Learners as Critical Thinkers


Critical thinking can be defined in various ways. Dr. Richard Paul briefly explains critical thinking as: “thinking about your thinking while you’re thinking in order to make your thinking better.”(Paul 2012). Paul emphasis the self-improvement (in thinking) through intellectual standards (that assess thinking). Dr. Paul and Linda Elder define critical thinking as: “That mode of thinking – about any subject, content, or problem – in which the thinker improves the quality of his or her thinking by skillfully taking charge of the structures inherent in thinking and imposing intellectual standards upon them”(Paul & Elder 2010). Warnick and Inch (1994), define critical thinking as “involving the ability to explore a problem, question, or situation; integrate all the available information about it; arrive a solution or hypothesis; and justify one’s position

Educational systems goal is to prepare student with learning skills that they can utilize for a life span. Education systems are profoundly challenged as never been before to develop the ability of learners to think efficiently and to make decisions in a rapidly changing world that is accelerated by the flood of data around. With the big data emerging and dominating economies it is essential to prepare learners to survive and to adapt to change. Developing Critical Thinking skills of learners will prepare them to function as productive citizens in the contemporary world. They should be prepared for the unpredictable by developing their potential to dynamically adjust and grow.

Critical thinker, as demonstrated by the illustration above, is mainly inquisitive, truth-seeker, with systematic and analytic thinking. His thinking has a pattern that leads to genuine evaluation of data received leaving unfair judgments and biases behind. Critical thinker is reflective, open-minded, mature and persistent in seeking the truth upon a reasonable intellectual criteria.

Educators play a key role in developing critical thinking of the learners. A role which entails them to be more of a guide on the side than a sage on the stage.  In order to engage students in critical thinking, the educator needs to be a facilitator and to urge independent learning that is provoked by questioning and exploration. “In order to engage students in critical thinking, the educator needs to act as a facilitator to allow for discussion and encourage a freer thought process … “(GDT, 2015)

How can we enable critical thinking in teaching?

It is vital that we don’t assume that all teachers are prepared to teach using critical thinking techniques. Professional development and professional learning communities play a key role in preparing teachers for such methods before holding them accountable of developing similar skills for learners. Districts should develop long term professional development programs in parallel with curriculum and assessment redesign. Curriculum time line should embrace activities such as in-class and online discussions, debates and reviews. Assessment of such skills need to be profoundly deliberated.

“The evaluation of thinking skills is a challenge. Accurate evaluation of a thinking skill — or even defining precisely what the “skill” is, and how we can observe and measure it — is much more difficult than evaluating knowledge. “(Paul 2012).

Critical thinking can be infused in lessons throughout all disciplines by utilizing in depth questioning and evaluation of both data and sources (McCollister & Sayler, 2010). Critical thinking focal point is to examine the elements of thought.The thought cannot be fully understood before putting it in its context that could be hidden and unclear. Each thought has Its background information. To reach a thought you need to seek concepts, direction, frame, questions, inferences and conclusions that shaped it. Inquiry and questioning should be the drivers of learners’ thinking and not obtaining answers. Students should be intellectually incited by questions. The teacher should target higher order skills by his questions. By raising and answering different questions, learners should acquire analysis, synthesis and evaluation skills. Critical thinking could be fostered by:

  • Classroom discussion
  • Classroom debates
  • Online discussion forums
  • Evaluation and observation among groups
  • Review and analysis of different related resources
  • Research
  • Constant practice of different Critical Thinking strategies

While learners who have the critical thinking dispositions mentioned earlier will enjoy critical thinking learning others who lack such dispositions will need the teachers support to nurture and foster these dispositions. Teachers should keep in mind that this will take time but eagerly important to be started as earlier possible. Teachers should start with creating higher order skills learning objectives, techniques could vary to aim to developing these skills that will grow over time.

While this seems a challenging role for the teachers, and while this would require deep changes in curriculum, assessment design and will require more professional development it is the call of duty that enforce us to embrace the change for the sake of the learners. “Critical thinking is the heart of well-conceived educational reform and restructuring, because it is at the heart of the changes of the 21st Century. Let us hope that enough of us will have the fortitude and vision to grasp this reality and transform our lives and our schools accordingly. “(Paul 2012).

Paul, Richard. “Critical Thinking: Basic Questions & Answers”. The Critical Thinking Community. Accessed September 10, 2015. http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/critical-thinking-basic-questions-amp-answers/409

Paul, R. and Elder, L. (2010). The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts and Tools. Dillon Beach: Foundation for Critical Thinking Press.

Barbara Warnick and Edward. Inch. (1994). Critical Thinking and Communication, 2nd ed. New York: Macmillan.

McCollister, K., & Sayler, M. (2010). Lift the ceiling: Increase rigor with critical thinking skills.

Global Digital Citizen Foundation Team (2015). The Importance of Teaching Critical Thinking.  Jul 24, 2015. Accessed September 10th, 2015 http://globaldigitalcitizen.org/the-importance-of-teaching-critical-thinking

Copyright Bashaer Al Kilani 2015


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