Critical thinking – that ability to think about an issue from multiple perspectives, the all-essential piece which determines success in the real world.
Amidst all the debates in the field of education, every educationist agrees on the importance of developing these skills for their students. There is no consensus, however, on the best method for developing these skills.
We surveyed the research in this space and spoke to educationists in the field. Here is a summary of what we found and some winning strategies for cracking these skills.
By 2020, critical thinking, complex problem-solving and creativity will be the three most important skills for a student to possess.
- World Economic Forum, 2016
School Strategy #1: adopt an international curriculum
Parents recognize the importance of developing their students beyond just factual knowledge. This is exactly why we see a growing trend for schools adopting the international curricula such as Cambridge or the International Baccalaureate. In these systems of education, a student can only score top grades if they develop and display critical thinking abilities in their exams.
HVB Global Academy is one such school which has adopted the IGCSE and IB Diploma programs to help their students develop into critical thinkers and independent learners. In the words of Dr. Chandrakanta Pathak, the Principal, “We must encourage our students to feel like a circle set free so that they may move ahead of academic achievement and are never afraid to dream, with challenging projects that draw them out of their comfort zones. As we set the scale higher for our students, we move them on to fresher pastures of ideas and innovations.”
School strategy #2: embrace extra-curriculars to develop critical thinking
Debates, robotics, MUNs and other activities such as these have immense benefits for students – they contribute to the development of their confidence, give them exposure to real-world issues and encourage collaborative working. However, the development of critical thinking is neither the explicit target nor the outcome of such activities. This approach does not deliver targeted, measurable improvement in student’s thinking abilities.
School strategy #3: explicit instruction in critical thinking skills
This strategy involves setting out clear learning goals for critical thinking skills, and devising strategies to help students develop these skills. This is an approach which has, until now, been used by leading universities such as Yale, Stanford and Warwick, where students undertake courses in critical thinking and problem-solving.
This approach can also be seen making its way into the K-12 system through the introduction of the pioneering Global Perspectives syllabus by Cambridge – a course which is dedicated to developing students’ abilities rather than focusing on subject content.
It’s about the little changes that as an educator and as a tech-leader you can see in the day-to-day classroom process – impact in conversation, exchange of ideas, class participation. The world of education no longer revolves around percentage, marks or assessments. It’s about whether students have acquired the skills required for them to succeed in the competitive world.
- Mr. Anantha Murali Krishna, Aga Khan Academy
Mr. Anantha, an educator at Aga Khan Academy Hyderabad acknowledges the paramount importance of critical thinking skills for his students – “It’s about the little changes that as an educator and as a tech-leader you can see in the day-to-day classroom process – impact in conversation, exchange of ideas, class participation. The world of education no longer revolves around percentage, marks or assessments. It’s about whether students have acquired the skills required for them to succeed in the competitive world.”
So what does the research tell us?
The solution lies in an old study carried out by Marina and Halpern.2They set out to compare the impact on student learning between 2 approaches – implicit instruction and explicit instruction. The implicit instruction method is where critical thinking is woven into the school’s usual curriculum and students are expected to develop these skills through their course content.
In the explicit instruction method, there is a separate emphasis on measuring students’ critical thinking abilities separately from the curriculum and helping them develop the thinking routines first, and then practice them using curriculum content.
The research shows that explicit instruction is far more effective than implicit instruction. The reason for this is that implicit instruction does not define clear learning goals in the thinking skills arena, but focuses instead on presenting information, letting the students create their own conceptual structures and assimilate information in a way that makes most sense to them. In this model, most activities are tangential to the development of critical thinking skills. Above this, measurability becomes one of the biggest drawbacks.
On the other hand, explicit instruction techniques define the learning goals for systematic and success-oriented identification of concepts and strategies. In the research conducted by Marina and Halpern, measurable gains were observed owing to the use of explicit instruction.
Which makes perfect sense – Maths is an integral part of Physics, but we do not teach Physics and expect students to also develop mathematical skills as a part of that process. Then why would teaching English or Science or History necessarily develop critical thinking, even though it may demand it of students!
Another key aspect here is measuring and tracking progress. Tools such as Caliber (by Callido Learning) are quickly being adopted by schools to measure their students’ critical thinking abilities. The assessment has also shown high correlations with students’ academic scores.
To learn more about strategies and tools for measuring and building critical thinking skills, and receive case studies of schools successfully developing critical thinking, leave us your details here.
- ‘The Future of Jobs’, The World Economic Forum, 2016.
- ‘Pedagogy for Developing Critical Thinking in Adolescents’, Lisa M. Marina and Diane F. Halpern.
- Caliber, A Technical Report’, John W. Young, January 2018 accessible at bit.ly/CaliberReport