The best personal qualities we can have beyond school don't simply define what we've learned...
It's important to develop critical thinking skills for more than just academic reasons. Substantial critical thinking capacity serves us well in all aspects of our lives. It encompasses problem-solving, decision making, personal responsibility, and managing relationships of every kind effectively, just to name a few things. There's no doubt it's one of the most crucial mindsets our learners could ever have, for learning and life.
By using real-world examples, teachers can explore concepts that help learners think more critically. However, teachers must recognize the barriers and challenges accompanied by teaching critical thinking skills. Most importantly, we must discover how to get around these barriers. This article will explore seven common critical thinking barriers and how to effectively get around them.
- Egocentric Thinking
- Drone Mentality
- Social Conditioning
- Biased Experiences
- Schedule Pressures
- Arrogance and Intolerance
1. Egocentric Thinking
Although egocentric behaviors are less prominent in adulthood, overcoming egocentrism can be a lifelong process. Egocentric thinking is a natural tendency to view everything in relation to oneself. This type of thinking leads to the inability to sympathize with others or analyze and evaluate various perspectives. Sadly, since most egocentric people are not willing or cannot see this character flaw within themselves, this increases the difficulty in overcoming the barrier.
As young learners contemplate who they are and where they fit in, egocentric thinking may become more apparent. After all, they need experiences, opportunities for debate, brainstorming sessions, and the chance to ask meaningful questions in order to recognize and understand the viewpoints of others.
Creating a classroom that encourages critical thinking can help learners lose egocentrism. Especially during social conflicts, teachers can help learners think more abstractly by pointing out the opinions and attitudes of others. Teachers will do well to encourage empathy as their learners ponder other people's perspectives, opinions, and thoughts.
Groupthink can lead to unhealthy decision-making patterns. Like egocentric thinking, it is difficult to overcome. Breaking the cycle requires individuals to stand apart from the group and question opinions, thoughts, and popular ideas. This can be especially difficult for adolescents, but teachers can play a key role in encouraging independent thought and action in students.
Facilitating student learning in a classroom while avoiding a groupthink teaching style is possible by expanding teaching methods that help learners think creatively. This allows them to make connections and challenge reasoning, both of which are important for critical thinking.
Our learners benefit from direct training in decision-making to prepare them to solve complex problems. Expecting them to make decisions by trial and error is simply not enough. Instruction in how to debate and present constructive arguments can develop critical thinking skills. As learners become familiar and repeat this thinking capability, they are more likely to think, question, and analyze. As a result, this reduces the likelihood of them developing a groupthink perspective.
3. Drone Mentality
If you have a drone mentality, this means you don’t pay attention to what is going on around you. A drone mentality can sneak up on anyone at any time. Daily routines often lead to a drone mentality and can prevent or cause a loss of critical thinking skills.
This mentality is dangerous in a classroom because learners forget how to respond to new circumstances. It also causes them to shy away from challenges for the sake of ease and convenience.
Teachers should avoid the temptation of slipping into patterns that can lead to a drone mentality effect in the classroom. By constantly finding connections to new things and fields, their teaching methods can stay fresh and interesting while fostering an environment for critical thinking.
4. Social Conditioning
Unwanted assumptions and stereotyping leads to social conditioning. It does this by blinding us from the realization that we are even making assumptions and stereotyping in the first place. The ability to think outside of the spectrum is a great asset because most learners do not realize they are being conditioned to think a certain way.
Teachers can help their learners assess their own thinking by helping them take inventory of their thoughts and beliefs. It’s also important to teach clarity, accuracy and fair-mindedness in their thinking patterns.
5. Biased Experiences
Personal biases can prohibit critical thinking because they prevent the thinker from being fair, inquisitive and open-minded. This kind of thinking can also prevent an individual from using experience, reasoning and common sense to make informed decisions.
Teachers should encourage learners to lean on logic to become critical thinkers. This challenges them to evaluate the clarity and accuracy of their thinking. By giving assignments that utilize questioning techniques and critical thinking responses, teachers can effectively guide them through the critical thinking process.
6. Schedule Pressures
Time constraints often serve as a barrier to integrating learning opportunities that support critical thinking skills. Test scores and mandated teaching measures often result in teachers covering a great deal of content in a short amount of time.
With training, practice and patience, teachers can learn various strategies that equip them to naturally model thinking behaviors in the classroom that improve learners' critical thinking skills.
It is especially important that teachers do their best to create a learning schedule that is not hindered by time constraints. Critical thinking lessons should always be a top priority.
7. Arrogance and Intolerance
True critical thinkers do not welcome arrogance and intolerance into their minds. It is nearly impossible to find the best solution to a problem with a close-minded mindset. Without critical thinking skills, individuals often react thoughtlessly and recklessly to situations. What they should do, however, is assess and take responsibility for their choices while accepting the rewards or consequences that follow those choices.
Arrogance and intolerance block creativity and leaves no room for other suggestions for problem-solving. If learners believe no better solution to a problem exists, a teacher must have students question their logic. Encourage them to ask the following questions:
- What are my thoughts on this topic?
- Why do I think like this?
- Where did I learn this information?
- What does the information imply?
- Should I view it differently?
Breaking Down Barriers
There are multiple ways to get around critical thinking barriers. One way is to have learners choose a topic of choice and write a paper demonstrating a variety of approaches to solve a problem on the chosen topic. Teachers can use real-life situations, such as car buying, as examples when strengthening critical thinking skills. You can have learners discuss the steps in buying a car and how to make the best decision based on a variety of factors, such as income, down payment options, car insurance prices, etc.
Another way to teach critical thinking skills is to highlight how a bad decision can lead to a poor outcome. The goal is to illustrate that making mistakes and suffering consequences are natural parts of decision-making. More importantly, that problem solving is a powerful skill that will impact almost every aspect of each student’s future.
Teachers are key in influencing student’s behavior as well as the use of critical thinking skills. These skills can make a positive difference in the achievement level in both the classroom and throughout a student’s life.
The Best Resource for You and Your Learners
Critical thinking is complex and even harder to transfer across domains. Teaching students to think critically requires explicit and deliberate instruction. But who says it can't also be a whole lot of fun? It should be, and to make things easier we created the Critical Thinking Companion. This is a critical compendium for any modern teacher. Chock full of games, activities, puzzles, lessons, assessment rubrics and more, it's the best way to help your learners conquer critical thinking barriers for life.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
Originally published Jun 5, 2019, updated September 19, 2021