How can we, as educators, impact student achievement? It’s a question every educator has asked at least once every day. Student learning standards require and research justifies that critical thinking is an integral part of the answer to this question. There are four keys to consider to impact student achievement with critical thinking.
1. Review Your Own Beliefs
- Educators readily recognize the unwavering goal for students as future leaders is to increase achievement.
- Research identifies teachers as an important factor in influencing student achievement.
- Teachers acknowledge that students who are skillful thinkers improve their effectiveness as learners.
So, to boost student success in learning and impact achievement through critical thinking, teachers must begin by viewing themselves and their personal development and growth as critical thinkers. Knowing what critical thinking is and why it is valuable are two different things. While it might seem obvious that we want students to engage with information to solve problems in meaningful ways, to accept something as an “obvious fact” does not demonstrate our critical thinking abilities or beliefs. What reasons do we have to develop the critical thinking abilities of our students?
First of all, critical thinking is universal, i.e., it is not subject-specific. A student with advanced critical thinking skills can succeed in any field of study because critical thinking is not necessarily about the information itself but how individuals use it. In addition, critical thinking is constructive. Other thinking methods, such as data memorization, are additive. Students acquire a collection of disparate facts that, taken together, compose their knowledge base. Critical thinking is constructive because it requires students to build on what they know by making connections and applications—resulting in further and further exploration of a subject as new problems and questions arise from the answers to old ones. An applicable analogy might be, additive learning is the assembly of a pile of lumber, while constructive learning is the building of a house.
2. Teach Students to Reflect
Knowing how to think deeply about content and about themselves as learners is a goal for every student. Students can achieve when they are explicitly taught to think skillfully. The ability to reflect on one’s own learning and make strategic adjustments deepens academic content learning while developing intrapersonal and interpersonal skills. Educators must teach students the art of reflection to increase their awareness of what critical thinking is and how it helps them achieve their learning goals and reach their full potential.
Reflective learning relies on the idea that students must be active participants in their own education. A journal is a valuable platform for students to analyze their learning strategies, reflect on what they find academically challenging, and utilize their critical thinking skills. Though this is only one of many strategies to develop critical thinking, journaling provides a dynamic and flexible approach for students to reflect without the risk of being graded or ridiculed.
Getting Started with Reflective Learning
Here are a few ways to start:
- Provide students a few minutes each day to write about what they learned in class and why they think it was important.
- Provide reflective thinking stems. For example, “One of the biggest challenges I learned from today was…”. These types of prompts will steer students to consider the learning strategies that better help them reach success.
- Avoid grading journals based on content; rather, focus on completion. If students are concerned about their private thoughts being graded, they might be less inclined to reflect honestly.
- Make journaling creative. Though these documents are a tremendous way to aid students in thinking about how they learn best, creative prompts can make journaling feel less like a daily chore.
- Provide students with visual critical thinking aids to help them ask beneficial questions.
Reflective learning is an aspect of the learning process that should become routine. Students that constantly focus on their educational tendencies have the potential to become lifelong learners that continually experience personal development. As reflective learning becomes intuitive, students are able to reexamine their academic strategies and adapt to make the most of their educational experiences.
3. Use Research-Based Best Practices
Implementing tried-and-true best practices for success provides teachers with a clear direction for preparing students to move beyond basic understanding and progress toward advanced learning. Scaffolding provides temporary supports to increase the capacity of students to work with more content complexity or increased demands as students are processing and engaging with content, eventually becoming independent.
Formative assessment yields information during the learning process that signals learner success or what next steps are needed to reach mastery of the learning target. When deeper learning is valued, teachers must shift their attention to tools and strategies to embed in daily instruction and assessment that help meet the needs of diverse learners and improve student achievement.
Additionally, recent breakthroughs in neuroscience have helped us gain a much greater understanding of how we interact with and perceive the world around us. The next great step is learning how to apply that information in practical ways throughout society. Fortunately, education is one field that has been working diligently to do just that, and neuroeducation embodies that effort.
4. Understanding Neuroeducation
Neuroeducation, also known as educational neuroscience, is much less complicated than the name might lead you to believe. It takes the modern scientific understanding of how the brain works, and incorporates that knowledge into educational strategies, leading to new and creative ways to improve student outcomes.
Using our current understanding of brain plasticity and how the brain learns—on a biological level—allows educators to apply specific, effective teaching strategies to take advantage of those scientific advances. The most important thing to understand about neuroeducation is that it covers a lot of ground. There aren’t just one or two learning strategies that fall under this category. Instead, there are a wide variety of possibilities, including experiential learning and practical simulations.
Teachers have an enormous impact on student achievement. To improve achievement, teachers must strengthen the capacity of students to think critically. For this to happen, teachers should:
- Periodically check for indicators that display their continued growth toward critical thinking behaviors
- Infuse best practices across the curriculum that nurture deeper thinking and lead to improved educational outcomes
The more teachers work to infuse critical thinking in classroom instruction and daily routines, the more skilled they will become in nurturing the development of higher-order thinking in students.