Nourishing curious minds: teaching critical thinking

By Renée Leckey on May 29, 2023 in Curriculum

Renée demonstrates critical thinking skills through different approaches providing insights on the impacts on learners in a classroom.

In Part 1, with the help of my AI mate, ChatGPT, I took a look at what critical thinking is and why it’s important in our classrooms. In this next part, I want to look at the practical aspects of implementing critical thinking strategies and the impact you can expect to see on your learners from applying them in your classroom.

What critical thinking looks like is going to be a bit different in every learning area. In the curriculum refresh Te Mātaiaho, it will sit in the ‘Do’ strand with the disciplinary practices. It will also have strong links to disciplinary literacy and numeracy with the aim of supporting our learners to make connections, think and communicate effectively.

1. Encourage curiosity and thinking

The first step to developing critical thinking skills is to foster a love of learning and curiosity in your students. Encourage them to ask questions and seek out answers. This can be done through group discussions, hands-on projects, or independent research assignments.2.

2. Promote problem-solving

Critical thinking requires being able to solve problems. Give your students opportunities to tackle challenging problems on their own and in groups. This could be in the form of a math puzzle, a science experiment, or a real-world scenario.

3. Teach them to think outside the box

Encourage your students to think creatively and outside of the box. Challenge them to find new and innovative solutions to problems. This can be done by encouraging them to consider multiple perspectives, brainstorming ideas, or using design thinking.

4. Use real-life examples

Bring real-life situations into the classroom to help your students understand how critical thinking can be applied in their everyday lives. This could be based on current events, news articles, personal experiences or pūrākau.

5. Encourage collaboration

Critical thinking is often best done in groups, where people can bounce ideas off each other and build on each other's insights. Encourage your learners to work together and support each other as they learn. Explicitly teach them the skills to work effectively in groups, like active listening and relationship building.

6. Provide constructive feedback

Feedback is crucial to helping students develop their critical thinking skills. Be sure to provide opportunities for learners to self-assess and give peer feedback based on shared criteria. You can also provide timely, constructive feedback that helps them identify areas for improvement and provides guidance on how they can improve.

7. Active reflection on learning

Reflection allows learners to consider their own thoughts and experiences, identify areas for growth and improvement, and make changes to their behaviour and decision-making processes. Both critical thinking and reflection involve looking at information and experiences in a thoughtful and deliberate way to gain a deeper understanding and make informed decisions. When individuals engage in critical thinking and reflection together, they are able to make more well-rounded decisions, as they are considering not only the information available but also their own experiences and beliefs.

8. Give them opportunities to practice

Practice makes perfect, and the same goes for critical thinking. Give your students plenty of opportunities to practice their critical thinking skills, both in the classroom and outside of it. The strategies mentioned here can be woven through your teaching and learning so your learners encounter opportunities to practice their critical thinking skills every day.

Happy students

When students are encouraged to use critical thinking skills, they become more self-directed learners who are better able to navigate complex information and make informed decisions. This not only helps them in their academic studies but also in their personal and future professional lives.

Many of the approaches addressed here can be enhanced by integrating assessment for learning into your teaching practices. By fostering student agency and critical thinking skills, teachers can create a learning environment that empowers and engages students and helps them become self-directed, informed, and confident learners.

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