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    7 Simple and Effective Critical Thinking Strategies That Really Work

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    7 Simple and Effective Critical Thinking Strategies That Really Work

    If we were to ask educators about the most desirable benefits to our learners of having critical thinking strategies of their own, most would respond that they quickly develop independent thinking. After all, we want our learners to think critically and create great solutions.

    However, busy teachers and administrators also want to make their own jobs more effective in a shorter time span. Obtaining solid critical thinking strategies will get you all to that higher-order thinking destination.

    Here are a few critical thinking strategies for you in helping your students take the first few steps.

    7 Fast and Effective Critical Thinking Strategies

    1. Use the right tools
    2. Give them SOME slack
    3. Involve them in reverse engineering
    4. Teach students how to prioritize
    5. Switch their perspective
    6. Let students collaborate
    7. Take breaks

    Critical thinking is thinking on purpose. It's clear, rational, logical, and independent thinking. It means thinking in a self-regulated and self-corrective manner. How can we make this happen quickly with our students? Our Critical Thinking Companion will always get you on the right track. In the meantime, here are some other things you must have in your critical thinking repertoire.

    1. Use the right tools

    Using technology with students is always a great and engaging idea. That said, it can also be a learning curve. We sometimes assume our digital kids know everything about every app or tool. Not so, unfortunately.

    You’ll need to factor in the time to learn how to use a tool or app if needed. Some tools require more skill and experience than others. The added time spent learning to use them could be better spent on a different task. The trick here is to pinpoint in advance which tools you want students to use.

    You can spend a lesson or two on how to use the tech tools properly early in the year. That way they can get working on their own quickly. You can also poll the class or have an open discussion. Which tools are they already most familiar with? Which ones are they most excited about learning with? Choose the right tool and have a plan instead. This can minimize setbacks on the road to success.

    2. Give them SOME slack

    When students approach learning proactively, they have a real stake in the outcome. We encourage proactivity by building skills through scaffolding. As students acquire skills, they become confident and move toward independence. We want to avoid fostering “learned helplessness.” Vary tasks and allow them to make some choices. Be realistic for yourself as a teacher, though, in what you are willing to allow.

    Be a guide down their own chosen path to a specific goal. Flipping your class is a great avenue for fostering ownership of learning. Once you get your lecture online, it’s up to them to access the content. They have to solve such issues as, “When can I access the video? How am I going to do it?”

    As you flip your class, you can guide students to go beyond the provided lecture. Encourage them to look up other viewpoints, even opposing ones. Help them understand all positions and their validity.

    3. Involve them in reverse engineering

    We often call this working backward from the end. Sometimes you can get the job done faster by starting at the end and working back to the start. “How did they do that?” is a great way to start a conversation rolling on a particular problem.

    In a subject such as music, this could be in the form of transcribing a jazz solo or pop melody. You really put thinking skills like active listening, evaluating, and revising into practice.

    4. Teach students how to prioritize

    Prioritizing tasks is an essential element of productivity. The path to success is often hampered by prioritizing the wrong task. Teach students how to take the time to plan. Even if it takes a long time, it will save them tons of work in the long run.

    Sometimes a task takes a very short time. Often deciding which task to do and what tool to use may take longer. This is perfectly normal, and it's okay. As we've said in the past, Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance.

    Set personal goals. By starting with the end in mind, students can identify what tasks need to be accomplished. They can determine what skills are needed to be proficient in order to get to a goal.

    5. Switch their perspective

    Get students to take on the role of an opposing viewpoint, even one against their own. Stepping into another’s shoes lets them think critically about a situation. This opens new ways of thinking and generates solutions previously unconsidered.

    Encourage them to think differently. Read books like Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States or Freakonomics as a starting point.

    6. Let students collaborate

    Inquiry-based learning is another awesome way to foster critical thinking skills. When students are deep into discussion or debate, creative tension is happening. This is a state in which disagreement or opposition gives rise to fresh ideas and viewpoints.

    Allow it to some extent before going in to moderate. As always, don’t readily give up the answers. Use leading questions to help guide them. Inquiry-based learning incorporates so many critical thinking skills at once, which makes it a top tool in any teacher's book.

    7. Take breaks

    In using critical thinking strategies, this is very important. Our brain is an organ that does everything, so we must care for it. Play, sit in silence, take a walk, or have some water. Eat brain-healthy foods and read challenging literature.

    There are even apps you can download that develop brain health with fun and challenging puzzles. Our favourites are LuminosityA Clockwork Brain, and Peak.

    A Nod to the Trailblazers

    We can learn critical thinking strategies from the greatest companies in the world. Look at how Apple, IBM, Honda, or Volkswagen functioned at their most productive periods. These teams were product-driven but knew what worked for them to get the job done. They spared no expense at acquiring and using the appropriate tools.

    We too can strategize to foster critical thinking with the resources available. We can work to enable students to accomplish anything these corporate giants have done, and more.

    Critical thinking strategies don't have to be hard or structured, either. Kids will develop these skills in the fun and rewarding situations that require them. Set up your learning environment with these rules in mind and students will be thinking critically in no time.

    Editor's note: This post was originally published in 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

    Originally published Oct 23, 2019, updated September 29, 2021

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