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Teacher Tips

Encouraging Critical Thinking in the Classroom

Haylie Taylor Haylie Taylor   |   10/10/2019

The teaching style of the International Baccalaureate (IB) is centered around reshaping students and schools as they learn. This is particularly through action and reflection, but also through critical thinking and in turn, inquiry.

Critical thinking is an important concept within the IB for all programmes and age levels. Plus, by developing a certain approach to learning with critical thinking and questioning, it aims to encourage success in three areas:

  • Personal
  • Academic
  • Career Preparation

Critical thinking plays an intrinsic role in all three areas; it is an important skill that can be applied to most subjects and helps shape an individual’s growth mindset. As an essential life skill, it’s the one that often differentiates IB students from others, particularly with the additional inquiry-based learning which the IB promotes.

Although setting up a classroom for a level of critical thinking can be challenging, it is rewarding and fun, and IB classrooms are often led by inquiry from both teachers and students – it’s all based on what students know and what their abilities are, or what they can do.

That’s why we’ve put together some practices that will encourage and help critical thinking in your classroom – these strategies are designed to help all students with active involvement in the classroom and provide opportunities for engagement and curiosity.

Plan for critical thinking time

Planning is important when it comes to factoring in critical thinking within a lesson. You’ll likely need more time than what a lesson typically allows in order to get students to test their analytical and critical skills.

To be able to encourage critical thinking and inquiry into certain areas, teachers need to have the right amount of information too, or the resources for it. It may be an idea to share all the resources you and your other teachers have in one area. This is so you can all collaborate together and learn from each other’s experiences.

Make connections to the real world

Introducing lessons that connect to real-world examples helps give students greater purpose to their learning. Fuel their curiosity by changing up your teaching approach and use practical applications and activities. This will help them see how they can apply their learning in real life (see our blog on project-based learning to find out more about this).

Not only will this assess real-life application but is also a great way to formatively assess too. You can make learning and instruction more meaningful and personal to students by doing this.

Make time for reflection to think about concepts

Our next point is all about reflection. Students can be encouraged to think about concepts in more detail when you offer small amounts of time for reflection. This can be important for students, especially for those who find speaking up a little harder.

The IB promotes reflection as an important part of the learning process and encouraging critical thinking that focuses on reflection is important.

For this to work, create an online space where staff and students can access and share ideas, questions and thoughts. This helps with encouraging a community of learners and ties in with learning inside and outside of the school. This practice can also support with creating individuals who are willing to help each other and ask questions.

Pose a question

Ask a question, maybe at registration or at the end of a lesson and put it on the board. Students can write answers down or volunteer to answer in front of the class. Then you can have a class discussion on it.

For example, on EducationCity, we have ThinkIts which encourage critical thinking. They pose a question to display on the whiteboard or individually in front of students for them to think about and answer.

Make critical thinking active

To help with inquiry-based learning, you could also make tasks active. For example, ask your students to read a statement which has two opposing views, e.g., do you agree with the author’s argument?

Direct students to stand on a certain side of the classroom depending on whether they agree or disagree. Then ask members of the class to explain to their peers why they went to a certain side. It should be allowed that they can change sides after a discussion on the statement.

By encouraging critical thinking in the classroom, teachers do not have to call upon students but will give them the opportunity and invitation to think and ask questions. Be curious. A student-centered learning approach, which the IB supports, gives many students the opportunity to be actively involved in a lesson. This helps them be more willing to explore the world and their academic knowledge on their own.

Don’t forget that we have a fantastic webinar on encouraging critical thinking in the Primary Years Programme (PYP) and Middle Years Programme (MYP) for you to explore. Also, we have a critical thinking free resource pack for your lessons too.

Finally, for more blogs, free resources, guidance, top tips and more, to take a look at our whole microsite. This can support IB teachers with critical thinking, individualized learning, inquiry and more. We’re adding to it all the time – explore it here.

Haylie Taylor

Education Consultant

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