Teaching for Critical Thinking

I recently facilitated several teacher workshops and PLC discussions around building students’ critical thinking skills. Keeping with my backwards planning approach I began my sessions exploring what student skills we want that indicate critical thinking capabilities. Here are a few indicators I found on the Buck Institute for Education’s rubric for critical thinking standards:

*asks follow-up questions that focus or broaden inquiry, as appropriate

*asks follow-up questions to gain understanding of the wants and needs of audience or product users

*integrates relevant and sufficient information to address the Driving Question, gathered from multiple and varied sources

*thoroughly assesses the quality of information (considers usefulness, accuracy and credibility; distinguishes fact vs. opinion; recognizes bias)

*justifies choice of criteria used to evaluate ideas, product prototypes or problem solutions

*revises inadequate drafts, designs or solutions and explains why they will better meet evaluation criteria

Knowing that these are outcomes that I am seeking as a teacher I am now ready to consider, “What do students have to do or experience to develop the skills?’ and “What will I do as teacher to support that learning work?”

One element that arises for me in exploring these questions is teaching, modeling, and coaching the “question behind the question.”  Critical thinking is often generated by raising questions that need to be answered in order to build an answer or create a solution to the problem that has been posed. This ability to ask one’s self those questions, I believe, is often the difference in students’ success.

I’ve found Questions for Life cue words to be helpful in scaffolding these questions initially for students and then guiding the students as they learn to create the “questions behind the question?” The first word in each shape indicates the kind of thinking and the rest are vocabulary to use in forming questions.


(You can download Question for Life Cue Words.)

Here is an example of “questions behind the task” I generated from a middle school communications arts teacher’s assignment:

Students were paired and assigned to prepare a speech for one of them to introduce the other as an award honoree and the other student was to give an acceptance speech for the award.

Locate and listen to several introduction speeches and sort them into like and dislike groups.

How are the speeches in each group the same? How are the like and dislike groups different?

What traits have you identified as important to introduction speeches?

(Repeat the above questions for acceptance speeches)

What traits are the same and different for introduction and acceptance speeches?

Sum up what will guide your work as you write your speech.

What ideas do you have for an award to build your speeches around?

Write your speeches and analyze them for the traits you’ve identified above?

After students have delivered their speeches and observed classmates speeches, a similar process can be used for reflection.

How closely do you believe your delivered speech matched the traits that you identified as being important to quality speeches? Why?

What did you learn about giving introduction and acceptance speeches? What do you think applies to speeches in general?

How did you learn? What did you do to learn?

march 22

In a blog entitled, Ten Reflective Questions To Ask At the End of Class, Angela Stockman, identifies the role of reflection in increasing learning.

“Reflection makes all of us self-aware. It challenges us to think deeply about how we learn and why and why not.”

 Her ten questions which include….

4. What is frustrating you? How do you plan to deal with that frustration?

 5. What lessons were learned from failure today?

 6. Where did you meet success, and who might benefit most from what you’ve learned along the way? How can you share this with them?

…are designed to help teachers trigger students’ reflection and deep thinking. As I read through the ten questions I realized all of them are appropriate for instructional leaders and coaches to be asking teachers.




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