Using Critical Thinking In The Classroom

There are few buzzwords in K-12 right now as big as "rigor." The Common Core has been hailed by advocates as a more rigorous set of standards, but a big question that keeps popping up is how to measure that rigor. A good place to start is with evidence, which is what many of the new tests plan on incorporating into their structure. 

Using evidence — the ability to support and explain your point — is not only a good way to measure rigor, but an important skill for students to learn. It gives insight into a person's train of thought and how they came to their conclusion, additionally opening opportunities for more innovative, but also structured, thinking patterns.  

Placing emphasis on how a student backs up what they believe, and not "the answer," takes pressure off of a student to get the "right" answer — or what they think the teacher wants to hear. This, in turn, encourages students to be creative with their thinking. Through emphasis on evidence, teachers can facilitate an environment where deep, critical thinking and meta cognition are the norm. 

Below are some activities to help teachers incorporate curiosity, evidence, and critical thinking into their classrooms.  

1. Gap Fill In

Students are shown a picture, projected in the front of the room, if possible. At the top of their paper, students should write: "What is happening in this picture?" At the bottom of the page, they should answer (very simply, in 1-2 sentences) with what they believe is happening in the photo.

In the middle of the page — and this is why it's called "Gap Fill In" — students write down all of the steps they took to arrive at that answer. Students are encouraged to write down the evidence they see that supports their conclusion.  

GOAL: This activity not only uses evidence, but supports meta cognition skills by asking what prior knowledge brought you to your conclusion. This is a good activity to Bell Work or "Do Now."

Example Gap Fill In image (images should be modified to match grade level)

2. Fishbowl 

Set up an inner circle (or fishbowl) and an outer circle in your classroom. Students should not be sitting in this setup yet, but rather in their regular classroom seats. The class should be presented with a question or a statement and allowed to reflect individually for a few minutes.

During this reflection period, count the class off into small groups by 3s, 4s, or 5s.

Students should now transition to the fishbowl setup. In the numbered groups, have students facilitate a conversation while others on the outside observe without comment. (For example, a teacher may have all 1s go to the fishbowl, while the rest of the class sits in the outer ring.)  

Once the inner group has discussed for a bit, have the outer group evaluate two things: Their process (Did they listen to one another?) and their content (Did they provide evidence or just opinions?).

GOAL: This activity helps students understand how and if they use evidence, as well as hear the difference between giving an opinion and backing an opinion with evidence.  

Debate

Introduce a statement written in a clearly visible location. (Example: "Prisons are effective in stopping crime.") In each corner of the classroom, positions (Strongly Agree, Strongly Disagree, Somewhat Agree, Somewhat Disagree) should be posted and students should be asked to move to whichever best represents how they feel about the statement.  

Without help from the teacher, students should move into a self-facilitated discussion where everyone is to discuss why they have selected their position. During this time, the teacher should transcribe the speech of the participants. If possible, this should be done in real-time with the transcription projected onto the board during the debate.

After a decided amount of time (5-7 minutes), the debate will be concluded and students will return to their seats for debrief, during which the class should evaluate the debate using the transcription as evidence.

Ask the class: Was the debate good or bad? Use evidence from the transcription to support your analysis.  

After the first classroom debate, the teacher should present the rules for the debate. It is recommended that the teacher conduct the first debate without rules, so students can have a comparison for what works and what doesn't work.

Rules for debate:

A. SEEK first to understand the statement, EVERY WORD.

B. PROJECT your voice; don’t yell.

C. Your PERSONAL experience is NOT the rule. Connect it to bigger example.

D. RESTATE the previous point made, make your point, and move on.

E. General examples, ok to start; SPECIFIC EVIDENCE, this kid’s SMART!

GOAL: This activity allows students to not only debate a point, but, like the fishbowl, analyze their communication skills. Additionally, by keeping the transcription log, students can actually see how they progress throughout the year.  

These activities can and should be morphed to match the culture and needs of the individual classroom.  This specific list comes from activities used in the Allied Media: Detroit Future Schools curriculum.  

25 Of The Best Resources For Teaching Critical Thinking

by TeachThought Staff

The Stanford University Center for Professional Development recently developed a course of effective classroom in the classroom, and asked us to let you know about it.

This online course consists of three online sessions, three weeks in a row. Each session includes expert video screencasts, classroom video clips, readings and resources, and assignments that will prompt participants to strengthen the curricular foundations of communication the first month of school.

Session 1: Establishing a Classroom Culture of Conversation (August 2-8) – This session provides models and suggested activities for cultivating classrooms that value learning through constructive conversation.

Session 2: Creating Effective Conversation Prompts & Tasks (August 9-15) – This session focuses on how to look at a lesson, envision the conversational opportunities, and craft effective prompts for back and forth conversations between students.

Session 3: Preparing for Effective & Efficient Formative Assessment of Conversations (August 16-22) – The session prepares participants to (1) set up an assessment plan for assessing and reflecting on observations of paired student conversations, (2) provide right-now feedback to students during their conversations, and (3) reflect on conversation assessment to improve teaching and assessment.

See Also:10 Team-Building Games That Promote Critical Thinking

Critical Thinking

As an organization, critical thinking is at the core of what we do, from essays and lists to models and teacher training. (You can check out What It Means To Think Critically for a wordier survey of the intent of critical thinking.)

For this post, we’ve gathered various critical thinking resources. As you’ll notice, conversation is a fundamental part of critical thinking, if for no other reason than the ability to identify a line of reasoning, analyze, evaluate, and respond to it accurately and thoughtfully is among the most common opportunities for critical thinking for students in every day life. Who is saying what? What’s valid and what’s not? How should I respond?

This collection includes resources for teaching critical thinking, from books and videos to graphics and models, rubrics and taxonomies to presentations and debate communities. Take a look, and let us know in the comments which you found the most–or least–useful.

25 Of The Best Resources For Teaching Critical Thinking

1. Course: Effective Conversation In The Classroom by Stanford University

2. A Collection Of Research On Critical Thinking by criticalthinking.org

3. The TeachThought Taxonomy for Understanding, a taxonomy of thinking tasks broken up into 6 categories, with 6 tasks per category

4. The Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Test (it’s not free, but you can check out some samples here)

5. It’s difficult to create a collection of critical thinking resources without talking about failures in thinking, so here’s A Logical Fallacies Primer in PowerPoint format.

6. 4 Strategies for Teaching With Bloom’s Taxonomy

7. An Intro To Critical Thinking, a 10-minute video from wireless philosophy that takes given premises, and walks the viewer through valid and erroneous conclusions

8. Why Questions Are More Important Than Answers by Terry Heick

9. A Printable Flip Chart For Critical Thinking Questions (probably easier to buy one for a few bucks, but there it is nonetheless)

11. A Collection Of Bloom’s Taxonomy Posters

12. 6 Facets of Understanding by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe

13. A 3D Model of Bloom’s Taxonomy

14. Helping Students Ask Better Questions

14. Examples Of Socratic Seminar-Style Questions (including stems) from changingminds.org

15. 20 Questions To Guide Inquiry-Based Learning, a 4-step process to guide learning through inquiry and thought

16. Socratic Seminar Guidelines by Grant Wiggins

17. How To Bring Socratic Seminars Into Your Classroom, a 7 minute video by the Teaching Channel

18. How To Teach With The Socratic Seminar Paideia Style, a PDF document by the Paideia that overviews

19. Using The QFT Model To Guide Inquiry & Thought

20. Create Debate, a website that hosts, well, debates

21. Intelligence Squared, Oxford-style debate hosted by NPR–and in podcast format, too

22. 60 Ways To Help Students Think For Themselvesby Terry Heick

23. A Rubric To Assess Critical Thinking (they have several free rubrics, but you have to register for a free account to gain access)

24. 25 Critical Thinking Apps For Extended Student Thought

25. Debate.org, another “debate” community that promotes topic-driven discussion and critical thought

And for something in the way of specific training for staff, there’s always Professional Development on Critical Thinking provided by TeachThought (full disclosure: we’re TeachThought).

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored post.” The company who sponsored it compensated us via payment, gift, or something else of value to write it. Regardless, we only recommend products or services we use personally and believe will be good for our readers. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

25 Of The Best Resources For Teaching Critical Thinking

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