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Why critical thinking is crucial to your success and how to improve it

Why critical thinking is crucial to your success and how to improve it

Why is critical thinking important? I’m sure you’ve heard this saying before: Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach him how

to fish and he’ll feed his whole family every day.

When you give your students the facts they require, they will memorize the facts and use them to serve their short-term goals of passing tests and graduating to a higher class. When you give them critical thinking skills, they will be able to find the necessary information for themselves; they will be able to evaluate the merits and consequences of that information; and they will be able to utilize that information to solve any problems at hand.

Critical thinking is a meta-skill – it governs a person’s facility to process information in a logical manner. A person with critical thinking skills is capable of upgrading his own knowledge and can easily engage in independent self-learning. He can find connections between diverse streams and pieces of knowledge and can assess the value of the information he acquires.

Someone with critical thinking skills can judge what pieces of information are important and discard data that is not useful to him. He can weigh various facts and points of view and identify logical errors. This helps him in solving problems. Critical thinking brings about a clarity of perception that also makes a person capable of re-appraising his own core values, opinions and calculations. With critical thinking, thus, a person can continually reach new planes of self-improvement and self-actualization.

In practical terms, critical thinking has many daily applications and advantages for your students. It is obvious that solving mathematical problems and testing scientific theories would require critical thinking, but If a student can think clearly and and solve problems independently and systematically, he can do well in all subjects.

For instance, I could use my critical thinking faculties when reading a literary text in order to understand it, examine its structure, its characters and themes and then apply my knowledge when analyzing other texts I may be reading now or will read in the future.

I can use my critical thinking abilities to improve my communication skills and to express myself better – to become a better speaker, to make better predictions about my audience, to use language in interesting ways, to arrange my thoughts in a rational format and ultimately, to become a better listener.

I can use critical thinking to make educated decisions, negotiate better options for myself, and to get myself into win-win situations through creative problem-solving.

When I approach any issue with an open mind, a general curiosity, an attitude of inquiry and the wherewithal to put two and two together without necessarily coming to a single, pre-determined answer, I can make innovations and positive changes in my world and in myself.

By answering the question, “Why is critical thinking important,” I can discover for myself that great transformations can be achieved if I don’t stop at the first correct answer I get; that there can be many right answers to any problem that may present itself. That realization, in itself, can be a tremendously liberating experience.

We all know the types. The Ivy League professor who lost her driver’s license because she suffered another fender bender. The Fortune 500 CEO who was fired after an affair with his assistant. The brilliant movie producer who fell into bankruptcy after blowing millions at the racetrack.

These are people whose intelligence and talent landed them some of the most coveted jobs on the planet, and, yet, they made huge, forehead-smacking — possibly career-ending — mistakes.

A recent study goes a long way in explaining why. It shows that while raw intelligence accounts for certain successes in life, smarts do not guarantee future well-being. Indeed, critical thinking skills are far more predictive of making positive life decisions than raw intelligence, according to the study’s lead, Heather Butler.

Perhaps most important, Butler’s work underscores the idea that critical thinking can be learned and developed — unlike IQ which is largely genetic — and as Butler argues, better reasoning “can improve with training and the benefits have been shown to persist over time.”

So why do only 5% of the K-12 schools in the United States teach critical thinking? Why doesn’t our education system do more to promote richer forms of reasoning?

Before I answer these questions, a few words about Butler’s study. It tested 244 adults, ages 19 to 28, in three areas: IQ, critical thinking, and “an inventory of life events.” The critical thinking survey measured everything from hypothesis testing to problem-solving, and the inventory tallied “negative” events in every aspect of life including borrowing money to gamble, causing a car accident, and having unprotected sex.

The results showed that people with greater critical thinking skills had fewer negative life events than people who had a high degree of smarts, according to Butler. And the reasoning skills paid off in all sorts of ways. In the study, for instance, people with critical thinking skills were far less likely to have large amounts of credit card debt than those who did not.

An 11th grader at Capital City Public Charter School discusses food sustainability during an . [+] environmental science class.

Image Courtesy of Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action

This brings us back to schools because it is their responsibility to help prepare kids for the future, and one of the goals of our country’s education system should be to provide students the ability to reason through problems and situations in effective ways.

But for the most part, schools aren’t providing instruction in the development of richer thinking skills. Too many institutions don’t teach students how and when to use evidence. Too many schools don’t help students learn to take opposing points of view or think through issues that don’t have clear right or wrong answers.

For employers, the lack of critical thinking has become pressing, and managers regularly complain that recent graduates lack robust reasoning abilities. According to one 2016 survey, more than half of companies say that new employees aren’t sufficiently trained in effective forms of critical thinking.

To address these concerns, some schools are changing their ways. At Two Rivers Public Charter School in Washington, D.C., for instance, educators aim to empower students with improved critical thinking skills. Students engage in a lot of project-based learning and are taught explicitly how “to identify the key questions in a problem, develop possible paths to a solution, and follow through with a solution.”

At St. Mary’s College in Maryland, critical thinking is part of the institution’s core curriculum , and the school describes better reasoning as one of the “cornerstones” of the school’s liberal arts education. The school even goes so far as to require a seminar that gives students a chance to practice the skill of critical thinking within a specific subject.

There remains some debate over how exactly to teach critical thinking skills. For instance, some argue for standalone reasoning courses outside of a specific subject matter area. Others believe in embedding the teaching of critical thinking skills within subject-specific lessons.

I would argue that the distinction is largely arbitrary, and effective schools should deliver instruction in high-quality reasoning within subject areas as well as a stand-alone subject. What’s more, there’s good evidence from a 2015 meta-analysis that both approaches to critical thinking instruction can produce high outcomes.

But in many ways, the first step is to simply recognize that critical thinking has become a crucial life skill — and that we need to do more as a society to make sure that all students have the reasoning skills that they need to succeed in the modern world.

Critical skills are essential to succeed in everyday life. They encompass skills related to connecting pieces of information and communication.

There is always a way to enhance these abilities in children of all ages. However, you may wonder – what is critical thinking for kids?

It means to be open to new ideas, arguments, and information. This enables children to think critically and rationally and encourages looking for alternative ways to solve a problem.

These are some essential life skills and they entail a critical thinking mindset which makes solving everyday problems easier. In this article, we brought together fun games and activities for your child to become a critical thinker.

Why critical thinking is crucial to your success and how to improve it

Online Critical Thinking Games

The most effective way to improve your children’s thinking skills is to engage them with educational games. Here are critical thinking games for kids to support their school success

Critical Thinking Game

This fun critical thinking game for kids is all about reasoning as fast and accurately as you can. Let’s try!

Basic Critical Thinking Game

In this critical thinking activity for kids, they need to select the image that is appropriate for the given condition.

Easy Critical Thinking Game

These fun critical thinking questions for kids are perfect for students in the early grades of school to sharpening their counting and math skills.

Cool Critical Thinking Game

It’s a critical thinking test for kids! Use your thinking skills to find out the correct answer!

If you enjoyed these brain exercises, you can play hundreds more at MentalUP!

Fun Critical Thinking Activities

Now, let’s take a look at some fun activities that can help you encourage younger children to improve their critical skills! These exercises can help them to think critically whether they are at home, school, or in online classes.

1. Encourage Thinking

Why critical thinking is crucial to your success and how to improve it

Children are full of questions, aren’t they? So, to encourage their thinking process, you can ask them to try answering their questions. And in the process, you can help them arrive at the answer using logical thinking instead of providing them with a direct answer.

It is possible to improve critical thinking skills even for preschoolers; one of the key elements of high-order thinking is making rational choices and justifying kids’ own decisions.

Let’s help your preschooler analyse the objects to make a logical decision themselves using critical thinking worksheets for preschoolers.

2. Play Sorting Games

Why critical thinking is crucial to your success and how to improve it

Critical skills include the reasoning ability to solve real-life problems. And of course, one of the great ways to support children’s reasoning and classification skills is sorting games.

This activity will help children see the differences among various groups and enhance their understanding of the objects.

To play, you can simply ask your children to sort the same kind of objects using different features like colors, shapes, or sizes.

3. Solve Brain Teasers Together

Why critical thinking is crucial to your success and how to improve it

To trigger brain activity, you can always benefit from brain teasers. Solving any kind of brain teasers together will allow your children to learn from you and challenge their problem-solving skills at the same time.

4. Ask Them Riddles

Riddles are also a great way to help your children become critical thinkers, not to mention how fun they actually are.

Why critical thinking is crucial to your success and how to improve it

So, let your children promote their reasoning, problem-solving, and many other skills as they simply play!

5. Create Games from Real-life Problems

Since critical skills are absolutely necessary for our daily lives, then why not apply them to some educational activities?

Why critical thinking is crucial to your success and how to improve it

You can take real-world problems like recycling or water scarcity as an open ended questions game and ask your children to think of solutions.

These kinds of pretend games will not only boost their problem-solving skills as they focus on creative problems, but also help them learn about their environment and develop their good sense.

Critical Thinking Questions and Answers for Kids

These fun critical thinking questions and answers are perfect for students in the early grades of school to sharpening their critical thinking, counting and math skills.

Critical Thinking Test for Kids

Why critical thinking is crucial to your success and how to improve it

Bip bip! Can you tell which scooter will reach the gas station?
🛵

The answer is B!

If you follow the road path, you will see that only B can reach the gas station.

Want to solve more puzzles? Let’s try MentalUP Brain Teaser for Kids

Critical Thinking Example for Kids

Why critical thinking is crucial to your success and how to improve it

Can you guess who is left-handed and why? 🧐

It’s irregular to serve drinks with left hand for a right-handed person. So, the answer is 5.

You’re good at hard riddles! Let’s continue with MentalUP to see your detailed performance reports.

We all know the types. The Ivy League professor who lost her driver’s license because she suffered another fender bender. The Fortune 500 CEO who was fired after an affair with his assistant. The brilliant movie producer who fell into bankruptcy after blowing millions at the racetrack.

These are people whose intelligence and talent landed them some of the most coveted jobs on the planet, and, yet, they made huge, forehead-smacking — possibly career-ending — mistakes.

A recent study goes a long way in explaining why. It shows that while raw intelligence accounts for certain successes in life, smarts do not guarantee future well-being. Indeed, critical thinking skills are far more predictive of making positive life decisions than raw intelligence, according to the study’s lead, Heather Butler.

Perhaps most important, Butler’s work underscores the idea that critical thinking can be learned and developed — unlike IQ which is largely genetic — and as Butler argues, better reasoning “can improve with training and the benefits have been shown to persist over time.”

So why do only 5% of the K-12 schools in the United States teach critical thinking? Why doesn’t our education system do more to promote richer forms of reasoning?

Before I answer these questions, a few words about Butler’s study. It tested 244 adults, ages 19 to 28, in three areas: IQ, critical thinking, and “an inventory of life events.” The critical thinking survey measured everything from hypothesis testing to problem-solving, and the inventory tallied “negative” events in every aspect of life including borrowing money to gamble, causing a car accident, and having unprotected sex.

The results showed that people with greater critical thinking skills had fewer negative life events than people who had a high degree of smarts, according to Butler. And the reasoning skills paid off in all sorts of ways. In the study, for instance, people with critical thinking skills were far less likely to have large amounts of credit card debt than those who did not.

An 11th grader at Capital City Public Charter School discusses food sustainability during an . [+] environmental science class.

Image Courtesy of Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action

This brings us back to schools because it is their responsibility to help prepare kids for the future, and one of the goals of our country’s education system should be to provide students the ability to reason through problems and situations in effective ways.

But for the most part, schools aren’t providing instruction in the development of richer thinking skills. Too many institutions don’t teach students how and when to use evidence. Too many schools don’t help students learn to take opposing points of view or think through issues that don’t have clear right or wrong answers.

For employers, the lack of critical thinking has become pressing, and managers regularly complain that recent graduates lack robust reasoning abilities. According to one 2016 survey, more than half of companies say that new employees aren’t sufficiently trained in effective forms of critical thinking.

To address these concerns, some schools are changing their ways. At Two Rivers Public Charter School in Washington, D.C., for instance, educators aim to empower students with improved critical thinking skills. Students engage in a lot of project-based learning and are taught explicitly how “to identify the key questions in a problem, develop possible paths to a solution, and follow through with a solution.”

At St. Mary’s College in Maryland, critical thinking is part of the institution’s core curriculum , and the school describes better reasoning as one of the “cornerstones” of the school’s liberal arts education. The school even goes so far as to require a seminar that gives students a chance to practice the skill of critical thinking within a specific subject.

There remains some debate over how exactly to teach critical thinking skills. For instance, some argue for standalone reasoning courses outside of a specific subject matter area. Others believe in embedding the teaching of critical thinking skills within subject-specific lessons.

I would argue that the distinction is largely arbitrary, and effective schools should deliver instruction in high-quality reasoning within subject areas as well as a stand-alone subject. What’s more, there’s good evidence from a 2015 meta-analysis that both approaches to critical thinking instruction can produce high outcomes.

But in many ways, the first step is to simply recognize that critical thinking has become a crucial life skill — and that we need to do more as a society to make sure that all students have the reasoning skills that they need to succeed in the modern world.

“For every complex problem, there is a simple solution that is elegant, easy to understand, and wrong.” H.L. Mencken

Well-developed critical thinking skills will go a long way in impressing a potential employer. A survey done in 2012 by the American Management Association polled 768 managers and executives, and found that critical thinking skills of their employees are considered crucial for the future success of their organizations, but 49% of those surveys reported that their employees’ critical thinking skills were either average or below average (www.amanet.org). To put it short, employers want people whose skills are above average. The report states: “Today’s employee’s need to think critically, solve problems, innovate, collaborate, and communicate more effectively…They must excel at the ‘four Cs’: critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity.”

We all know communications skills are essentials, and the skills needed to communicate well have been given a lot of attention. We also all know that we need to have team spirit, to work well with others, and to “think outside of the box”. Because of this, pretty much everyone preps to go into an interview ready to demonstrate these skills. But, most people fail to acknowledge the importance of demonstrating their critical thinking skills.

It’s become trendy in our culture however for judgmental criticism to be considered thoughtful analysis. Critical thinking is not faultfinding, derogatory, disparaging, or judgmental. But often times, in the employment world, it’s commonly seen in a proposal meant to show that someone has found the weakness in something, and as a result, is worthy of a raise, promotion, or some other form of personal gain. The solution might sound elegant and might work in the short term, but because it lacks genuine analysis, it is usually wrong and won’t work in the long term. You would get noticed for this, but not necessarily in the way you want to be noticed.

Working well together – collaboration – is a proven way to test ideas. Employers want to promote people whose contributions add value to the organization. People who are collaborators and work well with others can build on people’s ideas and encourage a higher level of innovation,which takes on a much higher level of critical thinking than simply pointing out the faults in other’s work. Therefore, critical thinking is not only fair-minded and analytical, but also judicious, diagnostic, and decisive.

This is how you DO want to be noticed: If you can lead the group to make a solid decision that can be backed up with a well-considered evaluation, you will impress your supervisor in a good way. To lead however does not mean to dominate; it means making sure ideas are free flowing and everyone’s voice is heard. Critical thinking encompasses the ability to gather relevant information, interpret the information’s significance, clarify its meaning, examining it from different perspectives (this means asking questions and looking at the big picture not just the immediate situation), and then evaluating what you’ve learned and considering multiple options, all before arriving at your final conclusion. If that sounds like a lot of work that’s because it is. Just remember that critical thinking is elastic, it’s a process which allows for unexpected variables. In other words, it’s open to changes in the plan to ensure successful outcomes.

Potential employers want to know if you have the thinking skills that will give them a competitive edge. You may be wondering how you should get the message across that you have honed your critical thinking skills and that you are exactly the type of person who can help the organization reach its goals. Well, you know those common interview questions, like tell me about yourself, tell me about your strengths, what was your biggest accomplishment, why do you want this job, what challenges and problems have you faced in a job and how did you handle them? All of those questions give you golden opportunities to provide proof of your critical thinking skills.

You know where else you can make your critical thinking skills shine? Networking. You may have heard the advice to follow-up with professionals who have agreed to network with you by sending them articles of interest to help foster a working relationship. Instead of simply forwarding an article of interest to your contract, write two or three lines that show you’ve given the article analytical thought and have drawn meaningful conclusions. If you meet a professional for coffee or lunch, when you discuss a topic of interest don’t just “pick their brains”, show them how well your own brain works. The people who are impressed with your critical thinking skills will refer you for interviews, tell you about openings they know, and may even hire you themselves.

Nowadays, some colleges and universities offer full courses in critical thinking. This would be a perfect way to get started on building your skills, or asking a professor or advisor what courses might be beneficial for you to take. It takes time to develop critical thinking skills, and no one expects a recent graduate starting a career to have the level of expertise that can swiftly provide an elegant, yet efficient solution. But if you take the time to careful examine the problem, you can arrive at a solution that is both easy to understand, and, most importantly, correct.

Why critical thinking is crucial to your success and how to improve it

Napoleon Hill, author of the best-selling book Think and Grow Rich, once said: “You have a brain and mind of your own. Use it, and reach your own decisions.”

That’s critical thinking in a nutshell. It’s the ability to analyze information (data, facts, observations and research findings) objectively and make a reasoned judgement. In terms of critical thinking in education, The Glossary of Education Reform shares this definition:

“Critical thinking describes forms of learning, thought and analysis that go beyond the memorization and recall of information and facts.”

Why Critical Thinking Skills are Essential

The world is constantly changing. Jobs and skills that are in demand now may be obsolete within the next few years. Having critical thinking skills allows you to think quickly on your feet, assess problems and find the best solutions – particularly when you don’t know the answer right away. Not surprising, critical thinking abilities are also among the most sought-after skills in almost every industry and workplace.

As educators, it’s important to ensure students today develop critical thinking skills for future success. Below are a few tips for promoting this valuable skill in afterschool:

How to Get Students to Think Critically

1. Encourage Student-centered Learning

Naturally, student-centered learning reduces direct instruction from you – the teacher. This approach empowers students to think critically as they share in decisions and take the lead in their own learning. Examples of student-led learning include:

  • Creating K-W-L charts before, during or after a lesson
  • Cultivating thoughtful discussions
  • Fostering cooperative learning opportunities
  • Creating media to present an issue

When facilitating student-centered learning, you may avoid providing direct, step-by-step instructions or jumping in to help. For more instructional methods, check out these 28 Student-Centered Instructional Strategies from TeachThought.

2. Assign Group Work

Group activities and projects are perfect opportunities to strengthen students’ critical thinking skills. Not only can they learn to work through problems together. But they are also exposed to new ideas and thought processes. This allows them to understand how others think and to find ways to collaborate and combine ideas to create a single solution.

A great way to drive group, or collaborative learning, is through project-based learning (PBL). PBL projects are designed for students to work together as a team to solve real-world problems. In addition to learning to be a team player, they are also encouraged to take ownership of their work, to participate in in-depth inquiry and innovation and to use feedback to improve their process.

3. Provide Space to Think Out Loud

This may seem like a simple concept, but talking through your thought process can actually help you solve problems. In fact, one study found that we are far better at problem-solving when we think out loud, making 78% fewer errors than if we silently work things out in our heads.

Thinking aloud can also improve students’ mental ability. It helps them to process information and develop a deeper understanding, which will only strengthen their critical thinking abilities. To use this approach, provide time for brainstorming sessions, open-ended discussions and even private speech. In addition, it’s important to create a safe environment where students feel comfortable enough to share their opinions and take risks in order for this method to be successful.

4. Ask Questions

Critical thinking may not come easy for most students. Often they will need help as they reflect on their own thinking process. One way to provoke critical thinking is to ask productive questions that take their thinking to the next level. Some examples include:

  • What is the problem you are trying to solve?
  • How would you agree or disagree with this?
  • Where can this be improved?
  • How might you convince us that your way is the best way?

The goal is to help them to make their own discoveries as they work to solve a problem. For a more complete list of critical thinking questions, check out 50 Questions To Help Students Think About What They Think.

5. Try Problem-solving Activities

Finally, provide activities that require students to exercise their critical thinking skills. Consider playing mystery games and solving crime puzzles. These activities typically promote observation skills, reading comprehension and deductive and inductive thinking skills as they evaluate evidence – the heart of critical thinking.

Take a look at the following resources for activity ideas:

6. Teach Coding

Coding is another great way to reinforce critical thinking skills. It requires students to approach a problem from different angles and come up with various possible solutions. This step in coding is called iteration or troubleshooting, and it’s an opportunity to evaluate data, observations and feedback before deciding on a solution. To bring coding into your program, see 6 Tools to Teach Coding in After School.

Critical thinking is a necessary skill in today’s fast-changing society. You can prepare your students for success by helping them to think critically and solve problems they may face in school and in their future jobs.

What ways do you encourage critical thinking in your classroom or afterschool program? Share your ideas in the comments below!

Critical skills are essential to succeed in everyday life. They encompass skills related to connecting pieces of information and communication.

There is always a way to enhance these abilities in children of all ages. However, you may wonder – what is critical thinking for kids?

It means to be open to new ideas, arguments, and information. This enables children to think critically and rationally and encourages looking for alternative ways to solve a problem.

These are some essential life skills and they entail a critical thinking mindset which makes solving everyday problems easier. In this article, we brought together fun games and activities for your child to become a critical thinker.

Why critical thinking is crucial to your success and how to improve it

Online Critical Thinking Games

The most effective way to improve your children’s thinking skills is to engage them with educational games. Here are critical thinking games for kids to support their school success

Critical Thinking Game

This fun critical thinking game for kids is all about reasoning as fast and accurately as you can. Let’s try!

Basic Critical Thinking Game

In this critical thinking activity for kids, they need to select the image that is appropriate for the given condition.

Easy Critical Thinking Game

These fun critical thinking questions for kids are perfect for students in the early grades of school to sharpening their counting and math skills.

Cool Critical Thinking Game

It’s a critical thinking test for kids! Use your thinking skills to find out the correct answer!

If you enjoyed these brain exercises, you can play hundreds more at MentalUP!

Fun Critical Thinking Activities

Now, let’s take a look at some fun activities that can help you encourage younger children to improve their critical skills! These exercises can help them to think critically whether they are at home, school, or in online classes.

1. Encourage Thinking

Why critical thinking is crucial to your success and how to improve it

Children are full of questions, aren’t they? So, to encourage their thinking process, you can ask them to try answering their questions. And in the process, you can help them arrive at the answer using logical thinking instead of providing them with a direct answer.

It is possible to improve critical thinking skills even for preschoolers; one of the key elements of high-order thinking is making rational choices and justifying kids’ own decisions.

Let’s help your preschooler analyse the objects to make a logical decision themselves using critical thinking worksheets for preschoolers.

2. Play Sorting Games

Why critical thinking is crucial to your success and how to improve it

Critical skills include the reasoning ability to solve real-life problems. And of course, one of the great ways to support children’s reasoning and classification skills is sorting games.

This activity will help children see the differences among various groups and enhance their understanding of the objects.

To play, you can simply ask your children to sort the same kind of objects using different features like colors, shapes, or sizes.

3. Solve Brain Teasers Together

Why critical thinking is crucial to your success and how to improve it

To trigger brain activity, you can always benefit from brain teasers. Solving any kind of brain teasers together will allow your children to learn from you and challenge their problem-solving skills at the same time.

4. Ask Them Riddles

Riddles are also a great way to help your children become critical thinkers, not to mention how fun they actually are.

Why critical thinking is crucial to your success and how to improve it

So, let your children promote their reasoning, problem-solving, and many other skills as they simply play!

5. Create Games from Real-life Problems

Since critical skills are absolutely necessary for our daily lives, then why not apply them to some educational activities?

Why critical thinking is crucial to your success and how to improve it

You can take real-world problems like recycling or water scarcity as an open ended questions game and ask your children to think of solutions.

These kinds of pretend games will not only boost their problem-solving skills as they focus on creative problems, but also help them learn about their environment and develop their good sense.

Critical Thinking Questions and Answers for Kids

These fun critical thinking questions and answers are perfect for students in the early grades of school to sharpening their critical thinking, counting and math skills.

Critical Thinking Test for Kids

Why critical thinking is crucial to your success and how to improve it

Bip bip! Can you tell which scooter will reach the gas station?
🛵

The answer is B!

If you follow the road path, you will see that only B can reach the gas station.

Want to solve more puzzles? Let’s try MentalUP Brain Teaser for Kids

Critical Thinking Example for Kids

Why critical thinking is crucial to your success and how to improve it

Can you guess who is left-handed and why? 🧐

It’s irregular to serve drinks with left hand for a right-handed person. So, the answer is 5.

You’re good at hard riddles! Let’s continue with MentalUP to see your detailed performance reports.

Why critical thinking is crucial to your success and how to improve it

Grow Your Business, Not Your Inbox

Why critical thinking is crucial to your success and how to improve it

As an entrepreneur, you make decisions every day that affect the success of your products, the loyalty of your employees, and the overall health of your business. To make the best decisions possible, you need to think critically and quickly to pick out any flaws in your processes that might harm your business.

When you think through a problem, your thought process is naturally colored by biases, such as your point of view and your assumptions about the situation. Each of those biases affects your reasoning. If you let your biases drive your thought process and overlook blind spots in your logic, you’ll unwittingly make decisions filled with holes.

“Critical thinking is a way to intervene in your thought process,” says Linda Elder, an educational psychologist and president of the Foundation for Critical Thinking based in Tomales, Calif. “It’s a way to routinely and consistently seek problems in your thinking.”

Try these three strategies to help you think through a problem effectively.

1. Identify your purpose.
Every time you face a decision, there is a purpose attached to that choice, or a goal that the decision will help you achieve. For example, if you are expanding into a new market, your purpose might be to choose the one with the greatest growth opportunity.

Once you identify your purpose, it should inform every step of your decision process. First make sure that you’re clear about what it is, articulate it for yourself and your team and make use it as a starting point, not an end point. “With critical thinking, it is essential to go beyond the basic skills like gathering information,” Elder says.

2. Examine your biases.
When you face a problem, it’s common to view it from only your perspective and to overlook how your clients, customers, or co-workers might see it. Considering the situation from only one point of view, however, can lead to products that flop or unnecessary spending. The goal of critical thinking is to bring those biases to light so they don’t obstruct your decisions.

To do that, articulate your own viewpoint. Ask yourself, what do I believe about this situation? What is important to me? Next, look for any assumptions you might be making about others’ thoughts or behaviors. “Irrational thought is often unconscious,” Elder says. “When we articulate our thoughts, we have a better chance to detect distorted thinking.”

3. Consider the implications of your options.
Every choice has consequences, and you can improve your decision-making by anticipating what those might be. To do that, approach the problem from many different viewpoints. Imagine yourself as each of the stakeholders, and consider how they might feel and act in response to each option.

If you do make a choice that backfires by upsetting clients or hurting sales, take a deeper look at which implications you failed to think through, and why. “Common reasons are that people were intellectually lazy, didn’t want to consider a given viewpoint,” Elder says. Knowing what you missed and why will help you avoid that issue in the future.

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Why critical thinking is crucial to your success and how to improve it

The Hechinger Report is a national nonprofit newsroom that reports on one topic: education. Sign up for our weekly newsletters to get stories like this delivered directly to your inbox.

Critical thinking is all the rage in education. Schools brag that they teach it on their websites and in open houses to impress parents. Some argue that critical thinking should be the primary purpose of education and one of the most important skills to have in the 21st century, with advanced machines and algorithms replacing manual and repetitive labor.

But a fascinating review of the scientific research on how to teach critical thinking concludes that teaching generic critical thinking skills, such as logical reasoning, might be a big waste of time. Critical thinking exercises and games haven’t produced long-lasting improvements for students. And the research literature shows that it’s very difficult for students to apply critical thinking skills learned in one subject to another, even between different fields of science.

“Wanting students to be able to ‘analyse, synthesise and evaluate’ information sounds like a reasonable goal,” writes Daniel Willingham, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia. “But analysis, synthesis, and evaluation mean different things in different disciplines.”

Willingham’s reading of the research literature concludes that scientists are united in their belief that content knowledge is crucial to effective critical thinking. And he argues that the best approach is to explicitly teach very specific small skills of analysis for each subject. For example, in history, students need to interpret documents in light of their sources, seek corroboration and put them in their historical context. That kind of analysis isn’t relevant in science, where the source of a document isn’t as important as following the scientific method.

Willingham wrote a paper, “How to Teach Critical Thinking,” in May 2019 for the Department of Education of New South Wales in Australia. But it is entirely applicable to the American context.

In the paper, Willingham traces the history of teaching critical thinking. More than a century ago, many thought that difficult subjects like Latin might improve thinking abilities. But scientists subsequently found that students who studied Latin didn’t do any better on tests than those who didn’t. There are mixed results from more recent studies in teaching students computer science. A 2018 meta-analysis showed better creative thinking, mathematics, meta-cognition, spatial skills and reasoning for students who take computer programing. But the gains were much smaller for studies with good control groups. A lot of the so-called benefit to studying computer science appears to be a placebo effect.

To be sure, there are basic logic principles that are true across subjects, such as understanding that “A” and “not A” cannot simultaneously be true. But students typically fail to apply even generic principles like these in new situations. In one experiment described by Willingham, people read a passage about how rebels successfully attacked a dictator hiding in a fortress (they dispersed the forces to avoid collateral damage and then converged at the point of attack). Immediately afterwards, they were asked how to destroy a malignant tumor using a ray that could cause a lot of collateral damage to healthy tissue. The solution was identical to that of the military attack but the subjects in the experiment didn’t see the analogy. In a follow-up experiment, people were told that the military story might help them solve the cancer problem and almost everyone solved it. “Using the analogy was not hard; the problem was thinking to use it in the first place,” Willingham explained.

To help student see analogies, “show students two solved problems with different surface structures but the same deep structure and ask them to compare them,” Williingham advises teachers, citing a pedagogical technique proven to work by researchers in 2013.

In math, students often get derailed when a word problem is slightly different from a step-by-step model that they’ve studied. A research-tested strategy here, developed by Richard Catrambone at the Georgia Institute of Technology, is to label the sub-steps of the solution with the goal they serve. That way students can understand why they’re using each step and what it’s accomplishing.

But the bigger problem is that critical thinking varies so much. “Critical thinking is needed when playing chess, designing a product, or planning strategy for a field hockey match,” Willingham wrote. “But there are no routine, reusable solutions for these problems.”

And this is where content knowledge becomes important. In order to compare and contrast, the brain has to hold ideas in working memory, which can easily be overloaded. The more familiar a student is with a particular topic, the easier it is for the student to hold those ideas in his working memory and really think. Willingham uses chess as a good example. Once a student has a played a lot of chess, then he has many board positions memorized in his brain and can sort through which one is better in each particular circumstance.

Willingham says that the scientific research shows that it’s very hard to evaluate an author’s claim if you don’t have background knowledge in the subject. “If you lack background knowledge about the topic, ample evidence from the last 40 years indicates you will not comprehend the author’s claims in the first place,” wrote Willingham, citing his own 2017 book.

At what age should teachers begin this subject-specific teaching of individual, discrete critical thinking skills? Some teachers might think it’s developmentally inappropriate, and possibly harmful, to engage in cognitive work that seems more appropriate for an older child. But research from the last 30 years shows that young children are far more capable in engaging in reasoning that we once thought. Scientists now think that cognitive development is more gradual and starts young. “In some circumstances, even toddlers can understand principles of conditional reasoning, and in other circumstances, conditional reasoning confuses adult physicians,” wrote Willingham. “It all depends on the content of the problem.”

Willingham’s ideas are similar to those of Natalie Wexler, who makes an impassioned argument that schools should return to a content-rich curriculum in her 2019 book, “The Knowledge Gap.” Both are worth reading as a strong counterpoint to the emphasis on critical thinking in schools today.