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How Will You Promote Critical Thinking Skills With Your Students

Reflective Thinking: RT 

| What is RT | Characteristics | RT and middle school kids | KaAMS and RT | Links | Bibliography | 


What is reflective thinking?

  • The description of reflective thinking:

Critical thinking and reflective thinking are often used synonymously.  Critical thinking is used to describe:

"... the use of those cognitive skills or strategies that increase the probability of a desirable outcome...thinking that is purposeful, reasoned and goal directed - the kind of thinking involved in solving problems, formulating inferences, calculating likelihoods, and making decisions when the thinker is using skills that are thoughtful and effective for the particular context and type of thinking task. Critical thinking is sometimes called directed thinking because it focuses on a desired outcome." Halpern (1996).

Reflective thinking, on the other hand,is a part of the critical thinking process referring specifically to the processes of analyzing and making judgments about what has happened. Dewey (1933) suggests that reflective thinking is an active, persistent, and careful consideration of a belief or supposed form of knowledge, of the grounds that support that knowledge, and the further conclusions to which that knowledge leads. Learners are aware of and control their learning by actively participating in reflective thinking – assessing what they know, what they need to know, and how they bridge that gap – during learning situations.

In summary, critical thinking involves a wide range of thinking skills leading toward desirable outcomes and reflective thinking focuses on the process of making judgments about what has happened. However, reflective thinking is most important in prompting learning during complex problem-solving situations because it provides students with an opportunity to step back and think about how they actually solve problems and how a particular set of problem solving strategies is appropriated for achieving their goal.

Characteristics of environments and activities that prompt and support reflective thinking:

  • Provide enough wait-time for students to reflect when responding to inquiries.
  • Provide emotionally supportive environments in the classroom encouraging reevaluation of conclusions.
  • Prompt reviews of the learning situation, what is known, what is not yet known, and what has been learned.
  • Provide authentic tasks involving ill-structured data to encourage reflective thinking during learning activities.
  • Prompt students' reflection by asking questions that seek reasons and evidence.
  • Provide some explanations to guide students' thought processes during explorations.
  • Provide a less-structured learning environment that prompts students to explore what they think is important.
  • Provide social-learning environments such as those inherent in peer-group works and small group activities to allow students to see other points of view.
  • Provide reflective journal to write down students' positions, give reasons to support what they think, show awareness of opposing positions and the weaknesses of their own positions.

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  • Why is reflective thinking important?

Modern society is becoming more complex, information is becoming available and changing more rapidly prompting users to constantly rethink, switch directions, and change problem-solving strategies. Thus, it is increasingly important to prompt reflective thinking during learning to help learners develop strategies to apply new knowledge to the complex situations in their day-to-day activities. Reflective thinking helps learners develop higher-order thinking skills by prompting learners to a) relate new knowledge to prior understanding, b) think in both abstract and conceptual terms, c) apply specific strategies in novel tasks, and d) understand their own thinking and learning strategies.

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Reflective thinking and middle school kids:

  • How to prompt reflection in middle school kids:

It is important to prompt reflective thinking in middle school children to support them in their transition between childhood and adulthood. During this time period adolescents experience major changes in intellectual, emotional, social, and physical development. They begin to shape their own thought processes and are at an ideal time to begin developing thinking, learning, and metacognitive strategies. Therefore, reflective thinking provides middle level students with the skills to mentally process learning experiences, identify what they learned, modify their understanding based on new information and experiences, and transfer their learning to other situations. Scaffolding strategies should be incorporated into the learning environment to help students develop their ability to reflect on their own learning. For example,  

  • Teachers should model metacognitive and self-explanation strategies on specific problems to help students build an integrated understanding of the process of reflection.  
  • Study guides or advance organizer should be integrated into classroom materials to prompt students to reflect on their learning.
  • Questioning strategies should be used to prompt reflective thinking, specifically getting students to respond to why, how, and what specific decisions are made. 
  • Social learning environments should exist that prompt collaborative work with peers, teachers, and experts.
  • Learning experiences should be designed to include advice from teachers and co-learners. 
  • Classroom activities should be relevant to real-world situations and provide integrated experiences.
  • Classroom experiences should involve enjoyable, concrete, and physical learning activities whenever possible to ensure proper attention to the unique cognitive, affective, and psychomotor domain development of middle school students.

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How does KaAMSsupport reflective thinking?

  • KaAMS model of PBL and its relationship to reflective thinking: 

 

 

  • KaAMS incorporates prompts and scaffolding suggestions to promote reflective thinking by:

    • Structuring lesson plans to support reflective thinking.  
    • Providing lesson components that prompt inquiry and curiosity. 
    • Providing resources and hand-on activities to prompt exploration.  
    • Providing reflective thinking activities that prompt students to think about what they have done, what they learned, and what they still need to do.
    • Providing reflection activity worksheets for each lesson plan to prompt students to think about what they know, what they learned, and what they need to know as they progress through their exploration.

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Links to additional information on critical and reflective thinking:


A Selected Reflective Thinking Bibliography:

Book:

  • Moon, J. A. (1999). Reflection in learning and professional development: Theory and practice. London: Kogan Page.
  • Halpern, D. F. (1996). Thought and knowledge: an introduction to critical thinking (3rd ed.). Mahwah, NJ: L. Erlbaum Associates.

Selected Article:

  • Lin, X., Hmelo, C., Kinzer, C. K., & Secules, T. J (1999). Designing technology to support reflection, Educational Technology Research & Development, pp. 43-62. 

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Critical thinking has been an important issue in education, and has become quite the buzzword around schools. The Common Core State Standards specifically emphasize a thinkingcurriculum and thereby requires teachers to elevate their students’ mental workflow beyond just memorization—which is a really good step forward. Critical thinking is a skill that young minds will undeniably need and exercise well beyond their school years. Experts agree that in keeping up with the ever-changing technological advances, students will need to obtain, understand, and analyze information on a much more efficient scale. It is our job as educators to equip our students with the strategies and skills they need to think critically in order to cope with these tech problems and obstacles they face elsewhere.

Fortunately, teachers can use a number of techniques that can help students learn critical thinking, even for children enrolled in kindergarten. Here are some teaching strategies that may prove immediately effective:

Teaching Strategies to Encourage Creativity

Traditionally, elementary teachers prepare templates for art projects before they give it to their students. By doing so, it levels the creative playing field and can, in some ways, help the classroom run more smoothly if every child’s snowflake looks the same.

I know it may be a bit unnerving to relinquish a bit of control, but rest assured that not having everything prepped in advance is a good thing. Instead, give students all of the supplies needed to create a snowflake, and let them do it on their own. This will allow students to become critical thinkers because they will have to use their prior knowledge to consider what a snowflake looks like, how big it is, what color it is, etc.

Do Not Always Jump in to Help

It’s too easy to always find a solution for a student who needs your help. Kindergarteners especially will get very upset when they can’t find their crayons or scissors. The easy way for a teacher to answer is “It’s OK, you can borrow a pair of scissors from me.” Instead of always readily finding a solution for your students, try responding with “Let’s think about how we can find them.” Then, you can assist the student in figuring out the best possible solution for finding their lost item.

Brainstorm Before Everything You Do

One of the easiest and most effective ways to get young children to think critically is to brainstorm. Regardless of subject, have students think about what they’ll be doing, learning, or reading— before actually starting each activity.  Ask a lot questions, like “What do you think this book will be about?” Or “Tell me three things you think you will be learning in this lesson about space?” Give students every opportunity you can to be critical thinkers.

Classify and Categorize

Classification plays an important role in critical thinking because it requires students to understand and apply a set of rules. Give students a variety of objects and ask them to identify each object, then sort it into a category. This is a great activity to help students think and self-question what object should go where, and why.

Compare and Contrast

Much like classifying, students will need to look closely at each topic or object they are comparing and really think about the significance of each one. You can have students compare and contrast just about anything—try this out with the book your class is reading now. Compare and contrast the weather forecast for today and yesterday. Compare the shape and color of a pumpkin to another vegetable. Compare and contrast today’s math lesson with last week’s—the ideas are endless.

Make Connections

Encouraging students to make connections to a real-life situation and identify patterns is a great way to practice their critical thinking skills. Ask students to always be on the look for these connections, and when they find one to make sure they tell you.

Provide Group Opportunities

Group settings are the perfect way to get your kids thinking. When children are around their classmates working together, they get exposed to the thought processes of their peers. They learn how to understand how other people think and that their way is not the only route to explore.

When this valuable skill is introduced to students early on in the education process, students will be capable of having complex thoughts and become better problem solvers when presented with difficulty. It’s important for students to possess a variety of skills, but it’s just as important for them to understand the skills and how, and when to use them.

How do you teach critical thinking in your classroom? Do you have any teaching strategies that can help students learn this important life skill? Feel free to share with us in the comment section below. We would love to hear your ideas.

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Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds a Master's of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com, as well as a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com and TeachHUB Magazine. You can follow her at Twitter @Empoweringk6ed, or on Facebook at Empowering K6 Educators

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