The need for critical thinking and problem-solving skills in our schools is not denied by educators. Today, where new knowledge is rapidly accelerating and information is instantly available, it is more important than ever that students know how to think critically and reach reasonable solutions. Students who display critical thinking and problem-solving skills can interpret and evaluate what they read, see, and hear to effectively make the transition to college or to the workforce and face whatever challenges life might bring.
While we see the need to include critical thinking skills, creating a culture for thinking should be a high priority. Students need to know we value their thinking. We want students to see thinking nurtured in our schools from the conversations heard, from the words uttered in response to their thoughts, to the physical arrangement of classrooms, to what is displayed, and to the roles that students and teachers play. A climate of trust can convey the importance of thinking in the school and even communicate safety to express one’s thoughts, making thinking visible across the curriculum and in social interactions.
Beyond acquisition of skills and creation of a culture that promotes thinking, there is another consideration that can impact deeper thinking, students should become aware of and learn to apply attributes or behaviors that strong thinkers exhibit. In 2017, a team of educators from Mentoring Minds generated a list of traits they have observed throughout their education careers that were indicative of students who exhibited skillful thinking and deeper levels of thought. Based on their varied backgrounds of teaching and leadership experiences, elementary and secondary levels of curricula expertise, a range of 5−38 years working with children, observations of students, conversations with teachers, and 7 months of focused discussions, careful study, and deliberation, these educators collaboratively narrowed their lists to nine behaviors that students exhibited more times than not when thinking critically. Collectively, these nine behaviors were entitled 9 Traits of Critical Thinking™. These nine traits, when explicitly taught, modeled, and practiced, can guide students in becoming more successful when engaging in cognitively demanding tasks and in social interactions at school and in life beyond the classroom.
The featured visual depicts the 9 Traits of Critical Thinking™. Integrate the traits into instruction using any order or combination. By developing the 9 traits in students and integrating the traits into the curriculum, teachers can impact student success in thinking and learning.
Mentoring Minds offers a series of resources, ThinkUp!, that target critical thinking for students and teachers. ThinkUp! Foundations includes tools to guide school leaders and teachers in establishing a culture conducive to thinking. To introduce, develop, and infuse the traits across the curriculum, Team ThinkUp! is available. This resource emphasizes the traits in context with authentic activities that guide teachers in integrating the traits into content and social interactions with students. The activity book helps students become increasingly aware of their thinking and the traits they exhibit, as well as more alert to strategies for becoming stronger thinkers. The intent is for students to practice and skillfully apply each trait, leading to productive and automatic applications when they encounter unknown or challenging situations in the classroom and in the real world. ThinkUp! ELA and ThinkUp! Math, currently in development, show how to weave together the traits, critical thinking skills, and content-specific concepts—emphasizing that successful instruction in skillful thinking should occur while teaching subject matter rather than in addition to teaching subject matter.
The identified critical thinking traits are basic to all learning at all levels and in all subject areas. Each trait contributes to the creation of a thoughtful environment that supports the development of skillful thinking. The school leader should model, support, and monitor the development of the traits. The responsibility of the teacher is to plan opportunities to introduce and explicitly teach the nine traits. The goal is to promote these traits across the curriculum with every student—in every classroom, at home, and in the community to help students and adults internalize and display these nine traits. When we guide students to practice better thinking in school and in their daily lives, they will become more successful in cognitive-demanding tasks and learn to value thinking throughout their lives. Learning how to think equips students with the ability to navigate challenging life circumstances.