Critical Thinking
by David Cook - Wednesday, July 16, 2014, 1:16 PM

In the article Developing Critical Thinkersby Stephen Brookfield, Chapter 5 focuses on developing the critical thinking ability in a classroom.   Brookfield cites author Chet Meyers, who makes the following statment: 

"The chief component of [critical teaching] is buliding on learners' past experieences and existing mental structures to lead them from concrete operations to more abstract, reflective ways of thinking."   

He later goes on to describe a method of starting a class with a problem that learners can reflect upon during a period of silence. 

Consider one of the following questions for response. 

  1. As a teacher, describe a way that you foster critical thinking and get students to move from concrete to abstract. 
  2. What barriers can or do exist in your classroom that limit critical thinking?
  3. Give an example of a teacher, leader, or mentor of yours who helped you develop critical thinking skills. 

Picture of Fonda Lewis
Re: Critical Thinking
by Fonda Lewis - Wednesday, July 16, 2014, 5:43 PM

I appreciate the author's idea to have learner's reflect before responding.  In my experience, eliminating or shortening thinking time can negatively impact critical thinking.  Many students need time to process questions or problems.  Once an idea is shared, it seems that many students will grab onto that idea and their own thinking may stop.  The reflection piece would allow each learner to gather their own thoughts first.  After the initial silent reflection, you could have students talk to one another and share.  One practice that may be helpful is explicit instruction on how to ask questions of their peers.  This has been effective with my second graders.  I teach using the words "thick" and "thin" questions.  Thin questions have yes or no answers....thick questions make people think. Once students have been taught effective questioning, they can prompt their peers to thiink more deeply.  This would work well in an online environment such as a blog.

Re: Critical Thinking
by David Cook - Sunday, July 20, 2014, 10:22 PM

Great thought about wait time.  We had a round robin session at our last institute day about the topic.  Rather than retype all the main points, a lot of them can be found here:  http://www.agpa.uakron.edu/p16/btp.php?id=wait-time

The main concept is that wait time between 3 to 7 seconds is ideal.  I'm curious if you do wait that long, or if 7 seconds feels like as much of an eternity to your second grade students as it does to my high school students?

Thanks Fonda!

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Re: Critical Thinking
by Jeremiah Stanley - Thursday, July 17, 2014, 9:22 AM

What barriers can or do exist in your classroom that limit critical thinking?

Some of the barriers for most educators when they try to fostering critical thinking skills in their class room are:

  • Class size – It could be difficult to engage student in a class size that has more than 60 students when there could be distractions all around.
  • Type of assessment used – If you use true\false fill in the blank quizzes are you testing the student knowledge or are you testing their ability to take a test.
  • Student’s willingness to participate – It can be difficult to break student out of a comfort zone. If student have only been assessed by true\false fill in the blank quizzes they have a comfort level with interacting in that way. If you use tool like journaling and assay’s to assess student understanding student could resist the change and limit your ability to have student think critically,
Re: Critical Thinking
by David Cook - Sunday, July 20, 2014, 10:23 PM


I find the third point you mentioned the one that I relate to the most.  I have had students in classes who simply won't participate.  Short of pulling a rabbit out of a hat, I'm not getting a response from them!

What strategies do you use specifically with these uninterested students? 

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Re: Critical Thinking
by Patricia Richards - Thursday, July 17, 2014, 10:22 AM
  • Give an example of a teacher, leader or mentor of yours who helped you develop critical thinking skills.

It's been a little while since I've been in school and I don't have a particular teacher that I can remember that stands out to me during my education.  After you complete school and you're in your in the daily grind of work; it's when the critical thinking skills you hopefully developed while in school start to pay off.  So, I do have a practical example of a mentor from my work that really stood out to me as a great critical thinker and problem solver.  Her name is Betsy.  She had a background in Nursing, Business Administration and Administration.  She was a lead on a major project at work.  The first lesson I would say I learned from observing her was always  to ask questions first before giving an answer.  First you have to gather the facts.  The "who, what, when, where and why" surrounding an issue.  These questions should be posed to individuals knowledgeble on the topic.  Don't stop at just one source. The second lesson would be to validate the answers given.  If something doesn't make sense, delve deeper with more research and more questions to figure out why.  Is the information wrong?  Always double check that the answers given were accurate.  Then critique the validated data.  She would do a "SWOT" analysis.  SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.   This is an evaluation tool from the business world that I had no prior knowledge of.  It helps you to completely evaluate a project and develop a strategic plan that will address any potential issues and help lead you hopefully to your desired outcome.   Then she would develop a plan of execution.  Any projects that I worked with Betsy on were very successful because of the approach she took.  She was the first person I had encountered in the workplace where I could appreciate them as a strategic/critical thinker.  During my career, it has been eye opening to me to see how many co-workers lacked good critical thinking skills.  It was ablsolutely the worst when they happened to be in charge.

Re: Critical Thinking
by David Cook - Sunday, July 20, 2014, 10:24 PM


You mentioned the "ask questions first before giving an answer."  That hits home.  I'm pretty Type A - which means that in my own self- assessment, I struggle to not always offer my opinion, insight, or point of view.  Last time I had a student teacher under me, it was eye-opening to realize that I'm not great at the asking lots of questions  before offering my 'answer'.  I've been working on it for a few years since then, but it's something I learned earlier in life.   The people we meet that do it well certainly stand out as wise and great people to be around. 

Have you had the opportunity to be a mentor to anyone and teach them as Betsy mentored you? 

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Re: Critical Thinking
by Kristen McGowan - Thursday, July 17, 2014, 2:12 PM

As a teacher, describe a way that you foster critical thinking and get students to move from concrete to abstract.

At a professional development conference that I was attending some years ago, I was introduced to the concept of “cubing.”  According to Tomlinson’s List of Low and High Prep Differentiation Strategies, “cubing” or “think dots” are designed to help students conceptualize a topic from a variety of angles or perspectives.  This activity can be used independently or in homogenous groups and can be adapted to fit any topic or idea.  Each student or group is given a dice or fabricated six sided cube.  Each number or side of the cube corresponds with a task that supports critical thinking using words including justify, evaluate, connect, describe, apply, compare, associate, analyze, etc.  If done independently, I may have the student respond to their roll in a written format.  When in homogenous groupings, I may ask that each student roll and then respond to the group which opens to a general discussion.  By incorporating the use of an actual dice, my students get excited to play the game “think dots.” 

I was able to find the pdf version of the cubing task that I participated in at the conference so I have included the tasks/prompts below to show as an example.  As I mentioned, it is incredibly easy to modify these tasks to fit any subject.  I also have a template that I could send out if anyone has interest.  The name of this activity is Tiered ThinkDots: Reflecting on Differentiation which came from the book titled Professional Development for Differentiating Instruction: An ASCD Action Tool.

Tomlinson, Caron Ann (2001).  How to Differentiate Instruction in Mixed-Ability Classrooms.  Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, Alexandria, Virginia.


1 - Describe It: What are the characteristics of high-quality curriculum?

2 - Apply It:  Think about your own experiences in school. What worked well for you? What was difficult?

3 - Compare It:  How does the typical classroom experience of a student who struggles compare with the experience of a student who is advanced?

4 - Associate It:  What do you think of when you hear the term “differentiated instruction”?

5 - Analyze It:  How is good teaching like your favorite hobby?

6 - Argue For or Against It:  Classrooms today are so diverse that it is virtually impossible for teachers to meet the needs of their students.

Re: Critical Thinking
by David Cook - Sunday, July 20, 2014, 10:25 PM

Thanks for the resource Kristen.  That's amazing. Since I know you and work with you in D155, I'll just ask - have you been able to share this at your school, in your department, etc?  It's amazing.  I wish it had made it's way to us at Cary-Grove!

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Re: Critical Thinking
by Kerri Freda - Thursday, July 17, 2014, 5:35 PM

One of the most crucial educational goals is critical thinking, which is highly valued but difficult to teach. Critical thinking and creativity are two abilities connected in everyday life and need to be addressed.  In order to have problem-solving skills, one must be able to criticize and creatively think. However, background knowledge must also be present for critical thinking. In order to problem solve, students must be able to individually think with reflection so they can judge and solve their problems.

Computers and applying technology can combat this problem and assist both teacher and therefore students maximize higher-order thinking skills.  The teacher still needs to act in the role of a facilitator while students are engaged in a complex task, whether they are promoting student to student, or student to teacher interaction. Technology can assist students in locating information needed to solve problems and research in a problem-based curriculum.  Students may have difficulties recognizing formidable research information and be insecure about their results and conclusions.  Teachers as facilitators can make sure students are utilizing the optimal sites and locate the most accurate information.  

At times I feel teachers require that students just memorize facts which are not building critical thinking skills at all. It is how students can apply information and make inferences, which will help to build and improve critical thinking skills.

Re: Critical Thinking
by David Cook - Sunday, July 20, 2014, 10:29 PM


The technology piece has been a double edge sword for me.  Sometimes I find a great place online to use as a supplement to what the students are learning in a unit or lesson, but then I fear that it decreases critical thinking.  

Example - I have a unit on businesses, one lesson is on the type of business  NonProfits.  There's a few awesome site where students can find information on a variety of NonProfit organizations.  I've tried to write great questions on the worksheet that accompany the web activity, but often I receive pretty bland and unthoughtful answers in return. 

I ask this not at all as the expert - how do we make sure that the technology doesn't become the opposite of critical thinking, and just have students trolling the internet for information like we sometimes had teachers who made us skim through textbook chapters for information? 

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