Critical Thinking – Thinking Philosophically

12 Nov

In everything subject area, the most important aspect of learning is the teaching of critical thinking skills. John Dewey believed that education was the fostering of thinking rather than just the transmission of knowledge. The Philosopher Socrates believed that we learn best by asking questions and testing the answers.

Critical thinking is developing students ability to think and an example of Metacognition where we use higher-order processes to solve problems and challenges. In the Australian National Curriculum, Critical and Creative thinking skills is one of the Seven general capabilities.

For example in History the Australian National Curriculum outlines critical and creative thinking skills as being able to evaluate knowledge, clarify concepts and ideas, seek possibilities, consider alternatives and solve problems. Critical thinking in history is important as students need to question sources, interpret the past from incomplete documentation, develop an argument using evidence, and assess reliability when selecting information from resources.

But what is also important in history is for students to be understand that there is more than one perspective on events. For example if historians were looking at creation, there is not only the Judeo-Christian perspective on creation. There are also the Buddist, the Hindu and the Muslim perspectives. Also native indigenous inhabitants as the Australian Aborigines have their own dreamtime stories on how the earth and people came to be.

There is more than one side to every story.

Critical thinking skills are important to foster in learning as they help students to make informed decisions. If we want students to develop good reasoning skills that allow them to be informed citizens, it is important that we teach them how to question what is put before them and come to conclusions based on facts and evidence.

Without critical thinking skills, students will not be able to reach decisions and judgements which are factual and demonstrate understanding. Without critical thinking, students can be the victim of falsehoods. For example, Peter Cookson notes that our students have at their fingertips access to large amounts of information through the internet on search sites as google. But even with access to all that information, how do students not only make sense of that information but how do they know what is fact from fiction, right from wrong, truth from lies?

We need to teach our students not to accept anything blindly but to understand how it works and if it contains truth.

What are some examples of critical thinking skills?

Critical thinking strategies include
– Reflective thinking
– Examining different points of view
– Examining our own views
– Making Comparisons
– Anaysis
– Problem solving
– Testing conclusions / hypothesis
– Exploring alternatives – could there be more than one solution?
– Finding analogies between pieces of information
– Asking Open ended questions – no one right answer
– Challenging accepted norms, views

If we are going to promote critical thinking skills in the classroom, we have to foster a spirit of discovery. We can do this by using collaborative groups to solve real life problems or discuss issues. For example, the class could be divided into groups and given a point of view of a current issue to discuss. Or a task to solve a problem could be given to a group to work collaboratively on and present their findings or research to the class.

But to foster an environment ready for critical thinking, Bonnie Potts suggests that critical thinking in the classroom is facilitated by a physical and intellectual environment that encourages a spirit of discovery. How can our classrooms be arranged to do this? The set up of the classroom so that students share the stage with the teacher and interact with each other. Bonnie also suggest the use of visual aids in the classroom to encourage critical thinking.

Other possible ideas are class discussions, class debates and role plays where students play a character or represent a point of view. What makes this more fun for students is not only a chance to talk about an issue but to dress up and to play a character. For example, if you wanted students to explore colonisation you could have students discussing the indigenous perspectives and others discusing the colonisers perspectives.

To encourage reflection and critical thinking, teachers could have students write dialogue journals in which students reflect on the lesson and issues, writing down their thoughts or feelings on what they observed.

What about using real life problems or scenarios? Students learn best when they are given a real or authentic problem or issue that they can discuss.

Just as technology allows our students access to large amounts of information, technology can also be used to develop critical thinking skills as inquiry. Teachers could also use technology as computer programs or web based designs to foster critical thinking. Students could use skype, emails to communicate and work on ideas in a web based project as Wikispaces where teachers could design a project and problem and students could collaborate on it or use the discussion board to share ideas.


Philip Cam ‘Dewey, Lipman and the Tradition of Reflective Education’

Cookson, Peter W ‘What Would Socrates Say’, Teaching for the 21st Century, September 2009, Vol 67, No.1, pp 8-14,

Potts, Bonnie ‘Strategies for teaching Critical thinking’, Practical Assessment, Research and Evaluation 4 (3), 1994


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