Encouraging Critical Thinking
Critical thinking encompasses a variety of skills, and so strategies for encouraging it are many and varied. Here are several suggestions:
- Encourage some intellectual skepticism—for instance, by urging students to question and challenge the ideas they read and hear—and communicate the message that people’s knowledge and understanding of any single topic will continue to change over time. (Kardash & Scholes, 1996; Kuhn, 2001a; Onosko, 1989.)
- Model critical thinking—for instance, by thinking aloud while analyzing a persuasive argument or scientific report. (Onosko & Newmann, 1994.)
- Give students numerous opportunities to practice critical thinking—for instance, by identifying flaws in the arguments of persuasive essays, evaluating the quality and usefulness of scientific findings, and using evidence and logic to support particular viewpoints. (Halpern, 1998; Kuhn & Weinstock, 2002.)
- Ask questions such as these to encourage critical thinking:
- What additional information do I need?
- What information is relevant to this situation? What information is irrelevant?
- What persuasive technique is the author using? Is it valid, or is it designed to mislead the reader?
- What reasons support the conclusion? What reasons do not support the conclusion?
- What actions might I take to improve the design of this study?
- Have students debate controversial issues from several perspectives, and occasionally ask them to take a perspective quite different from their own. (Reiter, 1994.)
- Help students understand that critical thinking involves considerable mental effort but that its benefits make the effort worthwhile. (Halpern, 1998.)
- Embed critical thinking skills within the context of authentic activities as a way of helping students retrieve those skills later on, both in the workplace and in other aspects of adult life. (Derry et al., 1998; Halpern, 1998.)
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