Saturday, February 16, 2008

How Do We Teach Critical Thinking?

Here in South Africa, the teaching methods of Bantu education and their effects can still be seen. One problem I've encountered when teaching classes is getting students to respond to my questions. They're used to answering questions that deal with identifying, recalling, and understanding, but don't do so well with the higher level thinking of comparison and evaluation. Most often, they seem confused by my questions. They don't understand why I'm asking them something I haven't already given them the answer to previously. The teachers may be as equally confused by my line of questioning - their teachers didn't ask those kinds of questions either. All of them were subjected to the Bantu education system, and they've worked very hard to overcome its effects.

I would define critical thinking as the ability to choose the "best" option from various options (whatever I mean by option) and explain and justify the choice. Our trainer at pre service training defined it as the ability to argue the other side of an issue. I think anything above the understanding threshold of Bloom's taxonomy constitutes critical thinking.

My one successful lesson in this area utilized a chart to compare the good and bad effects of mining in South Africa with a fourth grade Economic Management Sciences class. So charts are a good tool.

What is critical thinking? How do we teach critical thinking in the schools? Do we teach it, or do we only model it? What tools can we use to facilitate critical thinking?


  1. I agree. I often find that unless I am leading my freshman and sophomore composition students through a sort of "call and response" series of questions, they totally clam up. They are hesitant to experiment with new answers they haven't heard confirmed before.

  2. I struggle with these questions everyday. When I started teaching I assumed that my students understood thinking critically because I taught college. But about halfway through the semester, I asked my students if a statement I had written on the board was correct. There was dead silence. Then finally, one student popped up and said yes, it was true. When I asked why, my eyes were opened to the real problem with critical thinking. She responded because you wrote it on the board.

    Somehow we have to get students to question what we say as teachers instead of expecting it to be true because we said it. Unfortunately, I still have no idea how we go about doing that.