Teachers, school leaders, and educators of all kinds have many shared goals. One of these is effectively developing students’ critical thinking skills. Critical thinking is one of those skills we’re shouting from the rooftops. Obviously, we’re big fans of it and we know you are too.
We talk to many educators in our travels. Everywhere we go, we ask what they feel are the most important skills for students. No matter where they hail from, critical thinking skills are at the top of the list.
It’s a close second to independent problem-solving ability. The beauty there is that the two go hand in hand.
How can we start developing student’s critical thinking skills rather than teaching to the test? What strategies will bring out the critical thinkers inside all our students?
Strategies for Developing Students’ Critical Thinking Skills
Strategy 1: Students thinking critically is the pinnacle of the accumulation of knowledge and experience. This flies directly in the face of teaching to the test. Nevertheless, it’s important that we make the distinction. Give to the testers what is theirs, but give back to students their freedom to think.
In an article for The Guardian (2012) Matthew Bebbington suggested something intriguing. He talked about a strategy used by companies like Google for increasing employee engagement. They allow workers a certain “freedom” for focusing on personalized approaches to working on problems.
They have carte blanche to work on whatever they wish with whomever they wish.
The result is a heightened sense of ownership of the problem, and a creative approach to solutions. Of course, this elevates critical thinking capacity as well. There’s no reason why the same thing couldn’t work in a classroom.
Strategy 2: Encourage project-based learning. Solving real-world problems gets kids out of the classroom and into the real world. Again, this is a skill that’s paramount to success in life beyond school. Critical thinking and HOTS skills come to the forefront here.
A great place to do this is the Solution Fluency Activity Planner. It takes you step-by-step through planning incredible project-based learning for your students. Play with it and plan your own professional development with it. Pass it on to your colleagues and teachers.
Strategy 3: Encourage collaboration and you’re sure to engage critical thinking skills. This doesn’t only apply in your classroom with other students. It can also involve the community and all the interesting professionals that are part of it.
Think about collaboration along the lines of using technology to reach out to the global community. Don’t just invest in technology. The end goal is students collaborating, thinking critically, and solving problems relevant to their world.
Strategy 4: Make workshops and in-services incorporate the highest critical thinking among teachers. This a real boon for administrators, and here’s why: what goes around comes around.
Effective professional development incorporates teachers being engaged and taking ownership of the material. Through this example, teachers will take this back to their students.
If you don’t want your teachers to purely lecture, don’t hire someone to come in and lecture. Your presenters must be the highest examples of what you want your teachers to be. In other words, teach your teachers the same way you want your students to be taught.
Strategy 5: Teach the 6D’s of Solution Fluency as a process for working through a problem to its solution.
- Define the driving question. Ask questions to clarify, focus and understand what the problem is.
- Discover all aspects of the problem. What’s being done currently? What exactly is the nature of the problem? Be observant.
- Dream and brainstorm directions to approach the solution. Imagine the problem through different points of view.
- Design the product. Create a blueprint of the ideas and workshop them thoroughly.
- Deliver the goods and put the solution to work in a practical application. Generate the product and test it out against the problem.
- Debrief and review the process and look realistically on the product or solution.
Strategy 6: Teach design thinking. This is another angle very similar to Solution Fluency, from Dschool at Stanford.
It all comes down to empowering your teachers to teach. Developing students’ critical thinking skills must be embraced and incorporated at the staff level. Start by trusting your teachers to think and speak openly. You can set an example to them to also trust in the goodness of their students. Those students will in turn step up when fully engaged in meaningful projects.