Solving the Biggest Challenge of Teaching Critical Thinking

Instructors, administrators, and school board members tend to all agree that critical thinking is a valuable skill for college students to develop. However, deciding to teach it in the classroom is often easier said than done. Instructors may wonder where to begin, how to motivate their students, and how to structure learning outcomes. To determine where to start, we asked our community to identify their top challenge with teaching critical thinking.

Addressing critical thinking

We asked our community of instructors to identify their very biggest challenge to teaching critical thinking among several common concerns.

Most challenging aspects of teaching critical thinking

The number one response, 30%, said their biggest challenge to teaching critical thinking in the classroom is simply creating original assignments that students may not have done before.

Twenty-five percent say the biggest challenge is demonstrating the benefit to their students, 16% say the biggest challenge is identifying relevant examples and tools to use to teach critical thinking, 15% say that measuring student success is their biggest critical thinking challenge, and 14% say finding the time to cover it in class.

Creating original assignments

According to authors Debra Jackson and Paul Newberry in their text Critical Thinking: A User’s Manual, 2nd Edition, arguments play a large role for teaching critical thinking in the college classroom. “Having information, especially in the Internet era, is not sufficient in your advanced courses. You must be able to use that information as never before by applying it in novel situations and critically appraising the results of others doing the same. That is, you must be able to recognize, analyze, evaluate, and construct arguments in a variety of disciplines.” (6)

Jackson and Newberry offer the following scenario for creating unique critical thinking lessons:

“Consider, for example, a debate between historians and a psychoanalyst over whether to accept an eyewitness report of an uprising of prisoners at the Auschwitz death camp in 1944. The historians argued that the woman’s testimony was useless because she remembered four chimneys exploding, but only one chimney had been destroyed. The psychoanalyst who had interviewed her disagreed.” (5)

What do you think your students would suggest as a solution? This concept is easily transferable to scenarios in many disciplines. How might your law students fight for the Dred Scott v. Sandford case? How would your English students critique Ben Franklin’s earliest writing if they were his editor?

Allow your students to respond to past and current events using the many skills and lessons they’ve learned in class. For insight on how college students feel about critical thinking, visit our blog post, “College Students on Critical Thinking in the Classroom.”

Reference: Jackson, Debra; Paul Newberry. 2016. Critical Thinking: A User’s Manual, 2nd Edition. Boston: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

What critical thinking assignments have you successfully integrated into your classroom? Share your ideas with our community of educators below.

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