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How to Encourage Critical Thinking in the Classroom

Friday, April 21, 2023

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Critical thinking is a cognitive skill that involves analyzing information, evaluating arguments, and making reasoned judgments about any topic. It is the process of actively and systematically examining information to determine validity and accuracy.  

Critical thinking requires a methodical yet nuanced combination of skills, including observation, analysis, interpretation, reflection, evaluation, inference, and problem-solving. People who employ critical thinking techniques ask many questions, especially ones that may invalidate assumptions, consider and compare many alternative perspectives, and use the assembled arguments and evidence to support their conclusions.   

How does this approach to augment learning apply to a classroom setting? Skilled educators promote this valuable technique as a vital learning skill for students. It enables them to analyze information in-depth, evaluate multiple arguments or perspectives, and finally make informed decisions about the topic or subject they are discussing. All teachers should incorporate critical thinking into their strategy to help students develop into deeper thinkers and problem solvers.   

Let’s explore some strategies teachers can use to encourage critical thinking in their classrooms, including using common classroom items like doodle pads and laminated world maps to promote critical thinking to solve daily, real-world problems.   

How is Critical Thinking Defined for the Classroom 

Educators employ critical thinking techniques so that students become independent thinkers, astute problem-solvers, and better decision-makers. This skill can be developed and improved over time with practice and reflection. Elements of critical thinking can vary, but some commonly recognized examples include the following:  

• Observation: Collecting information through the senses by examining evidence.

• Analysis: Breaking down information into parts and examining each piece separately to understand its meaning.

• Interpretation: Making sense of information by identifying patterns, relationships, and connections.

• Evaluation: Assessing the value, credibility, or relevance of information based on a set of criteria.

• Inference: Drawing logical conclusions based on available evidence and previous knowledge.

• Explanation: Communicating ideas clearly and logically, using evidence to support arguments.

• Self-regulation: Monitoring one’s own thinking, reflecting on assumptions and biases, and adjusting thinking accordingly.

• Problem-solving: Applying critical thinking skills to identify and solve problems.

• Creativity: Generating new ideas or solutions.

• Open-mindedness: Being receptive to new ideas and other perspectives and willing to revise one's thinking based on new evidence or arguments.

These elements are interrelated and can be applied to a wide range of situations. In a classroom setting, students will become effective thinkers, thus leading them to become more informed members of society.   

Establishing Classroom Culture 

One of the most effective ways to encourage critical thinking is to create a classroom culture that values the meaning and process of critical thinking. This atmosphere should be cultivated throughout the school year. Teachers can do this by explicitly stating that critical thinking is essential and important in the students' lessons. An explanation can be tailored to all ages so that students in each grade level can benefit from a solid foundation that can be carried to each successive year.  

A classroom culture conducive to critical thinking can be achieved by asking thought-provoking questions, encouraging students to engage in open discussions, and providing students with many opportunities to challenge ideas in a safe, supportive space.   

As students begin to understand the concept of critical thinking, no matter their age, it is important to remind them that it is not just about being skeptical or questioning everything they face. Critical thinking involves being open-minded, curious, and willing to listen to and consider different ideas and viewpoints. It is a disciplined approach to thinking that requires a willingness to engage with ideas that challenge personal beliefs and assumptions without fear of ridicule or retribution. The point is to learn and not to judge.   

Assigning Challenging Tasks 

 Another way teachers can facilitate the development of critical thinking skills with their students is to create assignments that require a deeper level of thinking about a subject or topic. For example, teachers can ask students to analyze a text, evaluate the differing positions of an argument, or identify steps to solving a complex problem. Assigning various tasks around different areas of critical thinking can help students build their analytical skills by driving them to think beyond typical parameters and consider multiple perspectives.  

• Pose open-ended questions about a subject, topic, or theory that require students to think critically, such as "Why do you think this idea will work?" or "Name different ways to solve this problem."

• Provide students with opportunities to collaborate with their peers to brainstorm ideas, share different perspectives, and challenge each other’s ideas in a safe place.

• Provide students with feedback that encourages them to continue their critical thinking processes. Ask students to explain their reasoning and give evidence to support their arguments.

• Use tools and resources to promote creativity while students are occupied with critical thinking and problem-solving tasks. Ensure students have doodle pads for them to write and draw to support their ideas and argument. When attempting to solve problems affecting society, use laminated world maps to expand students’ perspectives on their world views. These tools are valuable for students to connect concepts directly with real-world situations and the possible application of solutions.

Finally, educators can encourage critical thinking by modeling it themselves. By demonstrating their own critical thinking skills, teachers can show students how to approach problems with clear, conceptual thinking to drive problem-solving results. It is beneficial for students to observe how teachers approach problems, evaluate arguments, and come to conclusions. By creating a classroom culture that promotes critical thinking and encourages continual critical thinking situations, teachers can help their students become independent thinkers, exceptional problem-solvers, and informed decision-makers. These skills will serve them well throughout their lives.   

Consider the tools and resources you want to use, like doodle padsclass planners, and laminated world maps, to make your classroom conducive to a safe, supportive, and collaborative environment.