Stephen Norris said back in 1985 that most kids are not equipped to “recognize assumptions, evaluate arguments, and appraise inferences.” In 1992, psychologists John Tooby and Leda Cosmoses told us humans are evolved simply to avoid dangers and survive. None of them could have predicted the digital information age. It’s because of this that the importance of teaching the critical thinking mindset to our students has become a great need in education.

Only a short time after these claims were made, our life was transformed forever. The world woke up one morning in the mid 90s and the Internet was waiting for us. We now live in an exponentially changing and evolving world where technology is ubiquitous. They could never have imagined the unique generation of children this would develop, either. With these new kids, the critical thinking mindset isn’t an option.

We have our work cut out for us as we weed through a plethora of questionable information in all forms of media. The earlier kids learn to do this in their learning lives, the better. The elementary or primary grades are an ideal place to start.

A Matter of Trust

So how can elementary school kids develop a critical thinking mindset? Part of the answer lies in trust.

There must be a certain amount of trust in kids being able to figure it out for themselves. In other words, it has to come from within. The best way to develop critical thinking skills in elementary students is to teach the process explicitly. If they do it day in and day out, it will become a habit. After all, the critical thinking mindset is a mindset of independence.

We can offer students many opportunities to develop and use these skills, like requiring them to explain how they come to conclusions. Here are some concrete ways that you can do it in your classroom.

Developing the Critical Thinking Mindset

Post this infographic somewhere prominently in your room:

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Next, show this video:

Go through the questions each and everyday using big arguments as starting points. Below is a list of Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy verbs to really get their thoughts flying. Have them talk, write, produce media, and express what their findings are through the arts.

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Viva La Difference

“This is what we do everyday already,” you might be thinking. “What’s the difference?”

The answer is you are explicitly showing them the critical thinking mindset they are using, and naming the process “critical thinking.” Make it your mantra the entire time you have these young entrepreneurs and geniuses under your wing.

“Hold on a minute,” you may be saying now, “do I really want my students questioning every single thing I have to say, challenging me each step of the way?” You bet you do. This is the best and most humbling way to teach, and to hone your own skills as a teacher.

Through this paradigm shift, you become a facilitator of their learning. You’ll be forced to rethink traditional classrooms, critically. As your elementary students a develop a critical thinking mindset you will no doubt find yourself in a position where your role seems to diminish. Your students will thirst for themselves and scrutinize the best and most solid information to make sound decisions for their own lives.

The mark of your success as a teacher is to teach so they don’t need you anymore, and the students leave your class ready to tackle anything that challenges them. That’s what the critical thinking mindset is all about. Skills for school, skills for life—skills for success.




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