Critical thinking skills, greatly prized in business and education, are organized using the same concepts as Bloom's Taxonomy: remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating and creating. These key ideas not only represent the spectrum of critical thought but also include several skills your students will find useful in learning critical thinking: analyzing, information seeking and logical reasoning. With these techniques, students can interpret data through previous learning, analyze and synthesize ideas and arguments, and draw inferences from those analyses, justifying their findings.
Interpreting data occurs when you use previous learning to figure something out. Interpreting means that students become aware of all the parts of an argument: point of view, audience and central question. An excellent teaching strategy for this key idea is presenting your student with a moral dilemma. Sample assignment: A girl sees her best friend's boyfriend at the movies, being intimate with another girl. Does she tell and risk the friendship, or betray her best friend by being silent? The choice your student makes depends on the interpretation of the situation.
Analysis and Synthesis
Analysis and synthesis are key aspects of critical thinking. Analysis breaks down data and identifies individual parts; synthesis puts elements back together to create something original. These skills are excellent for your literature classes: students analyze, say, a piece of poetry in its individual aspects: rhyme, rhythm, literary devices, imagery. Once students understand the separate components, they use the knowledge to create original works -- an onomatopoeia poem from e.e cummings' writings, for instance. They can use the same skills in science to explain chemical reactions, or in a computer lab to understand graphing or unfamiliar applications.
Inferring an Answer
Inference is an integral facet of the critical thinking process; your students should be able to explain a problem with an inference, or educated guess. One important lesson is to teach students the difference between explaining by inference or by assumptions based on previous ideas. A teaching tool you could use is to ask a student to explain a given situation; is the explanation inference or assumption?
Sample assignment: "A man lies in the gutter." A student who says, "He's a bum; all bums lie in the gutter" is assuming; a student who says, "He may need help" is inferring the need.
Justifying Your Inference
Justifying an inference is the next critical thinking step; your students can be moved from an assumption to an inference if they practice examining what they infer. A series of role-play exercises are helpful here, with given situations featuring assumptions versus inferences: Is this student joining a conversation or butting in? Is she determined or stubborn? Are they laughing at me or with me? Class feedback is vital: If students can determine the assumptions that ground their inferences, they can begin to identify which assumptions are justified.
Michael Stratford is a National Board-certified and Single Subject Credentialed teacher with a Master of Science in educational rehabilitation (University of Montana, 1995). He has taught English at the 6-12 level for more than 20 years. He has written extensively in literary criticism, student writing syllabi and numerous classroom educational paradigms.