Teaching concepts in the classroom doesn’t accomplish anything unless students understand how those ideas apply to the real world. The same is true for critical thinking skills. Unless students have a grasp of the practical application, they won’t absorb the important lessons inherent within critical thinking education.
In order to instill in students an appreciation for critical thinking, show them how those skills can be beneficial in the world outside the classroom. Teachers and administrators need to design a creative curriculum that not only emphasizes critical thinking skills in general, but also shows how these skills translate to the real world.
Challenge students with examples
The easiest way to help students better understand how their critical thinking skills will improve their lives and help them manage the world outside the academic setting is through examples. That means going well beyond simple word problems or teaching them how to read news reports. Students need to be made aware of how critical thinking is crucial in a work environment, in personal relationships, and in the way they conduct their affairs.
Part of the process of building that understanding requires the introduction of the less pleasant realities of life. For instance, it’s rare that grade school students are introduced to concepts like mortgage rates, long-term health care decisions or project management. However, broaching those topics can be vital to making students aware of how important critical thinking will become later in life.
Students need to be made aware of how critical thinking is crucial in a work environment, in personal relationships, and in the way they conduct their affairs.
One way to do this is to introduce a new problem every day. At the beginning of each class, a teacher can put a real world scenario on the board and have students either think about it throughout the day or make it part of their homework. An example would be to ask them a moral question they might encounter in a work environment later in life–e.g., what would they do if they found out a co-worker was violating a contract with a client, but that the violation was helping the company and enriching employees, including themselves?
Often, the process of thinking about those types of questions is just as important as the conclusions reached by students, since it challenges them to imagine themselves in various real-life scenarios.
Use simple, everyday examples
If those kinds of problems prove troublesome, using much simpler examples and questions may be more effective. Teachers can start with something as easy as asking students what they would like to eat for lunch, and have them explain why they came to that choice. This is a great way to introduce cost-benefit critical thinking analysis while also getting students to think about nutrition. You can talk about how one option might be tastier and another healthier, and how they have to weigh their desire to eat something salty with their need to stay healthy.
Another relatively simple concept is time management. This is something that every person has to deal with throughout their lives. Time management usually isn’t as important for children as it is for adults, but having them think about it now should serve them well later in life.
You can start this process by having students draw up a schedule of what they plan to do once school is out for the day. Divide the time after they get out of class into half-hour or hour-long blocks, then have them fill each block with what they plan to do during that time. Once they have done that, ask them why they chose each activity. The next day, check in with them to see if they stuck to their schedule, and ask them why they did or didn’t.