More and more educational products and services have turned their focus to training "critical thinkers." While critical thinking is a desirable trait in a classroom setting, establishing critical thinking skills early can have vast benefits long after students graduate. Fostering critical thinking equips future adults to problem-solve and lead independent lives.
How can teachers foster a spirit of critical thinking? The following are some of the top classroom strategies to encourage critical thinking skills in students of all ages:
- Give them space
It is difficult to brainstorm creatively when someone is watching your every move. This is why some teachers find it useful to give students as much freedom as possible when tasked with problem-solving. It is essential to provide students with access to a wide range of tools and flexibility to experiment, and teachers should allow them to pick their problems. When presented with more than one problem to solve, students feel like a problem is their own to take on and approach it with accountability and ownership.
This can also apply to asking questions of the class. If you call on the first student to raise their hand, the "deep thinkers" who are just starting to warm up will not have a chance to respond. By pausing even a few more seconds, you give those who choose to think critically more time to work — and you can notice and reward them for it.
- Celebrate teamwork
Communication and empathy are two other superskills students need to master, and problem-solving can naturally encourage these when students are allowed to work in teams. Getting peer help with homework is just one example of teamwork, and pairing kids for science projects or class presentations is not a new approach. While it can take more time to permit kids to collaborate, the rewards are often worth it.
- Teach by example
Instructors who think critically usually encourage the same in their classrooms. Learning administrators should then seek out opportunities for teachers to flex their critical-thinking muscles at workshops, conferences and other professional development events. Outside of formal growth events, educators should take extra opportunities to model problem-solving for students.
- Question everything
Students may not always feel safe questioning authority, but modeling safe and respectful ways of asking "why" can help them approach situations outside of the classroom. You can start by asking "why?" when a student answers. Leading them to explain how they came up with their position not only gives them a chance to understand their thinking process, but it also empowers them and teaches them how to defend their positions.
- Let them mess up
Encourage kids to see a solution through to the end, even if it is not successful. Sometimes, learning comes from making mistakes and witnessing the consequences that result. Likewise, some types of play, such as art, are naturally "messy" and require students to try again. From rebuilding a sandcastle to finally filling up that cup of water without spilling, these chaotic but straightforward activities give students a safe way to explore and grow.
How to Be Part of the Critical-Thinking Movement
Does the idea of equipping future learners sound exciting? Getting a Master of Science in Curriculum & Instruction (C&I) – Instructional Coach/Teacher Leader PreK-12 might be the ideal way forward for anyone with interest in learning these best practices and passing them on in classrooms. In as few as 12 months, you could be working alongside educators to create a safe atmosphere for even the littlest thinkers.
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