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LAS Teaching Academy: Teaching Critical Thinking

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Faculty design courses to teach specific knowledge, skills and attitudes. When teaching these KSA’s, faculty should also be explicitly teaching students how to analyze and make sound judgments about these knowledge, skills and attitudes. Your teachings will have limited impact on students when they are merely passive receptors of information, unable to evaluate their thinking, and others’ thinking, about information and knowledge. The information below is designed to help you bolster your plan of action to teach your students critical thinking skills.

A critical thinker:

  1. Thinks about thinking
  2. Uses a set of criteria to evaluate his/her thinking to make sound judgments
  3. Continually applies this new learning to evaluate future thinking.

Richard Paul of The Center for Critical Thinking writes that “...To put it briefly, it is self-improvement (in thinking) through standards (that assess thinking).”

Critical thinking is a method for meta-thinking, or thinking about thinking. It is not enough to merely think about thinking, but in addition, one needs to apply a disciplined, systematic way to think about thinking. Some descriptors for critical thinking include evaluative thinking, reasoned thinking, and informed decision-making. The converse of critical thinking includes quick reactions and first impressions.

To promote critical thinking in your class, structure your course so that you:

  • Establish general criteria for students to evaluate thinking in your discipline. Facione describes core critical thinking skills as “interpretation, analysis, evaluation, inference, explanation, and self-regulation.” In addition, you may also establish discipline specific standards. For example, Microbiology, Art History and English will all have a unique set of standards to evaluate thinking in their respective fields.
  • Design in-class assignments, homework and exams so that students actually apply critical thinking skills. For example, craft an activity to help students evaluate internet sources in their area of study.
  • Grade students on their application of critical thinking skills. For example, when you create a grading rubric for an assignment, designate points for demonstrating critical thinking.

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