In today’s world students are encouraged not to simply accept, without thinking, everything that they have heard or read. Enhancing critical thinking skills in children is considered paramount in their schooling. Children need to develop a logical approach to their thinking, problem-solving and analysis of ideas.
Students must be creative and think critically when taking on new ideas. In other words, children are required to develop their critical thinking skills in order to be successful in school. This can be achieved by developing the confidence to ask questions.
What is critical thinking?
Albert Einstein claimed “Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think” he also proposed that “we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used to create them.” To make new discoveries and advance the world requires critical thinking and all of us have the ability to enhance our critical thinking skills.
Critical thinking is the process of figuring out, using any evidence you have in front of you, which arguments or statements appear to be true. Essentially, as children develop the ability to think for themselves they are also able to enhance their critical thinking skills. Whilst reading, it is important that children should also remember to keep thinking.
It is crucial that children ask a range of questions to develop a fair and accurate picture of the information they have read. Examples of questions children should ask are:
- Who/ what is the source of information
- What opposing views are there?
- Is the argument consistent and logical?
- How do I know that the statements being read are true and not biased?
This questioning approach shows a smart response to handling new information. Curious learners keen to discover the truth of a statement or position benefit from enhancing their critical thinking skills.
Higher order thinking
When learning students use a combination of:
Developing a new idea from information learned is regarded as a “higher-order” or “higher” level of thinking than simply remembering or understanding it. Developing a new idea utilises application, analysis, evaluation and creation.
Application requires using something that has been learnt in a new situation; analysing requires breaking ideas down into different key components; evaluating means making judgements about the value of ideas and creating is the ability to create new structure from constituent parts.
How to think critically
Critical thinking is a skill that students can continually develop. This can be achieved through remaining an objective perspective and not resorting to established, subjective points of view. School children who have enhanced their critical thinking skills, and can therefore think critically about a topic, use this as an excellent opportunity to shine in a subject being studied.
In developing critical thinking skills it is important to consider both sides of an argument, and beyond the argument if possible. It is important to remember that not everything we read, hear or see is black and white- there are often different shades of colour.
It is essential for school children to be on the search for the objective reality of a situation or issue. With whatever they read, or hear, they should try to take into account that it could represent a subjective, personal view rather than an objective viewpoint, free from opinion and bias.
The starting point of critical thinking is having a curious, open mind. It is important to consider all possible sides of an argument and continually question. Critical thinking can be practised by focusing on the least popular or preferred side of a perspective in a debate. An ability to compare and contrast different sides of an argument illustrates a sophisticated grasp in any sphere of learning.
Thinking critically involves:
- Being curious and receptive to new ideas
- Having focus on the work and avoiding distractions
- Keeping a record by writing down your ideas as they come
- Analysing rather than describing or narrating
- Considering the many viewpoints related to a debate/ argument by investigating the many facets of a topic
- Discussing ideas by bouncing them off others such as friends, family or teachers
- Constantly questioning by considering what is below the surface and what the writer’s motivations are/ were- are they opinions, facts or biases?
Being ‘critical’ may sound like a negative choice of word. However, criticism really reflects a positive and creative reaction to a piece of reading (or other media) in the context of learning and thinking. In essence, criticism is to form a considered, balanced judgement.
Having a ‘critical’ mind takes practise and confidence. For more ideas on how to build confidence in teenagers, click here.
Students can find it fascinating discovering the hidden agendas of different writers and speakers. Nevertheless, in enhancing critical thinking skills as children develop their own arguments and viewpoints, they too should be aware that they are subject to the same rules as other people.
Students should avoid:
- Thinking in stereotypes
- Oversimplifying issues
- Generalising ideas/ viewpoints
- Making false arguments
- Making value judgements
- Jumping to conclusions
Students can avoid doing these things by:
- Showing a range of viewpoints
- Using evidence and details to support an argument
- Search for objective reality
- Revealing and analysing what they believe to be the truth
- Continually asking questions
Check out this great video:
In this fantastic TEDx talk, Brian Oshiro, who is a teacher evaluator, shares his experience on how to develop critical thinking skills in kids by asking three straight-forward questions. Asking higher order questions is the key to develop critical thinking. Brian enables you to understanding how to form these types of questions. It’s important to understand that children should hear these types of questions at home, as well as in the classroom. Definitely check it out…
Being healthily skeptical as information is weighed up enhances critical thinking skills. Children should be encouraged to make a habit of questioning everything they read, hear and see and continually ask themselves questions in search of the truth. It is vital to think carefully about what is read. As the French moralist and essayist Joseph Joubert wrote “It is better to debate a question without settling it, than to settle a question without debating it.” Penses of Joubert (1986)
Students should think carefully about what is being said and how it is being said, bearing in mind that statements in discussions or arguments may be presented as fact, when in reality they are opinions. A great learner should consider whether statements are backed up by some kind of conclusive evidence or whether the facts are correct.
These approaches to learning will enhance children’s critical thinking skills leading to even better success at school and beyond. Indeed, developing critical thinking skills early on in children will set them up for a lifetime of success as leaders of change in creating a better world.
I hope that you enjoyed reading this article and I’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment in the box below with your thoughts- it would be great to hear your ideas and experiences.