How can you use the principles of critical thinking in your teaching?

As an instructor within the SOP program I have had many opportunities to facilitate a wide variety of discussions with my students. The depth and use of critical thinking in these discussions often varies, as it is contingent on my ability to elicit their own ideas and prior knowledge. What do you they “think” they understand about a topic?  Using questioning techniques to facilitate discussions is a way for me to promote critical thinking. Their understanding of a topic could be a large concept such as the role of ecosystems or on a specific adaptation an animal has.  As an instructor I can plan my questions so that they are the kinds of questions that generate critical thinking.

It’s common for students to arrive at an answer and feel as though they’ve “got it.” One of the overlooked principles of critical thinking is thoroughness. What evidence do they have that their description is complete? By asking students to build on what they’ve just said to be true, allowing them to follow their train of logic is paramount in the learning process.  Providing evidence for their claims is something I often encourage my students do throughout the week. This process of critical thinking will often surface misconceptions or assumptions that the student might have.  Supporting their claims with evidence will not only stretch the discussion but also encourage the students to examine the topic of discussion in a larger context.

So why does this matter? By using principles of critical thinking in my teaching I will help students peer into the way they think in a process called metacognition.  By asking them to build on ideas, giving them ample time to think, and encouraging them to strengthen their argument they are in fact attempting to understand the way they think. Critical thinking matters because refining one’s own ideas is something that will lead to more thorough understandings. As an instructor I can set intentions in discussions for this kind of thinking.  It’s important to note that having knowledge is key to understanding an idea, but it’s the refinement of one’s thinking that allows us to make connections to the bigger picture.


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