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It really makes you think doesn’t it?

The ultimate guide to critical thinking

Developing and improving critical thinking skills is a life study, and one that’s definitely worth pursuing. In fact, according to all the educators we speak with in our travels, critical thinking skills rank among what they believe to be the most necessary skills for our learners to have for life beyond school.

Learning how to think in this manner it isn’t easy—otherwise, everyone would do it. Nevertheless, it remains one of the most beneficial skills we can impart to our learners. Though it’s a universal concept all of us are aware of, a multitude of differing definitions, views, and opinions circulate on what critical thinking actually is.

So here’s a question: what do you think critical thinking means?

What we want is for you to be able to reflect independently on the exploration we’re about to take on critical thinking, and decide what it means for yourself. We’ll provide you with the insights, tools, and resources to help you make your own decisions about how to define it and how to develop it—in yourself, your children, and your learners.

Are you ready? It’s time to get critical.

Don’t have time to read the whole guide now?

We know, it’s a lot! We will send you a full-colour PDF copy you can read in your own time and share with your colleagues.

WHAT IS CRITICAL THINKING?

Here are some collected definitions from around the Web that discuss the meaning of critical thinking:

“Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.”The Foundation for Critical Thinking
 
“Critical thinking is a widely accepted educational goal. Its definition is contested, but the competing definitions can be understood as differing conceptions of the same basic concept: careful thinking directed to a goal.”Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
 
“Critical thinking is thinking about your thinking while you’re thinking in order to make your thinking better.”Richard W. Paul
 
“Thoughtful people ponder the meaning of what they learn and the consequences of what they do. They bring assumptions and implications of ideas and actions to the surface, and challenge them if needed.”Grant Wiggins
 

In the Critical Thinking Teacher’s Companion, we define critical thinking as clear, rational, logical, and independent. It’s about improving thinking by analyzing, assessing, and reconstructing how we think. It’s also thinking in a self-regulated and self-corrective manner—essentially, thinking on purpose. Critical thinking involves mindful forms of communication, problem-solving, and a freedom from any bias or egocentric tendency. You can apply critical thinking to any kind of subject, problem, or situation you choose.

These are all acceptable conclusions, but they still don’t define what critical thinking really is. However, if you look closely you’ll see a common thread among them: they all support the notion that thinking critically requires discipline.

Regardless of what images that particular word conjures up, the fact is real critical thinking requires a level of self-discipline and awareness, not to mention practice and perseverance. You’ll find that’s a part of the traits we discuss below.

CT-traits.001

10 Traits of the Critical Thinker

So, what does the ideal critical thinker look like? What are their most crucial defining characteristics? Here are the 10 we are most fond of.

1. Curiosity

Effective critical thinkers are curious about a wide range of topics and generally have broad interests. They also tend to have a healthy inquisitiveness about the world and about people. An understanding of and appreciation for a diversity of cultures, beliefs, and views is another hallmark of a great critical thinker, and it’s part of what makes them lifelong learners.

2. Compassion

The world is full of enough judgment and segregation. As we seek to help our learners acquire critical thinking skills, we mustn’t forget that critical thinking embraces the emotional and instinctual as much as the intellectual. That’s why critical thinkers act as much with their hearts as they do with their minds.

3. Awareness

Opportunities to apply critical thinking skills are all around us every moment. Effective critical thinkers remain tuned into this and are always alert for chances to apply their best thinking habits to any situation. A desire to think critically about even the simplest of issues and tasks indicates a desire for constructive outcomes.

Critical thinking also means not taking anything at face value. It means always asking questions and exploring all sides of an issue, and appreciating the deeper facts hiding in everything. As such, those who think critically also tend to be instinctual problem solvers. This ranks as probably the most important skill we can help our learners build upon.

4. Decisiveness

Many situations that call for critical thinking also call for quick and decisive action. When we think critically we weigh our options and imagine the outcomes in the moment with speed and clarity, and are able to put aside fear when it comes to making decisions. In essence, critical thinkers like to move things forward rather than moving backward or procrastinating.

In addition to this, often choices have to be made even when we don’t have all the information we need to make them with confidence. When facing any kind of a challenge, someone has to take the lead and make the hard calls others shy away from. Effective critical thinkers realize that, more often than not, it’s necessary to take the initiative and make a decision even if it ends up being the wrong one. To them, that’s preferable to not making any decision at all.

5. Honesty

Honesty is important in any sense, but it is especially important to critical thinking. Moral integrity, ethical consideration and action, and things like global citizenship practices are all part of effective critical thinking. It’s not a surprise that honesty resides at the core of all these things. We see in such people a strong desire for harmony and fulfillment in the world, and part of attaining this involves pursuing honesty in all endeavors and relationships.

The practice of honesty in critical thinking also extends to how one looks within oneself to embrace what resides there. It takes into account the processes behind managing our emotions, controlling our impulses, and recognizing any attempts at self-deception. Critical thinkers are as equally aware and accepting of themselves as they are of others.

6. Willingness

Willingness and flexibility include, but are not limited to, things like:

  • learning from their own personal mistakes and shortcomings
  • challenging the status-quo when the need arises
  • open-mindedly embracing other opinions and views that challenge their own
  • reconsidering and revising their opinions in the wake of new evidence
  • listening actively rather than simply waiting for their turn to talk
  • constantly improving, learning, and excelling

7. Creativity

There’s no question that effective critical thinkers are also largely creative thinkers. Creativity has unquestionably defined itself as a requisite skill for having in the collaborative modern workforce. Critical thinking in business, marketing, and professional alliances relies heavily on one’s ability to be creative. When businesses get creative with products and how they are advertised, they thrive in the global marketplace.

8. Perseverance

Critical thinkers know the necessity of staying on task. It’s not in their nature to give up until a solution is formulated, a process is determined, or a decision is reached. This is a part of the leadership mindset that critical thinkers also tend to model by default.

As you can imagine, this is an especially useful quality not only to have but to be able to encourage in a team-working environment.

9. Objectivity

A focus on fairness and the inclusion of all viewpoints and concerns is another trait of the critical thinker. There’s no room for bias in critical thinking, only the acceptance and consideration of possibilities. Critical thinking also means not allowing oneself to be affected by external influences, or governed by internal ones such as impulse emotions.

10. Reflective Capacity

When engaging in critical thinking, one isn’t focused on just stopping after the outcome. Instead, a critical thinker reflects on the learning journey and pinpoints apparent areas for improvement, while also recognizing new applications for synthesized knowledge and ideas. You never ignore your mistakes, but you don’t dwell on them either—you learn, you internalize, and you move on to the next challenge.

What Critical Thinking Is & Isn't

Consider this graphic below that suggests what critical thinking is and what it isn’t.

ct-non-ct-trans.001

To look at it another way, this simple comparison below comes from an Inform Ed article by Saga Briggs. It features some ideas of what critical thinking is often mistaken for.

Critical thinking IS:

  • Questioning other thinking
  • Embracing other thinking
  • Emulating other thinking
  • Willingness to be wrong
  • Questioning one’s own thinking
  • Putting logic before bias
  • Recognizing contradictions

Critical thinking ISN'T:

  • Simply mimicking other thinking
  • Simply agreeing with other thinking
  • Being biased towards one way of thinking
  • Being biased against one way of thinking
  • Drawing conclusions too quickly
  • Denying faults in one’s own thinking
  • Placing weight on insignificant details

WHY IS CRITICAL THINKING IMPORTANT?

Why do we and our learners need to be critical thinkers? Let’s begin by discussing the living and learning skills teachers today believe that every student should foster in their school years and beyond them. Each time we’ve spoken to educators in our work around the world, we have asked them what they feel are the most important skills students need above all others. The answers that we’ve received most often are:

  • Problem solving
  • Creativity
  • Analytic thinking
  • Collaboration
  • Communication
  • Ethics, action, and accountability

This skills list is purposefully embedded within the Essential Fluencies, and the 10 Shifts of Practice . However, every one of these skills also falls under the broader umbrella of critical thinking capacity. Let’s take a closer look:

  • Critical thinkers are natural problem solvers because of their ability to logically weigh options and pinpoint the best possible solutions from both existing and acquired data.
  • Creative thinking develops in tandem with critical thinking as both require the formulation of new knowledge, the clarification of ideas, and the recognition of possibilities.
  • Analytical thinkers are critical thinkers in that they see data and information in many different dimensions, and from multiple angles. They are adept at conceptualization, organization, and knowledge synthesis.
  • Part of critical thinking means being able to accept and appreciate the opinions and viewpoints of others, and encourage in them that same type of constructive reflection which builds bonds and inspires forward thinking in collaborative teams
  • Critical thinkers know how to communicate well as their values and beliefs are demonstrated by how well they communicate with others.
  • A critical thinker knows the importance of being selfless, ethical, and respectful of other cultures and belief systems, and diligent about being at their best with interactions of all sorts, both online and offline.

A Changing World, Marketplace, and Workforce

The following excerpt is from the World Economic Forum report Future of Jobs published in 2016:

“The Fourth Industrial Revolution, which includes developments in previously disjointed fields such as artificial intelligence and machine-learning, robotics, nanotechnology, 3-D printing, and genetics and biotechnology, will cause widespread disruption not only to business models but also to labour markets over the next five years, with enormous change predicted in the skill sets needed to thrive in the new landscape.”

Our world is changing fast, but then again it always has. There have been many times in the past where humanity was convinced that everything that could be invented had been invented. Even later on when computers were just beginning to become household items, there was a time when having a 56K modem was considered screaming fast, and 200 MB of storage was immense. When would we possibly ever need any more than that?

We know from how much things have changed between then and now that both bandwidth and many other aspects of modern life will continue to grow and transform radically. This is why a strong well-developed critical thinking capacity serves us in all facets of life. To adapt to and thrive in the face of such changes requires the kind of resilience only critical thinking can build.

Reflect back to how we thought about what was necessary to our survival and success 50, 30, or even 20 years ago. Are the same things important to us now as they once were? How has communication and the sharing of ideas transformed? How has doing business in a global marketplace and consuming goods and services changed? And what new problems and challenges will these and future innovations bring that require a certain capacity for critical thinking in order to manage them in our lives?

Let’s note that effective critical thinkers function by way of different thought processes in different circumstances. After all, figuring out how to make it to work on time when your car breaks down in rush hour traffic requires critical thinking just as much as negotiating world peace does. Both scenarios facilitate critical thinking skills in far different settings, and with different stakes and outcomes, but they call upon these thinking skills nonetheless.

Critical Thinking and Lifelong Learning

As teachers, we don’t just want our learners to do their work well when they’re in the classroom. Arguably the fundamental purpose of education is to foster a desire to learn well beyond students’ school years. You know it as lifelong learning, and critical thinkers are also lifelong learners.

If we’re going to talk about how critical thinking ties into lifelong learning, we should start with the basics. Simply put, lifelong learning is a self-motivated interest in learning that continues throughout one’s entire lifetime. However, what would possibly make someone want to be a learner for that long? It has to be more than a matter of being forced to learn for survival or success.

Ultimately fostering lifelong learning skills means ensuring the process of learning always has relevance, purpose, and real-world connection that retains our interest. For example, which of the following have you done either recently or in the past?

  • Picked up a magazine and learned something new
  • Searched for a video tutorial on how to fix or make something
  • Took any kind of a class, course, or coaching
  • Looked up how to do a problem in a school assignment online
  • Learned something from a tutor or a mentor

You know what all these things have in common? They’re exactly the actions a critical thinker who is also a lifelong learner might take to solve a problem or answer a question. To one who thinks critically there are no pathways to knowledge that are off the table. The ability to recognize potential in any avenue for learning is what both critical thinking and lifelong learning share as inherent qualities.

Lifelong learning manifests itself in a number of different ways, and the above examples are just a few of them. We also learn through conversation and interaction, by experience (either ours or someone else’s), by observation, and by making mistakes—just like critical thinkers do. Thus, fostering lifelong learning skills through critical thinking gives us the tools we need to make the most out of each of these situations as they occur in our lives.

DEVELOPING CRITICAL THINKING

Now that we’ve explored what critical thinking is and why it matters, it’s time to talk about building those skills. Wabisabi Learning has developed a number of resources you’ll find useful for critical thinking skills development including:

Beyond that, we’ve sourced a number of games and activities that are easy to implement in your classrooms. These activities are designed to engage learners in critical thinking on multiple levels.

The following critical thinking games build team work skills and collaborative capacity. Not only that, your students will love them. You can find these inside our most sought-after resource The Critical Thinking Teacher’s Companion.

Paper Tower

This fun collaborative team-building exercise develops aspects of Solution Fluency, Creativity Fluency, and Collaboration Fluency. Each group of students constructs a free-standing tower out of newspaper and tape.

It’s a fun and challenging activity that encourages critical thinking and problem-solving. Which team can build the tallest, structurally sound free-standing tower? Throughout the process, students will start to realize there are questions they have that they didn’t ask. This is a perfect time to get them to explore how to answer these questions for themselves.

There isn’t a time limit for this exercise unless you want to establish one.

Worst-Case Scenario

In a crisis situation, teamwork is crucial to handling challenges effectively. Fabricate a scenario in which students need to work together and solve problems to succeed (ex: stranded on a deserted island, being lost at sea, trapped in an abandoned building, etc.). The rule is that every team member must contribute an idea for a possible solution.

For example, they may want to come up with a list of 10 must-have items that would help them survive, or devise a plan to find a passage to safety. Arrange for them to vote so that everyone agrees to the final solution.

Little Steps, Big Change

Arrange the class into teams of 3-4 people and give them a period to map out a plan for how they want to improve something around the school. Have each team present their idea at the end of the period or beginning of the next. Finally, vote on each idea, and then see if you can all find a way to put that idea into practice.

Class Debates

Below is a list of scenarios to present for students to discuss and debate. They are based primarily on ethics and morality, and will encourage students to take a stand and defend their viewpoint. These can be done in pairs, but are much more compelling with larger class debate teams where views are divided.

Richard finds an expensive looking ring in the school hallway one day. It has no name on it and it’s not near anyone’s locker. Should he:

  1. Give it to lost and found
  2. Ask if it belongs to anyone there
  3. Keep it and not say anything

Judy’s friend is stressed about an upcoming test. If she fails the test she’ll be kept back a grade and won’t be able to graduate with Judy and her other friends. Judy already took the test and got 100%, so she knows all the answers already. Should she:

  1. Just give the answers to her friend
  2. Use her knowledge to coach her friend
  3. Not get involved at all

Nick overhears two students bragging about having posted some inappropriate images of a female student online for a joke. He is friends with both boys but has recently heard that they’ve done similar things to a few other female students in the past. Should he:

  1. Mind his own business
  2. Report the incident to the school principal
  3. Confront the boys and defend the student

You witness a bank robbery and follow the perpetrator down an alleyway. He stops at an orphanage and gives them all the money. Would you:

  1. Report the man to police since he committed a crime
  2. Leave him alone because you saw him do a good deed

A friend tells you that he/she has been receiving anonymous bullying messages online. They explain the bullying has affected their grades because they’re having trouble focusing due to fear and depression. You suspect that certain people are guilty of sending these messages.Would you:

  1. Tell your friend just to ignore them
  2. Encourage them to report the abuse
  3. Risk confronting the ones you suspect

Other Great Critical Thinking Activities

Enjoy these other critical thinking games and exercises from Facing History.

  • Barometer:  After being given a prompt, students line themselves up along a U-shaped continuum representing where they stand on that issue. The sides of the U are opposite extremes, with the middle being neutral. The teacher starts a discussion by giving equal opportunity for everyone to speak about their stand. The students use “I” statements when stating their opinion.
  • Big Paper:  By using silence and writing, students can focus on other viewpoints. This activity uses a driving question, markers, and Big Paper (poster-sized is best). Students work in pairs or threes to have a conversation on the Big Paper. Students can write at will, but it must be done in silence after a reflection on the driving question. This strategy is great for introverts, and provides a visual record of thought for later discussion.
  • Café Conversations:  Understanding different viewpoints is a great way to delve into a topic. 5 to 10 students are given character sheets. They can include gender, age, family status (married, single, how many children, etc.), occupation, education level and significant life events. The group is also given a historical event or similar topic. Students can create identity charts in collaboration with each other to determine their character’s viewpoint. When they can adequately represent their character, what follows is a “cafe conversation.” Allow at least 20 minutes for a conversation (don’t forget to go over guidelines on how to respectfully disagree).
  • Jigsaw:  Students take on the role of “experts” or “specialists” on a particular topic. Then a panel of experts is assembled to get the larger picture.
  • K-W-L Charts:  Charts to document “What I Know” and “What I Want to Know” and, after learning has occurred, “What I Learned.”
  • Think, Pair, Share:  A classic tool to guide students in relevant and meaningful discussion, and to build community.
  • Town Hall Circle:  Like a real town meeting, individual students are “given the floor” and a time limit to express their views.
  • Reader’s Theater:  In groups, create a dramatic script based on the ideas within a given text. Don’t script word for word; the idea is for students to get off the page and represent the idea in their own words.

IMPROVING CRITICAL THINKING

How can we continue improving critical thinking skills long after we’ve begun their practice? In this section you’ll find some practical and beneficial ways of doing just that. As you incorporate these ideas, critical thinking will gradually get more comfortable until it finally becomes second nature.

1. Do a Daily Review

In the article, Critical Thinking in Everyday Life: 9 Strategies, Richard Paul and Linda Elder provide questions that help us review how we practiced our thinking throughout the day.

You can go through them all, or just a few. Spend as much time as you want pondering your responses internally or recording them in a journal. The more you practice this, the more patterns you’ll see emerging in your thinking habits.

  • When did I do my worst thinking today? When did I do my best?
  • What did I think about today?
  • Did I figure anything out?
  • Did I allow any negative thinking to frustrate me unnecessarily?
  • If I had to repeat today, what would I do differently? Why?
  • Did I do anything today to further my long-term goals?
  • Did I act in accordance with my own expressed values?
  • If I spent every day this way for 10 years, at the end would I have accomplished something worthy of that time?

2. Learn Something New Every Day

This is about achieving two things: first, fulfilling an intellectual need, and second, developing habits of curiosity. What have you always been curious about? Is there a question about something you’ve always wanted to get answered? Of course, if you have higher learning ambitions and want to take your broader knowledge or ability to a whole new level, do that also.

Improving critical thinking skills isn’t an age-specific pursuit either. Besides, you don’t have to change the world, conquer nature, or write the next great masterpiece. All you need do is believe in the possibility of your own potential.

3. Develop a Questioning Mind

In modern learning, we teach our children to question and to explore possibilities. Questions are good; essential questions are even better. Asking meaningful questions that lead to constructive and useful answers is at the core of critical thinking and lifelong learning.

Providing learning with driving questions as the focus ensures we don’t just passively accept information. Instead, we train ourselves to search for different viewpoints and to take nothing for granted. The following activity for improving critical thinking is an excerpt from an article featured on Skills You Need.

Think of something that someone has recently told you. Then ask yourself the following questions:

Who said it?

  • Someone you know?
  • Someone in a position of authority or power?
  • Does it matter who told you this?

What did they say?

  • Did they give facts or opinions?
  • Have they provided all the facts?
  • What have they left out?

Where did they say it?

  • Was it in public or in private?
  • Did other people have a chance to respond and provide an alternative account?

When did they say it?

  • Was it before, during, or after an important event?
  • Is timing important?

Why did they say it?

  • Did they explain the reasoning behind their opinion?
  • Were they trying to make someone look good or bad?

How did they say it?

  • Were they happy or sad, angry or indifferent?
  • Did they write it or say it?
  • Could you understand what was said?

4. Practice Active Listening

Have you ever heard the expression “most people are just waiting for their turn to talk?” If that’s really the case, then who is truly listening? What does it mean to actively listen when someone is talking? How do we adopt it as personal practice for improving critical thinking skills?

Research cited by the University of Missouri suggests that most people may be inefficient listeners:

“Studies have shown that immediately after listening to a 10-minute oral presentation, the average listener has heard, understood and retained 50 percent of what was said. Within 48 hours, that drops off another 50 percent to a final level of 25 percent efficiency .”

Most people think that listening is easy, but actively listening takes effort. Active listening means making a conscious effort to hear the words being said and understand their message. It’s also about understanding what the person speaking needs or is trying to accomplish. This translates to having empathy, not offering sympathy or placating the speaker, or trying to solve their problem for them.

The following 10 listening strategies are guaranteed to make you a more active listener.

  1. Talk less: It’s impossible to talk and listen at the same time. Reserve responses and interjections, and be open to giving the other person what they need from having you understand what they’re saying.
  2. Adopt a listening mode: Quiet the environment and mentally open your mind to hearing by getting comfortable and engaging in eye contact.
  3. Make the speaker feel comfortable: Examples of this might be nodding or using gestures. Seating is also important; is the speaker more comfortable if you stay behind your desk, or if you take a chair beside them? For smaller children, get at their eye level instead of towering over them.
  4. Remove distractions: This means things like clearing the room, quieting screens, and silencing phones and other technology. If the speaker requests privacy, ask others to give you a few minutes in private and close the door.
  5. Empathize: Most people want more than anything to simply be heard and understood, and to see evidence of that happening in the listener. Imagine yourself experiencing the same things they’re talking to you about.
  6. Don’t fear silence: Some people really need time to formulate a thoughtful response. Rushing them through or suggesting what they want to say for them hinders the opportunity to communicate honestly.
  7. Put aside personal prejudice: This can be quite difficult as our experiences form who we are. Putting all those experiences aside is a skill which requires help and practice.
  8. Heed their tone: Sometimes the tone can hide the meaning of the words, and sometimes the tone enhances the meaning of the words. In listening actively it’s imperative to know which is which.
  9. Listen for underlying meanings, not words: Listen first for comprehension, and then a second time for ideas.
  10. Pay attention to non-verbal communication: People communicate through body language and facial expressions, which is why eye contact is necessary.

5. Solve Just One Problem

Whether problems happen independent of our influence or are created by our actions and choices, they don’t go away on their own. The secret is to take them on one by one, one day at a time, and learn how to avoid them in the future.

Do you want to clear up a long-held misunderstanding between you and another person? Are you getting distracted too much at work? Have you been struggling with a project or an activity you want to improve? Is there something around the house that desperately needs fixing? Choose one problem that you want to work on solving and give it your undivided attention until it’s resolved. Face it head on, get it done, and get on with the more important things in life.

5 Easy Steps to Improve Critical Thinking

The practice of improving critical thinking is best if we make it ongoing and consistent. The more we challenge ourselves to think critically, the more habitual such powerful thinking habits become. We took some wisdom from the TED Ed lesson 5 Tips to Improve Your Critical Thinking created by Samantha Agoos. It provides a formula to improve critical thinking that you can internalize easily and use every day.

In her lesson, Samantha outlines and explains a 5-step process for boosting critical thinking as follows:

  • Formulate the question
  • Gather information
  • Apply the information
  • Consider the implications
  • Explore other points of view

If you look closely, you’ll see the similarities to our own 6D process of Solution Fluency. This is another simple but effective method for practicing and improving critical thinking while problem solving:

  • Formulate the question (DEFINE)
  • Gather information (DISCOVER, DREAM)
  • Apply the information (DESIGN, DELIVER)
  • Consider the implications (DISCOVER, DESIGN, DEBRIEF)
  • Explore other points of view (DISCOVER, DESIGN, DEBRIEF)

CRITICAL THINKING QUESTIONS

With critical thinking comes questions, questions, and more questions. As we apply such skills in our everyday lives, be it for academic purposes or not, the quality of questions we ask plays a significant role in their continuing development. In other words, the better the questions we ask, the better the results that we receive.

The following question strategies cover self-directed learning and learning reflections, as well as critical thinking questions that can be used in any content area. We’ll begin, however, by looking at a 5-step process for asking the most meaningful questions possible.

5 Steps to Asking Good Questions

Asking good questions is a cornerstone of learning and living, and of critical thinking. So much of our success in life depends on asking the right questions. But how do we actually do it? It’s simple if you have a process like the one below.

This framework goes hand in hand with taking ownership of learning. Each stage has guiding questions attached to it, and are things students can consider to help them ask good questions:

Focus:

  • What specifically do I want to know?
  • What information am I missing?
  • Is this more than a simple YES or NO question?
  • Am I going for deeper knowledge?

Purpose:

  • Why am I asking this?
  • Do I want to gather facts or opinions?
  • Do I need simple clarification?
  • Do I want to offer a different perspective?

Intent:

  • How do I want people to respond?
  • Do I want the answer to be of help to others?
  • Am I asking to start an argument or open a discussion?
  • Is the question superficial and not really useful or important?
  • Am I asking out of frustration or curiosity?
  • Do I really care about the answer?
  • Am I willing to show respect/deference to the person I’m asking?

Framing:

  • Am I using easily understandable terms and wording?
  • Is my question neutral or does it contain bias or opinion?
  • Is it too long or too short?
  • Does it contain the focus of what I want to know?
  • Does the question focus on only one thing?
  • Is it muddled with other inquiries that don’t belong?

Follow-up:

  • Do I have any more specific questions to add?
  • Will the person I’m asking be available for other questions if need be?
  • If I still don’t have the answer I need, what’s my plan?
  • What can I do if I still don’t understand?

This full-colour poster features these 5 categories for developing good questions, with all the exploratory points for each one included.

Self-Directed Learning Questions Framework

The framework below features 10 self-directed learning questions broken down into further key points for consideration. This is by no means a complete framework but is intended as a basic guideline for further exploration and development. It’s also a terrific critical thinking exercise that works on deep skills for research and knowledge use.

Have learners use these points to examine the value of each question as they consider how to apply it to their own self-directed learning pursuits.

1. What do I want/need to learn?

What is important or necessary

  • a specific problem to be solved
  • a challenge that must be faced
  • information that will construct something of value to me/others

What is interesting or relevant

  • a hobby or skill
  • personal knowledge development
  • learning for a job or a career
5-steps-to-asking-good-questions

15 Reflective Questions Every Learner Can Use

Successfully debriefing learning means having solid and meaningful reflective questions to use. No matter what you’re teaching, every learner can benefit from asking reflective questions at the end of their journey. We have a list of 15 here that are pretty much the only ones they’ll ever need.

  1. Define some of your most challenging moments. What made them so?
  2. Define some of your most powerful learning moments. What made them so?
  3. What would you say is the most important thing you learned personally? As a team?
  4. When did you realize that you had come up with your final best solution?
  5. How do you feel your solution relates to real-world situations and problems?
  6. What do you feel most got in the way of your progress, if anything?
  7. How well did you and your team communicate overall?
  8. What were some things your teammates did that helped you to learn or overcome an obstacle?
  9. How did you help others during this process?
  10. Were your milestones and goals mostly met, and how much did you deviate from them if any?
  11. What did you discover as being your greatest strengths? Your biggest weaknesses?
  12. What would you do differently if you were to approach the same problem again?
  13. What would you do differently from a personal standpoint the next time you work with the same group or a different one?
  14. How can you better support and encourage your teammates on future projects?
  15. How will you use what you’ve learned in the future?

The Critical Thinking Skills Cheatsheet

Our most popular resource, the Critical Thinking Skills Cheatsheet, contains almost 50 critical thinking questions students can use for practically any content area. It includes question categories for Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How. Each section has eight questions that begin with their corresponding word.

These questions are meant to be versatile and broad, and applicable to a range of topics. They’re also great potential conversation starters and fillers. You can download a free 11″ x 17″ copy of this poster by clicking on the image below.

ultimate-crtical-thinking-cheatsheet

HOW DO WE ASSESS CRITICAL THINKING?

Assessing thinking is quite challenging. There are many aspects to consider, and traditional assessments or tests can’t always accomplish this. We can, however, begin to assess critical thinking by breaking it down into different components and then determining criteria you can use with students.

In our bestselling book Mindful Assessment, we aligned the skills of Solution Fluency to the levels of Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy. These following rubrics for assessing critical thinking cover some of its most crucial aspects, and are also based on the stages of Bloom’s Taxonomy. They can be used for teacher or peer assessment.

It’s worth noting that these rubrics are not meant to provide a comprehensive outlook of the ideal critical thinker, as critical thinking assessment isn’t exact. Instead, they are merely a beginning snapshot for you to expand on. As such, there are many other factors to take into account beyond what’s presented below. What we want to provide for you here is a starting point for contemplating how critical thinking assessment can be approached.

These charts will provide a good baseline to work with, and you can get the full versions of them inside the Critical Thinking Companion from us here at Wabisabi Learning. Beyond this, feel free to expand on their concepts as you develop different assessment strategies for different learners.

Reflection and Next Steps

Critical thinking is a skill for learning and for living. Like any other skill, the more we practice the better we get. What are you going to do to begin thinking more critically? How do you want to bring more of an awareness of the importance of these skills to your learners?

Here are some suggestions below that will help you (and your learners) to begin thinking more critically. Choose to do one a day, or begin a more detailed program of implementing multiple strategies into your daily life.

  1. Ask more questions
  2. Question more assumptions
  3. Explore (don’t simply accept) another’s point of view
  4. Look at something differently than you have before
  5. Keep a journal 
  6. Read something new and challenging
  7. Get involved in more group discussions
  8. Pay more attention to how you think and speak
  9. Formulate an opinion on something unfamiliar to you
  10. Reflect more on decisions you’ve made (or didn’t make)
  11. Listen more actively
  12. Investigate something
  13. Question or challenge a long-held belief you have
  14. Make a prediction about something
  15. Find an “orphan problem” and take it on
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