984) suggested that writing improves thinking because it requires an individual to make his or her ideas explicit and to evaluate and choose among tools necessary for effective discourse. Resnick (1987) stressed that writing should provide an opportunity to think through arguments and that, if used in such a way, could serve as a “cultivator and an enabler of higher order thinking.” Marzano (1991) suggested that writing used as a means to restructure knowledge improves higher-order thinking. In this context, writing may provide opportunity for students to think through arguments and use higher-order thinking skills to respond to complex problems ( Marzano, 1991 ).

Writing has also been used as a strategy to improve conceptual learning. Initial work focused on how the recursive and reflective nature of the writing process contributes to student learning ( Applebee, 1984 ; Langer and Applebee, 1985 , 1987 ; Ackerman, 1993 ). However, conclusions from early writing to learn studies were limited by confounding research designs and mismatches between writing activities and measures of student learning ( Ackerman, 1993 ). Subsequent work has focused on how writing within disciplines helps students to learn content and how to think. Specifically, writing within disciplines is thought to require deeper analytical thinking ( Langer and Applebee, 1987 ), which is closely aligned with critical thinking.

The influence of writing on critical thinking is less defined in science. Researchers have repeatedly called for more empirical investigations of writing in science; however, few provide such evidence ( Rivard, 1994 ; Tsui, 1998 ; Daempfle, 2002 ; Klein, 2004 ). In his extensive review of writing research, Rivard (1994) indicated that gaps in writing research limit its inferential scope, particularly within the sciences. Specifically, Rivard and others indicate that, despite the volume of writing students are asked to produce during their education, they are not learning to use writing to improve their awareness of thinking processes ( Resnick, 1987 ; Howard, 1990 ). Existing studies are limited because writing has been used either in isolation or outside authentic classroom contexts. Factors like gender, ethnicity, and academic ability that are not directly associated with writing but may nonetheless influence its effectiveness have also not been sufficiently accounted for in previous work ( Rivard, 1994 ).

A more recent review by Daempfle (2002) similarly indicates the need for additional research to clarify relationships between writing and critical thinking in science. In his review, Daempfle identified nine empirical studies that generally support the hypothesis that students who experience writing (and other nontraditional teaching methods) have higher reasoning skills than students who experience traditional science instruction. Of the relatively few noninstructional variables identified in those studies, gender and major did not affect critical thinking performance; however, the amount of time spent on and the explicitness of instruction to teach reasoning skills did affect overall critical thinking performance. Furthermore, the use of writing and other nontraditional teaching methods did not appear to negatively affect content knowledge acquisition ( Daempfle, 2002 ). Daempfle justified his conclusions by systematically describing the methodological inconsistencies for each study. Specifically, incomplete sample descriptions, the use of instruments with insufficient validity and reliability, the absence of suitable comparison groups, and the lack of statistical covariate analyses limit the scope and generalizability of existing studies of writing and critical thinking ( Daempfle, 2002 ).

Writing in the Biological Sciences

The conceptual nature and reliance on the scientific method as a means of understanding make the field of biology a natural place to teach critical thinking through writing. Some work has been done in this area, with literature describing various approaches to writing in the biological sciences that range from linked biology and English courses, writing across the biology curriculum, and directed use of writing to improve reasoning in biology courses ( Ebert-May et al., 1997 ; Holyoak, 1998 ; Taylor and Sobota, 1998 ; Steglich, 2000 ; Lawson, 2001 ; Kokkala and Gessell, 2003 ; Tessier, 2006 ). In their work on integrated biology and English, Taylor and Sobota (1998) discussed several problem areas that affected both biology and English students, including anxiety and frustration associated with writing, difficulty expressing thoughts clearly and succinctly, and a tendency to have strong negative responses to writing critique. Although the authors delineate the usefulness of several composition strategies for writing in biology ( Taylor and Sobota, 1998 ), it was unclear whether student data were used to support their recommendations. Kokkala and Gessell (2003) used English students to evaluate articles written by biology students. Biology students first reflected on initial editorial comments made by English students, and then resubmitted their work for an improved grade. In turn, English students had to justify their editorial comments with written work of their own. Qualitative results generated from a list of reflective questions at the end of the writing experience seemed to indicate that both groups of students improved editorial skills and writing logic. However, no formal measures of student editorial skill were collected before biology-English student collaboration, so no definitive conclusions on the usefulness of this strategy could be made.

Taking a slightly different tack, Steglich (2000) informally assessed student attitudes in nonmajors biology courses, and noted that writing produced positive changes in student attitudes toward biology. However, the author acknowledged that this work was not a research study. Finally, Tessier (2006) showed that students enrolled in a nonmajors ecology course significantly improved writing technical skills and committed fewer errors of fact regarding environmental issues in response to a writing treatment. Attitudes toward environmental issues also improved ( Tessier, 2006 ). Although this study surveyed students at the beginning and the end of the academic term and also tracked student progress during the quarter, instrument validity and reliability were not provided. The generalizability of results was further limited because of an overreliance on student self-reports and small sample size.

Each of the studies described above peripherally supports a relationship between writing and critical thinking. Although not explicitly an investigation of critical thinking, results from a relatively recent study support a stronger connection between writing and reasoning ability ( Daempfle, 2002 ). Ebert-May et al. (1997) used a modified learning cycle instructional method and small group collaboration to increase reasoning ability in general education biology students. A quasi-experimental pretest/posttest control group design was used on a comparatively large sample of students, and considerable thought was given to controlling extraneous variables across the treatment and comparison groups. A multifaceted assessment strategy based on writing, standardized tests, and student interviews was used to quantitatively and qualitatively evaluate student content knowledge and thinking skill. Results indicated that students in the treatment group significantly outperformed control group students on reasoning and process skills as indicated by the National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT) content exam. Coincidentally, student content knowledge did not differ significantly between the treatment and control sections, indicating that development of thinking skill did not occur at the expense of content knowledge ( Ebert-May et al., 1997 ). Interview data indicated that students experiencing the writing and collaboration-based instruction changed how they perceived the construction of biological knowledge and how they applied their reasoning skills. Although the Ebert-May study is one of the more complete investigations of writing and critical thinking to date, several questions remain. Supporting validity and reliability data for the NABT test was not included in the study, making interpretation of results somewhat less certain. In addition, the NABT exam is designed to assess high school biology performance, not college performance ( Daempfle, 2002 ). Perhaps more importantly, the NABT exam does not explicitly measure critical thinking skills.

Collectively, it appears that additional research is necessary to establish a more defined relationship between writing and critical thinking in science ( Rivard, 1994 ; Tsui, 1998 , 2002 ; Daempfle, 2002 ). The current study addresses some of the gaps in previous work by evaluating the effects of writing on critical thinking performance using relatively large numbers of students, suitable comparison groups, valid and reliable instruments, a sizable cadre of covariables, and statistical analyses of covariance. This study uses an experimental design similar to that of the Ebert-May et al. (1997) study but incorporates valid and reliable test measures of critical thinking that can be used both within and across different science disciplines.

Purpose of the Study

Currently there is much national discussion about increasing the numbers of students majoring in various science fields ( National Research Council, 2003 ; National Academy of Sciences, 2005 ). Although this is a necessary and worthwhile goal, attention should also be focused on improving student performance in general education science because these students will far outnumber science majors for the foreseeable future. If college instructors want general education students to think critically about science, they will need to use teaching methods that improve student critical thinking performance. In many traditional general education biology courses, students are not expected to work collaboratively, to think about concepts as much as memorize facts, or to develop and support a written thesis or argument. This presents a large problem when one considers the societal role that general education students will play as voters, community members, and global citizens. By improving their critical thinking skills in science, general education students will be better able to deal with the broad scientific, economic, social, and political issues they will face in the future.

The problem addressed by this study was to discover whether writing could improve student critical thinking performance in general education biology courses. How might writing in general education biology affect the analysis, inference, and evaluation skills that are inherent to critical thinking? What level of critical thinking skill do students bring to nonmajors biology courses? Can their critical thinking skills be measurably improved using writing? What other factors affect development of critical thinking skills? When do student critical thinking skills begin to change, and how much? In this study, the effect of writing on critical thinking performance was investigated using the California Critical Thinking Skills Test (CCTST) at the beginning (pretest) and end (posttest) of 10 sections of general education biology at a regional comprehensive university in the Pacific Northwest. Several research questions framed this investigation:

Does writing in laboratory affect critical thinking performance in general education biology? Does the development of analysis, inference, and evaluation skills differ between students who experience writing versus those who experience traditional laboratory instruction? What measurable effect do factors like gender, ethnicity, and prior thinking skill have on changes in critical thinking in general education biology? If critical thinking skills change during an academic quarter, when does that take place?

MATERIALS AND METHODS

Study context.

The study took place at a state-funded regional comprehensive university in the Pacific Northwest. All participants were nonmajor undergraduates who were taking biology to satisfy their general education science requirement. Ten total sections of general education biology offered over three academic quarters (one academic year) were included in the study. Four of the 10 sections implemented a writing component during weekly laboratory meetings (N = 158); six traditional quiz-based laboratory sections served as a nonwriting control group (N = 152). Only scores from students who had completed both the initial (pretest) and end-of-quarter (posttest) critical thinking assessments were included in the data analysis. A breakdown of participant demographics for the writing and nonwriting groups is provided in Table 1 .

Demographics for the writing and nonwriting groups

Demographics profile for the study sample. n values in parentheses.

a Other includes the ″choose not to answer″ response.

Each course section included a lecture component offered four times per week for 50 min and a laboratory component that met once a week for 2 h. Course lecture sections were limited to a maximum enrollment of 48 students, with two concurrent lab sections of 24 students. Two different instructors taught five writing sections and five other instructors taught 11 traditional sections over three consecutive quarters. Each course instructor materially participated in teaching laboratory with the help of one graduate assistant per lab section (two graduate students per course section). None of the instructors from treatment sections had implemented writing in the laboratory before the start of this study. Writing instructors were chosen on the basis of personal dissatisfaction with traditional laboratory teaching methods and willingness to try something new.

Strong efforts were made to establish equivalency between writing and nonwriting course sections a priori. Course elements that were highly similar included common lecture rooms, the use of similar (in most cases identical) textbooks, and a lab facility coordinated by a single faculty member. More specifically, three similarly appointed lecture rooms outfitted with contemporary instructional technology including dry erase boards, media cabinets, a networked computer, and digital projection were used to teach the nonmajors biology courses. The same nonmajors biology textbook was used across the writing and most of the nonwriting sections. All laboratory sections used a common lab facility and were taught on the same day of the week. Although the order in which specific labs were taught differed among sections, a common laboratory manual containing prescriptive exercises covering the main themes of biology (scientific method, cellular biology and genetics, natural selection and evolution, kingdoms of life, and a mammalian dissection) was used across all writing and nonwriting lab sections.

Primary course differences included a writing component in the laboratory, and how much time was devoted to laboratory activities. Those sections that experienced the writing treatment completed the prescriptive lab exercises in the first hour and engaged in writing during the second hour of the lab. Nonwriting sections allocated 2 h for the prescriptive lab exercises and included a traditional laboratory quiz rather than a writing assignment. The degree to which the writing and nonwriting sections included small group collaboration in laboratory varied and all course sections differed with regards to individual instructor teaching style. Although all course sections used traditional lecture exams during the quarter to assess content knowledge, the degree to which rote memorization-based exam questions were used to evaluate student learning varied.

Description of the Writing Treatment

On the first day of lecture, students in the writing treatment group were told that their laboratory performance would be evaluated using collaborative essays instead of traditional quizzes. A brief overview of the writing assignments was included in associated course syllabi. During the first laboratory session of the quarter, students were grouped into teams of three or four individuals, and the criteria for completing weekly writing assignments were further explained.

The decision to use collaborative groups to support writing in the laboratory was partly based on existing literature ( Collier, 1980 ; Bruffee, 1984 ; Tobin et al., 1994 ; Jones and Carter, 1998 ; Springer et al., 1999 ) and prior research by Quitadamo, Brahler, and Crouch (unpublished results), who showed that Peer Led Team Learning (one form of collaborative learning) helped to measurably improve undergraduate critical thinking skills. Small group learning was also used in the nonwriting treatment groups to a greater or lesser extent depending on individual instructor preference.

Baseline critical thinking performance was established in the academic quarters preceding the writing experiment to more specifically attribute changes in critical thinking to the writing treatment. Concurrent nonwriting course sections were also used as comparison groups. The historical baseline provided a way to determine what student performance had been before experiencing the writing treatment, whereas the concurrent nonwriting groups allowed for a direct comparison of critical thinking performance during the writing treatment. Pretest scores indicating prior critical thinking skill were also used to further establish comparability between the writing and nonwriting groups.

Laboratory activities were coordinated for all sections by a single faculty member who taught in the nonwriting group. All faculty and graduate assistants met regularly to discuss course progress, laboratory procedure, and coordinate resources. Nonwriting faculty drafted quizzes that addressed laboratory content knowledge. Writing faculty collaboratively crafted a consensus essay, or thought question, designed to elicit student critical thinking and ability to apply content knowledge. Each thought question was designed so that students had to apply lecture concepts and build on their conceptual understanding by integrating actual laboratory experiences (see Supplemental Appendix 1 , available online) for thought question examples). Weekly thought questions became progressively more difficult as the term progressed. Initial planning meetings took place just before the beginning of the academic quarter and included graduate assistant training to help them learn to consistently evaluate student writing using a modified thesis-based essay rubric (see Supplemental Appendix 2 ; Beers et al., 1994 ). A range of sample essays from poor to high quality was used to calibrate graduate assistant scoring and ensure consistency between assistants from different laboratory sections within the writing group. All graduate assistants and course instructors applied the thesis-based rubric to sample essays and worked toward consensus. Initial training ended when all graduate assistants scored within 0.5 points of each other on at least two sample essays.

Students were given weekly thought questions before beginning laboratory to help them frame their efforts during laboratory exercises. Students completed the prescriptive lab activities during the first hour, and then each student group relocated to an assigned computer lab in the same building and worked around a common computer terminal to draft a collective response to the weekly thought question. Students were allowed to use any suitable information or materials (laboratory observations, laboratory manuals, lecture notes, textbooks, the Internet, etc.) to help them address their thought question. Internal group discussions allowed students to argue individual viewpoints as they worked toward group agreement on each thought question. Essay responses to thought questions were answered using a standard five-paragraph format. Each essay included an introduction with a group-generated thesis statement, two to three body paragraphs that provided sufficient detail to support the thesis statement, and a summary paragraph that concluded the essay. Students were not allowed to work on essays outside of the laboratory environment.

Initial essay drafts were composed in Microsoft Word and submitted to the graduate assistant by the end of the laboratory period using the campus e-mail system. Graduate assistants evaluated each group's essay (typically six per lab section) and assigned an initial grade based on the thesis-based essay rubric. Graduate assistants made comments and suggestions electronically using Microsoft Word revising and track changes tools. Evaluated essays were e-mailed back to each student group, which addressed comments and suggestions during the subsequent week's laboratory writing time. Each student group submitted a final draft that was re-evaluated and assigned a final grade. During the second week, students both revised their essay from the previous week and then generated an initial draft for the current week's thought question, all within the lab writing hour. This was done to help students become more proficient writers within a short period of time. Overall, students in the writing group completed eight essays that, along with lab book scores, constituted 25% of their overall course grade. An identical percentage was used to calculate traditional quiz and lab book scores in all nonwriting course sections.

At the end of the quarter, each writing group member completed a peer evaluation for all group members, including themselves (see Supplemental Appendix 3 ). This was done to help students reflect on and evaluate their own performance, maximize individual accountability within the group, and make sure students received credit proportional to their contributions. The average peer evaluation score for each student was included as 5% of the final course grade.

Collectively, this approach to writing and evaluation was used to 1) help students reflect on and discuss deficiencies in their collective and written work, 2) provide an opportunity for students to explicitly address deficiencies in thesis development and general writing skill, 3) provide a suitable reward for student efforts to revise their work relative to established performance benchmarks, 4) improve individual accountability within each group, and 5) help students develop more efficient and effective writing skills that collectively might lead to improved critical thinking skill.

Assessment of Critical Thinking

Using critical thinking to indicate student learning performance is particularly useful because it can be measured within and across disciplines. Various instruments are available to assess critical thinking ( Watson and Glaser, 1980 ; Ennis and Weir, 1985 ; Facione, 1990b ; Center for Critical Thinking and Moral Critique, 1996 ); however, only the CCTST measures cognitive and meta-cognitive skills associated with critical thinking, is based on a consensus definition of critical thinking, and has been evaluated for validity and reliability for measuring critical thinking at the college level ( Facione, 1990a ; Facione et al., 1992 , 2004 ). The CCTST measures cognitive skills of analysis, inference, evaluation, induction, and deduction, with results expressed as raw scores or national percentile equivalents based on a national norming sample of students from 4-yr colleges and universities. Construct validity for the CCTST is high as indicated by greater than 95% consensus of the Delphi panel experts on the component skills of critical thinking. Test reliability (calculated using the KR–20 internal consistency method) is 0.78–0.84 for the form used in this study, a value considered to be within the recommended range for tests that measure a wide range of critical thinking skills ( Facione, 1991 ). The CCTST norming sample for 4-yr colleges and universities is based on a stratified sample of 2000 students from various disciplines, with approximately 30% of the norming sample comprised of science and math students. Approximately 20,000 college students complete the CCTST each year ( Insight Assessment and Blohm, 2005 ).

The CCTST contains 34 questions and is a 45-min timed assessment of critical thinking. An online version of the CCTST was administered in this study, which allowed the researchers to collect student demographics data including gender, ethnicity, age, and several others at the same time critical thinking skill was measured. Total critical thinking skill as well as analysis, inference, and evaluation component critical thinking skills ( Facione, 1990c ) were determined for each CCTST administration and compared across the writing and nonwriting groups.

Research Design

A quasi-experimental pretest/posttest control group design was used for this study to determine whether critical thinking performance in the writing group differed significantly from the nonwriting group. This design was chosen in order to compare critical thinking performance between intact groups, and because it was not feasible to randomly assign students from one course section to another within the sample. Frequency distributions of pretest/posttest changes in total critical thinking skill and analysis, inference, and evaluation component critical thinking skills were constructed to provide some indication of sample randomness and to inform assumptions for subsequent statistical analyses of covariance (see Figure 1 , A–D).

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(A–D) Frequency distribution of change in critical thinking skills. Distribution of change in critical thinking skill for the experimental sample. Changes are indicated using raw scores from CCTST pre- and posttests for total critical thinking skill (A) as well as analysis (B), inference (C), and evaluation (D) component critical thinking skills.

The pretest/posttest control group design was also used in order to minimize internal validity threats that could potentially compete with the effects of the writing treatment on student critical thinking performance. This design is widely used in educational research, and generally controls for most threats to internal validity ( Campbell and Stanley, 1963 ). Internal threats that remain a concern include history, maturation, pretest sensitization, selection, and statistical regression toward the mean. In the current study, history and maturation threats were minimized to the extent that the CCTST pretest and posttest were administered only 9 wk apart, and class standing and age covariables that indicate maturation were included in the statistical analysis. Pretest sensitization and selection are larger concerns for this design. Pretest sensitization was minimized in several ways: 1) prior critical thinking skill indicated by the CCTST pretest was used as a covariable in statistical analyses, 2) pretest/posttest to posttest only comparison studies conducted by Insight Assessment indicate CCTST pretest sensitization is minimized ( Facione, 1990a ), and 3) neither the students, instructors, nor the test administrators have access to the correct answers on the CCTST, so repeat performance on the posttest is less likely. Selection threats were also reduced by using CCTST pretest scores in the statistical analyses, thereby making it more difficult to detect statistically significant differences in critical thinking performance between the writing and nonwriting groups. Statistical regression toward the mean, which was observed to some extent in this study, was minimized because this study used a valid and reliable instrument to assess critical thinking ( Facione, 1990a ). Regression threats were also minimized to the extent that students with higher initial scores regressed much less than students with lower initial scores.

The generalizability of study results is limited because all data were collected at a single university. Specific threats to external validity include selection-treatment interaction and treatment diffusion. These threats were minimized because writing was mandatory for all treatment group participants, thereby minimizing volunteer effects. Because the writing also took considerable student effort, it is less likely that treatment diffusion occurred. In summary, the pretest/posttest control group design was used to minimize internal and external validity threats and maximize the ability to determine the effects of writing on student critical thinking performance.

Study Variables and Data Analysis

Effect of writing on critical thinking performance..

General education biology students were divided into writing and nonwriting groups (independent variable). Changes in CCTST pretest/posttest scores (dependent variable) were determined to discover whether writing influenced student critical thinking performance. Two CCTST outcome measures were used to statistically test for writing effect: 1) raw scores for total critical thinking skill, and 2) raw scores for analysis, inference, and evaluation component skills. Results were reported using raw scores and corresponding national percentile rank so that critical thinking performance outcomes would be more meaningful and intuitive. Conversion of CCTST raw scores to national percentile ranking was done using SPSS (SPSS, Inc., Chicago, IL) statistical software and a linear estimation conversion script based on an equivalency scale from Insight Assessment (Millbrae, CA).

Several covariables were included in the analysis to increase statistical accuracy and precision, and to more specifically isolate the effects of writing on critical thinking performance. CCTST pretest scores were used to indicate initial critical thinking skill. Gender and ethnicity helped to account for male/female or race-specific changes in critical thinking performance and were also used to identify potential sources of performance bias. Academic term and time of day were used to account for critical thinking differences due to the time of year each course was offered and the time of day each student took the course, respectively. Class standing and age were used to indicate maturation related to time in college and chronological age, respectively. Finally, the instructor covariable was used to account for performance differences due to individual teaching styles.

Statistical Analysis of Effect of Writing.

Several statistical analyses were conducted to determine the effects of writing on critical thinking performance in general education biology. An analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) test provided insight regarding differences in overall critical thinking performance between the writing and nonwriting groups. Change in CCTST total raw scores and national percentile ranking was used as composite measures of critical thinking ( Facione, 1990c ) in this initial analysis. Second, changes in particular component critical thinking skills (analysis, inference, and evaluation) were evaluated using a multivariate analysis of covariance (MANCOVA) test because of the three dependent variables. The ANCOVA and MANCOVA tests also provided some insight into the effect the covariables had on critical thinking performance in general education biology. Collectively, these statistical tests allowed for a more accurate and precise analysis because variance associated with the covariables could be more specifically isolated from the writing treatment. Mean, SE, and effect size were also compared between the writing and nonwriting groups. Effect size, represented in standard units, was used to compare the magnitude of writing effect in the study.

Analysis of Thought Question Performance.

Performance on weekly thought questions was analyzed to discover specifically when and how much student critical thinking skills changed during the academic term. This analysis also provided context for CCTST critical thinking performance measures. Specifically, average scores from a representative sample of writing course sections (approximately 100 students) were used to compare initial essay drafts across the weeks of the term to discover when students began to show changes in their first attempt at each essay. Weekly performance on final revised essays was also compared to determine how student final submissions changed over time. Finally, the weekly difference between each initial essay and each final essay was compared to determine how much the revision process changed during the term. These calculations collectively helped to provide a profile of critical thinking performance over time.

Participant Demographics

Student demographics provided in Table 1 indicated an overall distribution of approximately 49% freshmen, 31% sophomores, 11% juniors, and 9% seniors. Approximately 74% of the writing group students were freshmen and sophomores, whereas 82% of the nonwriting group was underclassmen. Overall, 61% of the sample was female and 39% male, with near identical gender distribution across the writing and nonwriting groups. The predominant ethnicity in the sample was Caucasian (>83%), with Asian American (5%), Latino/Hispanic (3%), African American (2%), and Native American (1%) students comprising the remainder of the sample. About 6% of the sample classified themselves as having some other ethnicity or chose not to identify their ethnic heritage.

Statistical Assumptions

Analysis of covariance and multivariate analysis of covariance tests were used to compare critical thinking performance between the writing and nonwriting groups. The evaluated assumptions for the ANCOVA and MANCOVA tests were homogeneity of slopes, homogeneity of covariances, and normality. An analysis evaluating the homogeneity of slopes assumption indicated that the relationship between the covariables and the critical thinking performance dependent variable did not differ significantly by the writing/nonwriting independent variable for the ANCOVA test, F(2, 307) = 1.642, p = 0.195, power = 0.346, partial η 2 = 0.011, or the MANCOVA test, F(6, 610) = 1.685, p = 0.122, power = 0.645, partial η 2 = 0.016. These results confirmed that both analyses of covariance met the homogeneity of slopes assumption. The homogeneity of covariance assumption was tested using Levene's and Box's tests. Levene's test results for the ANCOVA indicated that error variances were not equal across writing and nonwriting groups, F(1,308) = 7.139, p = 0.008. Similarly, Box's test results indicated that covariance was not equal for the writing and nonwriting groups, F(6, 684,530) = 4.628, p = 0.000. These results indicated that the ANCOVA/MANCOVA tests did not meet the homogeneity of covariance assumption. To more fully evaluate this assumption, distributions of total and component critical thinking skill were constructed (see Figure 1 , A–D). Furthermore, the writing and nonwriting groups were highly similar in size and no post hoc tests were conducted. On the basis of these data, it was determined that the ANCOVA and MANCOVA tests were the best statistical measures to answer the research questions. Finally, the normality assumption was evaluated using the previously constructed frequency distributions for total change in critical thinking ( Figure 1 A) as well as change in analysis ( Figure 1 B), inference ( Figure 1 C), and evaluation ( Figure 1 D) critical thinking skills. Frequency distributions of total and component critical thinking dependent variables indicated that each approximated a standard normal curve.

Effect of Writing on Total Critical Thinking Performance

The ANCOVA test of total critical thinking performance showed that writing and nonwriting groups differed significantly, F(1, 300) = 19.357, p < 0.0001, power = 0.992, partial η 2 = 0.061 (see Table 2 ). The strength of the relationship between the writing/nonwriting groups and critical thinking performance was modest but significant, accounting for more than 6% of the variance in critical thinking performance.

ANCOVA results for total critical thinking performance

Analysis of covariance for the writing and nonwriting groups. Tested covariables included gender, ethnicity, class standing, age, prior critical thinking skill (CCTST pre-test), academic term, time of day, and instructor.

a Significance tested at 0.05 level.

Descriptive statistics of total critical thinking performance in the writing and nonwriting groups were also calculated (see Table 3 ). The writing group showed an average CCTST raw score change of 1.18 compared with the nonwriting group, which showed an average raw score change of −0.51. These critical thinking raw scores equated to gains in national percentile rank of 7.47 (45th to 53rd percentile) for the writing group and −2.09 (42nd to 40th percentile) for the nonwriting group. Critical thinking improvement in the writing group was approximately nine times greater than the nonwriting group (see Figure 2 ).

Writing effect on total critical thinking performance: CCTST raw scores

Comparison of writing and nonwriting group performance based on CCTST raw scores. CCTST raw score range was 0–34; n values in parentheses.

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Effect of writing on total critical thinking national percentile rank. Comparison of total critical thinking national percentile gains between writing and nonwriting groups. Percentile ranking was computed using CCTST raw scores, an equivalency scale from Insight Assessment, and a linear conversion script in SPSS.

The ANCOVA test of total critical thinking skill indicated that gender, ethnicity, age, class standing, and academic term did not significantly affect critical thinking performance (see Table 2 ). Covariables that significantly affected total critical thinking performance included 1) CCTST pretest score, F(1, 300) = 19.713, p < 0.0001, power = 0.993, partial η 2 = 0.062, 2) instructor, F(1, 300) = 7.745, p < 0.006, power = 0.792, partial η 2 = 0.025, and 3) time of day, F(1300) = 6.291, p < 0.013, power = 0.705, partial η 2 = 0.021. The effect of prior critical thinking skill (CCTST pretest) was moderately strong, accounting for more than 6% of the variance in total critical thinking performance. The effect of instructor and time of day were smaller, accounting for 2.5 and 2%, respectively, of total critical thinking performance variance. Critical thinking improvement associated with CCTST pretest score was approximately 2.5 times greater than for instructor and nearly three times greater than for time of day.

Effect of Writing on Component Critical Thinking Performance

The MANCOVA test indicated that analysis, inference, and evaluation critical thinking skills differed significantly between the writing and nonwriting groups, Wilks λ = 0.919, F(3, 296) = 8.746, p < 0.0001, power = 0.995, partial η 2 = 0.081 (see Table 4 ). The strength of the relationship between writing and component critical thinking performance was modest but significant, accounting for more than 8% of the variance in critical thinking performance.

MANCOVA results for component critical thinking performance

Multivariate analysis of covariance for the writing and nonwriting groups. Tested covariables included gender, ethnicity, class standing, age, prior critical thinking skill (CCTST pretest), academic term, time of day, and instructor.

Specifically, significant gains in analysis and inference skills were observed in the writing group but not the nonwriting group. No statistically significant gains in evaluation skill were observed in either group (see Table 5 ). National percentile rank equivalents for CCTST component raw scores indicated the writing group gained 10.51 percentile in analysis skill (42nd to 52nd percentile), 6.05 percentile in inference skill (45th to 52nd percentile), and 5.16 percentile in evaluation skill (46th to 52nd percentile). The nonwriting group showed a national percentile rank change of −4.43 percentile in analysis skill (47th to 42nd percentile), −2.23 percentile in inference skill (42nd to 40th percentile), and 1.37 percentile in evaluation (44th to 45th percentile; see Figure 3 ). Critical thinking performance for the writing group was 15 times greater for analysis and 8 times greater for inference skills than for the nonwriting group. Although neither the writing nor the nonwriting group showed significant gains in evaluation skill, the writing group showed more than 3 times greater improvement than did the nonwriting group.

Effect of writing on component critical thinking performance

Comparison of writing and nonwriting group performance based on critical thinking component skill raw scores (CCTST subscales). Score range was 0–7 (analysis), 0–16 (inference), and 0–11 (evaluation).

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Effect of writing on component critical thinking national percentile rank. Comparison of component critical thinking national percentile gains between writing and nonwriting groups. Percentile ranking was computed using CCTST raw scores, an equivalency scale from Insight Assessment, and a linear conversion script in SPSS.

The MANCOVA test of analysis, inference, and evaluation skills indicated that gender, ethnicity, age, class standing, academic term, and time of day did not significantly affect critical thinking performance. Critical thinking performance was affected by prior analysis, inference, and evaluation skill (CCTST component pretest scores) and instructor (see Table 4 ). Specifically, component pretest scores had a large effect on critical thinking, accounting for 38% (analysis), 32% (inference), and 39% (evaluation) of critical thinking performance variance. The effect of instructor was smaller, accounting for 4.4% of variation in critical thinking skill. The effect of prior component critical thinking skill was approximately 4.5 times greater than the effect of writing, and nearly 9 times greater than the effect of instructor.

Student Thought Question Performance

Critical thinking performance on student essays was evaluated by applying a thesis-based essay rubric (see Supplemental Appendix 2 ) on initial submissions and final revised essays. Average weekly performance during the academic term is shown in Figure 4 . A comparison of initial essays indicated that students improved 53.3% from week 1 (average score of 27.9%) to week 7 (average score of 81.2%). A similar comparison of final essays showed that students improved 32.5% from week 1 (average score of 54.1%) to week 7 (average score of 86.6%). The largest changes between initial and final essays occurred in week 1 (change of 26.2%), and decreased each week thereafter (24.8, 23.9, 18.8, 8, 7.8, and 5.4% for weeks 2 through 7, respectively). These results showed that students produced little evidence of critical thinking skill in their writing early in the term, but improved dramatically on both initial and revised essay submissions by the end of the term.

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Profile of change in critical thinking performance in writing group. Comparison of student writing performance on weekly initial and revised essays. Essay scores were derived using a thesis-based critical thinking rubric (see Supplemental Appendix 2 ). Average essay scores were computed across writing sections.

The purpose of this study was to discover whether writing could measurably influence critical thinking performance in general education biology. Results indicated that students from the writing group significantly outperformed their nonwriting peers in both total critical thinking skill and the component critical thinking skills of analysis and inference. The writing and nonwriting groups were highly similar initially and began the academic term with comparable critical thinking ability (45th and 42nd national percentile for writing and nonwriting, respectively). By the end of the term, writing students had improved their critical thinking skill to above the 52nd percentile whereas nonwriting students decreased to below the 40th percentile. In addition to writing, prior critical thinking skill and course instructor significantly affected critical thinking performance, with prior critical thinking skill having the largest effect on critical thinking gains of any variable tested. Further analysis of the writing group showed that the largest gains in critical thinking occurred during the first few weeks of the term, with graduated improvement during the remainder of the term. A comparison of average critical thinking performance on initial essays and revised essays showed that thinking skills improvement was greater on initial essays (53%) than on final essays (33%). Collectively, the results of this study indicated that students who experienced writing in general education biology significantly improved their critical thinking skills.

The covariance analysis that was conducted provided a partial means to separate out the effects of writing, prior critical thinking skill, instructor, and multiple covariables from total and component critical thinking gains. The analysis of total critical thinking skill indicated that writing students changed their critical thinking skill from below the national average to above the national average within an academic quarter, whereas nonwriting students remained below the national average. This observation is important because it shows that students can develop critical thinking skills within a fairly short 9-wk period of time, and that writing can play a role in that process. A similar study showed critical thinking skills improve over 15 wk (Quitadamo, Brahler, and Crouch, unpublished results); however, this study provided no insight into whether critical thinking skills could be changed over a shorter period of time, in a different academic setting, or in response to instructional variables such as writing.

Although critical thinking gains were influenced by writing, they did not appear to be affected by gender, ethnicity, class standing, or age. In fact, statistical results indicated that these variables collectively had a very small effect on critical thinking performance. Gender distribution was nearly identical across the writing and nonwriting groups, and was predominantly female (nearly 62%). Ethnic distribution was also highly similar across the writing and nonwriting groups, but the sampling was largely Caucasian (>84%). Class standing varied a little more across the writing and nonwriting groups, with the sample largely comprised of underclassmen (70%). Although nearly three-quarters of the sample was between 18 and 21 years of age, nearly 10% was over 21, with a fair number of older nontraditional students represented. It is possible that a more diverse sample would have produced different results, or it may be that the individuals participating in this study responded particularly well to writing. Although further investigation of these variables is necessary and important, it was beyond the scope of the current study.

The analysis of component skills provided greater insight into the particular critical thinking skills that students changed in response to writing. Specifically, writing students significantly improved their analysis and inference skills whereas nonwriting students did not. Writing students also improved their evaluation skills much more than nonwriting students, although not significantly. These results indicate that the process of writing helps students develop improved analytical and inference skills. Prior research indicates that the writing to learn strategy is effective because students must conceptually organize and structure their thoughts as well as their awareness of thinking processes ( Langer and Applebee, 1987 ; Ackerman, 1993 ; Holliday, 1994 ; Rivard, 1994 ). More specifically, as students begin to shape their thoughts at the point of construction and continually analyze, review, and clarify meaning through the processes of drafting and revision, they necessarily engage and apply analysis and inference skills ( Klein, 1999 ; Hand and Prain, 2002 ). In this study, the process of writing appears to have influenced critical thinking gains. It also seems likely that writing students experienced a greater cognitive demand than nonwriting students simply because the writing act required them to hypothesize, debate, and persuade ( Rivard, 1994 ; Hand and Prain, 2002 ) rather than memorize as was the case in nonwriting control courses.

Conversely, the lack of any significant change in analysis, inference, or evaluation skills in the nonwriting group indicated that the traditional lab instruction used in the general education biology control courses did not help students develop critical thinking skills. Based on the results of this study, it could be argued that traditional lab instruction actually prevents the development of critical thinking skills, which presents a rather large problem when one considers how frequently these traditional methods are used in general education biology courses. One also has to consider that the critical thinking gains seen in the writing group might also have resulted from the relative absence of traditional lab instruction rather than writing alone. Additional research will be necessary to gain further insight into this question. Either way, changes to the traditional model of lab instruction will be necessary if the goal is to enhance the critical thinking abilities of general education biology students.

The variable that had the largest impact on critical thinking performance gains was prior critical thinking skill. This phenomenon was previously observed by Quitadamo, Brahler, and Crouch (unpublished results) in a related study that investigated the effect of Peer Led Team Learning on critical thinking performance. That study focused on science and math major undergraduate critical thinking performance at a major research university, and found that, in addition to Peer Led Team Learning, prior critical thinking skill significantly influenced critical thinking performance (Quitadamo, Brahler, and Crouch, unpublished results). Specifically, students with the highest prior critical thinking skill showed the largest performance gains, whereas students with low initial skill were at a comparative disadvantage. The fact that prior critical thinking skill also had a large effect on critical thinking performance in this study increases the generalizability of the observation and underscores its importance. Simply put, students who have not been explicitly taught how to think critically may not reach the same potential as peers who have been taught these skills, not because they lack the cognitive hard-wiring to perform but because they lack the tools to build their knowledge. Is it reasonable or just to expect otherwise comparable students to perform at similar levels when only some of them have the keys for success? If we hope to improve the perception of science in this country, we need to educate people on how to think about important scientific issues, and not simply argue a position based on one school of thought. By helping general education students to develop critical thinking skills, it is hoped that they will be better able to think rationally about science.

The observation that students who come to general education biology with greater critical thinking skills leave with the largest skill gains has important implications for the K–12 school system as well. If a high proportion of students are coming to institutions of higher education lacking critical thinking skills, why are these skills not being explicitly taught in the K–12 system? Ideally, students would learn the foundational tenets of critical thinking at an earlier age, and be able to refine and hone these skills as they progress through the K–20 education system. The results of this study reinforce the idea that students should be explicitly taught critical thinking skills and be expected to practice them as early and often as possible.

Although its effect was smaller than writing or prior critical thinking skill, the instructor variable also played a significant role in student critical thinking performance, accounting for 2.5% of the total variance in critical thinking gains. Determining the particular qualities of each instructor that contributed to student critical thinking success and further separating instructor and writing effects will require additional research. Previous research indicates that teaching style positively influences certain aspects of student learning ( Grasha, 1994 ; Hativa et al., 2001 ; Bain, 2004 ), but the qualities that specifically influence student critical thinking gains have not been sufficiently investigated. Additional research in this area is necessary.

Faculty considering whether to use writing in the laboratory may wonder about how much time and energy it takes to implement, if efforts to change will translate into improved student learning, and how these changes affect disciplinary content. From a practical perspective, implementing writing did not take more time and effort per se; rather, it required faculty to reconceptualize how they spent their instructional time. Instead of individually developing course materials, writing faculty collaborated to a greater extent than nonwriting faculty on course design and assessments that required students to demonstrate their critical thinking skill. Interviews of faculty from the writing and nonwriting groups indicated that writing faculty felt the course was less work because they collaborated with colleagues and because students demonstrated improved thinking skill. Writing faculty generally became more comfortable with the new model after ∼2–3 wk when students began to show observable changes in writing proficiency and critical thinking. Together, collaboration with colleagues and observed gains in critical thinking tended to create a positive feedback loop that helped to sustain writing faculty efforts. In contrast, nonwriting faculty similarly wanted their students to think better but were convinced that traditional methods would be more effective, and so remained closed to change. There were some logistical challenges with writing, like scheduling computer labs where students could draft and revise their weekly essay responses under instructor and teaching assistant supervision. Teaching assistants (and faculty) also needed to be trained on how to evaluate writing using a rubric. Finally, with regards to content coverage, no lecture or laboratory content was killed in order to implement writing because writing and nonwriting students both performed the same lab activities. Collectively, the benefits of using writing in laboratory should encourage faculty who want their students to learn to think critically to give it a try.

Future Directions

This study showed that writing affects student critical thinking skill in a nonmajors biology course, but the results have generated more questions than have been answered. How does writing specifically produce gains in critical thinking performance? What factors influence student prior critical thinking skill? How do instructors specifically influence student gains in critical thinking? Future studies that analyze student essays in more detail would provide greater insight into how writing influences critical thinking skill. Using writing in other nonmajor science courses such as chemistry, geology, or physics could also be done to determine the transferability of this method. Additional studies that investigate student prior critical thinking skill and instructor variables are also necessary. These future studies would further contribute to the knowledge base in this area, and also address some of its identified limitations ( Ebert-May et al., 1997 ; Daempfle, 2002 ). Results from these studies would also increase the generalizability of the results from this study.

CONCLUSIONS

Building on existing research and on the basis of several lines of evidence presented in this study, we conclude that writing positively influences critical thinking performance for general education biology students. Those students with prior critical thinking skill may have a comparative advantage over other general education biology students who have not developed these same skills. To rectify that inequity critical thinking skills should be explicitly taught early and used often during the K–20 academic process. As it appears that particular instructors improve student critical thinking skills more than others, students should be discerning in their choice of instructors if they want to improve their critical thinking skills. Whether writing as a method to improve critical thinking skills will prove useful in other general education science courses will likely depend on a host of factors, but it has potential. Further study of writing in general education science will be necessary to verify these results and discover the breadth and depth of how writing affects critical thinking skill.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

We thank Drs. Holly Pinkart, Roberta Soltz, Phil Mattocks, and James Johnson and undergraduate researchers Matthew Brewer, Dayrk Flaugh, Adam Wallace, Colette Watson, Kelly Vincent, and Christine Weller for their valuable contributions to this study. The authors also acknowledge the generous financial support provided by the Central Washington University Office of the Provost and the Office of the Associate Vice President for Undergraduate Studies.

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Why STEM? Success Starts With Critical Thinking, Problem-Solving Skills

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  • Author: Stephen F. DeAngelis, Enterra Solutions. Stephen F. DeAngelis, Enterra Solutions

The robot lab at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's Department of Computer Science. Image: joefutrelle/Flickr

Our educational system is tasked with preparing the next-generation to succeed in life. That’s a tall order and it will substantially fail if it doesn’t teach children how to think critically and solve problems. In a post entitled “ STEM Education: Why All the Fuss? ,” I wrote, “Educating students in STEM subjects (if taught correctly) prepares students for life, regardless of the profession they choose to follow. Those subjects teach students how to think critically and how to solve problems — skills that can be used throughout life to help them get through tough times and take advantage of opportunities whenever they appear.”

I’m not alone in making this assessment. Vince Bertram, President and CEO of Project Lead The Way, Inc., feels the same way. “The United States can no longer excuse its poor academic performance by asserting that students in other nations excel in rote learning, while ours are better at problem solving. Recent test results clearly tell a different story.” [“ We Have to Get Serious About Creativity and Problem Solving ,” Huffington Post The Blog , 7 May 2014] Naveen Jain, Entrepreneur and Founder of the World Innovation Institute, adds, “Please don’t get me started on ‘No Child Left Behind.’ It might as well be called ‘All Children Left Behind.’ This system of standardized, rote learning that teaches to a test is exactly the type of education our children don’t need in this world that is plagued by systemic, pervasive and confounding global challenges. Today’s education system does not focus enough on teaching children to solve real world problems and is not interdisciplinary, nor collaborative enough in its approach.” [“ School’s Out for Summer: Rethinking Education for the 21st Century ,” Wall Street Journal , 27 June 2013] He continues:

“Imagine education that is as entertaining and addictive as video games. Sound far-fetched? I believe that this is exactly the idea — driven by dynamic innovation and entrepreneurism — that will help bring our education system out of the stone ages.”

There a numerous examples of how teachers have involved students in problem-solving activities and, as a result, have excited them about education while teaching them how to better cope with the world around them. As Bertram noted above, Americans can no longer boast that we are teaching our children how to solve problems better than the rest of the world. He explains:

“The latest round of international standardized test results showed American students are lagging behind the rest of the developed world not just in math, science and reading , but in problem solving as well. The 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) test examined 44 countries’ students’ problem-solving abilities — American students landed just above the average, but they still scored below many other developed countries, including Britain, Singapore, Korea, Japan, China and Canada.”

Jeevan Vasagar insists that the data shows that countries that teach their children how to solve problems are more successful than those who don’t. It sounds both obvious and sensible; yet, America seems to have turned its back on that approach. “Education is under pressure to respond to a changing world,” writes Vasagar. “As repetitive tasks are eroded by technology and outsourcing, the ability to solve novel problems has become increasingly vital.” [“ Countries that excel at problem-solving encourage critical thinking ,” Financial Times , 19 May 2014] He continues:

“Students from the main western European countries — England, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Belgium — all performed above the average, as did pupils from the Czech Republic and Estonia. In the rest of the rich world, the US, Canada and Australia also performed above average. But the laurels were taken by east Asian territories; Singapore and South Korea performed best, followed by Japan, and the Chinese regions of Macau and Hong Kong. That result poses a challenge to schools in the west. Critics of east Asian education systems attribute their success at maths and science to rote learning. But the OECD’s assessment suggests that schools in east Asia are developing thinking skills as well as providing a solid grounding in core subjects. Across the world, the OECD study found a strong and positive correlation between performance in problem solving and performance in maths, reading and science. In general, the high-performing students were also the ones best able to cope with unfamiliar situations.”

The lesson that needs to be learned here is that, if you want your child to succeed in life, teach him or her how to think critically and solve problems. The best way to do that is to provide them with a good foundation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). As I noted at the beginning of this article, grounding student in STEM subjects doesn’t mean that other social or liberal arts subjects aren’t important , only that STEM subjects teach life-skills that other disciplines don’t. Bertram explains:

“In America, we must make core subjects like math and science relevant for students, and at the same time, foster creativity, curiosity and a passion for problem solving. That’s what STEM education does. STEM is about using math and science to solve real-world challenges and problems. This applied, project-based way of teaching and learning allows students to understand and appreciate the relevancy of their work to their own lives and the world around them. Once they grasp core concepts, students are able to choose a problem and use their own creativity and curiosity to research, design, test and improve a viable solution.”

One of the reasons that I, along with a few colleagues, founded The Project for STEM Competitiveness , was to help get a project-based, problem-solving approach into schools. As an employer of people with technical skills, I am naturally interested in ensuring that, in the future, I will have an adequate employee pool from which to draw; but, as a parent, I want to ensure that our children are equipped to succeed in a changing world. As I’ve noted in previous articles, many of the jobs our children will asked to fill don’t even exist today. Daisy Christodoulou, an educationalist and the author of Seven Myths about Education , explains that students need exposure to a broad array of disciplines so that they are exposed to the problem-solving skills required in each area. She “argues that such skills are domain specific – they cannot be transferred to an area where our knowledge is limited.” She also believes this will help teach students to think more critically. Vasagar explains:

“Critical thinking is a skill that is impossible to teach directly but must be intertwined with content, Christodoulou argues. … Some argue that placing too strong an emphasis on children acquiring knowledge alone leaves them struggling when faced with more complex problems. Tim Taylor, a former primary school teacher who now trains teachers, says: ‘If you front-load knowledge and leave all the thinking and critical questioning until later, children don’t develop as effective learners.’ There are some generic tools that transfer across disciplines, Taylor argues. ‘What is reading if not a cognitive tool? And that is clearly “transferable”.’ … The way to teach generic skills is to be ‘mindful of it as a teacher’, Taylor suggests. ‘You create opportunities to keep that in the forefront of what you are doing – how is this helping us? How can we use this in another context? That is the point of education, to develop a “growth mindset”,’ he states.”

I agree with Bertram that we must foster educational approaches that appeal to a child’s natural sense of curiosity. He explains:

“Children are born with a natural curiosity. Give a child a toy and watch him or her play for hours. Listen to the questions a child asks. Children have a thirst to understand things. But then they go to school. They are taught how to take tests, how to respond to questions — how to do school. At our own peril, we teach them compliance. We teach them that school isn’t a place for creativity. That must change.”

We are all familiar with the adage “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Too often we are feeding our students instead of teaching them how to feed themselves. The disciplines that do that best are STEM-related.

Stephen F. DeAngelis is President and CEO of the cognitive computing firm Enterra Solutions.

how does education improve critical thinking

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Why Is Critical Thinking Important? A Survival Guide

Updated: December 7, 2023

Published: April 2, 2020

Why-Is-Critical-Thinking-Important-a-Survival-Guide

Why is critical thinking important? The decisions that you make affect your quality of life. And if you want to ensure that you live your best, most successful and happy life, you’re going to want to make conscious choices. That can be done with a simple thing known as critical thinking. Here’s how to improve your critical thinking skills and make decisions that you won’t regret.

What Is Critical Thinking?

You’ve surely heard of critical thinking, but you might not be entirely sure what it really means, and that’s because there are many definitions. For the most part, however, we think of critical thinking as the process of analyzing facts in order to form a judgment. Basically, it’s thinking about thinking.

How Has The Definition Evolved Over Time?

The first time critical thinking was documented is believed to be in the teachings of Socrates , recorded by Plato. But throughout history, the definition has changed.

Today it is best understood by philosophers and psychologists and it’s believed to be a highly complex concept. Some insightful modern-day critical thinking definitions include :

  • “Reasonable, reflective thinking that is focused on deciding what to believe or do.”
  • “Deciding what’s true and what you should do.”

The Importance Of Critical Thinking

Why is critical thinking important? Good question! Here are a few undeniable reasons why it’s crucial to have these skills.

1. Critical Thinking Is Universal

Critical thinking is a domain-general thinking skill. What does this mean? It means that no matter what path or profession you pursue, these skills will always be relevant and will always be beneficial to your success. They are not specific to any field.

2. Crucial For The Economy

Our future depends on technology, information, and innovation. Critical thinking is needed for our fast-growing economies, to solve problems as quickly and as effectively as possible.

3. Improves Language & Presentation Skills

In order to best express ourselves, we need to know how to think clearly and systematically — meaning practice critical thinking! Critical thinking also means knowing how to break down texts, and in turn, improve our ability to comprehend.

4. Promotes Creativity

By practicing critical thinking, we are allowing ourselves not only to solve problems but also to come up with new and creative ideas to do so. Critical thinking allows us to analyze these ideas and adjust them accordingly.

5. Important For Self-Reflection

Without critical thinking, how can we really live a meaningful life? We need this skill to self-reflect and justify our ways of life and opinions. Critical thinking provides us with the tools to evaluate ourselves in the way that we need to.

Woman deep into thought as she looks out the window, using her critical thinking skills to do some self-reflection.

6. The Basis Of Science & Democracy

In order to have a democracy and to prove scientific facts, we need critical thinking in the world. Theories must be backed up with knowledge. In order for a society to effectively function, its citizens need to establish opinions about what’s right and wrong (by using critical thinking!).

Benefits Of Critical Thinking

We know that critical thinking is good for society as a whole, but what are some benefits of critical thinking on an individual level? Why is critical thinking important for us?

1. Key For Career Success

Critical thinking is crucial for many career paths. Not just for scientists, but lawyers , doctors, reporters, engineers , accountants, and analysts (among many others) all have to use critical thinking in their positions. In fact, according to the World Economic Forum, critical thinking is one of the most desirable skills to have in the workforce, as it helps analyze information, think outside the box, solve problems with innovative solutions, and plan systematically.

2. Better Decision Making

There’s no doubt about it — critical thinkers make the best choices. Critical thinking helps us deal with everyday problems as they come our way, and very often this thought process is even done subconsciously. It helps us think independently and trust our gut feeling.

3. Can Make You Happier!

While this often goes unnoticed, being in touch with yourself and having a deep understanding of why you think the way you think can really make you happier. Critical thinking can help you better understand yourself, and in turn, help you avoid any kind of negative or limiting beliefs, and focus more on your strengths. Being able to share your thoughts can increase your quality of life.

4. Form Well-Informed Opinions

There is no shortage of information coming at us from all angles. And that’s exactly why we need to use our critical thinking skills and decide for ourselves what to believe. Critical thinking allows us to ensure that our opinions are based on the facts, and help us sort through all that extra noise.

5. Better Citizens

One of the most inspiring critical thinking quotes is by former US president Thomas Jefferson: “An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.” What Jefferson is stressing to us here is that critical thinkers make better citizens, as they are able to see the entire picture without getting sucked into biases and propaganda.

6. Improves Relationships

While you may be convinced that being a critical thinker is bound to cause you problems in relationships, this really couldn’t be less true! Being a critical thinker can allow you to better understand the perspective of others, and can help you become more open-minded towards different views.

7. Promotes Curiosity

Critical thinkers are constantly curious about all kinds of things in life, and tend to have a wide range of interests. Critical thinking means constantly asking questions and wanting to know more, about why, what, who, where, when, and everything else that can help them make sense of a situation or concept, never taking anything at face value.

8. Allows For Creativity

Critical thinkers are also highly creative thinkers, and see themselves as limitless when it comes to possibilities. They are constantly looking to take things further, which is crucial in the workforce.

9. Enhances Problem Solving Skills

Those with critical thinking skills tend to solve problems as part of their natural instinct. Critical thinkers are patient and committed to solving the problem, similar to Albert Einstein, one of the best critical thinking examples, who said “It’s not that I’m so smart; it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” Critical thinkers’ enhanced problem-solving skills makes them better at their jobs and better at solving the world’s biggest problems. Like Einstein, they have the potential to literally change the world.

10. An Activity For The Mind

Just like our muscles, in order for them to be strong, our mind also needs to be exercised and challenged. It’s safe to say that critical thinking is almost like an activity for the mind — and it needs to be practiced. Critical thinking encourages the development of many crucial skills such as logical thinking, decision making, and open-mindness.

11. Creates Independence

When we think critically, we think on our own as we trust ourselves more. Critical thinking is key to creating independence, and encouraging students to make their own decisions and form their own opinions.

12. Crucial Life Skill

Critical thinking is crucial not just for learning, but for life overall! Education isn’t just a way to prepare ourselves for life, but it’s pretty much life itself. Learning is a lifelong process that we go through each and every day.

How to Think Critically

Now that you know the benefits of thinking critically, how do you actually do it?

How To Improve Your Critical Thinking

  • Define Your Question: When it comes to critical thinking, it’s important to always keep your goal in mind. Know what you’re trying to achieve, and then figure out how to best get there.
  • Gather Reliable Information: Make sure that you’re using sources you can trust — biases aside. That’s how a real critical thinker operates!
  • Ask The Right Questions: We all know the importance of questions, but be sure that you’re asking the right questions that are going to get you to your answer.
  • Look Short & Long Term: When coming up with solutions, think about both the short- and long-term consequences. Both of them are significant in the equation.
  • Explore All Sides: There is never just one simple answer, and nothing is black or white. Explore all options and think outside of the box before you come to any conclusions.

How Is Critical Thinking Developed At School?

Critical thinking is developed in nearly everything we do. However, much of this important skill is encouraged to be practiced at school, and rightfully so! Critical thinking goes beyond just thinking clearly — it’s also about thinking for yourself.

When a teacher asks a question in class, students are given the chance to answer for themselves and think critically about what they learned and what they believe to be accurate. When students work in groups and are forced to engage in discussion, this is also a great chance to expand their thinking and use their critical thinking skills.

How Does Critical Thinking Apply To Your Career?

Once you’ve finished school and entered the workforce, your critical thinking journey only expands and grows from here!

Impress Your Employer

Employers value employees who are critical thinkers, ask questions, offer creative ideas, and are always ready to offer innovation against the competition. No matter what your position or role in a company may be, critical thinking will always give you the power to stand out and make a difference.

Careers That Require Critical Thinking

Some of many examples of careers that require critical thinking include:

  • Human resources specialist
  • Marketing associate
  • Business analyst

Truth be told however, it’s probably harder to come up with a professional field that doesn’t require any critical thinking!

Photo by  Oladimeji Ajegbile  from  Pexels

What is someone with critical thinking skills capable of doing.

Someone with critical thinking skills is able to think rationally and clearly about what they should or not believe. They are capable of engaging in their own thoughts, and doing some reflection in order to come to a well-informed conclusion.

A critical thinker understands the connections between ideas, and is able to construct arguments based on facts, as well as find mistakes in reasoning.

The Process Of Critical Thinking

The process of critical thinking is highly systematic.

What Are Your Goals?

Critical thinking starts by defining your goals, and knowing what you are ultimately trying to achieve.

Once you know what you are trying to conclude, you can foresee your solution to the problem and play it out in your head from all perspectives.

What Does The Future Of Critical Thinking Hold?

The future of critical thinking is the equivalent of the future of jobs. In 2020, critical thinking was ranked as the 2nd top skill (following complex problem solving) by the World Economic Forum .

We are dealing with constant unprecedented changes, and what success is today, might not be considered success tomorrow — making critical thinking a key skill for the future workforce.

Why Is Critical Thinking So Important?

Why is critical thinking important? Critical thinking is more than just important! It’s one of the most crucial cognitive skills one can develop.

By practicing well-thought-out thinking, both your thoughts and decisions can make a positive change in your life, on both a professional and personal level. You can hugely improve your life by working on your critical thinking skills as often as you can.

Related Articles

Tara Well Ph.D.

How to Improve Your Critical Thinking Skills

Traditional tools and new technologies..

Posted September 29, 2023 | Reviewed by Lybi Ma

Hannah Olinger / Unsplash

Technology provides access to vast information and makes daily life easier. Yet, too much reliance on technology potentially interferes with the acquisition and maintenance of critical thinking skills in several ways:

1. Information Overload : The constant influx of data can discourage deep critical thinking as we may come to rely on quick, surface-level information rather than delving deeply into a subject.

2. Shortened Attention Span: Frequent digital distractions can disrupt our ability for the sustained focus and concentration required for critical thinking.

3. Confirmatory Bias and Echo Chambers: Technology, including social media and personalized content algorithms, can reinforce confirmation bias . People are often exposed to information that aligns with their beliefs and opinions, making them less likely to encounter diverse perspectives and engage in critical thinking about opposing views.

4. Reduced Problem-Solving Opportunities: Technology often provides quick solutions to problems. While this benefits efficiency, it may discourage individuals from engaging in complex problem-solving, a fundamental aspect of critical thinking.

5. Loss of Research Skills: The ease of accessing information online can diminish traditional research skills, such as library research or in-depth reading. These skills are essential for critical thinking, as they involve evaluating sources, synthesizing information, and analyzing complex texts.

While technology can pose challenges to developing critical thinking skills, it's important to note that technology can also be a valuable tool for learning and skill development. It can provide access to educational resources, facilitate collaboration , and support critical thinking when used thoughtfully and intentionally. Balancing technology use with activities that encourage deep thinking and analysis is vital to lessening its potential adverse effects on critical thinking.

Writing is a traditional and powerful tool to exercise and improve your critical thinking skills. Consider these ways writing can help enhance critical thinking:

1. Clarity of Thought: Writing requires that you articulate your thoughts clearly and coherently. When you need to put your ideas on paper, you must organize them logically, which requires a deeper understanding of the subject matter.

2. Analysis and Evaluation: Critical thinking involves analyzing and evaluating information. When you write, you often need to assess the validity and relevance of different sources, arguments, or pieces of evidence, which hone your critical thinking skills.

3. Problem-Solving: Writing can be a problem-solving exercise in itself. Whether crafting an argument, developing a thesis, or finding the right words to express your ideas, writing requires thinking critically about approaching these challenges effectively.

4. Research Skills: Good writing often involves research, and research requires critical thinking. You need to assess the credibility of sources, synthesize information, and draw conclusions based on the evidence you gather.

5. Argumentation: Constructing a persuasive argument in writing is a complex process requiring critical thinking. You must anticipate counterarguments, provide evidence to support your claims, and address potential weaknesses in your reasoning.

6. Revision and Editing: To be an influential writer, you must learn to read your work critically. Editing and revising requires evaluating your writing objectively, identifying areas that need improvement, and refining your ideas and arguments.

7. Problem Identification: In some cases, writing can help you identify problems or gaps in your thinking. As you write, you might realize that your arguments are not as strong as you initially thought or that you need more information to support your claims. This recognition of limitations is a crucial aspect of critical thinking.

Writing is a dynamic process that engages multiple facets of critical thinking. It has been a valuable tool used in education , business, and personal development for centuries.

Yet, this traditional approach of self-generated written thoughts is rapidly being supplanted by AI -generated writing tools like Chat GPT (Generative Pre-trained Transformer. With over 100 million users of Chat GPT alone, we cannot ignore its potential impact. How might the increasing reliance on AI-generated writing tools influence our critical thinking skills? The impact can vary depending on how the tools are used and the context in which they are employed.

how does education improve critical thinking

Critical thinking involves evaluating information sources for credibility, relevance, and bias. If individuals consistently trust the information provided by chatbots without critically assessing its quality, it can hinder their development of critical thinking skills. This is especially true if they depend on the chatbot to provide answers without questioning or verifying the information. Relying solely on chatbots for answers may also reduce people's effort in problem-solving. Critical thinking often requires wrestling with complex problems, considering multiple perspectives, and generating creative solutions. If we default to chatbots for quick answers, we may miss opportunities to develop these skills.

However, it's essential to note that the impact of chatbots on critical thinking skills may not be entirely negative. These tools can also have positive effects:

1. Chatbots provide quick access to vast information, which can benefit research and problem-solving. When used as a supplement to critical thinking, they can enhance the efficiency of information retrieval.

2. Chatbots can sometimes assist in complex tasks by providing relevant data or suggestions. When individuals critically evaluate and integrate this information into their decision-making process, it can enhance their critical thinking.

3. Chatbots can be used as learning aids. They can provide explanations, examples, and guidance, which can support skill development and, when used effectively, encourage critical thinking.

In summary, the impact of chatbots on critical thinking skills depends on how we use them. The effect will be harmful if they become a crutch to avoid independent thought or analysis. However, they can be valuable resources when used as tools to facilitate and augment critical thinking and writing processes. Individuals must balance leveraging the convenience of chatbots and actively engaging in independent critical thinking and problem-solving to maintain and enhance their cognitive abilities. You can do that effectively through writing regularly.

Copyright 2023 Tara Well, PhD

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Tara Well, Ph.D. , is a professor in the department of psychology at Barnard College of Columbia University.

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how does education improve critical thinking

Explained: Importance of critical thinking, problem-solving skills in curriculum

F uture careers are no longer about domain expertise or technical skills. Rather, critical thinking and problem-solving skills in employees are on the wish list of every big organization today. Even curriculums and pedagogies across the globe and within India are now requiring skilled workers who are able to think critically and are analytical.

The reason for this shift in perspective is very simple.

These skills provide a staunch foundation for comprehensive learning that extends beyond books or the four walls of the classroom. In a nutshell, critical thinking and problem-solving skills are a part of '21st Century Skills' that can help unlock valuable learning for life.

Over the years, the education system has been moving away from the system of rote and other conventional teaching and learning parameters.

They are aligning their curriculums to the changing scenario which is becoming more tech-driven and demands a fusion of critical skills, life skills, values, and domain expertise. There's no set formula for success.

Rather, there's a defined need for humans to be more creative, innovative, adaptive, agile, risk-taking, and have a problem-solving mindset.

In today's scenario, critical thinking and problem-solving skills have become more important because they open the human mind to multiple possibilities, solutions, and a mindset that is interdisciplinary in nature.

Therefore, many schools and educational institutions are deploying AI and immersive learning experiences via gaming, and AR-VR technologies to give a more realistic and hands-on learning experience to their students that hone these abilities and help them overcome any doubt or fear.

ADVANTAGES OF CRITICAL THINKING AND PROBLEM-SOLVING IN CURRICULUM

Ability to relate to the real world:  Instead of theoretical knowledge, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills encourage students to look at their immediate and extended environment through a spirit of questioning, curiosity, and learning. When the curriculum presents students with real-world problems, the learning is immense.

Confidence, agility & collaboration : Critical thinking and problem-solving skills boost self-belief and confidence as students examine, re-examine, and sometimes fail or succeed while attempting to do something.

They are able to understand where they may have gone wrong, attempt new approaches, ask their peers for feedback and even seek their opinion, work together as a team, and learn to face any challenge by responding to it.

Willingness to try new things: When problem-solving skills and critical thinking are encouraged by teachers, they set a robust foundation for young learners to experiment, think out of the box, and be more innovative and creative besides looking for new ways to upskill.

It's important to understand that merely introducing these skills into the curriculum is not enough. Schools and educational institutions must have upskilling workshops and conduct special training for teachers so as to ensure that they are skilled and familiarized with new teaching and learning techniques and new-age concepts that can be used in the classrooms via assignments and projects.

Critical thinking and problem-solving skills are two of the most sought-after skills. Hence, schools should emphasise the upskilling of students as a part of the academic curriculum.

The article is authored by Dr Tassos Anastasiades, Principal- IB, Genesis Global School, Noida. 

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Explained: Importance of critical thinking, problem-solving skills in curriculum

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COMMENTS

  1. Developing Critical Thinking

    In a time where deliberately false information is continually introduced into public discourse, and quickly spread through social media shares and likes, it is more important than ever for young people to develop their critical thinking. That skill, says Georgetown professor William T. Gormley, consists of three elements: a capacity to spot ...

  2. Eight Instructional Strategies for Promoting Critical Thinking

    Students grappled with ideas and their beliefs and employed deep critical-thinking skills to develop arguments for their claims. Embedding critical-thinking skills in curriculum that students care ...

  3. Does College Teach Critical Thinking? A Meta-Analysis

    Abstract. Educators view critical thinking as an essential skill, yet it remains unclear how effectively it is being taught in college. This meta-analysis synthesizes research on gains in critical thinking skills and attitudinal dispositions over various time frames in college. The results suggest that both critical thinking skills and ...

  4. Bridging critical thinking and transformative learning: The role of

    In recent decades, approaches to critical thinking have generally taken a practical turn, pivoting away from more abstract accounts - such as emphasizing the logical relations that hold between statements (Ennis, 1964) - and moving toward an emphasis on belief and action.According to the definition that Robert Ennis (2018) has been advocating for the last few decades, critical thinking is ...

  5. Teaching Critical Thinking Skills in Middle and High School

    Teach Reasoning Skills. Reasoning skills are another key component of critical thinking, involving the abilities to think logically, evaluate evidence, identify assumptions, and analyze arguments. Students who learn how to use reasoning skills will be better equipped to make informed decisions, form and defend opinions, and solve problems.

  6. What Are Critical Thinking Skills and Why Are They Important?

    According to the University of the People in California, having critical thinking skills is important because they are [ 1 ]: Universal. Crucial for the economy. Essential for improving language and presentation skills. Very helpful in promoting creativity. Important for self-reflection.

  7. Critical Thinking

    Critical Thinking. Critical thinking is a widely accepted educational goal. Its definition is contested, but the competing definitions can be understood as differing conceptions of the same basic concept: careful thinking directed to a goal. Conceptions differ with respect to the scope of such thinking, the type of goal, the criteria and norms ...

  8. Fostering and assessing student critical thinking: From theory to

    Developing creativity and critical thinking is actually a way to improve learning and get students to acquire more expertise in a domain—whether it leads to the proposition of new knowledge and solutions or not. ... The article draws on work from a CERI project on Fostering and Assessing Creativity and Critical Thinking in Education (Vincent ...

  9. Redefining Critical Thinking: Teaching Students to Think like

    From primary to post-secondary school, critical thinking (CT) is an oft cited focus or key competency (e.g., DeAngelo et al., 2009; California Department of Education, 2014; Alberta Education, 2015; Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority, n.d.).Unfortunately, the definition of CT has become so broad that it can encompass nearly anything and everything (e.g., Hatcher, 2000 ...

  10. PDF Do Active-Learning Strategies Improve Students' Critical Thinking?

    would develop new critical thinking skills that would improve their ability to interpret, analyze, and address similar teaching situations in the field of practice. Research questions include: 1) Does a strategically developed active-learning sequence improve critical thinking skills; 2) What kinds of active-learning exercises have the

  11. Can We Teach Critical Thinking?

    Arguably one of the most valued and sought after skills that students are expected to learn is critical thinking. The ability to think critically, and by extension solve problems and exercise effective decision making, is highly prized among employers and academics. Instructors and programs therefore face a lot of pressure to improve this ...

  12. Critical thinking

    Critical thinking is the art of making clear, reasoned judgements based on interpreting, understanding, applying and synthesising evidence gathered from observation, reading and experimentation. Essential Study Skills: The Complete Guide to Success at University (4th ed.) London: SAGE, p94. Being critical does not just mean finding fault.

  13. Critical Thinking

    Educational Methods. Experiments have shown that educational interventions can improve critical thinking abilities and dispositions, as measured by standardized tests. Glaser (1941) developed teaching materials suitable for senior primary school, high school and college students. To test their effectiveness, he developed with his sponsor ...

  14. Education Sciences

    Critical thinking has been difficult to develop in technical and vocational education and training, where acquiring practical skills is often the priority. This study looks at whether tried-and-tested methods for developing critical thinking in higher education are also effective in this educational context. To test this, an intervention was carried out as part of a compulsory, semester-long ...

  15. Using Technology To Develop Students' Critical Thinking Skills

    The cognitive skills at the foundation of critical thinking are analysis, interpretation, evaluation, explanation, inference, and self-regulation. When students think critically, they actively engage in these processes: To create environments that engage students in these processes, instructors need to ask questions, encourage the expression of ...

  16. Learning to Improve: Using Writing to Increase Critical Thinking

    A National Call to Improve Critical Thinking in Science. In the past several years, an increasing number of national reports indicate a growing concern over the effectiveness of higher education teaching practices and the decreased science (and math) performance of U.S. students relative to other industrialized countries (Project Kaleidoscope, 2006).

  17. Why STEM? Success Starts With Critical Thinking, Problem ...

    That's what STEM education does. STEM is about using math and science to solve real-world challenges and problems. ... test and improve a viable solution." ... "Critical thinking is a skill ...

  18. Teaching students to think critically (opinion)

    Teaching Students to Think Critically. Just as enough consensus exists about what critical thinking is, so too we have adequate agreement regarding how critical thinking is best taught. Research shows that elements of critical thinking need to be taught explicitly, rather than assumed to come along for the ride when thoughtful teachers run ...

  19. Critical Thinking and it's Importance in Education

    Critical thinking occurs when students are. analyzing, evaluating, in terpreting, or synthesizing information and applying. creative thought to form an argument, solve a problem, or reach a ...

  20. The Importance Of Critical Thinking, and how to improve it

    Critical thinking can help you better understand yourself, and in turn, help you avoid any kind of negative or limiting beliefs, and focus more on your strengths. Being able to share your thoughts can increase your quality of life. 4. Form Well-Informed Opinions.

  21. Enabling critical thinking development in higher education through the

    ABSTRACT. Critical thinking is a core component of higher education teaching and learning across multiple disciplines. However, supporting students to develop critical thinking skills can be challenging due to their prior experiences of education which may have emphasised rote learning and due to the high volume of approaches available to choose from as a teacher.

  22. How to Improve Your Critical Thinking Skills

    Consider these ways writing can help enhance critical thinking: 1. Clarity of Thought: Writing requires that you articulate your thoughts clearly and coherently. When you need to put your ideas on ...

  23. Effects of Game-Based Learning on Students' Critical Thinking: A Meta

    Advocates of game-based learning (GBL) argue that it increases critical thinking, but studies show mixed results. "Reasonable reflective thinking focused on deciding what to believe or do" (critical thinking, Ennis, 2018, p. 166) helps assess the reliability of available information, informs decisions, and affects students' current and future success.

  24. Learning to Improve: Using Writing to Increase Critical Thinking

    unclear whether the development of critical thinking skills was a function of chronological time or whether it was related to instructional time. Numerous studies provide anecdotal evidence for peda-gogies that improve critical thinking, but much of existing research relies on student self-report, which limits the scope of interpretation.

  25. Explained: Importance of critical thinking, problem-solving skills in

    Critical thinking and problem-solving skills are two of the most sought-after skills. Hence, schools should emphasise the upskilling of students as a part of the academic curriculum.

  26. Constructivism (philosophy of education)

    The critical goal is to support the student in developing effective thinking skills. Relationship between instructor and students. In the social constructivist viewpoint, the role of the facilitator involves both the instructor and the students being actively engaged in learning from each other.

  27. Boost Critical Thinking with Effective Learning Techniques

    Critical thinking is an essential skill that can be honed with practice and the right strategies. It involves the ability to think clearly and rationally, understanding the logical connection ...

  28. Does Art Boost a Student's Critical Thinking?

    How Does Art Improve Critical Thinking? Education experts who've examined why there's a link between art experience and improved critical thinking cite a number of factors at play. † In particular, art education teaches students to observe the world more closely. Good art is often complex, layered with multiple elements and meanings.