3 Ways to Strengthen Your Students’ Critical Thinking Skills

Psychologist Benjamin Bloom published his now widely spread document in education, “Taxonomy of Educational Objectives,” in 1956. In it, he and his team specify three domains of learning: affective, psychomotor, and cognitive. While the affective domain refers to the emotions, motivations, and attitudes of students, the psychomotor domain focuses on their motor skills.

The cognitive domain—arguably the most influential in a student’s success—covers six categories (according to the revised version of Bloom’s Taxonomy by Anderson & Krathwohl, et al (2001)):

  • Remembering
  • Understanding
  • Applying
  • Analyzing
  • Evaluating
  • Creating

These categories start with memorizing and defining what’s learned in class, build toward drawing connections among different ideas and applying them outside of class, then lead to creating your own work by using what you’ve learned (Armstrong). Building upon these processes develops students’ critical thinking and reasoning skills, which are more important today than ever before. (Pssst! Check out key definitions and verbs to describe each category here from Vanderbilt University’s Center for Teaching.)

So, how can you help students strengthen their critical thinking and reasoning? Below are three ways to incorporate these skills into any curriculum.

1. Allow time within class to brainstorm after asking an open-ended question.

Students need time on their own to think about how to solve a problem, as well as time to talk out their strategies with other students. Problem solving is a key component to critical thinking, and brainstorming gives students the opportunity to explore different perspectives and possible solutions in a low-pressure environment. According to Lee Crockett Watanabe from Global Digital Citizen Foundation, asking a question that can’t simply be answered with a yes or no encourages students to seek out the necessary knowledge on their own (“12 Strong Strategies for Effectively Teaching Critical Thinking Skills.”). Students must use the skills associated with the cognitive domain, such as recalling what they already know about the problem, analyzing different strategies to solve it, and evaluating the quality of each solution.

2. Compare and contrast different ideas. 

Once students learn and understand different approaches to solving a problem, they can evaluate the qualities of each approach. Which one is easier? Which is the most thorough? Which makes the most sense to use in this context? Students need to judge the strengths and weaknesses of varying solutions in order to decide their next steps in solving the problem. Creating a pro/con chart can help, as well as a pro/pro chart, according to instructor Jason Watt. In a pro/pro chart, students see the positives of different perspectives by listing out only the good traits of each, bringing a fresh take to an old decision-making strategy. Watt explains that a pro/pro chart can help students try to find the positives in what they originally thought of as a weakness, allowing them to get creative with their thinking and less intimated to do so (Schwartz).

3. Get them thinking about thinking.

In the revised version of Bloom’s Taxonomy, metacognitive knowledge includes strategy, self-knowledge, and contextual and conditional knowledge (Armstrong). To increase their critical thinking skills, students need to think about how they think. If they pause to reflect upon how they’re studying and learning the class content, they may just improve their grades. Dr. Patricia Chen, a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford, conducted a study in which she asked a group of her students several prompts asking them to think about how they’re studying for an upcoming test and how they could improve their studying. She only reminded a second student group that the test was coming up. The first group outperformed the students who did not reflect on their studying by 1/3 of a letter grade on average (Anderson). Check out more information on the study.

When students analyze their own thinking techniques and visualize how they want to perform on assessments, they develop critical strategies to set goals and determine which resources work best for their unique learning processes. These skills can help students improve their grades, and they’ll transfer over when students are learning in other classes, navigating the workplace, and facing the challenges of daily life.

 

Have other ways to help improve students’ cognitive domains and critical thinking skills? Please share them in the comments below!

 


Anderson, Jenny. “A Stanford researcher’s 15-minute study hack lifts B+ students into the As.” Quartz, 9 May 2017, https://qz.com/978273/a-stanford-professors-15-minute-study-hack-improves-test-grades-by-a-third-of-a-grade/. Accessed 5 June 2017.

Armstrong, Patricia. “Bloom’s Taxonomy.” Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching, https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/blooms-taxonomy/. Accessed 12 June 2017.

Schwartz, Katrina. “Three Tools for Teaching Critical Thinking and Problem Solving Skills.” KQED News, 6 Nov. 2016, https://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2016/11/06/three-tools-for-teaching-critical-thinking-and-problem-solving-skills/. Accessed 13 June 2017.

Watanabe Crockett, Lee. “12 Strong Strategies for Effectively Teaching Critical Thinking Skills.” Global Digital Citizen Foundation, 13 March 2017, https://globaldigitalcitizen.org/12-strategies-teaching-critical-thinking-skills. Accessed 12 June 2017.

10 Habits to Help You Succeed in College – FREE PDF Included

The title of the document is Reading Environment Assessment. It asks you to one: list three places you usually study in order of frequency. Then, two: Circle the response that applies to each of these places (T for True and F for False). Statements are Other people seldom interrupt me when I study here; Little of what I can see here reminds me of things unrelated to my studying; and I don't hear a TV or radio when I study here.

Getting a college degree is no easy feat. Fortunately, you and your fellow students have access to a plethora of tips and tricks to make the most out of your class time and study time. One such source is provided by Opportunity International, which lists out habits to help you succeed in higher education.

Here’s a taste of Opportunity.org’s 10 Habits of Successful Students, which includes my favorite three habits they’ve listed:

  1. Sleep. You don’t want to overdo this one and miss class, of course! However, you can’t pull all-nighters to finish projects and study for tests all the time. (Trust me. I’ve tried and learned the hard way.) Get your rest so you can think more clearly, retain information more easily, and be a more pleasant person to be around.
  2. Ask questions. You should use this tip inside and outside of the classroom. If you’re confused by what your instructor is saying, do your best to speak up during class! If you’re extra shy and don’t want to talk in front of all your peers, don’t miss the opportunity to ask your instructor during their office hours or right after their lecture. Make sure you ask friends for help with studying too.
  3. Maintain a study space. Sometimes, your dorm room or home isn’t the best place to get your work done. Take the time to locate a spot that’s quiet, easy to get to, and conducive to studying.

Need help with that last tip? We’ve got you covered. Check out our Reading Environment Assessment here. It asks you to evaluate three different potential study spots by answering a few true-or-false questions. It will help you identify your best environment to get your work done. Plus, it’s free and quick to complete!

Check out more habits of successful students here. Let us know what your best habits are in the comments below!


“10 Habits of Success Students.” Opportunity International. Opportunity.org, n.d. Web. 19 July 2016.

7 Tips to Bust through Writer’s Block

You stare at your blank Word document, the blinking cursor mocking you as you struggle to come up with your first sentence. Maybe you’ve already written a few paragraphs, but the well of inspiration has run dry before you’ve gotten to your conclusion.

It’s happened to us all: writer’s block has imprisoned the best of writers at one point or another. So, how do you rise above writer’s block? Kathleen Wong’s Mic article, “6 Ways to Overcome Writer’s Block,” has a few tips! (Side note: While the original article says it provides six ways to overcome writer’s block, it gives a bonus tip.)

Get rid of writer’s block:

  1. Make up deadlines to keep yourself on track.
  2. Relax your body so you can relax your mind.
  3. Do away with distractions.
  4. Speak out the parts of the paper that give you trouble.
  5. Read a book unrelated to your assignment.
  6. Just start writing, even if it’s bad.
  7. Write anything other than the assignment.

Check out more here in the original Mic article!

Wong, Kathleen. “6 Ways to Overcome Writer’s Block.” Mic News. Mic, 22 Dec. 2015. Web. 5 Jan. 2015.

4 Mistakes that Help You Learn

We usually try our best to avoid mistakes. When we make them, we feel like we have failed. However, mistakes can create wonderful learning opportunities and teachable moments. The article “Why Understanding These Four Types of Mistakes Can Help Us Learn” by Eduardo Briceño breaks down a few different types of mistakes and how we can learn from each. He expands on four types:

  1. Stretch
  2. A-ha moment
  3. Sloppy
  4. High-stakes

Whether you’re an instructor or student, you are constantly learning, and—more often than not—you’re learning from mistakes.

Enjoy the original article here!

Briceño, Eduardo.”Why Understanding These Four Types of Mistakes Can Help Us Learn.” MindShift. Mindset Works, 23 Nov. 2015. Web. 3 Dec. 2015.

Location, location, location: This app helps you find the perfect spot for getting work done

I don’t think I could have survived grad school without the local cafes I frequented to work on projects, put together lesson plans, and pretend I was working on projects and lesson plans while I was busy drinking caffeinated beverages and adding songs to my Spotify playlists. However, sometimes these cafes were too busy and noisy to get work done, and I was at a loss for where to go. (Sit in my office outside of office hours? Venture to the library and circle the claimed study desks in the hopes that a student would leave for a final so I could swoop in and set up my laptop and books? No way.)

Needless to say, I wish I had the WHA (Work Hard Anywhere) app to help me find nearby areas that are perfect for studying and getting work done. The app is free and gives you important information like WiFi access and parking. Check out more from the article here.

Brit + Co. “This App Helps You Find a Workspace Anywhere You Go.” Career Advice. Levo, 9 Nov. 2015. Web. 9 Nov. 2015.