Engendering critical thinking skills in today’s students requires more than just one-on-one instruction to enhance those abilities. It requires a team effort which includes students, teachers, parents, administrators, and even community involvement.

Critical thinking development is an ongoing process that involves a host of invested parties because it is a top-to-bottom re-imagining of how students, and even adults, are taught. For years, rote memorization has been at the heart of education in the United States. In order to change that dynamic, a concerted effort will be needed from everyone who has a stake in the education system.

Critical thinking as a team enterprise

One of the first steps in making critical thinking a more prominent part of education is to make it a system-wide initiative. The Common Core State Standards are attempting to do this by emphasizing those skills as part of the new standards put in place, but that is only a beginning.

Defining critical thinking and the education strategies that will be needed to make it a more substantial part of the curriculum is a start, but those understandings will need to then become pervasive in academic settings. And the only way to accomplish that is by having as many people as possible accept the idea of critical thinking as a crucial component of education.

That means people at all levels in the academic world will have to make critical thinking a priority in their teaching, and even in the way they approach their jobs.

Defining critical thinking

Acquiring a basic understanding of critical thinking is crucial to this process. It is, after all, a slightly amorphous term, which makes developing a common understanding an important baseline to increasing its use in schools and professional settings.

While there is always going to be some disagreement as to what constitutes critical thinking, there are some specific ideas that seem to be consistently referred to among people in the education field.

A report by B.K. Scheffer and M.G. Rubenfeld of the University of Michigan, which was published in Current Issues in Nursing, identifies seven factors in critical thinking. They are:

  • Analyzation. This involves breaking thoughts, issues and ideas down to their more basic components and evaluating them to come to a greater understanding of the whole.
  • Standards application. By judging information based on accepted standards, we can then have a better idea of what it means in context.
  • Discrimination. Discrimination–the idea of surmising that a certain piece of information or an opinion may be more valuable than others, and recognizing differences and similarities between issues–can be a useful thought process.
  • Seeking out information. Sometimes, simple curiosity is all one needs to exercise critical thinking skills.
  • Logical reasoning. Connecting points of information and reaching conclusions based on evidence is an essential part of the critical thinking framework.
  • Prediction. Many of these skills can then be used to develop models of future events or even theoretical cases, which is important for gaining deeper comprehension.
  • Transforming knowledge. The final step, according to Scheffer and Rubenfeld, is to take all of these attributes and use them to turn simple pieces of information into deeper thinking.

Transferring the definition of critical thinking to the classroom

Once the broad outlines of what critical thinking constitutes are established, educators and administrators can then turn their attention to implementing thinking-centered classrooms. There are several ways to do this, from instructional seminars to infusing critical thinking techniques and strategies as found in Motivation ReadingTM from Mentoring Minds.