Portrait of a Learner 4-8

Systems Change

Critical Thinking

Factor Connections

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Critical thinking is the ability to evaluate information and consider ideas across different perspectives, to make decisions and solve problems. It is purposeful and reasoned thinking about what information is being presented, who is presenting it, and in what context. Learners who think critically ask thoughtful questions, and consider multiple forms of evidence when drawing an inference. Critical Thinking involves many reasoning processes and cognitive skills that are important for preparing learners for their future roles as active, participating members in a society. Providing the opportunity to develop Critical Thinking early in childhood and continuing into early adolescence is key for fostering lifelong learning.

Main Ideas

A critical thinker is an active inquirer who approaches tasks using cognitive and metacognitive skills to effectively navigate their learning environments. When learners are able to think critically they are better able to make thoughtful decisions and solve problems using relevant skills and processes, such as analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating information. It is important to note that children do not fully develop Critical Thinking skills naturally on their own; Critical Thinking is a skill that must be fostered and taught. In young learners Critical Thinking is best fostered by incorporating it as an independent component within a specific subject or domain, (e.g. math, literacy, science) as the specific Critical Thinking skills needed in a given context may vary across domains.

Critical thinking skills are also particularly important in digital settings. As learners enter the middle grades, they begin to increasingly use multiple forms of media, including social media platforms, more autonomously and may require additional support to navigate these new and complex spaces. As learners sharpen their Critical Thinking skills in academic contexts, educators should ensure application of these skills also occur in digital spaces to support their online behaviors and out of school literacy practices. These skills are particularly important for young learners as they analyze and judge sources of information found online.

Providing students with opportunities to use Critical Thinking skills when encountering specific problems, such as presenting learners with complex situations that they must structure and work through, can support learners to recognize and internalize these skills and to empower them to use on their own. Importantly, supporting the development of Critical Thinking is most effective when learners are solving real world problems, through experimentation, scientific inquiry, simulations, or role play. This active learning connects to learners' interests and engages Curiosity to better understand the world in which they live. Providing environments for productive discussion and dialogue about complex concepts, including texts from multiple perspectives, and encouraging diverse perspectives and inquiry in the classroom, allows learners to think critically and flexibly, both within and across disciplines and domains. It is important to provide the appropriate scaffolding and sufficient time to ensure that all learners, particularly those with ADHD who may have delayed maturation of their executive functions, and those with difficulties with Speed of Processing, have the time and level of support they need to engage with complex concepts and use and grow their Critical Thinking skills.

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