What About Critical Thinking?

By Anais Wenn, Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services

Tony Wagner, Senior Research Fellow at the Learning Policy Institute and former Expert in Residence at the Harvard Innovation, is a true believer in the power of critical thinking. The topic surfaces so often in conversations regarding teaching and learning, job interviews, educational assessments and teacher training programs, that for some its meaning has become nebulous. In 1987 it was defined by the National Council for Excellence in Critical thinking as, “the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.”  

In LCUSD we develop this skill in even the youngest of our students.  According to Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards, all students are expected to be critical thinkers in all disciplines in order to graduate from high school, enter college and land a successful career.  

LCUSD teachers work to develop their students’ critical thinking skills through a) holding classroom discussions and encourage the expression of opposing views, b) allowing students to approach problems in a variety of ways to find solutions that make the most sense to them  c) modeling and guiding their students through this thinking process so that their pupils gain insight and confidence in their own ability to exercise these skills.   

In my classroom visits, I have observed LCUSD’s teachers using a variety of strategies to teach critical thinking.  In science classrooms, students use the principles of scientific thinking to analyze student-generated lab data.  This exercise allows them to construct Claims, Evidence, and Reasoning to demonstrate their understanding of content. Our English teachers use textual analysis with literature and provide many opportunities for students to engage in Socratic Seminars and debates.  Math classes use quantitative reasoning and ask students to justify their thinking and make generalizations.  In history classrooms, students engage in rich discussions that require them to employ multiple sources to develop their own views on a historical event or period.  

Critical thinking is not only taught in the classrooms by teachers but can be taught at home by parents.  Parents can begin asking their three and four-year-olds to explain their thinking when voicing an opinion.  Having them use the word because in sentences will prepare them to exercise these critical thinking skills at school and beyond.