Classroom Q&A

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In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to [email protected]. Read more from this blog.

Eight Instructional Strategies for Promoting Critical Thinking

how to develop critical thinking and problem solving skills in students

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(This is the first post in a three-part series.)

The new question-of-the-week is:

What is critical thinking and how can we integrate it into the classroom?

This three-part series will explore what critical thinking is, if it can be specifically taught and, if so, how can teachers do so in their classrooms.

Today’s guests are Dara Laws Savage, Patrick Brown, Meg Riordan, Ph.D., and Dr. PJ Caposey. Dara, Patrick, and Meg were also guests on my 10-minute BAM! Radio Show . You can also find a list of, and links to, previous shows here.

You might also be interested in The Best Resources On Teaching & Learning Critical Thinking In The Classroom .

Current Events

Dara Laws Savage is an English teacher at the Early College High School at Delaware State University, where she serves as a teacher and instructional coach and lead mentor. Dara has been teaching for 25 years (career preparation, English, photography, yearbook, newspaper, and graphic design) and has presented nationally on project-based learning and technology integration:

There is so much going on right now and there is an overload of information for us to process. Did you ever stop to think how our students are processing current events? They see news feeds, hear news reports, and scan photos and posts, but are they truly thinking about what they are hearing and seeing?

I tell my students that my job is not to give them answers but to teach them how to think about what they read and hear. So what is critical thinking and how can we integrate it into the classroom? There are just as many definitions of critical thinking as there are people trying to define it. However, the Critical Think Consortium focuses on the tools to create a thinking-based classroom rather than a definition: “Shape the climate to support thinking, create opportunities for thinking, build capacity to think, provide guidance to inform thinking.” Using these four criteria and pairing them with current events, teachers easily create learning spaces that thrive on thinking and keep students engaged.

One successful technique I use is the FIRE Write. Students are given a quote, a paragraph, an excerpt, or a photo from the headlines. Students are asked to F ocus and respond to the selection for three minutes. Next, students are asked to I dentify a phrase or section of the photo and write for two minutes. Third, students are asked to R eframe their response around a specific word, phrase, or section within their previous selection. Finally, students E xchange their thoughts with a classmate. Within the exchange, students also talk about how the selection connects to what we are covering in class.

There was a controversial Pepsi ad in 2017 involving Kylie Jenner and a protest with a police presence. The imagery in the photo was strikingly similar to a photo that went viral with a young lady standing opposite a police line. Using that image from a current event engaged my students and gave them the opportunity to critically think about events of the time.

Here are the two photos and a student response:

F - Focus on both photos and respond for three minutes

In the first picture, you see a strong and courageous black female, bravely standing in front of two officers in protest. She is risking her life to do so. Iesha Evans is simply proving to the world she does NOT mean less because she is black … and yet officers are there to stop her. She did not step down. In the picture below, you see Kendall Jenner handing a police officer a Pepsi. Maybe this wouldn’t be a big deal, except this was Pepsi’s weak, pathetic, and outrageous excuse of a commercial that belittles the whole movement of people fighting for their lives.

I - Identify a word or phrase, underline it, then write about it for two minutes

A white, privileged female in place of a fighting black woman was asking for trouble. A struggle we are continuously fighting every day, and they make a mockery of it. “I know what will work! Here Mr. Police Officer! Drink some Pepsi!” As if. Pepsi made a fool of themselves, and now their already dwindling fan base continues to ever shrink smaller.

R - Reframe your thoughts by choosing a different word, then write about that for one minute

You don’t know privilege until it’s gone. You don’t know privilege while it’s there—but you can and will be made accountable and aware. Don’t use it for evil. You are not stupid. Use it to do something. Kendall could’ve NOT done the commercial. Kendall could’ve released another commercial standing behind a black woman. Anything!

Exchange - Remember to discuss how this connects to our school song project and our previous discussions?

This connects two ways - 1) We want to convey a strong message. Be powerful. Show who we are. And Pepsi definitely tried. … Which leads to the second connection. 2) Not mess up and offend anyone, as had the one alma mater had been linked to black minstrels. We want to be amazing, but we have to be smart and careful and make sure we include everyone who goes to our school and everyone who may go to our school.

As a final step, students read and annotate the full article and compare it to their initial response.

Using current events and critical-thinking strategies like FIRE writing helps create a learning space where thinking is the goal rather than a score on a multiple-choice assessment. Critical-thinking skills can cross over to any of students’ other courses and into life outside the classroom. After all, we as teachers want to help the whole student be successful, and critical thinking is an important part of navigating life after they leave our classrooms.



Patrick Brown is the executive director of STEM and CTE for the Fort Zumwalt school district in Missouri and an experienced educator and author :

Planning for critical thinking focuses on teaching the most crucial science concepts, practices, and logical-thinking skills as well as the best use of instructional time. One way to ensure that lessons maintain a focus on critical thinking is to focus on the instructional sequence used to teach.

Explore-before-explain teaching is all about promoting critical thinking for learners to better prepare students for the reality of their world. What having an explore-before-explain mindset means is that in our planning, we prioritize giving students firsthand experiences with data, allow students to construct evidence-based claims that focus on conceptual understanding, and challenge students to discuss and think about the why behind phenomena.

Just think of the critical thinking that has to occur for students to construct a scientific claim. 1) They need the opportunity to collect data, analyze it, and determine how to make sense of what the data may mean. 2) With data in hand, students can begin thinking about the validity and reliability of their experience and information collected. 3) They can consider what differences, if any, they might have if they completed the investigation again. 4) They can scrutinize outlying data points for they may be an artifact of a true difference that merits further exploration of a misstep in the procedure, measuring device, or measurement. All of these intellectual activities help them form more robust understanding and are evidence of their critical thinking.

In explore-before-explain teaching, all of these hard critical-thinking tasks come before teacher explanations of content. Whether we use discovery experiences, problem-based learning, and or inquiry-based activities, strategies that are geared toward helping students construct understanding promote critical thinking because students learn content by doing the practices valued in the field to generate knowledge.


An Issue of Equity

Meg Riordan, Ph.D., is the chief learning officer at The Possible Project, an out-of-school program that collaborates with youth to build entrepreneurial skills and mindsets and provides pathways to careers and long-term economic prosperity. She has been in the field of education for over 25 years as a middle and high school teacher, school coach, college professor, regional director of N.Y.C. Outward Bound Schools, and director of external research with EL Education:

Although critical thinking often defies straightforward definition, most in the education field agree it consists of several components: reasoning, problem-solving, and decisionmaking, plus analysis and evaluation of information, such that multiple sides of an issue can be explored. It also includes dispositions and “the willingness to apply critical-thinking principles, rather than fall back on existing unexamined beliefs, or simply believe what you’re told by authority figures.”

Despite variation in definitions, critical thinking is nonetheless promoted as an essential outcome of students’ learning—we want to see students and adults demonstrate it across all fields, professions, and in their personal lives. Yet there is simultaneously a rationing of opportunities in schools for students of color, students from under-resourced communities, and other historically marginalized groups to deeply learn and practice critical thinking.

For example, many of our most underserved students often spend class time filling out worksheets, promoting high compliance but low engagement, inquiry, critical thinking, or creation of new ideas. At a time in our world when college and careers are critical for participation in society and the global, knowledge-based economy, far too many students struggle within classrooms and schools that reinforce low-expectations and inequity.

If educators aim to prepare all students for an ever-evolving marketplace and develop skills that will be valued no matter what tomorrow’s jobs are, then we must move critical thinking to the forefront of classroom experiences. And educators must design learning to cultivate it.

So, what does that really look like?

Unpack and define critical thinking

To understand critical thinking, educators need to first unpack and define its components. What exactly are we looking for when we speak about reasoning or exploring multiple perspectives on an issue? How does problem-solving show up in English, math, science, art, or other disciplines—and how is it assessed? At Two Rivers, an EL Education school, the faculty identified five constructs of critical thinking, defined each, and created rubrics to generate a shared picture of quality for teachers and students. The rubrics were then adapted across grade levels to indicate students’ learning progressions.

At Avenues World School, critical thinking is one of the Avenues World Elements and is an enduring outcome embedded in students’ early experiences through 12th grade. For instance, a kindergarten student may be expected to “identify cause and effect in familiar contexts,” while an 8th grader should demonstrate the ability to “seek out sufficient evidence before accepting a claim as true,” “identify bias in claims and evidence,” and “reconsider strongly held points of view in light of new evidence.”

When faculty and students embrace a common vision of what critical thinking looks and sounds like and how it is assessed, educators can then explicitly design learning experiences that call for students to employ critical-thinking skills. This kind of work must occur across all schools and programs, especially those serving large numbers of students of color. As Linda Darling-Hammond asserts , “Schools that serve large numbers of students of color are least likely to offer the kind of curriculum needed to ... help students attain the [critical-thinking] skills needed in a knowledge work economy. ”

So, what can it look like to create those kinds of learning experiences?

Designing experiences for critical thinking

After defining a shared understanding of “what” critical thinking is and “how” it shows up across multiple disciplines and grade levels, it is essential to create learning experiences that impel students to cultivate, practice, and apply these skills. There are several levers that offer pathways for teachers to promote critical thinking in lessons:

1.Choose Compelling Topics: Keep it relevant

A key Common Core State Standard asks for students to “write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.” That might not sound exciting or culturally relevant. But a learning experience designed for a 12th grade humanities class engaged learners in a compelling topic— policing in America —to analyze and evaluate multiple texts (including primary sources) and share the reasoning for their perspectives through discussion and writing. Students grappled with ideas and their beliefs and employed deep critical-thinking skills to develop arguments for their claims. Embedding critical-thinking skills in curriculum that students care about and connect with can ignite powerful learning experiences.

2. Make Local Connections: Keep it real

At The Possible Project , an out-of-school-time program designed to promote entrepreneurial skills and mindsets, students in a recent summer online program (modified from in-person due to COVID-19) explored the impact of COVID-19 on their communities and local BIPOC-owned businesses. They learned interviewing skills through a partnership with Everyday Boston , conducted virtual interviews with entrepreneurs, evaluated information from their interviews and local data, and examined their previously held beliefs. They created blog posts and videos to reflect on their learning and consider how their mindsets had changed as a result of the experience. In this way, we can design powerful community-based learning and invite students into productive struggle with multiple perspectives.

3. Create Authentic Projects: Keep it rigorous

At Big Picture Learning schools, students engage in internship-based learning experiences as a central part of their schooling. Their school-based adviser and internship-based mentor support them in developing real-world projects that promote deeper learning and critical-thinking skills. Such authentic experiences teach “young people to be thinkers, to be curious, to get from curiosity to creation … and it helps students design a learning experience that answers their questions, [providing an] opportunity to communicate it to a larger audience—a major indicator of postsecondary success.” Even in a remote environment, we can design projects that ask more of students than rote memorization and that spark critical thinking.

Our call to action is this: As educators, we need to make opportunities for critical thinking available not only to the affluent or those fortunate enough to be placed in advanced courses. The tools are available, let’s use them. Let’s interrogate our current curriculum and design learning experiences that engage all students in real, relevant, and rigorous experiences that require critical thinking and prepare them for promising postsecondary pathways.


Critical Thinking & Student Engagement

Dr. PJ Caposey is an award-winning educator, keynote speaker, consultant, and author of seven books who currently serves as the superintendent of schools for the award-winning Meridian CUSD 223 in northwest Illinois. You can find PJ on most social-media platforms as MCUSDSupe:

When I start my keynote on student engagement, I invite two people up on stage and give them each five paper balls to shoot at a garbage can also conveniently placed on stage. Contestant One shoots their shot, and the audience gives approval. Four out of 5 is a heckuva score. Then just before Contestant Two shoots, I blindfold them and start moving the garbage can back and forth. I usually try to ensure that they can at least make one of their shots. Nobody is successful in this unfair environment.

I thank them and send them back to their seats and then explain that this little activity was akin to student engagement. While we all know we want student engagement, we are shooting at different targets. More importantly, for teachers, it is near impossible for them to hit a target that is moving and that they cannot see.

Within the world of education and particularly as educational leaders, we have failed to simplify what student engagement looks like, and it is impossible to define or articulate what student engagement looks like if we cannot clearly articulate what critical thinking is and looks like in a classroom. Because, simply, without critical thought, there is no engagement.

The good news here is that critical thought has been defined and placed into taxonomies for decades already. This is not something new and not something that needs to be redefined. I am a Bloom’s person, but there is nothing wrong with DOK or some of the other taxonomies, either. To be precise, I am a huge fan of Daggett’s Rigor and Relevance Framework. I have used that as a core element of my practice for years, and it has shaped who I am as an instructional leader.

So, in order to explain critical thought, a teacher or a leader must familiarize themselves with these tried and true taxonomies. Easy, right? Yes, sort of. The issue is not understanding what critical thought is; it is the ability to integrate it into the classrooms. In order to do so, there are a four key steps every educator must take.

  • Integrating critical thought/rigor into a lesson does not happen by chance, it happens by design. Planning for critical thought and engagement is much different from planning for a traditional lesson. In order to plan for kids to think critically, you have to provide a base of knowledge and excellent prompts to allow them to explore their own thinking in order to analyze, evaluate, or synthesize information.
  • SIDE NOTE – Bloom’s verbs are a great way to start when writing objectives, but true planning will take you deeper than this.


  • If the questions and prompts given in a classroom have correct answers or if the teacher ends up answering their own questions, the lesson will lack critical thought and rigor.
  • Script five questions forcing higher-order thought prior to every lesson. Experienced teachers may not feel they need this, but it helps to create an effective habit.
  • If lessons are rigorous and assessments are not, students will do well on their assessments, and that may not be an accurate representation of the knowledge and skills they have mastered. If lessons are easy and assessments are rigorous, the exact opposite will happen. When deciding to increase critical thought, it must happen in all three phases of the game: planning, instruction, and assessment.


  • To increase rigor, the teacher must DO LESS. This feels counterintuitive but is accurate. Rigorous lessons involving tons of critical thought must allow for students to work on their own, collaborate with peers, and connect their ideas. This cannot happen in a silent room except for the teacher talking. In order to increase rigor, decrease talk time and become comfortable with less control. Asking questions and giving prompts that lead to no true correct answer also means less control. This is a tough ask for some teachers. Explained differently, if you assign one assignment and get 30 very similar products, you have most likely assigned a low-rigor recipe. If you assign one assignment and get multiple varied products, then the students have had a chance to think deeply, and you have successfully integrated critical thought into your classroom.


Thanks to Dara, Patrick, Meg, and PJ for their contributions!

Please feel free to leave a comment with your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at [email protected] . When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo .

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Strategies to Increase Critical Thinking Skills in students

Matthew Joseph October 2, 2019 Blog , Engage Better , Lesson Plan Better , Personalize Student Learning Better

how to develop critical thinking and problem solving skills in students

In This Post:

  • The importance of helping students increase critical thinking skills.
  • Ways to promote the essential skills needed to analyze and evaluate.
  • Strategies to incorporate critical thinking into your instruction.

We ask our teachers to be “future-ready” or say that we are teaching “for jobs that don’t exist yet.” These are powerful statements. At the same time, they give teachers the impression that we have to drastically change what we are doing .

So how do we plan education for an unknown job market or unknown needs?

My answer: We can’t predict the jobs, but whatever they are, students will need to think critically to do them. So, our job is to teach our students HOW to think, not WHAT to think.

Helping Students Become Critical Thinkers

My answer is rooted in the call to empower our students to be critical thinkers. I believe that to be critical thinkers, educators need to provide students with the strategies they need. And we need to ask more than just surface-level questions.

Questions to students must motivate them to dig up background knowledge. They should inspire them to make connections to real-world scenarios. These make the learning more memorable and meaningful.

Critical thinking is a general term. I believe this term means that students effectively identify, analyze, and evaluate content or skills. In this process, they (the students) will discover and present convincing reasons in support of their answers or thinking.

You can look up critical thinking and get many definitions like this one from Wikipedia: “ Critical thinking consists of a mental process of analyzing or evaluating information, particularly statements or propositions that people have offered as true. ”

Essential Skills for Critical Thinking

In my current role as director of curriculum and instruction, I work to promote the use of 21st-century tools and, more importantly, thinking skills. Some essential skills that are the basis for critical thinking are:

  • Communication and Information skills
  • Thinking and Problem-Solving skills
  • Interpersonal and Self- Directional skills
  • Collaboration skills

These four bullets are skills students are going to need in any field and in all levels of education. Hence my answer to the question. We need to teach our students to think critically and for themselves.

One of the goals of education is to prepare students to learn through discovery . Providing opportunities to practice being critical thinkers will assist students in analyzing others’ thinking and examining the logic of others.

Understanding others is an essential skill in collaboration and in everyday life. Critical thinking will allow students to do more than just memorize knowledge.

Ask Questions

So how do we do this? One recommendation is for educators to work in-depth questioning strategies into a lesson launch.

Ask thoughtful questions to allow for answers with sound reasoning. Then, word conversations and communication to shape students’ thinking. Quick answers often result in very few words and no eye contact, which are skills we don’t want to promote.

When you are asking students questions and they provide a solution, try some of these to promote further thinking:

  • Could you elaborate further on that point?
  • Will you express that point in another way?
  • Can you give me an illustration?
  • Would you give me an example?
  • Will you you provide more details?
  • Could you be more specific?
  • Do we need to consider another point of view?
  • Is there another way to look at this question?

Utilizing critical thinking skills could be seen as a change in the paradigm of teaching and learning. Engagement in education will enhance the collaboration among teachers and students. It will also provide a way for students to succeed even if the school system had to start over.

[scroll down to keep reading]

Promoting critical thinking into all aspects of instruction.

Engagement, application, and collaboration are skills that withstand the test of time. I also promote the integration of critical thinking into every aspect of instruction.

In my experience, I’ve found a few ways to make this happen.

Begin lessons/units with a probing question: It shouldn’t be a question you can answer with a ‘yes’ or a ‘no.’ These questions should inspire discovery learning and problem-solving.

Encourage Creativity: I have seen teachers prepare projects before they give it to their students many times. For example, designing snowmen or other “creative” projects. By doing the design work or by cutting all the circles out beforehand, it removes creativity options.

It may help the classroom run more smoothly if every child’s material is already cut out, but then every student’s project looks the same. Students don’t have to think on their own or problem solve.

Not having everything “glue ready” in advance is a good thing. Instead, give students all the supplies needed to create a snowman, and let them do it on their own.

Giving independence will allow students to become critical thinkers because they will have to create their own product with the supplies you give them. This might be an elementary example, but it’s one we can relate to any grade level or project.

Try not to jump to help too fast – let the students work through a productive struggle .

Build in opportunities for students to find connections in learning.  Encouraging students to make connections to a real-life situation and identify patterns is a great way to practice their critical thinking skills. The use of real-world scenarios will increase rigor, relevance, and critical thinking.

A few other techniques to encourage critical thinking are:

  • Use analogies
  • Promote interaction among students
  • Ask open-ended questions
  • Allow reflection time
  • Use real-life problems
  • Allow for thinking practice

Critical thinking prepares students to think for themselves for the rest of their lives. I also believe critical thinkers are less likely to go along with the crowd because they think for themselves.

About Matthew X. Joseph, Ed.D.

Dr. Matthew X. Joseph has been a school and district leader in many capacities in public education over his 25 years in the field. Experiences such as the Director of Digital Learning and Innovation in Milford Public Schools (MA), elementary school principal in Natick, MA and Attleboro, MA, classroom teacher, and district professional development specialist have provided Matt incredible insights on how to best support teaching and learning. This experience has led to nationally publishing articles and opportunities to speak at multiple state and national events. He is the author of Power of Us: Creating Collaborative Schools and co-author of Modern Mentoring , Reimagining Teacher Mentorship (Due out, fall 2019). His master’s degree is in special education and his Ed.D. in Educational Leadership from Boston College.

Visit Matthew’s Blog

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Helping Students Hone Their Critical Thinking Skills

Used consistently, these strategies can help middle and high school teachers guide students to improve much-needed skills.

Middle school students involved in a classroom discussion

Critical thinking skills are important in every discipline, at and beyond school. From managing money to choosing which candidates to vote for in elections to making difficult career choices, students need to be prepared to take in, synthesize, and act on new information in a world that is constantly changing.

While critical thinking might seem like an abstract idea that is tough to directly instruct, there are many engaging ways to help students strengthen these skills through active learning.

Make Time for Metacognitive Reflection

Create space for students to both reflect on their ideas and discuss the power of doing so. Show students how they can push back on their own thinking to analyze and question their assumptions. Students might ask themselves, “Why is this the best answer? What information supports my answer? What might someone with a counterargument say?”

Through this reflection, students and teachers (who can model reflecting on their own thinking) gain deeper understandings of their ideas and do a better job articulating their beliefs. In a world that is go-go-go, it is important to help students understand that it is OK to take a breath and think about their ideas before putting them out into the world. And taking time for reflection helps us more thoughtfully consider others’ ideas, too.

Teach Reasoning Skills 

Reasoning skills are another key component of critical thinking, involving the abilities to think logically, evaluate evidence, identify assumptions, and analyze arguments. Students who learn how to use reasoning skills will be better equipped to make informed decisions, form and defend opinions, and solve problems. 

One way to teach reasoning is to use problem-solving activities that require students to apply their skills to practical contexts. For example, give students a real problem to solve, and ask them to use reasoning skills to develop a solution. They can then present their solution and defend their reasoning to the class and engage in discussion about whether and how their thinking changed when listening to peers’ perspectives. 

A great example I have seen involved students identifying an underutilized part of their school and creating a presentation about one way to redesign it. This project allowed students to feel a sense of connection to the problem and come up with creative solutions that could help others at school. For more examples, you might visit PBS’s Design Squad , a resource that brings to life real-world problem-solving.

Ask Open-Ended Questions 

Moving beyond the repetition of facts, critical thinking requires students to take positions and explain their beliefs through research, evidence, and explanations of credibility. 

When we pose open-ended questions, we create space for classroom discourse inclusive of diverse, perhaps opposing, ideas—grounds for rich exchanges that support deep thinking and analysis. 

For example, “How would you approach the problem?” and “Where might you look to find resources to address this issue?” are two open-ended questions that position students to think less about the “right” answer and more about the variety of solutions that might already exist. 

Journaling, whether digitally or physically in a notebook, is another great way to have students answer these open-ended prompts—giving them time to think and organize their thoughts before contributing to a conversation, which can ensure that more voices are heard. 

Once students process in their journal, small group or whole class conversations help bring their ideas to life. Discovering similarities between answers helps reveal to students that they are not alone, which can encourage future participation in constructive civil discourse.

Teach Information Literacy 

Education has moved far past the idea of “Be careful of what is on Wikipedia, because it might not be true.” With AI innovations making their way into classrooms, teachers know that informed readers must question everything. 

Understanding what is and is not a reliable source and knowing how to vet information are important skills for students to build and utilize when making informed decisions. You might start by introducing the idea of bias: Articles, ads, memes, videos, and every other form of media can push an agenda that students may not see on the surface. Discuss credibility, subjectivity, and objectivity, and look at examples and nonexamples of trusted information to prepare students to be well-informed members of a democracy.

One of my favorite lessons is about the Pacific Northwest tree octopus . This project asks students to explore what appears to be a very real website that provides information on this supposedly endangered animal. It is a wonderful, albeit over-the-top, example of how something might look official even when untrue, revealing that we need critical thinking to break down “facts” and determine the validity of the information we consume. 

A fun extension is to have students come up with their own website or newsletter about something going on in school that is untrue. Perhaps a change in dress code that requires everyone to wear their clothes inside out or a change to the lunch menu that will require students to eat brussels sprouts every day. 

Giving students the ability to create their own falsified information can help them better identify it in other contexts. Understanding that information can be “too good to be true” can help them identify future falsehoods. 

Provide Diverse Perspectives 

Consider how to keep the classroom from becoming an echo chamber. If students come from the same community, they may have similar perspectives. And those who have differing perspectives may not feel comfortable sharing them in the face of an opposing majority. 

To support varying viewpoints, bring diverse voices into the classroom as much as possible, especially when discussing current events. Use primary sources: videos from YouTube, essays and articles written by people who experienced current events firsthand, documentaries that dive deeply into topics that require some nuance, and any other resources that provide a varied look at topics. 

I like to use the Smithsonian “OurStory” page , which shares a wide variety of stories from people in the United States. The page on Japanese American internment camps is very powerful because of its first-person perspectives. 

Practice Makes Perfect 

To make the above strategies and thinking routines a consistent part of your classroom, spread them out—and build upon them—over the course of the school year. You might challenge students with information and/or examples that require them to use their critical thinking skills; work these skills explicitly into lessons, projects, rubrics, and self-assessments; or have students practice identifying misinformation or unsupported arguments.

Critical thinking is not learned in isolation. It needs to be explored in English language arts, social studies, science, physical education, math. Every discipline requires students to take a careful look at something and find the best solution. Often, these skills are taken for granted, viewed as a by-product of a good education, but true critical thinking doesn’t just happen. It requires consistency and commitment.

In a moment when information and misinformation abound, and students must parse reams of information, it is imperative that we support and model critical thinking in the classroom to support the development of well-informed citizens.

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How to develop critical thinking skills


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What are critical thinking skills?

How to develop critical thinking skills: 12 tips, how to practice critical thinking skills at work, become your own best critic.

A client requests a tight deadline on an intense project. Your childcare provider calls in sick on a day full of meetings. Payment from a contract gig is a month behind. 

Your day-to-day will always have challenges, big and small. And no matter the size and urgency, they all ask you to use critical thinking to analyze the situation and arrive at the right solution. 

Critical thinking includes a wide set of soft skills that encourage continuous learning, resilience , and self-reflection. The more you add to your professional toolbelt, the more equipped you’ll be to tackle whatever challenge presents itself. Here’s how to develop critical thinking, with examples explaining how to use it.

Critical thinking skills are the skills you use to analyze information, imagine scenarios holistically, and create rational solutions. It’s a type of emotional intelligence that stimulates effective problem-solving and decision-making . 

When you fine-tune your critical thinking skills, you seek beyond face-value observations and knee-jerk reactions. Instead, you harvest deeper insights and string together ideas and concepts in logical, sometimes out-of-the-box , ways. 

Imagine a team working on a marketing strategy for a new set of services. That team might use critical thinking to balance goals and key performance indicators , like new customer acquisition costs, average monthly sales, and net profit margins. They understand the connections between overlapping factors to build a strategy that stays within budget and attracts new sales. 

Looking for ways to improve critical thinking skills? Start by brushing up on the following soft skills that fall under this umbrella: 

  • Analytical thinking: Approaching problems with an analytical eye includes breaking down complex issues into small chunks and examining their significance. An example could be organizing customer feedback to identify trends and improve your product offerings. 
  • Open-mindedness: Push past cognitive biases and be receptive to different points of view and constructive feedback . Managers and team members who keep an open mind position themselves to hear new ideas that foster innovation . 
  • Creative thinking: With creative thinking , you can develop several ideas to address a single problem, like brainstorming more efficient workflow best practices to boost productivity and employee morale . 
  • Self-reflection: Self-reflection lets you examine your thinking and assumptions to stimulate healthier collaboration and thought processes. Maybe a bad first impression created a negative anchoring bias with a new coworker. Reflecting on your own behavior stirs up empathy and improves the relationship. 
  • Evaluation: With evaluation skills, you tackle the pros and cons of a situation based on logic rather than emotion. When prioritizing tasks , you might be tempted to do the fun or easy ones first, but evaluating their urgency and importance can help you make better decisions. 

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There’s no magic method to change your thinking processes. Improvement happens with small, intentional changes to your everyday habits until a more critical approach to thinking is automatic. 

Here are 12 tips for building stronger self-awareness and learning how to improve critical thinking: 

1. Be cautious

There’s nothing wrong with a little bit of skepticism. One of the core principles of critical thinking is asking questions and dissecting the available information. You might surprise yourself at what you find when you stop to think before taking action. 

Before making a decision, use evidence, logic, and deductive reasoning to support your own opinions or challenge ideas. It helps you and your team avoid falling prey to bad information or resistance to change .

2. Ask open-ended questions

“Yes” or “no” questions invite agreement rather than reflection. Instead, ask open-ended questions that force you to engage in analysis and rumination. Digging deeper can help you identify potential biases, uncover assumptions, and arrive at new hypotheses and possible solutions. 

3. Do your research

No matter your proficiency, you can always learn more. Turning to different points of view and information is a great way to develop a comprehensive understanding of a topic and make informed decisions. You’ll prioritize reliable information rather than fall into emotional or automatic decision-making. 


4. Consider several opinions

You might spend so much time on your work that it’s easy to get stuck in your own perspective, especially if you work independently on a remote team . Make an effort to reach out to colleagues to hear different ideas and thought patterns. Their input might surprise you.

If or when you disagree, remember that you and your team share a common goal. Divergent opinions are constructive, so shift the focus to finding solutions rather than defending disagreements. 

5. Learn to be quiet

Active listening is the intentional practice of concentrating on a conversation partner instead of your own thoughts. It’s about paying attention to detail and letting people know you value their opinions, which can open your mind to new perspectives and thought processes.

If you’re brainstorming with your team or having a 1:1 with a coworker , listen, ask clarifying questions, and work to understand other peoples’ viewpoints. Listening to your team will help you find fallacies in arguments to improve possible solutions.

6. Schedule reflection

Whether waking up at 5 am or using a procrastination hack, scheduling time to think puts you in a growth mindset . Your mind has natural cognitive biases to help you simplify decision-making, but squashing them is key to thinking critically and finding new solutions besides the ones you might gravitate toward. Creating time and calm space in your day gives you the chance to step back and visualize the biases that impact your decision-making. 

7. Cultivate curiosity

With so many demands and job responsibilities, it’s easy to seek solace in routine. But getting out of your comfort zone helps spark critical thinking and find more solutions than you usually might.

If curiosity doesn’t come naturally to you, cultivate a thirst for knowledge by reskilling and upskilling . Not only will you add a new skill to your resume , but expanding the limits of your professional knowledge might motivate you to ask more questions. 

You don’t have to develop critical thinking skills exclusively in the office. Whether on your break or finding a hobby to do after work, playing strategic games or filling out crosswords can prime your brain for problem-solving. 


9. Write it down

Recording your thoughts with pen and paper can lead to stronger brain activity than typing them out on a keyboard. If you’re stuck and want to think more critically about a problem, writing your ideas can help you process information more deeply.

The act of recording ideas on paper can also improve your memory . Ideas are more likely to linger in the background of your mind, leading to deeper thinking that informs your decision-making process. 

10. Speak up

Take opportunities to share your opinion, even if it intimidates you. Whether at a networking event with new people or a meeting with close colleagues, try to engage with people who challenge or help you develop your ideas. Having conversations that force you to support your position encourages you to refine your argument and think critically. 

11. Stay humble

Ideas and concepts aren’t the same as real-life actions. There may be such a thing as negative outcomes, but there’s no such thing as a bad idea. At the brainstorming stage , don’t be afraid to make mistakes.

Sometimes the best solutions come from off-the-wall, unorthodox decisions. Sit in your creativity , let ideas flow, and don’t be afraid to share them with your colleagues. Putting yourself in a creative mindset helps you see situations from new perspectives and arrive at innovative conclusions. 

12. Embrace discomfort

Get comfortable feeling uncomfortable . It isn’t easy when others challenge your ideas, but sometimes, it’s the only way to see new perspectives and think critically.

By willingly stepping into unfamiliar territory, you foster the resilience and flexibility you need to become a better thinker. You’ll learn how to pick yourself up from failure and approach problems from fresh angles. 


Thinking critically is easier said than done. To help you understand its impact (and how to use it), here are two scenarios that require critical thinking skills and provide teachable moments. 

Scenario #1: Unexpected delays and budget

Imagine your team is working on producing an event. Unexpectedly, a vendor explains they’ll be a week behind on delivering materials. Then another vendor sends a quote that’s more than you can afford. Unless you develop a creative solution, the team will have to push back deadlines and go over budget, potentially costing the client’s trust. 

Here’s how you could approach the situation with creative thinking:

  • Analyze the situation holistically: Determine how the delayed materials and over-budget quote will impact the rest of your timeline and financial resources . That way, you can identify whether you need to build an entirely new plan with new vendors, or if it’s worth it to readjust time and resources. 
  • Identify your alternative options: With careful assessment, your team decides that another vendor can’t provide the same materials in a quicker time frame. You’ll need to rearrange assignment schedules to complete everything on time. 
  • Collaborate and adapt: Your team has an emergency meeting to rearrange your project schedule. You write down each deliverable and determine which ones you can and can’t complete by the deadline. To compensate for lost time, you rearrange your task schedule to complete everything that doesn’t need the delayed materials first, then advance as far as you can on the tasks that do. 
  • Check different resources: In the meantime, you scour through your contact sheet to find alternative vendors that fit your budget. Accounting helps by providing old invoices to determine which vendors have quoted less for previous jobs. After pulling all your sources, you find a vendor that fits your budget. 
  • Maintain open communication: You create a special Slack channel to keep everyone up to date on changes, challenges, and additional delays. Keeping an open line encourages transparency on the team’s progress and boosts everyone’s confidence. 


Scenario #2: Differing opinions 

A conflict arises between two team members on the best approach for a new strategy for a gaming app. One believes that small tweaks to the current content are necessary to maintain user engagement and stay within budget. The other believes a bold revamp is needed to encourage new followers and stronger sales revenue. 

Here’s how critical thinking could help this conflict:

  • Listen actively: Give both team members the opportunity to present their ideas free of interruption. Encourage the entire team to ask open-ended questions to more fully understand and develop each argument. 
  • Flex your analytical skills: After learning more about both ideas, everyone should objectively assess the benefits and drawbacks of each approach. Analyze each idea's risk, merits, and feasibility based on available data and the app’s goals and objectives. 
  • Identify common ground: The team discusses similarities between each approach and brainstorms ways to integrate both idea s, like making small but eye-catching modifications to existing content or using the same visual design in new media formats. 
  • Test new strategy: To test out the potential of a bolder strategy, the team decides to A/B test both approaches. You create a set of criteria to evenly distribute users by different demographics to analyze engagement, revenue, and customer turnover. 
  • Monitor and adapt: After implementing the A/B test, the team closely monitors the results of each strategy. You regroup and optimize the changes that provide stronger results after the testing. That way, all team members understand why you’re making the changes you decide to make.

You can’t think your problems away. But you can equip yourself with skills that help you move through your biggest challenges and find innovative solutions. Learning how to develop critical thinking is the start of honing an adaptable growth mindset. 

Now that you have resources to increase critical thinking skills in your professional development, you can identify whether you embrace change or routine, are open or resistant to feedback, or turn to research or emotion will build self-awareness. From there, tweak and incorporate techniques to be a critical thinker when life presents you with a problem.

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Elizabeth Perry

Content Marketing Manager, ACC

How to improve your creative skills for effective problem-solving

What is lateral thinking 7 techniques to encourage creative ideas, 6 ways to leverage ai for hyper-personalized corporate learning, 8 creative solutions to your most challenging problems, how divergent thinking can drive your creativity, critical thinking is the one skillset you can't afford not to master, what’s convergent thinking how to be a better problem-solver, can dreams help you solve problems 6 ways to try, thinking outside the box: 8 ways to become a creative problem solver, similar articles, what is creative thinking and why does it matter, discover the 7 essential types of life skills you need, 6 big picture thinking strategies that you'll actually use, what are analytical skills examples and how to level up, how intrapersonal skills shape teams, plus 5 ways to build them, stay connected with betterup, get our newsletter, event invites, plus product insights and research..

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  • How to apply critical thinking in learning

Sometimes your university classes might feel like a maze of information. Consider critical thinking skills like a map that can lead the way.

Why do we need critical thinking?  

Critical thinking is a type of thinking that requires continuous questioning, exploring answers, and making judgments. Critical thinking can help you: 

  • analyze information to comprehend more thoroughly
  • approach problems systematically, identify root causes, and explore potential solutions 
  • make informed decisions by weighing various perspectives 
  • promote intellectual curiosity and self-reflection, leading to continuous learning, innovation, and personal development 

What is the process of critical thinking? 

1. understand  .

Critical thinking starts with understanding the content that you are learning.

This step involves clarifying the logic and interrelations of the content by actively engaging with the materials (e.g., text, articles, and research papers). You can take notes, highlight key points, and make connections with prior knowledge to help you engage.

Ask yourself these questions to help you build your understanding:  

  • What is the structure?
  • What is the main idea of the content?  
  • What is the evidence that supports any arguments?
  • What is the conclusion?

2. Analyze  

You need to assess the credibility, validity, and relevance of the information presented in the content. Consider the authors’ biases and potential limitations in the evidence. 

Ask yourself questions in terms of why and how:

  • What is the supporting evidence?  
  • Why do they use it as evidence?   
  • How does the data present support the conclusions?  
  • What method was used? Was it appropriate?  

 3.  Evaluate   

After analyzing the data and evidence you collected, make your evaluation of the evidence, results, and conclusions made in the content.

Consider the weaknesses and strengths of the ideas presented in the content to make informed decisions or suggest alternative solutions:

  • What is the gap between the evidence and the conclusion?  
  • What is my position on the subject?  
  • What other approaches can I use?  

When do you apply critical thinking and how can you improve these skills?   

1. reading academic texts, articles, and research papers.

  • analyze arguments
  • assess the credibility and validity of evidence
  • consider potential biases presented
  • question the assumptions, methodologies, and the way they generate conclusions

2. Writing essays and theses

  • demonstrate your understanding of the information, logic of evidence, and position on the topic
  • include evidence or examples to support your ideas
  • make your standing points clear by presenting information and providing reasons to support your arguments
  • address potential counterarguments or opposing viewpoints
  • explain why your perspective is more compelling than the opposing viewpoints

3. Attending lectures

  • understand the content by previewing, active listening , and taking notes
  • analyze your lecturer’s viewpoints by seeking whether sufficient data and resources are provided
  • think about whether the ideas presented by the lecturer align with your values and beliefs
  • talk about other perspectives with peers in discussions

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How to Develop Critical Thinking Skills Before College

Here are six ways high school students can sharpen their critical thinking skills for college success.

Learn to Think Critically Before College

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When teens read books that challenge norms, it can shed light on how the mind of a critical thinker works.

Holding politicians accountable, choosing the right friends and doing advanced math. Depending on who you ask, these actions may require a common denominator: the ability to think critically.

In college , students make important decisions, get exposure to different world views and hone skills in their academic fields of interest . Students can prepare to make the most of their college experience by becoming better critical thinkers while still in high school.

What Is Critical Thinking?

Scholars sometimes differ in how they describe and define critical thinking.

Daniel Willingham, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia , says someone using the term could mean one of two things. They could mean thinking at times when others might not, like when someone considers the writer’s viewpoint after reading a newspaper commentary. Or, they could mean thinking sharply when solving problems or completing tasks, Willingham says.

“The way you would want to approach these two types of critical thinking really differs,” Willingham says. “If there were a formula for getting kids to think critically, we’d be using it in schools.”

David Hitchcock, professor emeritus of philosophy at McMaster University in Canada, wrote the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s entry on critical thinking and "came to the conclusion that it’s not really a specific kind of thinking. It’s just good thinking. It’s reflective thinking, careful thinking, rational thinking.”

And it's important regardless of how one may choose to describe it, experts say.

“Given that critical thinking allows you to arrive at beliefs and actions that are beneficial, it seems that it is actually vital to anyone,” says Eileen Gambrill, professor of the graduate school at the University of California, Berkeley ’s School of Social Welfare.

Ways to Develop Critical Thinking Skills

Here are six ways high school students can develop critical-thinking skills before college:

  • Build your domain-specific skillset.
  • Conduct experiments.
  • Question your presumptions.
  • Read books written by critical thinkers.
  • Start a critical thinking club.
  • Talk to peers with different perspectives.

Build Your Domain-Specific Skillset

People who view critical thinking as someone’s ability to use problem-solving skills to complete tasks can become better critical thinkers by improving their fundamental understanding of the subject they are studying, Willingham says.

“Think about the different domains that students study – science, literature and math , for example. These domains have different definitions of what it means to understand something," he says. You sort of have to respect those distinctions among the domains.”

Conduct Experiments

High school students who complete lab assignments as part of science courses are familiar with experimentation. Hitchcock outlines that as one of numerous mental processes that make up the critical thinking process.

Experimenting involves seeking answers, which requires open-mindedness. Hitchcock recommends that students investigate topics they find interesting.

“If you’ve got an issue that’s important to you personally, inquire into it in a personal way,” he says. “Don’t get in the habit of jumping to conclusions. Consider alternatives. Think it through.”

 Question Your Presumptions

“Most of us are ignorant about things,” Gambrill says. “Anything that students assume they know, they can start questioning.”

Students have presumptions, which form over time when they accept something they hear as truth. Critical thinkers challenge ideas presented by leaders, such as teachers and politicians, Gambrill says.

“Authoritarians love people who can’t think critically,” she says.

Read Books Written by Critical Thinkers

Reading books that challenge norms can help high school students understand how the mind of a critical thinker works. Doing so can help them realize that knowledge “is in a constant state of flux,” Gambrill says.

Gambrill recommends “Teachers Without Goals, Students Without Purposes” by Henry Perkinson, a book that challenges traditional notions of education and teaching.

Start a Critical Thinking Club

“Critical thinking is, in fact, very dangerous,” she says. “Asking questions is often viewed as a really bad thing, when in fact it is the essential thing.” 

Some students may be worried about asking critical questions in a classroom setting. Gambrill recommends they start a student-run club at their high school to facilitate conversations driven by open-mindedness. 

Teachers can also create classroom atmospheres that encourage students to ask critical questions, she says.  

Talk to Peers With Different Perspectives

Much like in college, students in high school can meet peers who have opposing viewpoints. Considering alternative viewpoints can help students become better critical thinkers, experts say.

“Cultivate conversations with people who think differently,” Hitchcock says. “Try to understand the thought processes of people who come at issues in a different way than yourself. Get an appreciation for the variety of ways you can think about something."

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Strategies to develop problem-solving skills in students.

David Swanson

  • November 14, 2023

OWIS Nanyang | Secondary Students in Maths Lesson | Problem-Solving Skills | International School in Singapore

Students need the freedom to brainstorm, develop solutions and make mistakes — this is truly the only way to prepare them for life outside the classroom. When students are immersed in a learning environment that only offers them step-by-step guides and encourages them to focus solely on memorisation, they are not gaining the skills necessary to help them navigate in the complex, interconnected environment of the real world.

Choosing a school that emphasises the importance of future-focussed skills will ensure your child has the abilities they need to survive and thrive anywhere in the world. What are future-focussed skills? Students who are prepared for the future need to possess highly developed communication skills, self-management skills, research skills, thinking skills, social skills and problem-solving skills. In this blog, I would like to focus on problem-solving skills.

What Are Problem-Solving Skills?

The Forage defines problem-solving skills as those that allow an individual to identify a problem, come up with solutions, analyse the options and collaborate to find the best solution for the issue.

Importance of Problem-Solving in the Classroom Setting

Learning how to solve problems effectively and positively is a crucial part of child development. When children are allowed to solve problems in a classroom setting, they can test those skills in a safe and nurturing environment. Generally, when they face age-appropriate issues, they can begin building those skills in a healthy and positive manner.

Without exposure to challenging situations and scenarios, children will not be equipped with the foundational problem-solving skills needed to tackle complex issues in the real world. Experts predict that problem-solving skills will eventually be more sought after in job applicants than hard skills related to that specific profession. Students must be given opportunities in school to resolve conflicts, address complex problems and come up with their own solutions in order to develop these skills.

Benefits of Problem-Solving Skills for Students

how to develop critical thinking and problem solving skills in students

Learning how to solve problems offers students many advantages, such as:

Improving Academic Results

When students have a well-developed set of problem-solving skills, they are often better critical and analytical thinkers as well. They are able to effectively use these 21st-century skills when completing their coursework, allowing them to become more successful in all academic areas. By prioritising problem-solving strategies in the classroom, teachers often find that academic performance improves.

Developing Confidence

Giving students the freedom to solve problems and create their own solutions is essentially permitting them to make their own choices. This sense of independence — and the natural resilience that comes with it — allows students to become confident learners who aren’t intimidated by new or challenging situations. Ultimately, this prepares them to take on more complex challenges in the future, both on a professional and social level.

Preparing Students for Real-World Challenges

The challenges we are facing today are only growing more complex, and by the time students have graduated, they are going to be facing issues that we may not even have imagined. By arming them with real-world problem-solving experience, they will not feel intimidated or stifled by those challenges; they will be excited and ready to address them. They will know how to discuss their ideas with others, respect various perspectives and collaborate to develop a solution that best benefits everyone involved.

The Best Problem-Solving Strategies for Students

how to develop critical thinking and problem solving skills in students

No single approach or strategy will instil a set of problem-solving skills in students.  Every child is different, so educators should rely on a variety of strategies to develop this core competency in their students.  It is best if these skills are developed naturally.

These are some of the best strategies to support students problem-solving skills:

Project-Based Learning

By providing students with project-based learning experiences and allowing plenty of time for discussion, educators can watch students put their problem-solving skills into action inside their classrooms. This strategy is one of the most effective ways to fine-tune problem-solving skills in students.  During project-based learning, teachers may take notes on how the students approach a problem and then offer feedback to students for future development. Teachers can address their observations of interactions during project-based learning at the group level or they can work with students on an individual basis to help them become more effective problem-solvers.

Encourage Discussion and Collaboration in the Classroom Setting

Another strategy to encourage the development of problem-solving skills in students is to allow for plenty of discussion and collaboration in the classroom setting.  When students interact with one another, they are naturally developing problem solving skills.  Rather than the teacher delivering information and requiring the students to passively receive information, students can share thoughts and ideas with one another.  Getting students to generate their own discussion and communication requires thinking skills. 

Utilising an Inquiry-Based approach to Learning

Students should be presented with situations in which their curiosity is sparked and they are motivated to inquire further. Teachers should ask open-ended questions and encourage students to develop responses which require problem-solving. By providing students with complex questions for which a variety of answers may be correct, teachers get students to consider different perspectives and deal with potential disagreement, which requires problem-solving skills to resolve.

Model Appropriate Problem-Solving Skills

One of the simplest ways to instil effective problem-solving skills in students is to model appropriate and respectful strategies and behaviour when resolving a conflict or addressing an issue. Teachers can showcase their problem-solving skills by:

  • Identifying a problem when they come across one for the class to see
  • Brainstorming possible solutions with students
  • Collaborating with students to decide on the best solution
  • Testing that solution and examining the results with the students
  • Adapting as necessary to improve results or achieve the desired goal

Prioritise Student Agency in Learning

Recent research shows that self-directed learning is one of the most effective ways to nurture 21st-century competency development in young learners. Learning experiences that encourage student agency often require problem-solving skills.  When creativity and innovation are needed, students often encounter unexpected problems along the way that must be solved. Through self-directed learning, students experience challenges in a natural situation and can fine-tune their problem-solving skills along the way.  Self-directed learning provides them with a foundation in problem-solving that they can build upon in the future, allowing them to eventually develop more advanced and impactful problem-solving skills for real life.

21st-Century Skill Development at OWIS Singapore

Problem-solving has been identified as one of the core competencies that young learners must develop to be prepared to meet the dynamic needs of a global environment.  At OWIS Singapore, we have implemented an inquiry-driven, skills-based curriculum that allows students to organically develop critical future-ready skills — including problem-solving.  Our hands-on approach to education enables students to collaborate, explore, innovate, face-challenges, make mistakes and adapt as necessary.  As such, they learn problem-solving skills in an authentic manner.

For more information about 21st-century skill development, schedule a campus tour today.

About Author

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Why Schools Need to Change Yes, We Can Define, Teach, and Assess Critical Thinking Skills

how to develop critical thinking and problem solving skills in students

Jeff Heyck-Williams (He, His, Him) Director of the Two Rivers Learning Institute in Washington, DC

critical thinking

Today’s learners face an uncertain present and a rapidly changing future that demand far different skills and knowledge than were needed in the 20th century. We also know so much more about enabling deep, powerful learning than we ever did before. Our collective future depends on how well young people prepare for the challenges and opportunities of 21st-century life.

Critical thinking is a thing. We can define it; we can teach it; and we can assess it.

While the idea of teaching critical thinking has been bandied around in education circles since at least the time of John Dewey, it has taken greater prominence in the education debates with the advent of the term “21st century skills” and discussions of deeper learning. There is increasing agreement among education reformers that critical thinking is an essential ingredient for long-term success for all of our students.

However, there are still those in the education establishment and in the media who argue that critical thinking isn’t really a thing, or that these skills aren’t well defined and, even if they could be defined, they can’t be taught or assessed.

To those naysayers, I have to disagree. Critical thinking is a thing. We can define it; we can teach it; and we can assess it. In fact, as part of a multi-year Assessment for Learning Project , Two Rivers Public Charter School in Washington, D.C., has done just that.

Before I dive into what we have done, I want to acknowledge that some of the criticism has merit.

First, there are those that argue that critical thinking can only exist when students have a vast fund of knowledge. Meaning that a student cannot think critically if they don’t have something substantive about which to think. I agree. Students do need a robust foundation of core content knowledge to effectively think critically. Schools still have a responsibility for building students’ content knowledge.

However, I would argue that students don’t need to wait to think critically until after they have mastered some arbitrary amount of knowledge. They can start building critical thinking skills when they walk in the door. All students come to school with experience and knowledge which they can immediately think critically about. In fact, some of the thinking that they learn to do helps augment and solidify the discipline-specific academic knowledge that they are learning.

The second criticism is that critical thinking skills are always highly contextual. In this argument, the critics make the point that the types of thinking that students do in history is categorically different from the types of thinking students do in science or math. Thus, the idea of teaching broadly defined, content-neutral critical thinking skills is impossible. I agree that there are domain-specific thinking skills that students should learn in each discipline. However, I also believe that there are several generalizable skills that elementary school students can learn that have broad applicability to their academic and social lives. That is what we have done at Two Rivers.

Defining Critical Thinking Skills

We began this work by first defining what we mean by critical thinking. After a review of the literature and looking at the practice at other schools, we identified five constructs that encompass a set of broadly applicable skills: schema development and activation; effective reasoning; creativity and innovation; problem solving; and decision making.

critical thinking competency

We then created rubrics to provide a concrete vision of what each of these constructs look like in practice. Working with the Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning and Equity (SCALE) , we refined these rubrics to capture clear and discrete skills.

For example, we defined effective reasoning as the skill of creating an evidence-based claim: students need to construct a claim, identify relevant support, link their support to their claim, and identify possible questions or counter claims. Rubrics provide an explicit vision of the skill of effective reasoning for students and teachers. By breaking the rubrics down for different grade bands, we have been able not only to describe what reasoning is but also to delineate how the skills develop in students from preschool through 8th grade.

reasoning rubric

Before moving on, I want to freely acknowledge that in narrowly defining reasoning as the construction of evidence-based claims we have disregarded some elements of reasoning that students can and should learn. For example, the difference between constructing claims through deductive versus inductive means is not highlighted in our definition. However, by privileging a definition that has broad applicability across disciplines, we are able to gain traction in developing the roots of critical thinking. In this case, to formulate well-supported claims or arguments.

Teaching Critical Thinking Skills

The definitions of critical thinking constructs were only useful to us in as much as they translated into practical skills that teachers could teach and students could learn and use. Consequently, we have found that to teach a set of cognitive skills, we needed thinking routines that defined the regular application of these critical thinking and problem-solving skills across domains. Building on Harvard’s Project Zero Visible Thinking work, we have named routines aligned with each of our constructs.

For example, with the construct of effective reasoning, we aligned the Claim-Support-Question thinking routine to our rubric. Teachers then were able to teach students that whenever they were making an argument, the norm in the class was to use the routine in constructing their claim and support. The flexibility of the routine has allowed us to apply it from preschool through 8th grade and across disciplines from science to economics and from math to literacy.

argumentative writing

Kathryn Mancino, a 5th grade teacher at Two Rivers, has deliberately taught three of our thinking routines to students using the anchor charts above. Her charts name the components of each routine and has a place for students to record when they’ve used it and what they have figured out about the routine. By using this structure with a chart that can be added to throughout the year, students see the routines as broadly applicable across disciplines and are able to refine their application over time.

Assessing Critical Thinking Skills

By defining specific constructs of critical thinking and building thinking routines that support their implementation in classrooms, we have operated under the assumption that students are developing skills that they will be able to transfer to other settings. However, we recognized both the importance and the challenge of gathering reliable data to confirm this.

With this in mind, we have developed a series of short performance tasks around novel discipline-neutral contexts in which students can apply the constructs of thinking. Through these tasks, we have been able to provide an opportunity for students to demonstrate their ability to transfer the types of thinking beyond the original classroom setting. Once again, we have worked with SCALE to define tasks where students easily access the content but where the cognitive lift requires them to demonstrate their thinking abilities.

These assessments demonstrate that it is possible to capture meaningful data on students’ critical thinking abilities. They are not intended to be high stakes accountability measures. Instead, they are designed to give students, teachers, and school leaders discrete formative data on hard to measure skills.

While it is clearly difficult, and we have not solved all of the challenges to scaling assessments of critical thinking, we can define, teach, and assess these skills . In fact, knowing how important they are for the economy of the future and our democracy, it is essential that we do.

Jeff Heyck-Williams (He, His, Him)

Director of the two rivers learning institute.

Jeff Heyck-Williams is the director of the Two Rivers Learning Institute and a founder of Two Rivers Public Charter School. He has led work around creating school-wide cultures of mathematics, developing assessments of critical thinking and problem-solving, and supporting project-based learning.

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The Importance of Critical Thinking Skills for Students

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The Importance of Critical Thinking Skills for Students

Brains at Work!

If you’re moving toward the end of your high school career, you’ve likely heard a lot about college life and how different it is from high school. Classes are more intense, professors are stricter, and the curriculum is more complicated. All in all, it’s very different compared to high school.

Different doesn’t have to mean scary, though. If you’re nervous about beginning college and you’re worried about how you’ll learn in a place so different from high school, there are steps you can take to help you thrive in your college career.

If you’re wondering how to get accepted into college and how to succeed as a freshman in such a new environment, the answer is simple: harness the power of critical thinking skills for students.

What is critical thinking?

Critical thinking entails using reasoning and the questioning of assumptions to address problems, assess information, identify biases, and more. It's a skillset crucial for students navigating their academic journey and beyond, including how to get accepted into college . At its crux, critical thinking for students has everything to do with self-discipline and making active decisions to 'think outside the box,' allowing individuals to think beyond a concept alone in order to understand it better.

Critical thinking skills for students is a concept highly encouraged in any and every educational setting, and with good reason. Possessing strong critical thinking skills will make you a better student and, frankly, help you gain valuable life skills. Not only will you be more efficient in gathering knowledge and processing information, but you will also enhance your ability to analyse and comprehend it.

Importance of critical thinking for students

Developing critical thinking skills for students is essential for success at all academic levels, particularly in college. It introduces reflection and perspective while encouraging you to question what you’re learning! Even if you’ve seen solid facts. Asking questions, considering other perspectives, and self-reflection cultivate resilient students with endless potential for learning, retention, and personal growth.A well-developed set of critical thinking skills for students will help them excel in many areas. Here are some critical thinking examples for students:

1. Decision-making

If you’re thinking critically, you’re not making impulse decisions or snap judgments; you’re taking the time to weigh the pros and cons. You’re making informed decisions. Critical thinking skills for students can make all the difference.

2. Problem-solving

Students with critical thinking skills are more effective in problem-solving. This reflective thinking process helps you use your own experiences to ideate innovations, solutions, and decisions.

3. Communication

Strong communication skills are a vital aspect of critical thinking for students, helping with their overall critical thinking abilities. How can you learn without asking questions? Critical thinking for students is what helps them produce the questions they may not have ever thought to ask. As a critical thinker, you’ll get better at expressing your ideas concisely and logically, facilitating thoughtful discussion, and learning from your teachers and peers.

4. Analytical skills

Developing analytical skills is a key component of strong critical thinking skills for students. It goes beyond study tips on reviewing data or learning a concept. It’s about the “Who? What? Where? Why? When? How?” When you’re thinking critically, these questions will come naturally, and you’ll be an expert learner because of it.

How can students develop critical thinking skills

Although critical thinking skills for students is an important and necessary process, it isn’t necessarily difficult to develop these observational skills. All it takes is a conscious effort and a little bit of practice. Here are a few tips to get you started:

1. Never stop asking questions

This is the best way to learn critical thinking skills for students. As stated earlier, ask questions—even if you’re presented with facts to begin with. When you’re examining a problem or learning a concept, ask as many questions as you can. Not only will you be better acquainted with what you’re learning, but it’ll soon become second nature to follow this process in every class you take and help you improve your GPA .

2. Practice active listening

As important as asking questions is, it is equally vital to be a good listener to your peers. It is astounding how much we can learn from each other in a collaborative environment! Diverse perspectives are key to fostering critical thinking skills for students. Keep an open mind and view every discussion as an opportunity to learn.

3. Dive into your creativity

Although a college environment is vastly different from high school classrooms, one thing remains constant through all levels of education: the importance of creativity. Creativity is a guiding factor through all facets of critical thinking skills for students. It fosters collaborative discussion, innovative solutions, and thoughtful analyses.

4. Engage in debates and discussions

Participating in debates and discussions helps you articulate your thoughts clearly and consider opposing viewpoints. It challenges the critical thinking skills of students about the evidence presented, decoding arguments, and constructing logical reasoning. Look for debates and discussion opportunities in class, online forums, or extracurricular activities.

5. Look out for diverse sources of information 

In today's digital age, information is easily available from a variety of sources. Make it a habit to explore different opinions, perspectives, and sources of information. This not only broadens one's understanding of a subject but also helps in distinguishing between reliable and biased sources, honing the critical thinking skills of students.

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6. Practice problem-solving

Try engaging in challenging problems, riddles or puzzles that require critical thinking skills for students to solve. Whether it's solving mathematical equations, tackling complex scenarios in literature, or analysing data in science experiments, regular practice of problem-solving tasks sharpens your analytical skills. It enhances your ability to think critically under pressure.

Nurturing critical thinking skills helps students with the tools to navigate the complexities of academia and beyond. By learning active listening, curiosity, creativity, and problem-solving, students can create a sturdy foundation for lifelong learning. By building upon all these skills, you’ll be an expert critical thinker in no time—and you’ll be ready to conquer all that college has to offer! 

Frequently Asked Questions

What questions should i ask to be a better critical thinker, how can i sharpen critical thinking skills for students, how do i avoid bias, can i use my critical thinking skills outside of school, will critical thinking skills help students in their future careers.

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how to develop critical thinking and problem solving skills in students

How Higher Education Fosters Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving Skills

“Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think.” –Albert Einstein

Critical thinking and problem-solving are the most essential skills that any college student can develop. If students are unable to think through an issue critically, they will be ill-equipped to distinguish between truth and deception. Valid conclusions can only come from the pursuit of truth. In comparison, problem-solving skills give an individual the tools to do something with the information they have gained. This combined skillset is invaluable in the professional world and everyday life.

If these skills are so important, what is the best way to foster and develop them? Education is a start. Whether it’s higher education through attending a university or self-education through personal study, the only way to develop these skills is through active participation in learning. Almost all colleges and universities cite critical thinking as one of their core objectives. So, what are the best ways for higher education to help students grow and develop these skills?

From the idea that teaching critical thinking is impossible to new approaches in teaching styles, the last two decades have produced varying theories on critical thinking. One fact that is certain, however, is that problem-solving is a natural outgrowth of critical thinking. Although there is no argument over whether critical thinking is important, there are multiple perspectives on the best ways to develop this skill. Most research, however, seems to support a hands-on, interactive approach.

Andreucci-Annunziata et al. (2023) suggests that “pedagogical approaches to critical thinking have been synthesized into four types: general method; infusion; immersion and mixed method.” The general method is teaching critical thinking as its own subject, infusion is teaching critical thinking in relation to a specific subject matter, immersion is teaching a subject in a way that encourages critical thinking, and “the mixed method consists of a combination of the general method and the infusion or immersion method.” These methods are combined with instructional strategies such as writing exercises, in-class discussion, brainstorming, using online discussion forums, etc. With so many methods and strategies available what is the best approach for educators? Two strategies seem to be gaining momentum: Decision-Based Learning and Discussion-Based Learning.

Decision-Based Learning

Decision-Based Learning (DBL), a problem-solving strategy, is a new possibility. According to one study DBL teaches students how to look at the components of a problem and come to a rational decision. Evidence shows that there is a correlation between the development of problem-solving and critical thinking skills (Plummer et al. 2022). This style encourages students to look at all sides of an issue and come to a valid conclusion.

Discussion-Based Learning

On the other hand, Discussion-Based Learning also shows promise. Various universities across the U.S. and Canada cite Discussion-Based Learning, or a form of it, as one of their primary teaching methods. Examples include the University of Calgary, Brown University, and Columbia University. The fact that discussion plays a major role in developing critical thinking and problem-solving skills is indisputable. Studies of different methods continue to support Discussion-Based Learning as one of the primary ways for students to develop both skills. In-class discussion and thought-provoking questions continue to promote the development of critical thinking within the classroom.

Are Educators Doing a Good Job?

Some researchers and professionals argue that colleges are failing to teach their students the art of critical thinking. One researcher suggests that colleges and universities fail to understand that there is a difference between “teaching students what to think (highly educated) and teaching them how to think (better educated)” (Flores, Kevin L., et al.).  A student can fill their mind with countless pieces of information without developing the skills needed to interpret and apply that information.

To combat this tendency, educators must challenge students to think through issues themselves. When students are given the tools needed to think critically, a new world of knowledge is opened to them. Regardless of varying strategies, education needs a firm foundation to stand on. At Maranatha, that foundation is the Bible.

What Makes Maranatha Different?

Education firmly grounded in biblical truth does not leave room for conclusions drawn from emotion. Instead, biblically grounded education creates an environment that fosters critical thinking and a pursuit of the truth. At Maranatha, professors understand the value of preparing students to be critical thinkers. In a world that seeks to reject a biblical worldview through science and philosophy, it is more important than ever for students to graduate grounded in biblical principles.

Mr. Nathan Huffstutler, Associate Professor in the Department of Humanities, explains, “A biblical worldview emphasizes truth. God is a God of truth. If you believe that God is a God of truth, that will make you more passionate in your search for truth. When we deal with current events or with history, it’s not just opinions that we’re trying to find. That doesn’t mean that some questions don’t have nuance or gray areas. There are some issues that are very complex, but a biblical worldview aids in the pursuit of truth even in difficult subjects.”

Without the ability to analyze ideas through a biblical lens, students will be tossed about by every new theory, unable to distinguish between the truth and lies disguised as truth. Only when students understand how to think will they be able to properly analyze ideas and come to their own conclusions.

Mr. Huffstutler further explains how he implements the instruction of critical thinking into the classroom, “I personally use discussion questions. I’ll give a question and then require students to back up their answers with evidence. They must demonstrate in their answers that it is not just their opinion. I strive to show my students how to back up their statements based on facts and support from the text. That’s what critical thinking is.” 

Discussion is the first step in the process of developing critical thinking. In-class discussion has the power to sharpen minds as students are forced to think through their reasoning and evidence. Current and past students are reaping the benefits of an education that emphasizes the development of this invaluable skill.

Hannah Mayes (’20 Communication Arts—Theatre), a teacher at Maranatha Baptist Academy and Adjunct Professor at the University, shares her experience, “The focus Maranatha professors have on teaching students how to think is particularly evident when teachers would continuously ask us, ‘Why?’ Professors encouraged us to evaluate our answers in light of a biblical worldview, but not merely so we could provide a ‘right’ answer. Many instructors encouraged me to look further beyond the simple answer, use credible sources to support my answer, and apply what I had learned to my everyday life. These interactions seemed challenging at the time, but I find myself encouraging my own students to keep asking why and how — not just what.”

Keeping the focus on teaching students how to think is essential in the development of critical thinking. When academics are taught with a biblical worldview, students are encouraged to find the truth and evidence to back up their claims. Without these skills, students will be incapable of succeeding in a professional environment.

So, does higher education foster critical thinking and problem-solving? Yes. But only when students and professors work together to find the truth, based on facts, can critical thinking flourish.

Andreucci-Annunziata, P., Riedemann, A., Cortes, S., Mellado, A., Del Rio, M. T., & Vega-Munoz, A. (2023). Conceptualizations and instructional strategies on critical thinking in higher education: A systematic review of systematic reviews. Frontiers in Education, 8.

Flores, K. L., Matkin, G. S., Burbach, M. E., Quinn, C., & Harding, H. E. (2012). Deficient Critical Thinking Skills among College Graduates: Implications for leadership. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 44 (2), 212-230.

Plummer, K. J., Kebritchi, M., Leary, H. M., & Halverson, D.M. (2022). Enhancing Critical Thinking Skills through Decision-Based Learning. Innovative Higher Education, 47 (4), 711-734.

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how to develop critical thinking and problem solving skills in students

The ability to problem solve and think critically are two of the most important skills that PreK-12 students can learn. Why? Because students need these skills to succeed in their academics and in life in general. It allows them to find a solution to issues and complex situations that are thrown there way, even if this is the first time they are faced with the predicament.

Okay, we know that these are essential skills that are also difficult to master. So how can we teach our students problem solve and think critically? I am glad you asked. In this piece will list and discuss strategies and methods that you can use to teach your students to do just that.

  • Direct Analogy Method

A method of problem-solving in which a problem is compared to similar problems in nature or other settings, providing solutions that could potentially be applied.

  • Attribute Listing

A technique used to encourage creative thinking in which the parts of a subject, problem, or task are listed, and then ways to change those component parts are examined.

  • Attribute Modifying

A technique used to encourage creative thinking in which the parts of a subject, problem, or task are listed, and then options for changing or improving each part are considered.

  • Attribute Transferring

A technique used to encourage creative thinking in which the parts of a subject, problem or task listed and then the problem solver uses analogies to other contexts to generate and consider potential solutions.

  • Morphological Synthesis

A technique used to encourage creative problem solving which extends on attribute transferring. A matrix is created, listing concrete attributes along the x-axis, and the ideas from a second attribute along with the y-axis, yielding a long list of idea combinations.

SCAMPER stands for Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify-Magnify-Minify, Put to other uses, and Reverse or Rearrange. It is an idea checklist for solving design problems.

  • Direct Analogy

A problem-solving technique in which an individual is asked to consider the ways problems of this type are solved in nature.

  • Personal Analogy

A problem-solving technique in which an individual is challenged to become part of the problem to view it from a new perspective and identify possible solutions.

  • Fantasy Analogy

A problem-solving process in which participants are asked to consider outlandish, fantastic or bizarre solutions which may lead to original and ground-breaking ideas.

  • Symbolic Analogy

A problem-solving technique in which participants are challenged to generate a two-word phrase related to the design problem being considered and that appears self-contradictory. The process of brainstorming this phrase can stimulate design ideas.

  • Implementation Charting

An activity in which problem solvers are asked to identify the next steps to implement their creative ideas. This step follows the idea generation stage and the narrowing of ideas to one or more feasible solutions. The process helps participants to view implementation as a viable next step.

  • Thinking Skills

Skills aimed at aiding students to be critical, logical, and evaluative thinkers. They include analysis, comparison, classification, synthesis, generalization, discrimination, inference, planning, predicting, and identifying cause-effect relationships.

Can you think of any additional problems solving techniques that teachers use to improve their student’s problem-solving skills?

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Use Media and Internet Resources in the Classroom

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  • Published: 11 January 2023

The effectiveness of collaborative problem solving in promoting students’ critical thinking: A meta-analysis based on empirical literature

  • Enwei Xu   ORCID: 1 ,
  • Wei Wang 1 &
  • Qingxia Wang 1  

Humanities and Social Sciences Communications volume  10 , Article number:  16 ( 2023 ) Cite this article

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  • Science, technology and society

Collaborative problem-solving has been widely embraced in the classroom instruction of critical thinking, which is regarded as the core of curriculum reform based on key competencies in the field of education as well as a key competence for learners in the 21st century. However, the effectiveness of collaborative problem-solving in promoting students’ critical thinking remains uncertain. This current research presents the major findings of a meta-analysis of 36 pieces of the literature revealed in worldwide educational periodicals during the 21st century to identify the effectiveness of collaborative problem-solving in promoting students’ critical thinking and to determine, based on evidence, whether and to what extent collaborative problem solving can result in a rise or decrease in critical thinking. The findings show that (1) collaborative problem solving is an effective teaching approach to foster students’ critical thinking, with a significant overall effect size (ES = 0.82, z  = 12.78, P  < 0.01, 95% CI [0.69, 0.95]); (2) in respect to the dimensions of critical thinking, collaborative problem solving can significantly and successfully enhance students’ attitudinal tendencies (ES = 1.17, z  = 7.62, P  < 0.01, 95% CI[0.87, 1.47]); nevertheless, it falls short in terms of improving students’ cognitive skills, having only an upper-middle impact (ES = 0.70, z  = 11.55, P  < 0.01, 95% CI[0.58, 0.82]); and (3) the teaching type (chi 2  = 7.20, P  < 0.05), intervention duration (chi 2  = 12.18, P  < 0.01), subject area (chi 2  = 13.36, P  < 0.05), group size (chi 2  = 8.77, P  < 0.05), and learning scaffold (chi 2  = 9.03, P  < 0.01) all have an impact on critical thinking, and they can be viewed as important moderating factors that affect how critical thinking develops. On the basis of these results, recommendations are made for further study and instruction to better support students’ critical thinking in the context of collaborative problem-solving.

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Although critical thinking has a long history in research, the concept of critical thinking, which is regarded as an essential competence for learners in the 21st century, has recently attracted more attention from researchers and teaching practitioners (National Research Council, 2012 ). Critical thinking should be the core of curriculum reform based on key competencies in the field of education (Peng and Deng, 2017 ) because students with critical thinking can not only understand the meaning of knowledge but also effectively solve practical problems in real life even after knowledge is forgotten (Kek and Huijser, 2011 ). The definition of critical thinking is not universal (Ennis, 1989 ; Castle, 2009 ; Niu et al., 2013 ). In general, the definition of critical thinking is a self-aware and self-regulated thought process (Facione, 1990 ; Niu et al., 2013 ). It refers to the cognitive skills needed to interpret, analyze, synthesize, reason, and evaluate information as well as the attitudinal tendency to apply these abilities (Halpern, 2001 ). The view that critical thinking can be taught and learned through curriculum teaching has been widely supported by many researchers (e.g., Kuncel, 2011 ; Leng and Lu, 2020 ), leading to educators’ efforts to foster it among students. In the field of teaching practice, there are three types of courses for teaching critical thinking (Ennis, 1989 ). The first is an independent curriculum in which critical thinking is taught and cultivated without involving the knowledge of specific disciplines; the second is an integrated curriculum in which critical thinking is integrated into the teaching of other disciplines as a clear teaching goal; and the third is a mixed curriculum in which critical thinking is taught in parallel to the teaching of other disciplines for mixed teaching training. Furthermore, numerous measuring tools have been developed by researchers and educators to measure critical thinking in the context of teaching practice. These include standardized measurement tools, such as WGCTA, CCTST, CCTT, and CCTDI, which have been verified by repeated experiments and are considered effective and reliable by international scholars (Facione and Facione, 1992 ). In short, descriptions of critical thinking, including its two dimensions of attitudinal tendency and cognitive skills, different types of teaching courses, and standardized measurement tools provide a complex normative framework for understanding, teaching, and evaluating critical thinking.

Cultivating critical thinking in curriculum teaching can start with a problem, and one of the most popular critical thinking instructional approaches is problem-based learning (Liu et al., 2020 ). Duch et al. ( 2001 ) noted that problem-based learning in group collaboration is progressive active learning, which can improve students’ critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Collaborative problem-solving is the organic integration of collaborative learning and problem-based learning, which takes learners as the center of the learning process and uses problems with poor structure in real-world situations as the starting point for the learning process (Liang et al., 2017 ). Students learn the knowledge needed to solve problems in a collaborative group, reach a consensus on problems in the field, and form solutions through social cooperation methods, such as dialogue, interpretation, questioning, debate, negotiation, and reflection, thus promoting the development of learners’ domain knowledge and critical thinking (Cindy, 2004 ; Liang et al., 2017 ).

Collaborative problem-solving has been widely used in the teaching practice of critical thinking, and several studies have attempted to conduct a systematic review and meta-analysis of the empirical literature on critical thinking from various perspectives. However, little attention has been paid to the impact of collaborative problem-solving on critical thinking. Therefore, the best approach for developing and enhancing critical thinking throughout collaborative problem-solving is to examine how to implement critical thinking instruction; however, this issue is still unexplored, which means that many teachers are incapable of better instructing critical thinking (Leng and Lu, 2020 ; Niu et al., 2013 ). For example, Huber ( 2016 ) provided the meta-analysis findings of 71 publications on gaining critical thinking over various time frames in college with the aim of determining whether critical thinking was truly teachable. These authors found that learners significantly improve their critical thinking while in college and that critical thinking differs with factors such as teaching strategies, intervention duration, subject area, and teaching type. The usefulness of collaborative problem-solving in fostering students’ critical thinking, however, was not determined by this study, nor did it reveal whether there existed significant variations among the different elements. A meta-analysis of 31 pieces of educational literature was conducted by Liu et al. ( 2020 ) to assess the impact of problem-solving on college students’ critical thinking. These authors found that problem-solving could promote the development of critical thinking among college students and proposed establishing a reasonable group structure for problem-solving in a follow-up study to improve students’ critical thinking. Additionally, previous empirical studies have reached inconclusive and even contradictory conclusions about whether and to what extent collaborative problem-solving increases or decreases critical thinking levels. As an illustration, Yang et al. ( 2008 ) carried out an experiment on the integrated curriculum teaching of college students based on a web bulletin board with the goal of fostering participants’ critical thinking in the context of collaborative problem-solving. These authors’ research revealed that through sharing, debating, examining, and reflecting on various experiences and ideas, collaborative problem-solving can considerably enhance students’ critical thinking in real-life problem situations. In contrast, collaborative problem-solving had a positive impact on learners’ interaction and could improve learning interest and motivation but could not significantly improve students’ critical thinking when compared to traditional classroom teaching, according to research by Naber and Wyatt ( 2014 ) and Sendag and Odabasi ( 2009 ) on undergraduate and high school students, respectively.

The above studies show that there is inconsistency regarding the effectiveness of collaborative problem-solving in promoting students’ critical thinking. Therefore, it is essential to conduct a thorough and trustworthy review to detect and decide whether and to what degree collaborative problem-solving can result in a rise or decrease in critical thinking. Meta-analysis is a quantitative analysis approach that is utilized to examine quantitative data from various separate studies that are all focused on the same research topic. This approach characterizes the effectiveness of its impact by averaging the effect sizes of numerous qualitative studies in an effort to reduce the uncertainty brought on by independent research and produce more conclusive findings (Lipsey and Wilson, 2001 ).

This paper used a meta-analytic approach and carried out a meta-analysis to examine the effectiveness of collaborative problem-solving in promoting students’ critical thinking in order to make a contribution to both research and practice. The following research questions were addressed by this meta-analysis:

What is the overall effect size of collaborative problem-solving in promoting students’ critical thinking and its impact on the two dimensions of critical thinking (i.e., attitudinal tendency and cognitive skills)?

How are the disparities between the study conclusions impacted by various moderating variables if the impacts of various experimental designs in the included studies are heterogeneous?

This research followed the strict procedures (e.g., database searching, identification, screening, eligibility, merging, duplicate removal, and analysis of included studies) of Cooper’s ( 2010 ) proposed meta-analysis approach for examining quantitative data from various separate studies that are all focused on the same research topic. The relevant empirical research that appeared in worldwide educational periodicals within the 21st century was subjected to this meta-analysis using Rev-Man 5.4. The consistency of the data extracted separately by two researchers was tested using Cohen’s kappa coefficient, and a publication bias test and a heterogeneity test were run on the sample data to ascertain the quality of this meta-analysis.

Data sources and search strategies

There were three stages to the data collection process for this meta-analysis, as shown in Fig. 1 , which shows the number of articles included and eliminated during the selection process based on the statement and study eligibility criteria.

figure 1

This flowchart shows the number of records identified, included and excluded in the article.

First, the databases used to systematically search for relevant articles were the journal papers of the Web of Science Core Collection and the Chinese Core source journal, as well as the Chinese Social Science Citation Index (CSSCI) source journal papers included in CNKI. These databases were selected because they are credible platforms that are sources of scholarly and peer-reviewed information with advanced search tools and contain literature relevant to the subject of our topic from reliable researchers and experts. The search string with the Boolean operator used in the Web of Science was “TS = (((“critical thinking” or “ct” and “pretest” or “posttest”) or (“critical thinking” or “ct” and “control group” or “quasi experiment” or “experiment”)) and (“collaboration” or “collaborative learning” or “CSCL”) and (“problem solving” or “problem-based learning” or “PBL”))”. The research area was “Education Educational Research”, and the search period was “January 1, 2000, to December 30, 2021”. A total of 412 papers were obtained. The search string with the Boolean operator used in the CNKI was “SU = (‘critical thinking’*‘collaboration’ + ‘critical thinking’*‘collaborative learning’ + ‘critical thinking’*‘CSCL’ + ‘critical thinking’*‘problem solving’ + ‘critical thinking’*‘problem-based learning’ + ‘critical thinking’*‘PBL’ + ‘critical thinking’*‘problem oriented’) AND FT = (‘experiment’ + ‘quasi experiment’ + ‘pretest’ + ‘posttest’ + ‘empirical study’)” (translated into Chinese when searching). A total of 56 studies were found throughout the search period of “January 2000 to December 2021”. From the databases, all duplicates and retractions were eliminated before exporting the references into Endnote, a program for managing bibliographic references. In all, 466 studies were found.

Second, the studies that matched the inclusion and exclusion criteria for the meta-analysis were chosen by two researchers after they had reviewed the abstracts and titles of the gathered articles, yielding a total of 126 studies.

Third, two researchers thoroughly reviewed each included article’s whole text in accordance with the inclusion and exclusion criteria. Meanwhile, a snowball search was performed using the references and citations of the included articles to ensure complete coverage of the articles. Ultimately, 36 articles were kept.

Two researchers worked together to carry out this entire process, and a consensus rate of almost 94.7% was reached after discussion and negotiation to clarify any emerging differences.

Eligibility criteria

Since not all the retrieved studies matched the criteria for this meta-analysis, eligibility criteria for both inclusion and exclusion were developed as follows:

The publication language of the included studies was limited to English and Chinese, and the full text could be obtained. Articles that did not meet the publication language and articles not published between 2000 and 2021 were excluded.

The research design of the included studies must be empirical and quantitative studies that can assess the effect of collaborative problem-solving on the development of critical thinking. Articles that could not identify the causal mechanisms by which collaborative problem-solving affects critical thinking, such as review articles and theoretical articles, were excluded.

The research method of the included studies must feature a randomized control experiment or a quasi-experiment, or a natural experiment, which have a higher degree of internal validity with strong experimental designs and can all plausibly provide evidence that critical thinking and collaborative problem-solving are causally related. Articles with non-experimental research methods, such as purely correlational or observational studies, were excluded.

The participants of the included studies were only students in school, including K-12 students and college students. Articles in which the participants were non-school students, such as social workers or adult learners, were excluded.

The research results of the included studies must mention definite signs that may be utilized to gauge critical thinking’s impact (e.g., sample size, mean value, or standard deviation). Articles that lacked specific measurement indicators for critical thinking and could not calculate the effect size were excluded.

Data coding design

In order to perform a meta-analysis, it is necessary to collect the most important information from the articles, codify that information’s properties, and convert descriptive data into quantitative data. Therefore, this study designed a data coding template (see Table 1 ). Ultimately, 16 coding fields were retained.

The designed data-coding template consisted of three pieces of information. Basic information about the papers was included in the descriptive information: the publishing year, author, serial number, and title of the paper.

The variable information for the experimental design had three variables: the independent variable (instruction method), the dependent variable (critical thinking), and the moderating variable (learning stage, teaching type, intervention duration, learning scaffold, group size, measuring tool, and subject area). Depending on the topic of this study, the intervention strategy, as the independent variable, was coded into collaborative and non-collaborative problem-solving. The dependent variable, critical thinking, was coded as a cognitive skill and an attitudinal tendency. And seven moderating variables were created by grouping and combining the experimental design variables discovered within the 36 studies (see Table 1 ), where learning stages were encoded as higher education, high school, middle school, and primary school or lower; teaching types were encoded as mixed courses, integrated courses, and independent courses; intervention durations were encoded as 0–1 weeks, 1–4 weeks, 4–12 weeks, and more than 12 weeks; group sizes were encoded as 2–3 persons, 4–6 persons, 7–10 persons, and more than 10 persons; learning scaffolds were encoded as teacher-supported learning scaffold, technique-supported learning scaffold, and resource-supported learning scaffold; measuring tools were encoded as standardized measurement tools (e.g., WGCTA, CCTT, CCTST, and CCTDI) and self-adapting measurement tools (e.g., modified or made by researchers); and subject areas were encoded according to the specific subjects used in the 36 included studies.

The data information contained three metrics for measuring critical thinking: sample size, average value, and standard deviation. It is vital to remember that studies with various experimental designs frequently adopt various formulas to determine the effect size. And this paper used Morris’ proposed standardized mean difference (SMD) calculation formula ( 2008 , p. 369; see Supplementary Table S3 ).

Procedure for extracting and coding data

According to the data coding template (see Table 1 ), the 36 papers’ information was retrieved by two researchers, who then entered them into Excel (see Supplementary Table S1 ). The results of each study were extracted separately in the data extraction procedure if an article contained numerous studies on critical thinking, or if a study assessed different critical thinking dimensions. For instance, Tiwari et al. ( 2010 ) used four time points, which were viewed as numerous different studies, to examine the outcomes of critical thinking, and Chen ( 2013 ) included the two outcome variables of attitudinal tendency and cognitive skills, which were regarded as two studies. After discussion and negotiation during data extraction, the two researchers’ consistency test coefficients were roughly 93.27%. Supplementary Table S2 details the key characteristics of the 36 included articles with 79 effect quantities, including descriptive information (e.g., the publishing year, author, serial number, and title of the paper), variable information (e.g., independent variables, dependent variables, and moderating variables), and data information (e.g., mean values, standard deviations, and sample size). Following that, testing for publication bias and heterogeneity was done on the sample data using the Rev-Man 5.4 software, and then the test results were used to conduct a meta-analysis.

Publication bias test

When the sample of studies included in a meta-analysis does not accurately reflect the general status of research on the relevant subject, publication bias is said to be exhibited in this research. The reliability and accuracy of the meta-analysis may be impacted by publication bias. Due to this, the meta-analysis needs to check the sample data for publication bias (Stewart et al., 2006 ). A popular method to check for publication bias is the funnel plot; and it is unlikely that there will be publishing bias when the data are equally dispersed on either side of the average effect size and targeted within the higher region. The data are equally dispersed within the higher portion of the efficient zone, consistent with the funnel plot connected with this analysis (see Fig. 2 ), indicating that publication bias is unlikely in this situation.

figure 2

This funnel plot shows the result of publication bias of 79 effect quantities across 36 studies.

Heterogeneity test

To select the appropriate effect models for the meta-analysis, one might use the results of a heterogeneity test on the data effect sizes. In a meta-analysis, it is common practice to gauge the degree of data heterogeneity using the I 2 value, and I 2  ≥ 50% is typically understood to denote medium-high heterogeneity, which calls for the adoption of a random effect model; if not, a fixed effect model ought to be applied (Lipsey and Wilson, 2001 ). The findings of the heterogeneity test in this paper (see Table 2 ) revealed that I 2 was 86% and displayed significant heterogeneity ( P  < 0.01). To ensure accuracy and reliability, the overall effect size ought to be calculated utilizing the random effect model.

The analysis of the overall effect size

This meta-analysis utilized a random effect model to examine 79 effect quantities from 36 studies after eliminating heterogeneity. In accordance with Cohen’s criterion (Cohen, 1992 ), it is abundantly clear from the analysis results, which are shown in the forest plot of the overall effect (see Fig. 3 ), that the cumulative impact size of cooperative problem-solving is 0.82, which is statistically significant ( z  = 12.78, P  < 0.01, 95% CI [0.69, 0.95]), and can encourage learners to practice critical thinking.

figure 3

This forest plot shows the analysis result of the overall effect size across 36 studies.

In addition, this study examined two distinct dimensions of critical thinking to better understand the precise contributions that collaborative problem-solving makes to the growth of critical thinking. The findings (see Table 3 ) indicate that collaborative problem-solving improves cognitive skills (ES = 0.70) and attitudinal tendency (ES = 1.17), with significant intergroup differences (chi 2  = 7.95, P  < 0.01). Although collaborative problem-solving improves both dimensions of critical thinking, it is essential to point out that the improvements in students’ attitudinal tendency are much more pronounced and have a significant comprehensive effect (ES = 1.17, z  = 7.62, P  < 0.01, 95% CI [0.87, 1.47]), whereas gains in learners’ cognitive skill are slightly improved and are just above average. (ES = 0.70, z  = 11.55, P  < 0.01, 95% CI [0.58, 0.82]).

The analysis of moderator effect size

The whole forest plot’s 79 effect quantities underwent a two-tailed test, which revealed significant heterogeneity ( I 2  = 86%, z  = 12.78, P  < 0.01), indicating differences between various effect sizes that may have been influenced by moderating factors other than sampling error. Therefore, exploring possible moderating factors that might produce considerable heterogeneity was done using subgroup analysis, such as the learning stage, learning scaffold, teaching type, group size, duration of the intervention, measuring tool, and the subject area included in the 36 experimental designs, in order to further explore the key factors that influence critical thinking. The findings (see Table 4 ) indicate that various moderating factors have advantageous effects on critical thinking. In this situation, the subject area (chi 2  = 13.36, P  < 0.05), group size (chi 2  = 8.77, P  < 0.05), intervention duration (chi 2  = 12.18, P  < 0.01), learning scaffold (chi 2  = 9.03, P  < 0.01), and teaching type (chi 2  = 7.20, P  < 0.05) are all significant moderators that can be applied to support the cultivation of critical thinking. However, since the learning stage and the measuring tools did not significantly differ among intergroup (chi 2  = 3.15, P  = 0.21 > 0.05, and chi 2  = 0.08, P  = 0.78 > 0.05), we are unable to explain why these two factors are crucial in supporting the cultivation of critical thinking in the context of collaborative problem-solving. These are the precise outcomes, as follows:

Various learning stages influenced critical thinking positively, without significant intergroup differences (chi 2  = 3.15, P  = 0.21 > 0.05). High school was first on the list of effect sizes (ES = 1.36, P  < 0.01), then higher education (ES = 0.78, P  < 0.01), and middle school (ES = 0.73, P  < 0.01). These results show that, despite the learning stage’s beneficial influence on cultivating learners’ critical thinking, we are unable to explain why it is essential for cultivating critical thinking in the context of collaborative problem-solving.

Different teaching types had varying degrees of positive impact on critical thinking, with significant intergroup differences (chi 2  = 7.20, P  < 0.05). The effect size was ranked as follows: mixed courses (ES = 1.34, P  < 0.01), integrated courses (ES = 0.81, P  < 0.01), and independent courses (ES = 0.27, P  < 0.01). These results indicate that the most effective approach to cultivate critical thinking utilizing collaborative problem solving is through the teaching type of mixed courses.

Various intervention durations significantly improved critical thinking, and there were significant intergroup differences (chi 2  = 12.18, P  < 0.01). The effect sizes related to this variable showed a tendency to increase with longer intervention durations. The improvement in critical thinking reached a significant level (ES = 0.85, P  < 0.01) after more than 12 weeks of training. These findings indicate that the intervention duration and critical thinking’s impact are positively correlated, with a longer intervention duration having a greater effect.

Different learning scaffolds influenced critical thinking positively, with significant intergroup differences (chi 2  = 9.03, P  < 0.01). The resource-supported learning scaffold (ES = 0.69, P  < 0.01) acquired a medium-to-higher level of impact, the technique-supported learning scaffold (ES = 0.63, P  < 0.01) also attained a medium-to-higher level of impact, and the teacher-supported learning scaffold (ES = 0.92, P  < 0.01) displayed a high level of significant impact. These results show that the learning scaffold with teacher support has the greatest impact on cultivating critical thinking.

Various group sizes influenced critical thinking positively, and the intergroup differences were statistically significant (chi 2  = 8.77, P  < 0.05). Critical thinking showed a general declining trend with increasing group size. The overall effect size of 2–3 people in this situation was the biggest (ES = 0.99, P  < 0.01), and when the group size was greater than 7 people, the improvement in critical thinking was at the lower-middle level (ES < 0.5, P  < 0.01). These results show that the impact on critical thinking is positively connected with group size, and as group size grows, so does the overall impact.

Various measuring tools influenced critical thinking positively, with significant intergroup differences (chi 2  = 0.08, P  = 0.78 > 0.05). In this situation, the self-adapting measurement tools obtained an upper-medium level of effect (ES = 0.78), whereas the complete effect size of the standardized measurement tools was the largest, achieving a significant level of effect (ES = 0.84, P  < 0.01). These results show that, despite the beneficial influence of the measuring tool on cultivating critical thinking, we are unable to explain why it is crucial in fostering the growth of critical thinking by utilizing the approach of collaborative problem-solving.

Different subject areas had a greater impact on critical thinking, and the intergroup differences were statistically significant (chi 2  = 13.36, P  < 0.05). Mathematics had the greatest overall impact, achieving a significant level of effect (ES = 1.68, P  < 0.01), followed by science (ES = 1.25, P  < 0.01) and medical science (ES = 0.87, P  < 0.01), both of which also achieved a significant level of effect. Programming technology was the least effective (ES = 0.39, P  < 0.01), only having a medium-low degree of effect compared to education (ES = 0.72, P  < 0.01) and other fields (such as language, art, and social sciences) (ES = 0.58, P  < 0.01). These results suggest that scientific fields (e.g., mathematics, science) may be the most effective subject areas for cultivating critical thinking utilizing the approach of collaborative problem-solving.

The effectiveness of collaborative problem solving with regard to teaching critical thinking

According to this meta-analysis, using collaborative problem-solving as an intervention strategy in critical thinking teaching has a considerable amount of impact on cultivating learners’ critical thinking as a whole and has a favorable promotional effect on the two dimensions of critical thinking. According to certain studies, collaborative problem solving, the most frequently used critical thinking teaching strategy in curriculum instruction can considerably enhance students’ critical thinking (e.g., Liang et al., 2017 ; Liu et al., 2020 ; Cindy, 2004 ). This meta-analysis provides convergent data support for the above research views. Thus, the findings of this meta-analysis not only effectively address the first research query regarding the overall effect of cultivating critical thinking and its impact on the two dimensions of critical thinking (i.e., attitudinal tendency and cognitive skills) utilizing the approach of collaborative problem-solving, but also enhance our confidence in cultivating critical thinking by using collaborative problem-solving intervention approach in the context of classroom teaching.

Furthermore, the associated improvements in attitudinal tendency are much stronger, but the corresponding improvements in cognitive skill are only marginally better. According to certain studies, cognitive skill differs from the attitudinal tendency in classroom instruction; the cultivation and development of the former as a key ability is a process of gradual accumulation, while the latter as an attitude is affected by the context of the teaching situation (e.g., a novel and exciting teaching approach, challenging and rewarding tasks) (Halpern, 2001 ; Wei and Hong, 2022 ). Collaborative problem-solving as a teaching approach is exciting and interesting, as well as rewarding and challenging; because it takes the learners as the focus and examines problems with poor structure in real situations, and it can inspire students to fully realize their potential for problem-solving, which will significantly improve their attitudinal tendency toward solving problems (Liu et al., 2020 ). Similar to how collaborative problem-solving influences attitudinal tendency, attitudinal tendency impacts cognitive skill when attempting to solve a problem (Liu et al., 2020 ; Zhang et al., 2022 ), and stronger attitudinal tendencies are associated with improved learning achievement and cognitive ability in students (Sison, 2008 ; Zhang et al., 2022 ). It can be seen that the two specific dimensions of critical thinking as well as critical thinking as a whole are affected by collaborative problem-solving, and this study illuminates the nuanced links between cognitive skills and attitudinal tendencies with regard to these two dimensions of critical thinking. To fully develop students’ capacity for critical thinking, future empirical research should pay closer attention to cognitive skills.

The moderating effects of collaborative problem solving with regard to teaching critical thinking

In order to further explore the key factors that influence critical thinking, exploring possible moderating effects that might produce considerable heterogeneity was done using subgroup analysis. The findings show that the moderating factors, such as the teaching type, learning stage, group size, learning scaffold, duration of the intervention, measuring tool, and the subject area included in the 36 experimental designs, could all support the cultivation of collaborative problem-solving in critical thinking. Among them, the effect size differences between the learning stage and measuring tool are not significant, which does not explain why these two factors are crucial in supporting the cultivation of critical thinking utilizing the approach of collaborative problem-solving.

In terms of the learning stage, various learning stages influenced critical thinking positively without significant intergroup differences, indicating that we are unable to explain why it is crucial in fostering the growth of critical thinking.

Although high education accounts for 70.89% of all empirical studies performed by researchers, high school may be the appropriate learning stage to foster students’ critical thinking by utilizing the approach of collaborative problem-solving since it has the largest overall effect size. This phenomenon may be related to student’s cognitive development, which needs to be further studied in follow-up research.

With regard to teaching type, mixed course teaching may be the best teaching method to cultivate students’ critical thinking. Relevant studies have shown that in the actual teaching process if students are trained in thinking methods alone, the methods they learn are isolated and divorced from subject knowledge, which is not conducive to their transfer of thinking methods; therefore, if students’ thinking is trained only in subject teaching without systematic method training, it is challenging to apply to real-world circumstances (Ruggiero, 2012 ; Hu and Liu, 2015 ). Teaching critical thinking as mixed course teaching in parallel to other subject teachings can achieve the best effect on learners’ critical thinking, and explicit critical thinking instruction is more effective than less explicit critical thinking instruction (Bensley and Spero, 2014 ).

In terms of the intervention duration, with longer intervention times, the overall effect size shows an upward tendency. Thus, the intervention duration and critical thinking’s impact are positively correlated. Critical thinking, as a key competency for students in the 21st century, is difficult to get a meaningful improvement in a brief intervention duration. Instead, it could be developed over a lengthy period of time through consistent teaching and the progressive accumulation of knowledge (Halpern, 2001 ; Hu and Liu, 2015 ). Therefore, future empirical studies ought to take these restrictions into account throughout a longer period of critical thinking instruction.

With regard to group size, a group size of 2–3 persons has the highest effect size, and the comprehensive effect size decreases with increasing group size in general. This outcome is in line with some research findings; as an example, a group composed of two to four members is most appropriate for collaborative learning (Schellens and Valcke, 2006 ). However, the meta-analysis results also indicate that once the group size exceeds 7 people, small groups cannot produce better interaction and performance than large groups. This may be because the learning scaffolds of technique support, resource support, and teacher support improve the frequency and effectiveness of interaction among group members, and a collaborative group with more members may increase the diversity of views, which is helpful to cultivate critical thinking utilizing the approach of collaborative problem-solving.

With regard to the learning scaffold, the three different kinds of learning scaffolds can all enhance critical thinking. Among them, the teacher-supported learning scaffold has the largest overall effect size, demonstrating the interdependence of effective learning scaffolds and collaborative problem-solving. This outcome is in line with some research findings; as an example, a successful strategy is to encourage learners to collaborate, come up with solutions, and develop critical thinking skills by using learning scaffolds (Reiser, 2004 ; Xu et al., 2022 ); learning scaffolds can lower task complexity and unpleasant feelings while also enticing students to engage in learning activities (Wood et al., 2006 ); learning scaffolds are designed to assist students in using learning approaches more successfully to adapt the collaborative problem-solving process, and the teacher-supported learning scaffolds have the greatest influence on critical thinking in this process because they are more targeted, informative, and timely (Xu et al., 2022 ).

With respect to the measuring tool, despite the fact that standardized measurement tools (such as the WGCTA, CCTT, and CCTST) have been acknowledged as trustworthy and effective by worldwide experts, only 54.43% of the research included in this meta-analysis adopted them for assessment, and the results indicated no intergroup differences. These results suggest that not all teaching circumstances are appropriate for measuring critical thinking using standardized measurement tools. “The measuring tools for measuring thinking ability have limits in assessing learners in educational situations and should be adapted appropriately to accurately assess the changes in learners’ critical thinking.”, according to Simpson and Courtney ( 2002 , p. 91). As a result, in order to more fully and precisely gauge how learners’ critical thinking has evolved, we must properly modify standardized measuring tools based on collaborative problem-solving learning contexts.

With regard to the subject area, the comprehensive effect size of science departments (e.g., mathematics, science, medical science) is larger than that of language arts and social sciences. Some recent international education reforms have noted that critical thinking is a basic part of scientific literacy. Students with scientific literacy can prove the rationality of their judgment according to accurate evidence and reasonable standards when they face challenges or poorly structured problems (Kyndt et al., 2013 ), which makes critical thinking crucial for developing scientific understanding and applying this understanding to practical problem solving for problems related to science, technology, and society (Yore et al., 2007 ).

Suggestions for critical thinking teaching

Other than those stated in the discussion above, the following suggestions are offered for critical thinking instruction utilizing the approach of collaborative problem-solving.

First, teachers should put a special emphasis on the two core elements, which are collaboration and problem-solving, to design real problems based on collaborative situations. This meta-analysis provides evidence to support the view that collaborative problem-solving has a strong synergistic effect on promoting students’ critical thinking. Asking questions about real situations and allowing learners to take part in critical discussions on real problems during class instruction are key ways to teach critical thinking rather than simply reading speculative articles without practice (Mulnix, 2012 ). Furthermore, the improvement of students’ critical thinking is realized through cognitive conflict with other learners in the problem situation (Yang et al., 2008 ). Consequently, it is essential for teachers to put a special emphasis on the two core elements, which are collaboration and problem-solving, and design real problems and encourage students to discuss, negotiate, and argue based on collaborative problem-solving situations.

Second, teachers should design and implement mixed courses to cultivate learners’ critical thinking, utilizing the approach of collaborative problem-solving. Critical thinking can be taught through curriculum instruction (Kuncel, 2011 ; Leng and Lu, 2020 ), with the goal of cultivating learners’ critical thinking for flexible transfer and application in real problem-solving situations. This meta-analysis shows that mixed course teaching has a highly substantial impact on the cultivation and promotion of learners’ critical thinking. Therefore, teachers should design and implement mixed course teaching with real collaborative problem-solving situations in combination with the knowledge content of specific disciplines in conventional teaching, teach methods and strategies of critical thinking based on poorly structured problems to help students master critical thinking, and provide practical activities in which students can interact with each other to develop knowledge construction and critical thinking utilizing the approach of collaborative problem-solving.

Third, teachers should be more trained in critical thinking, particularly preservice teachers, and they also should be conscious of the ways in which teachers’ support for learning scaffolds can promote critical thinking. The learning scaffold supported by teachers had the greatest impact on learners’ critical thinking, in addition to being more directive, targeted, and timely (Wood et al., 2006 ). Critical thinking can only be effectively taught when teachers recognize the significance of critical thinking for students’ growth and use the proper approaches while designing instructional activities (Forawi, 2016 ). Therefore, with the intention of enabling teachers to create learning scaffolds to cultivate learners’ critical thinking utilizing the approach of collaborative problem solving, it is essential to concentrate on the teacher-supported learning scaffolds and enhance the instruction for teaching critical thinking to teachers, especially preservice teachers.

Implications and limitations

There are certain limitations in this meta-analysis, but future research can correct them. First, the search languages were restricted to English and Chinese, so it is possible that pertinent studies that were written in other languages were overlooked, resulting in an inadequate number of articles for review. Second, these data provided by the included studies are partially missing, such as whether teachers were trained in the theory and practice of critical thinking, the average age and gender of learners, and the differences in critical thinking among learners of various ages and genders. Third, as is typical for review articles, more studies were released while this meta-analysis was being done; therefore, it had a time limit. With the development of relevant research, future studies focusing on these issues are highly relevant and needed.


The subject of the magnitude of collaborative problem-solving’s impact on fostering students’ critical thinking, which received scant attention from other studies, was successfully addressed by this study. The question of the effectiveness of collaborative problem-solving in promoting students’ critical thinking was addressed in this study, which addressed a topic that had gotten little attention in earlier research. The following conclusions can be made:

Regarding the results obtained, collaborative problem solving is an effective teaching approach to foster learners’ critical thinking, with a significant overall effect size (ES = 0.82, z  = 12.78, P  < 0.01, 95% CI [0.69, 0.95]). With respect to the dimensions of critical thinking, collaborative problem-solving can significantly and effectively improve students’ attitudinal tendency, and the comprehensive effect is significant (ES = 1.17, z  = 7.62, P  < 0.01, 95% CI [0.87, 1.47]); nevertheless, it falls short in terms of improving students’ cognitive skills, having only an upper-middle impact (ES = 0.70, z  = 11.55, P  < 0.01, 95% CI [0.58, 0.82]).

As demonstrated by both the results and the discussion, there are varying degrees of beneficial effects on students’ critical thinking from all seven moderating factors, which were found across 36 studies. In this context, the teaching type (chi 2  = 7.20, P  < 0.05), intervention duration (chi 2  = 12.18, P  < 0.01), subject area (chi 2  = 13.36, P  < 0.05), group size (chi 2  = 8.77, P  < 0.05), and learning scaffold (chi 2  = 9.03, P  < 0.01) all have a positive impact on critical thinking, and they can be viewed as important moderating factors that affect how critical thinking develops. Since the learning stage (chi 2  = 3.15, P  = 0.21 > 0.05) and measuring tools (chi 2  = 0.08, P  = 0.78 > 0.05) did not demonstrate any significant intergroup differences, we are unable to explain why these two factors are crucial in supporting the cultivation of critical thinking in the context of collaborative problem-solving.

Data availability

All data generated or analyzed during this study are included within the article and its supplementary information files, and the supplementary information files are available in the Dataverse repository: .

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This research was supported by the graduate scientific research and innovation project of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region named “Research on in-depth learning of high school information technology courses for the cultivation of computing thinking” (No. XJ2022G190) and the independent innovation fund project for doctoral students of the College of Educational Science of Xinjiang Normal University named “Research on project-based teaching of high school information technology courses from the perspective of discipline core literacy” (No. XJNUJKYA2003).

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how to develop critical thinking and problem solving skills in students


5 Smart Ways to Incorporate Problem-Solving and Critical Thinking Skills in Students

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February 3, 2023

how to develop critical thinking and problem solving skills in students

Critical thinking is the ability to think clearly and logically by understanding the connection between ideas, events, processes, cause and result, and actions and consequences. It is an important life skill to master. Combined with a creative aptitude and a problem-solving attitude, it can transform the student into an informed learner, a socially aware person, and an innovator with leadership potential. Within the academic domains, students who think critically and can solve problems are hungry to learn and grow their intellectual quotient. They are strong decision-makers, think outside the box to come up with innovative ideas, are organized, focused and ready to thrive. So here are five smart ways to incorporate problem-solving and critical thinking skills in students:

1. Encourage Active Learning

Students must be active learners to develop critical thinking skills. If they study a concept in haste, they will not think deeply about it or link it with what they already know. Critical thinking is crucial to analyze information and delve deeper into the subject. Therefore critical thinking skills for students are best developed when theoretical learning is combined with real-life experiences. If this is done frequently in the classroom and at home, students will become active learners with strong critical thinking skills. MIT Gurukul, one of the best schools in Pune, believes in providing experiential learning opportunities to its students.

2. Use Real-World Problems and Scenarios

When students are encouraged to look at real-world problems that impact their immediate surroundings, they enhance their ability to understand the related cultural, geographical, regional, legal and socio-psychological aspects. They also deliberate and come up with solutions and thus become adept at leading and managing situations in their higher education and professional years. At MIT Gurukul, one of the best schools in Pune, we bring opportunities for our students to find connections in their learning. Students are encouraged to find associations between different subject elements and real-life situations that match the topic. It takes their minds out of the four walls of a classroom and teaches them to look at the outside world. They become better global citizens and impactful leaders in the process.

3. Foster Independent Thinking and Exploration

Grow the seed of hunger in the minds of your children and you will see wonders! Asking open ended questions that require the students to think up the answer rather than just say yes or no helps them to exercise their thought process, logical analysis and critical thinking. MIT Gurukul, one of the best schools in Pune, encourages students to ask meaningful questions on their own too within our classes, especially as they reach our middle years program and progress to the senior years. To foster their independent thinking and exploration, we often ask them some of these questions:

  • Could you give me an example to support your answer?
  • Could you elaborate further on that point?
  • Do we need to consider another point of view here?
  • Will you provide some more details?
  • Is there another way we can approach solving this issue? 

4. Teach Problem-Solving Strategies

If a student develops problem-solving skills at a young age, they will bring out the best in every opportunity. It will equip them with confidence, intelligence and perseverance. You can give your students a hypothetical problem and ask them to find solutions through critical and creative thinking. Here are a few examples that may come in handy, and many of which we utilize at MIT Gurukul for interaction with our students within the classroom settings:

  • You have two important assignments and both are due next week. How will you make sure to complete both?
  • Your friend has failed an exam. How do you support them?
  • Your city is getting polluted day by day. Suggest some measures you can take starting from your home to help solve this environmental problem.

5. Encourage Group Work and Collaboration

Group work and collaboration can build skills of leadership, cooperation, empathy and inclusion in the young minds; and nurture such qualities as the students grow older. Some of the ways to foster group work are debates, team based quizzes, group projects and presentations, buddy programs, volunteering and organizing events in teams. In the classroom, a teacher may give a debate topic to the students and divide them into two groups, one for the notion and the other against it. The topic may be based on a new scientific discovery, current affairs, use of art for expressing emotions or ideas, moral dilemma, political situation, or a groundbreaking technological development. MIT Gurukul, being one of the top ICSE schools in India, allows students to bring their ideas to the table, discuss with each other and get introduced to fresh perspectives. Assigning an impromptu creative project is another interesting way to develop team spirit and problem-solving skills. As we reach the end of this article, we cannot reiterate enough the importance of critical thinking and problem-solving skills for students in the classroom and beyond. We urge the parents to also encourage these qualities amongst their wards and encourage and support them through positive reinforcement as they traverse their journey to hone their ability for thinking critically, asking questions, and to never stop learning. We urge and request parents to incorporate activities in their child’s daily routine that help them develop critical thinking, leadership qualities and the skill to solve problems.

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How to Improve Student Critical Thinking Skills

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Why are Student Critical Thinking Skills So Essential?

There are many skills that are essential for students to have in order to better themselves and their learning. Many of these skills should be taught at an early age and practiced as they grow and develop. Skills such as problem-solving , collaboration , and critical thinking are vital to students inside and outside the classroom.

Critical thinking skills are especially important for students to develop. Students need critical thinking skills in many situations such as trying to solve a math problem, figuring out the best way to go from their house to work, or solving any type of puzzle.

These skills are essential to help students learn:

  • How to make good decisions
  • Understand their actions
  • Cause and effect
  • Problem-solving

So, how do you know if critical thinking is happening in your classroom? Some of the most obvious ways you will know if your students have acquired this skill would be the following observable actions.

  • Students ask deep probing questions about a topic. They connect novel ideas to background knowledge.
  • Students identify and understand the importance of a topic as well as acknowledge the inconsistencies in a theory or explanation.
  • Students can create a rational and sensible argument about a topic and use reflective thinking often and with ease. When students use critical thinking skills, they are able to systematically apply creative problem solving that assists in selecting the soundest decision.


Class discussions are an important method in developing students’ critical thinking skills. Providing students with a safe forum in which to express their thoughts and ideas empowers them to think deeply about issues and vocalize their thoughts. For example, an English teacher might provide pre-reading exercises for students to complete for homework.

These questions can then be used as a springboard to generate a group discussion . To challenge the students more, the questions could be controversial in nature to allow for passionate students to think critically on an issue as they express their ideas.

For instance, before teaching Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, the teacher may ask questions like:

  • Are there are times when euthanasia (mercy killing) is justified?
  • Is it more socially acceptable for females to love their female friends than it is for males to love their male friends?

While these questions ultimately are relevant to the text, before reading the novel, students must interpret these questions from a personal standpoint and evaluate their own feelings and philosophies.

Once the students complete the questions, there can be a class discussion or debate on each topic. For the discussion to succeed, the teacher must be an impartial facilitator to their discussion, often playing the proverbial “devil’s advocate” to keep the conversation dynamic and engaging. This discussion approach allows students to not only voice their opinions but also to hear the opinions of their classmates and further assess their own understanding of the topics.

This method allows for critical thinking both before the exercise as students complete the questions and then during the exercise as they debate their classmates in a group dynamic. In addition, the questions posed for the group discussion lead directly to another tool for developing critical thinking skills: making real-world connections.

Real-World Connections

It is imperative as a teacher to push students to make real-world and personal connections to the material being covered. If students make these connections, they are more invested in the subject matter and more inclined to analyze and think critically about their work.

As an example, a teacher may take a text written 80 years ago and ask the students to modernize the work; they can keep the same themes and conflicts yet bring the work to a modern-day setting. This exercise allows students to better relate to the text and understand how they might react if put into the same situations as many characters.

Another example is asking students to identify specific mathematical topics in areas in their lives that do not include the classroom. Something such as slope can be identified with how students can go from one floor of the school building to the next. Geometric figures are demonstrated with any building that exists. Specific mathematical or physical laws can happen at any point of their lives.

When students are able to identify these instances, it helps them to make a better connection to the learning. These connections force students to examine and analyze on a more critical level because suddenly the material is much more relatable. These real-world connections challenge students to develop the vital critical thinking skills.

Has the Pandemic Affected Student Critical Thinking Skills?

After navigating through two years of the pandemic, students need to develop critical thinking skills now more than ever. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that there is no substitute for in-person classroom instruction. As a result of online learning, many students lost the ability to think critically as many of the assignments didn’t allow for that type of learning.

In many ways, students forgot how to be students, and teachers forgot how to be teachers. With the height of the pandemic now behind us, it is imperative that we rebuild critical thinking skills and again teach students how to approach material in an analytical sense.

How to Improve Critical Thinking Skills in Students

Teachers can challenge their students to discover information about the topic being discussed and gain pre-knowledge as mentioned in the example above. Suppose students can access knowledge prior to the lesson or learning new content. In that case, it can help them to develop the necessary skills for the lesson as well as give them the confidence to learn and practice the newest material. This helps to develop their critical thinking as well as have a better connection to the content.

There are many ways that teachers can help develop student critical thinking skills.

Safe Learning Environments

One of the ways is to create a safe learning place in which students feel comfortable to ask questions. When students ask questions, it helps them to better understand the content and analyze the information better.

Active Participation

Another way that students can develop their critical thinking skills is to be active participants in the lesson and help to collaborate. If a teacher can create an atmosphere where the students work together, participate in the learning , and learn from one another, then students can begin to develop these skills.

Connections with Previous Knowledge

Students can use prior knowledge from previously learned material to make connections to the present topics. If students can build off what they already know and apply it to what they are currently learning, it can help them to see the connections as well as analyze the newest information. Students, also, can work backwards to solve problems. Students can take the question, example, and the answer and work backwards to discover how to go from the start to the end.

Mistakes and Learning from Them

Although some teachers do not like to give the answers to students, this process can actually help them to evaluate the problem better and to learn how to solve it moving forward. One last way students can help develop their critical thinking skills is to take chances, use the guess-and-check method when in doubt, and just try to discover a possible solution. So often, students want to be right, and they want to know that they are right; this happens often at the secondary level .

Many of these students are scared to fail and do not want to take risks. Teaching students that it is okay to explore and make mistakes can help them improve their critical thinking skills and confidence. Life is about discovering and exploring and when the students understand that those are important skills to have in life, it can help them to analyze better within the classroom setting.

Instructional Strategies

Think about the instructional strategies that you use most often — I am referring to your “go to” tools in your toolbox of instructional strategies. Do these strategies develop deeper learning competencies in your students? For instance, do your students have opportunities to use student choice and voice when working on assignments? Students should be able to create their own projects, define goals , develop their learning plan, and communicate their achievements to a broader audience.

When students can make choices and direct their own learning, they become more dedicated and engaged students. An instructional strategy that develops deeper learning competencies (especially critical thinking) is project-based learning .

Student critical thinking skills are many of the important skills they should develop to help them in different aspects of their lives. Through being challenged and encouraged to take different approaches, students can begin to learn and develop these skills. Through learning how these skills can be applied in the classroom as well as the real-world, it helps them to understand better. This not only helps them within the classroom setting but also for life after school.

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How to build your critical thinking skills in 7 steps (with examples)

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Critical thinking is, well, critical. By building these skills, you improve your ability to analyze information and come to the best decision possible. In this article, we cover the basics of critical thinking, as well as the seven steps you can use to implement the full critical thinking process. 

Critical thinking comes from asking the right questions to come to the best conclusion possible. Strong critical thinkers analyze information from a variety of viewpoints in order to identify the best course of action.

Don’t worry if you don’t think you have strong critical thinking abilities. In this article, we’ll help you build a foundation for critical thinking so you can absorb, analyze, and make informed decisions. 

What is critical thinking? 

Critical thinking is the ability to collect and analyze information to come to a conclusion. Being able to think critically is important in virtually every industry and applicable across a wide range of positions. That’s because critical thinking isn’t subject-specific—rather, it’s your ability to parse through information, data, statistics, and other details in order to identify a satisfactory solution. 

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Top 8 critical thinking skills

Like most soft skills, critical thinking isn’t something you can take a class to learn. Rather, this skill consists of a variety of interpersonal and analytical skills. Developing critical thinking is more about learning to embrace open-mindedness and bringing analytical thinking to your problem framing process. 

In no particular order, the eight most important critical thinking skills are:

Analytical thinking: Part of critical thinking is evaluating data from multiple sources in order to come to the best conclusions. Analytical thinking allows people to reject bias and strive to gather and consume information to come to the best conclusion. 

Open-mindedness: This critical thinking skill helps you analyze and process information to come to an unbiased conclusion. Part of the critical thinking process is letting your personal biases go and coming to a conclusion based on all of the information. 

Problem solving : Because critical thinking emphasizes coming to the best conclusion based on all of the available information, it’s a key part of problem solving. When used correctly, critical thinking helps you solve any problem—from a workplace challenge to difficulties in everyday life. 

Self-regulation: Self-regulation refers to the ability to regulate your thoughts and set aside any personal biases to come to the best conclusion. In order to be an effective critical thinker, you need to question the information you have and the decisions you favor—only then can you come to the best conclusion. 

Observation: Observation skills help critical thinkers look for things beyond face value. To be a critical thinker you need to embrace multiple points of view, and you can use observation skills to identify potential problems.

Interpretation: Not all data is made equal—and critical thinkers know this. In addition to gathering information, it’s important to evaluate which information is important and relevant to your situation. That way, you can draw the best conclusions from the data you’ve collected. 

Evaluation: When you attempt to answer a hard question, there is rarely an obvious answer. Even though critical thinking emphasizes putting your biases aside, you need to be able to confidently make a decision based on the data you have available. 

Communication: Once a decision has been made, you also need to share this decision with other stakeholders. Effective workplace communication includes presenting evidence and supporting your conclusion—especially if there are a variety of different possible solutions. 

7 steps to critical thinking

Critical thinking is a skill that you can build by following these seven steps. The seven steps to critical thinking help you ensure you’re approaching a problem from the right angle, considering every alternative, and coming to an unbiased conclusion.

 First things first: When to use the 7 step critical thinking process

There’s a lot that goes into the full critical thinking process, and not every decision needs to be this thought out. Sometimes, it’s enough to put aside bias and approach a process logically. In other, more complex cases, the best way to identify the ideal outcome is to go through the entire critical thinking process. 

The seven-step critical thinking process is useful for complex decisions in areas you are less familiar with. Alternatively, the seven critical thinking steps can help you look at a problem you’re familiar with from a different angle, without any bias. 

If you need to make a less complex decision, consider another problem solving strategy instead. Decision matrices are a great way to identify the best option between different choices. Check out our article on 7 steps to creating a decision matrix .

1. Identify the problem

Before you put those critical thinking skills to work, you first need to identify the problem you’re solving. This step includes taking a look at the problem from a few different perspectives and asking questions like: 

What’s happening? 

Why is this happening? 

What assumptions am I making? 

At first glance, how do I think we can solve this problem? 

A big part of developing your critical thinking skills is learning how to come to unbiased conclusions. In order to do that, you first need to acknowledge the biases that you currently have. Does someone on your team think they know the answer? Are you making assumptions that aren’t necessarily true? Identifying these details helps you later on in the process. 

2. Research

At this point, you likely have a general idea of the problem—but in order to come up with the best solution, you need to dig deeper. 

During the research process, collect information relating to the problem, including data, statistics, historical project information, team input, and more. Make sure you gather information from a variety of sources, especially if those sources go against your personal ideas about what the problem is or how to solve it.

Gathering varied information is essential for your ability to apply the critical thinking process. If you don’t get enough information, your ability to make a final decision will be skewed. Remember that critical thinking is about helping you identify the objective best conclusion. You aren’t going with your gut—you’re doing research to find the best option

3. Determine data relevance

Just as it’s important to gather a variety of information, it is also important to determine how relevant the different information sources are. After all, just because there is data doesn’t mean it’s relevant. 

Once you’ve gathered all of the information, sift through the noise and identify what information is relevant and what information isn’t. Synthesizing all of this information and establishing significance helps you weigh different data sources and come to the best conclusion later on in the critical thinking process. 

To determine data relevance, ask yourself:

How reliable is this information? 

How significant is this information? 

Is this information outdated? Is it specialized in a specific field? 

4. Ask questions

One of the most useful parts of the critical thinking process is coming to a decision without bias. In order to do so, you need to take a step back from the process and challenge the assumptions you’re making. 

We all have bias—and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Unconscious biases (also known as cognitive biases) often serve as mental shortcuts to simplify problem solving and aid decision making. But even when biases aren’t inherently bad, you must be aware of your biases in order to put them aside when necessary. 

Before coming to a solution, ask yourself:

Am I making any assumptions about this information? 

Are there additional variables I haven’t considered? 

Have I evaluated the information from every perspective? 

Are there any viewpoints I missed? 

5. Identify the best solution

Finally, you’re ready to come to a conclusion. To identify the best solution, draw connections between causes and effects. Use the facts you’ve gathered to evaluate the most objective conclusion. 

Keep in mind that there may be more than one solution. Often, the problems you’re facing are complex and intricate. The critical thinking process doesn’t necessarily lead to a cut-and-dry solution—instead, the process helps you understand the different variables at play so you can make an informed decision. 

6. Present your solution

Communication is a key skill for critical thinkers. It isn’t enough to think for yourself—you also need to share your conclusion with other project stakeholders. If there are multiple solutions, present them all. There may be a case where you implement one solution, then test to see if it works before implementing another solution. 

7. Analyze your decision

The seven-step critical thinking process yields a result—and you then need to put that solution into place. After you’ve implemented your decision, evaluate whether or not it was effective. Did it solve the initial problem? What lessons—whether positive or negative—can you learn from this experience to improve your critical thinking for next time? 

Depending on how your team shares information, consider documenting lessons learned in a central source of truth. That way, team members that are making similar or related decisions in the future can understand why you made the decision you made and what the outcome was. 

Example of critical thinking in the workplace

Imagine you work in user experience design (UX). Your team is focused on pricing and packaging and ensuring customers have a clear understanding of the different services your company offers. Here’s how to apply the critical thinking process in the workplace in seven steps: 

Start by identifying the problem

Your current pricing page isn’t performing as well as you want. You’ve heard from customers that your services aren’t clear, and that the page doesn’t answer the questions they have. This page is really important for your company, since it’s where your customers sign up for your service. You and your team have a few theories about why your current page isn’t performing well, but you decide to apply the critical thinking process to ensure you come to the best decision for the page. 

Gather information about how the problem started

Part of identifying the problem includes understanding how the problem started. The pricing and packaging page is important—so when your team initially designed the page, they certainly put a lot of thought into it. Before you begin researching how to improve the page, ask yourself: 

Why did you design the pricing page the way you did? 

Which stakeholders need to be involved in the decision making process? 

Where are users getting stuck on the page?

Are any features currently working?

Then, you research

In addition to understanding the history of the pricing and packaging page, it’s important to understand what works well. Part of this research means taking a look at what your competitor’s pricing pages look like. 

Ask yourself: 

How have our competitors set up their pricing pages?

Are there any pricing page best practices? 

How does color, positioning, and animation impact navigation? 

Are there any standard page layouts customers expect to see? 

Organize and analyze information

You’ve gathered all of the information you need—now you need to organize and analyze it. What trends, if any, are you noticing? Is there any particularly relevant or important information that you have to consider? 

Ask open-ended questions to reduce bias

In the case of critical thinking, it’s important to address and set bias aside as much as possible. Ask yourself: 

Is there anything I’m missing? 

Have I connected with the right stakeholders? 

Are there any other viewpoints I should consider? 

Determine the best solution for your team

You now have all of the information you need to design the best pricing page. Depending on the complexity of the design, you may want to design a few options to present to a small group of customers or A/B test on the live website.

Present your solution to stakeholders

Critical thinking can help you in every element of your life, but in the workplace, you must also involve key project stakeholders . Stakeholders help you determine next steps, like whether you’ll A/B test the page first. Depending on the complexity of the issue, consider hosting a meeting or sharing a status report to get everyone on the same page. 

Analyze the results

No process is complete without evaluating the results. Once the new page has been live for some time, evaluate whether it did better than the previous page. What worked? What didn’t? This also helps you make better critical decisions later on.

Critically successful 

Critical thinking takes time to build, but with effort and patience you can apply an unbiased, analytical mind to any situation. Critical thinking makes up one of many soft skills that makes you an effective team member, manager, and worker. If you’re looking to hone your skills further, read our article on the 25 project management skills you need to succeed . 

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13 Easy Steps To Improve Your Critical Thinking Skills

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With the sheer volume of information that we’re bombarded with on a daily basis – and with the pervasiveness of fake news and social media bubbles – the ability to look at evidence, evaluate the trustworthiness of a source, and think critically is becoming more important than ever. This is why, for me, critical thinking is one of the most vital skills to cultivate for future success.

Critical thinking isn’t about being constantly negative or critical of everything. It’s about objectivity and having an open, inquisitive mind. To think critically is to analyze issues based on hard evidence (as opposed to personal opinions, biases, etc.) in order to build a thorough understanding of what’s really going on. And from this place of thorough understanding, you can make better decisions and solve problems more effectively.

To put it another way, critical thinking means arriving at your own carefully considered conclusions instead of taking information at face value. Here are 13 ways you can cultivate this precious skill:

1. Always vet new information with a cautious eye. Whether it’s an article someone has shared online or data that’s related to your job, always vet the information you're presented with. Good questions to ask here include, "Is this information complete and up to date?” “What evidence is being presented to support the argument?” and “Whose voice is missing here?”

2. Look at where the information has come from. Is the source trustworthy? What is their motivation for presenting this information? For example, are they trying to sell you something or get you to take a certain action (like vote for them)?

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3. Consider more than one point of view. Everyone has their own opinions and motivations – even highly intelligent people making reasonable-sounding arguments have personal opinions and biases that shape their thinking. So, when someone presents you with information, consider whether there are other sides to the story.

4. Practice active listening. Listen carefully to what others are telling you, and try to build a clear picture of their perspective. Empathy is a really useful skill here since putting yourself in another person's shoes can help you understand where they're coming from and what they might want. Try to listen without judgment – remember, critical thinking is about keeping an open mind.

5. Gather additional information where needed. Whenever you identify gaps in the information or data, do your own research to fill those gaps. The next few steps will help you do this objectively…

6. Ask lots of open-ended questions. Curiosity is a key trait of critical thinkers, so channel your inner child and ask lots of "who," "what," and "why" questions.

7. Find your own reputable sources of information, such as established news sites, nonprofit organizations, and education institutes. Try to avoid anonymous sources or sources with an ax to grind or a product to sell. Also, be sure to check when the information was published. An older source may be unintentionally offering up wrong information just because events have moved on since it was published; corroborate the info with a more recent source.

8. Try not to get your news from social media. And if you do see something on social media that grabs your interest, check the accuracy of the story (via reputable sources of information, as above) before you share it.

9. Learn to spot fake news. It's not always easy to spot false or misleading content, but a good rule of thumb is to look at the language, emotion, and tone of the piece. Is it using emotionally charged language, for instance, and trying to get you to feel a certain way? Also, look at the sources of facts, figures, images, and quotes. A legit news story will clearly state its sources.

10. Learn to spot biased information. Like fake news, biased information may seek to appeal more to your emotions than logic and/or present a limited view of the topic. So ask yourself, “Is there more to this topic than what’s being presented here?” Do your own reading around the topic to establish the full picture.

11. Question your own biases, too. Everyone has biases, and there’s no point pretending otherwise. The trick is to think objectively about your likes and dislikes, preferences, and beliefs, and consider how these might affect your thinking.

12. Form your own opinions. Remember, critical thinking is about thinking independently. So once you’ve assessed all the information, form your own conclusions about it.

13. Continue to work on your critical thinking skills. I recommend looking at online learning platforms such as Udemy and Coursera for courses on general critical thinking skills, as well as courses on specific subjects like cognitive biases.

Read more about critical thinking and other essential skills in my new book, Future Skills: The 20 Skills & Competencies Everyone Needs To Succeed In A Digital World . Written for anyone who wants to surf the wave of digital transformation – rather than be drowned by it – the book explores why these vital future skills matter and how to develop them.

Bernard Marr

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Assessing Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving

Critical thinking.

How do you assess critical thinking and problem solving skills?

In considering how we assess critical thinking and problem solving skills, we wanted to answer the question of how we know whether students are learning the cognitive processes we are teaching and are able to transfer them to novel situations. In answer to this challenge, we have designed short performance tasks that target each of our constructs of critical thinking and problem solving.

What are performance tasks?

Performance tasks are specific activities that require students to demonstrate mastery of knowledge or skills through application within the task. The performance tasks that we utilize to assess critical thinking and problem solving are each aligned with a specific thinking type. In each task, students are required to make their thinking visible either through demonstration of their work, through oral description of their thinking, or through writing. How do you design performance tasks aligned with constructs of critical thinking and problem solving?

In designing performance tasks, we always begin with the cognitive skill that we want to assess. Every decision about how to design performance tasks then grows from that clear understanding of the target.

Because the focus is on a specific cognitive skill, we want to remove barriers from both the level of understanding of the content or basic math and reading skills. Thus we choose tasks that are situated in contexts with which most students are already familiar. In addition, we ensure that the literacy and math components of the task are sufficiently low that most students are not hindered by the reading or computational components.

However, we strive to design tasks that are problematic for students. In other words, students shouldn’t have a quick solution to the tasks. We make tasks problematic in a couple of ways. First, we make tasks problematic by giving open-ended assignments where there are multiple possible solutions. Second, we make tasks problematic through the complexity of the problem that students need to think through.

How do you evaluate students’ critical thinking and problem solving skills through a performance task?

When students complete performance tasks, they generate evidence of their thinking that we can utilize to evaluate their critical thinking and problem solving skills. Utilizing our rubrics we evaluate student responses across the task to each dimension on the rubric. We don’t generate a single score for each construct. Instead, students are scored on each component of the rubric. This allows us to give refined feedback to students.

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Developing critical thinking skills in kids.

Problem solving activities for developing critical thinking skills in kids

Developing Critical Thinking Skills

Learning to think critically may be one of the most important skills that today's children will need for the future. In today’s rapidly changing world, children need to be able to do much more than repeat a list of facts; they need to be critical thinkers who can make sense of information, analyze, compare, contrast, make inferences, and generate higher order thinking skills. 

Building Your Child's Critical Thinking Skills

Building critical thinking skills happens through day-to-day interactions as you talk with your child, ask open-ended questions, and allow your child to experiment and solve problems.  Here are some tips and ideas to help children build a foundation for critical thinking: 

  • Provide opportunities for play .   Building with blocks, acting out roles with friends, or playing board games all build children’s critical thinking. 
  • Pause and wait.  Offering your child ample time to think, attempt a task, or generate a response is critical. This gives your child a chance to reflect on her response and perhaps refine, rather than responding with their very first gut reaction.
  • Don't intervene immediately.   Kids need challenges to grow. Wait and watch before you jump in to solve a problem.
  • Ask open-ended questions.  Rather than automatically giving answers to the questions your child raises, help them think critically by asking questions in return: "What ideas do you have? What do you think is happening here?" Respect their responses whether you view them as correct or not. You could say, "That is interesting. Tell me why you think that."
  • Help children develop hypotheses.  Taking a moment to form hypotheses during play  is a critical thinking exercise that helps develop skills. Try asking your child, "If we do this, what do you think will happen?" or "Let's predict what we think will happen next."
  • Encourage thinking in new and different ways.  By allowing children to think differently, you're helping them hone their creative  problem solving skills. Ask questions like, "What other ideas could we try?" or encourage your child to generate options by saying, "Let’s think of all the possible solutions."

Of course, there are situations where you as a parent need to step in. At these times, it is helpful to model your own critical thinking. As you work through a decision making process, verbalize what is happening inside your mind. Children learn from observing how you think. Taking time to allow your child to navigate problems is integral to developing your child's critical thinking skills in the long run. 

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ECISD school named finalist in sixth annual ‘Dream Bigger’ contest

O DESSA, Texas (KMID/KPEJ) – Edward K. Downing Elementary has been selected as a finalist for Sparklight’s 2024 “Dream Bigger” contest. Six of the 12 finalists will receive $2,500 each, in support of K-12 STEM projects.

“STEM education helps students develop the critical thinking and problem-solving skills needed for academic and career success. Through Sparklight’s annual Dream Bigger contest, we are proud to help fund STEM-based initiatives that encourage students to develop these skills and find their passion within this rapidly growing career field,” said Trish Niemann, Vice President of Communications Strategy.

Edward K. Downing Elementary is one of many schools and organizations across 21 states who were eligible to participate. Entries were made with photos and written summaries of how the funds would be used for a technology project or group and how it would benefit students.

Other finalists in the contest include:

  • Washington Catholic Schools, Washington, IN
  • Piggott School District Gifted and Talented Program, Piggott, AR
  • Pinckneyville Public Library technological project, Pinckneyville, IL
  • Leon Taylor Middle School, Ingleside, TX
  • St. Joseph High School, Victoria, TX
  • North Woolmarket Middle School, Robotics Program, Biloxi, MS
  • North Pike District/North Pike Elementary, Gifted Program, Summit, MS
  • Lowndes County School District / West Lowndes High School, Columbus, MS
  • Mater Dei Elementary School STEAM Lab, Sioux City, IA
  • Boys & Girls Clubs of Magic Valley, Twin Falls, ID
  • Kuna Boys & Girls Club (Ada County), Kuna, ID

You can learn more about the contest and vote daily on the Sparklight website here .

For the latest news, weather, sports, and streaming video, head to Yourbasin.

ECISD school named finalist in sixth annual ‘Dream Bigger’ contest

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  • Published: 19 March 2024

Debating: effective and satisfactory learning method in dentistry

  • Marjaneh Meschi 1   na1 ,
  • Samane Shirahmadi 1   na1 ,
  • Mahrokh Amiri 2 &
  • Nikki Ebrahimi-Siaghi 3  

BMC Medical Education volume  24 , Article number:  307 ( 2024 ) Cite this article

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Education in the modern world of health needs diverse methods of learning and teaching. The traditional education model has limited capacity for developing abilities such as critical thinking, problem-solving, and reasoning skills. Therefore, improving the quality of teaching–learning processes requires implementing educational innovations in the classroom and evaluating them. This study aimed to determine the impact of the debate teaching method on improving the abilities of general dentistry doctoral students.

The research was a semi-experimental study with pre-tests and post-tests to measure the knowledge and abilities of students. The study included 60 dental students who completed the fall 2022 session of the Community Oral Health (COH) 2 practical course. This course, one of three practical components within the Community Oral Health curriculum, aligns with the educational framework of general dentistry. Challenging topics on which there is no consensus in dentistry were chosen for the debate. The descriptive statistics indicators include an independent t-test and variance analysis test with a significance level of 5%. Were used to analyze the data.

The results of the study showed that the average total knowledge ( P  < 0.001), 'perception of critical thinking skills ( P  < 0.001), expression power ( P  < 0.001), reasoning skills ( P  = 0.003), interpretation and Information analysis power ( P  < 0.001), the ability to find and use scientific databases ( P  < 0.001) and the ability to analyze and evaluate evidence ( P  < 0.001) increased significantly after intervention in students. 95% of students agreed/strongly agreed that this method enhances their ability to answer people's questions. From an instructor’s point of view, students had 93.1% of the ability to reason and analyze information after intervention and 88.5% of the ability to think critically.

The results of the study showed that the use of debate in the classroom is an effective way to present content. The process of evaluating data-driven arguments promotes higher-level cognitive skills and teaches students about the knowledge base and the use of scientific databases.

Trial registration

Registration date: 21/11/2022, Registration number: IRCT20141128020129N3.

Peer Review reports

In the past thirty years, fundamental changes have been made in the effective methods of learning and teaching, and the enhancement of abilities such as critical thinking, problem-solving, and reasoning have been considered as the main goals of learning and teaching [ 1 ]. One of the new learning theories that strengthen these skills in learners is constructivism, which emphasizes the active participation of learners in various aspects of the subject being taught. Constructivism is based on participatory and exploratory learning. In this method, group members have the opportunity to share their opinions and come to a consensus on the discussed ideas. Therefore, learners not only contemplate their own perspectives but also review and examine the opinions of their peers [ 2 ]. On the other hand, in this method, learners critically evaluate and discuss various information pertaining to the teaching subject. This critical insight leads to a profound comprehension of the subject [ 2 , 3 ]. While it is commonly assumed that the educational curriculum for each discipline aims to improve the scientific and professional level of learners in their respective fields in order to nurture their analytical, argumentative, and problem-solving skills- skills that are well developed through constructivism, constructivist teaching in scientific lectures and theoretical science teaching remains less used. Usually, teaching in universities is through traditional lecturing [ 4 ].

Constructivist teaching tools, such as case studies and problem-based learning strategies, are well-known approaches for developing interaction in the classroom, enhancing skills such as critical thinking and analytical abilities, and improving learners' social skills and participation, as well as enhancing their knowledge retention [ 5 ]. The real challenge or perceived difficulty of employing these tools, and the amount of time required to implement them are obstacles to the administration of these strategies [ 1 ]. To overcome these obstacles, alternative constructivist teaching methods are needed that can effectively present the content, be easy to use, and be compatible with a particular course. Debate is one of these methods [ 4 ]. Recent studies describe its application in diverse fields [ 4 , 6 , 7 , 8 ]. By engaging in this method, learners are encouraged to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate ideas through resource evaluation, appraisal of resource appropriateness, searching for connections in data sets, and examining different perspectives [ 9 ].

Studies reveal that dentistry is a dynamic and complex clinical field and having abilities such as critical thinking, problem-solving, scientific reasoning, and information analysis in heterogeneous groups and complex environments is essential for applying theoretical knowledge to professional practice [ 10 ].

On the other hand, there are many subjects in dentistry that have a complex nature and are constantly changing and, despite extensive studies, there is no consensus on them. One of the approaches to learn these challenging topics for dentists is debating [ 8 ]. Debate is a method in which the topic is analyzed by all learners, ideas are shaped through resource evaluation, and different points of view are heard and evaluated. However, multiple studies have shown that the traditional model of information transfer by traditional teaching models commonly used in most dental schools has a limited capacity for developing these skills [ 11 , 12 ]. This issue highlights the need for exploring alternative methods of organization of university-level teaching. Research findings in education over the past two decades, aimed at addressing the shortcomings of traditional teaching approaches, demonstrate the influential role of debate in developing these skills [ 13 , 14 ].

The study by Rubin in 2008 addresses the limited application and evaluation of debates in dental education, despite the complexity and dynamic nature of scientific dentistry. Rubin's research found that debates were an effective method for improving dental students' knowledge and engagement. However, the study primarily relied on student feedback for its conclusions, indicating a potential gap in measuring the actual depth of learning through this educational method [ 8 ].

Since improving the quality of teaching–learning processes requires the implementation of educational innovations in the classroom and their evaluation, this study was conducted with the aim of implementing and evaluating the debate teaching method to 11th semester students of the general dentistry doctoral program as part of the oral health and community dentistry course.


In this study, a semi-experimental design with pre-test and post-test was employed to measure the improvement of students' abilities. Sixty dental students in their 11th semester at Hamadan University of Medical Sciences (located in western Iran) participated in this study during the autumn of 2022. The participants were selected using a census sampling method, and all the students who had taken course of Practical Oral Health and Community Dentistry 2in the first semester of the academic year 2022–2023 were chosen as the target group for the study.

The Department of Community Oral Health within the Faculty of Dentistry offers three practical courses (Practical Community Oral Health 1, Practical COH2, and Practical COH3) alongside two theoretical courses. These courses aim to enhance knowledge, foster attitudinal shifts, enhance student performance in the realms of oral and dental disease prevention and promotion, and ultimately, elevate individuals' quality of life. Throughout the educational program, achieving these objectives students involve in social activities and staying abreast of the latest scientific evidence. Practical COH2 specifically emphasizes mastering principles of evidence-based dentistry, enhancing critical thinking and reasoning, analyzing information, and improving the ability to present subjects among students.

Considering that there are many topics in dentistry that are important in terms of public health, policy, and culture, and have been extensively discussed and studied in both academic and governmental circles, it is still noteworthy that there is no consensus on these subjects. Therefore, these topics have been chosen for student debates. These topics include: The use or non-use of water fluoridation for drinking purposes, the use or non-use of amalgam in dental restorations, the use of antibiotics in dentistry, dental treatments of pregnant women, the use or non-use of electronic cigarettes, the use or non-use of fissure sealants in dentistry, and the impact of social and behavioral factors on oral health. The students were provided with scenario-based assignments related to these subjects and completed their debate-related tasks mostly outside the classroom.

Students who took the practical courses of Oral Health and Community Dentistry in the second semester of the academic year 2022–2023 and were willing to participate in the study were included, while students who were assigned a thesis or studies related to the given subject were excluded from the study.

Sample size was calculated based on the following formula: (z1-α/2 + z1- β/2)2 (p1 (1-p1) + p2 (1-p2)) / (p1-p2)2. The values of p 1 and p 2 indicate the proportion of knowledge before and after intervention which was estimated based on previous study [ 4 ]. The p 1 and p 2 were considered 0.56 and 0.3 respectively.

Power of 80%, 95% confidence level and 10% attrition rate was considered. Totally, 53 students were recruited.

Before starting the program, students were randomly divided into 7 groups of 8–10 members. The academic faculty members acted as supervisors and coordinators in these sessions.

The debating process consisted of 3 main areas: 1) Preparation 2) Implementation 3) Feedback.


In this stage, the purpose of conducting the debate and the general outline of how the debate should be conducted were explained to each group of students. Clear instructions regarding objectives, purposes, and how to conduct debate were provided to the students. This included information on structure, format, and duration for each stage (scenario introduction, opposition arguments, refutation statements, concluding statements followed by open discussion), as well as evaluation criteria. The students were informed that debating was meant to be a learning experience for them.

Each group worked on the same topic. Each group was responsible for discussing and researching the assigned topic. The students prepared an introduction containing general information about their topic in one week.

At the end of the deadline, instructors asked the groups to evaluate their introductions considering the following questions: Does your collected evidence include basic information about the topic, including its connection to cultural/social issues (such as communities impacted by the subject), economic issues, and health-related concerns? Does your collected evidence include statistics that support this piece of information? If so, how and when were these data collected? How do these factors affect the selection of relevant evidence and your choice to utilize this evidence? The students responded to the questions through discussion with each other (for 15 min). The students were given two extra days to complete their information if necessary.

Following the completion of the introduction, a debate-provoking hypothesis regarding the subject was given to each group of students (Table  1 ), and each group started collecting evidence in line with this hypothesis in the next stage. The students were given one week to collect arguments for and against the debate-provoking hypothesis and present the supporting evidence for both positions to the instructors. Small group discussions were held in the presence of instructors, and the guides provided feedback on the information collected by the students.

After one week, the students were asked to review and revise their collected evidence, based on the following questions: Does your information include data-based evidence for each situation? Are the data objective or subjective? How the data were collected, and how does the method of data collection affect your decision to use it? Does your information cover all aspects of each situation (including economic issues, health effects, medical effects, cost-effectiveness, and impact on social justice)? The students were asked to bring these materials to the class and present them to the instructors. Small group discussions were conducted in the presence of instructors, and the instructors provided feedback on the information collected by the students.

After two additional days to complete the information, each group was randomly divided into smaller groups (5–4 members). In the other word each group was assigned a position (for or against) regarding the debate-provoking hypothesis, and given one week to complete the final part of the debate. This part included preparing persuasive arguments for each group's position compared to the opponent. Necessary coordination regarding the implementation of the debate was also done by the instructors. After one week, each group individually presented their argument, and small group discussions were held in the presence of instructors, and the instructors provided their feedback.

The debate was conducted with opposing and supporting groups facing each other behind a U-shaped table. The standard debate method [ 15 ] was employed and the initiating group for each debate was randomly selected. Then, the introduction of the debate was presented by the first person for 4 min. The next debaters had 3 min each to present their arguments. Each student from each group was responsible for responding to an aspect raised by the opposing group. The debate lasted a maximum of 30 min. At the end, a final summary was presented by the students for 10 min. Simultaneously with the debate, a panel of judges (consisting of the teaching staff providing the module) evaluated the performance of the debaters based on an evaluation checklist (Additional file 1 ).

The debate process was finalized with feedback. At this stage, tutors provided their opinions to the students regarding the preparation process, the debate itself, and the overall performance of each group. The individual performance of each student in terms of the necessary skills was also discussed with the students. Finally, the students were asked to complete questionnaires prepared by the authors.

Students' knowledge: The students' knowledge was evaluated through descriptive responses to the questions regarding the provocative hypothesis. The provocative hypotheses that formed the basis of the group debates were designed by the faculty members of the Community Oral Health department, and the validity of the scenarios, questionnaires, and activities and their relationship with the study goals was confirmed by experienced faculty members from the relevant groups.

Student’s perceptions of their abilities

The measurement of student’s perceptions of their abilities was collected through a questionnaire.

Students' perceptions of the usefulness of the debate

The measurement of student’s perceptions of the usefulness of the debate for enhancing their abilities and capabilities was collected through a questionnaire.

Participants’ Skills

The skills and capabilities of the debate team members were evaluated by the tutors throughout the debate using the Skills and Capabilities Assessment Checklist (Additional file 1 ).

The provocative hypothesis and the questionnaire measuring students' perceptions of their abilities were given to the students immediately after the debate topics were assigned to each group and before the scientific research began. In addition, the questionnaire was given to the students immediately after the debate. The questionnaire to measure the students' perceptions of the usefulness of the debate for enhancing their skills and capabilities was given to the students immediately after the debate. The questionnaires were administered to students under the direct supervision of one of the faculty members.

Development and Validity

Samples of questionnaires used in studies [ 16 , 17 , 18 ] were used to design and construct the questionnaire on students' perceptions of their abilities and the questionnaire on the usefulness of the debate.

The questionnaire on students' perceptions of their abilities included 8 questions on a 5-point Likert scale.

The questionnaire on students' perceptions of the usefulness of the debate for enhancing their skills and capabilities included 9 questions on a 5-point Likert scale. It also included open-ended questions aimed at identifying the benefits of debate, factors that lead to its inefficiency, ways in which debate helps students as experts, and feedback/suggestions for improving debate sessions.

A checklist evaluating students' skills and abilities based on conducted studies was prepared [ 4 , 18 ].

The validity and reliability (Cronbach's alpha) of the questionnaire on the students' perception of their skills, the questionnaire on the usefulness of the debate and the checklist to assess skills were evaluated. The validity of the questionnaires was confirmed from the perspective of 10 specialists in the field of health education, health promotion and community oral health. The content validity ratio (CVR) and the content validity index (CVI) were calculated. The CVI, CVR and Cronbach's alpha of the questionnaires are shown in Table  2 . The face validity of the questionnaires was evaluated by 30 students (10th semester dental students). Their characteristics were similar to the target sample of the study.

Statistical analysis

The collected data from the questionnaire were analyzed using SPSS software version 16. Descriptive statistics, including prevalence rates, central tendencies, and dispersion indices, were used. Independent t-test comparing before and after and analysis of variance for comparing more than two groups with a significance level of 5% applied. To facilitate the presentation of the questionnaire measuring students' perceptions of their abilities, the measurement levels were recoded as follows: low and very low = low, high and very high = high.

Sixty dental students in their 11th semester participated in this study, of whom 58.3% were male and 41.7% were female. The mean age of participants was 25.36 (± 3.16). The results of this study showed that the students' knowledge pertaining to their respective group topics increased after the intervention. The average knowledge score of the students before the study was 42.5 (± 23.94) and after the intervention, it increased to 67.71 points (± 22.66), and this difference was statistically significant ( P  < 0.001, Fig.  1 ). The most substantial difference in knowledge scores before and after the intervention was related to the group the use or non-use of electronic cigarettes, with an increase of 51.64 points (Fig.  1 ).

figure 1

Mean pretest and posttest ratings of knowledge ( N  = 60)

Furthermore, the results of this study indicated that the students' perception of critical thinking abilities ( P  < 0.001), Presentation ability ( P  < 0.001), reasoning ability ( P  = 0.003), Data analysis ability ( P  < 0.001), ability to find information and scientific databases use ( P  < 0.001), and their ability to analyze primary literature ( P  < 0.001) significantly increased after the intervention (Table  3 ).

Before the intervention, 43.3% of the students perceived their ability to use health and medicine databases as low, while 33.3% perceived it as high, which after the intervention the scores increased to 76.6% and 83.3% respectively. Additionally, before the intervention, 35% of the students perceived their knowledge of the assigned topic as low and 36.7% perceived it as high, which after the intervention rose to 71.4% and 90% respectively (Table  3 ).

95% of the students agreed/strongly agreed that debate is better than having class discussion on controversial topic, and the same percentage of them agreed/strongly agreed that debate enhanced their skills to answer questions in front of group of people (Table  4 ).

In the free text comments, students reported that engaging in the debate helped them in a new way to find differences between issues and make evidence-based decisions. Some participants even mentioned that now they can apply their newfound competence to distinguish between anecdotal information and evidence. Another comment suggested the integration of additional debate sessions within the curricula to optimize efficacy.

Negative experiences identified by the students that hindered learning were related to deficiency in group dynamics, emotional outbursts, insufficient preparation, and being dominant by some participants, all of which sometimes impeded the debate process. Some students complained that the preparation phase of the debate process was too time-consuming.

Reasoning skills had the highest average score of 11.18 ± 1.37, while critical thinking had the lowest average score of 10.63 ± 1.94 (Table  5 ). According to the tutors' perspective, after the intervention, 93.1% of the students had the ability to reasoning skills, and 88.5% had critical thinking skills.

A review of the students' responses to open-ended questions revealed suggestions for improving the debate process, including implementation of this teaching method across all academic disciplines in their field.

Innovation in teaching/learning methods and evaluating the effectiveness of these approaches has been the subject of many studies in various disciplines for years, however, there have been few studies in the field of dental education [ 8 , 20 , 21 , 22 ]. This study was conducted with the aim of presenting and evaluating the debate teaching method to dental students in order to improve the quality of the teaching–learning process.

In general, the findings of this study showed that the use of debate in the classroom setting is an effective method for student engagement and enhances the skills needed to cultivate the specialized skills required in the field of dentistry. Students also considered debate as an innovative, interesting, constructive, and useful approach to teaching and learning. The results also showed that debate provides multiple opportunities for developing skills used in scientific research for students. Students engaged in reviewing scientific literature, presenting a summary of a topic, and actively searching for data to support or refute a hypothesis. Studies indicate that lower-level cognitive skills such as the acquisition of knowledge, comprehension and applying information are centered around fragmented learning and memorization, while higher-level cognitive skills such as analysis, synthesis, and evaluation focus on concentrated thinking. Researchers believe that in educating students, the short-term goal of acquiring knowledge should be balanced with the long-term goal of training the mind for analytical and critical thinking [ 23 ].

The results obtained from the pre-test and post-test analysis of hypotheses before and after the debate as well as the evaluation of students by tutors during the debate, showed that both lower-level and higher-level cognitive skills improved in students after the intervention. Multiple studies conducted among students in different fields indicate the impact of the debate method on students' knowledge [ 4 , 6 , 11 ]. This result is important and noteworthy in that most of the content is learned independently by students outside the classroom environment, and the learning process is student-centered. Regarding higher-level cognitive skills, in line with other studies conducted in this area [ 4 , 17 , 24 ], the results of this research showed that debate creates a process of information analysis, which helps improve these skills and leads to knowledge construction in students. It is the nature of the debate itself that enables the construction of knowledge and the improvement of higher-level cognitive skills. The reality is that due to the conflicting positions of the students, they had to prepare both favorable and opposing positions in this method. This issue led to a deeper study of the topics. Furthermore, the experience of debate gradually stimulated students to explore deeply in the subject and acquire argumentative skills, as they realized that only traditional approaches to learning do not make them capable of proper defense due to the need to respond to and refute the opinions of the opposing team [ 6 ]. Additionally, the debate topics were subjects on which opinions have not unanimous concerns about them so far, and there is no clear consensus in scientific, political, and even general communities regarding them. Therefore, students had to think about different aspects of the topic, organize their thoughts, use reliable sources of information and scientific evidence, and come up with their own answers.

One of the vital elements for enhancing argumentation skills, analysis, and critical thinking, occurred within the process of debate. In this stage, the instructor prepared the students to gradually acquire these skills. While the ultimate responsibility of learning was on the students themselves, teaching by the tutors was an essential part of the debate that aligns with the findings of other authors [ 6 , 25 ]. The existence of this follow-up process led the students to deeply examine the subject through probing questions, search for arguments and evidence for both positions, and integrate the corrections mentioned by the instructors with their own findings.

The debate brought about balanced participation from all students. This issue not only improved the diligent students but also improved all students with different educational levels in terms of the levels of knowledge, and skills [ 6 ]. For this reason, the scores obtained by the students from the debate session, which were given by the instructors, were above 85% for all skills.

The data indicates that the students have gained knowledge and skills, and are able to apply this knowledge and skill. The analysis of the study results, like other similar studies [ 4 ], reveals that the students comprehend the increase in knowledge in the field of acquiring and analyzing primary literature, the advance of higher-level cognitive skills (argumentation, analysis, and critical thinking), and improvement in their own presentation style. While there is concern that these results are somewhat more subjective than the results of student assessments, studies show that self-efficacy, belief or individual judgment that one can succeed in a task, increases problem-solving efficiency and therefore, these perceptions play an important role in constructing experience and expertise in the field for each individual [ 26 , 27 ].

The results obtained from the analysis of students' experiences in participating in debates showed that, like other studies [ 6 , 18 , 24 , 28 ], the students believed that participating in classroom debates helped them overcome the fear of speaking in front of an audience, strengthen their self-confidence to speak and express their opinions, and respond to opposing views, improve their speaking skills, and enhance their critical thinking skills. Actually, most of the courses in academic environments are presented in a lecture-based approach and students do not have interactive interactions with their classmates and professors [ 29 ]. However, in debates, students found the opportunity to freely express their opinions, speak without anxiety, and enhance their speaking and oral communication skills. Some even stated that they had never spoken and debated in front of a group like this before. For this reason, the participants were very satisfied with the debate learning strategy.

On the one hand, considering that debate involves persuasive arguments, it not only enhances the speaking abilities and skills of the students, but also requires students to actively listen to the perspectives of the opposing groups in order to effectively refute those perspectives. Therefore, in addition to improving speaking abilities, debate also improves students' listening skills and tolerance for opposing viewpoints. In this study, 90% of students claimed that debate encouraged them to listen deeply in order to effectively persuade others, and 91% claimed that debate helped them understand the importance of listening to different viewpoints. These results are consistent with similar studies [ 18 , 30 , 31 , 32 ].

The study results revealed that debate is very helpful in eliminating biases and discovering issues. In this study, a high percentage of students (71.44%) lacked accurate information about the detrimental effects of electronic cigarettes. A significant proportion of the students with the predetermined idea that electronic cigarettes do not affect oral and dental health, leads to the recommendation of these cigarettes by dentists and the increasing prevalence of these cigarettes among different groups in society. Additionally, before the debate, a high percentage of students (84.45%) believed that the cause of oral and dental diseases in individuals was their failure to adhere to hygiene principles. This predetermined thinking leads to “victim blaming” and causes patients to be criticized by dentists. According to the results of this study, debate was able to eliminate these biases among these students. However, the continuation of these previous perceptions and the usefulness of debate in eradicating them should be examined in future research.

Similar to the results of other studies [ 17 , 24 , 30 , 31 , 33 ] concerning the impact of debate on increasing argumentation and critical thinking, the outcomes of this study also indicated that engaging in debate leads to increased comprehension of challenging topics and can be an appropriate method for exploring and investigating issues, as well as enhancing critical thinking of students. The rationale for the positive impact of the debate on the improvement of students' abilities was that the participating students in this study were forced to look at a challenging topic from a different perspective for the first time. Therefore, to achieve a proper understanding of the topic, they needed to have logical arguments, search for scientific information and evidence, and effectively use the acquired information to express their opinions to a third party. The debate provided an opportunity for students to go beyond the level of "direct learning of facts, theories, and techniques" to the level of integrating and applying knowledge in a variety of situations and conditions [ 24 , 34 , 35 ]. In this process, students were forced to search for evidence and reasons to support their arguments, look at issues from different angles, and consider multiple perspectives to obtain a deeper understanding and greater mastery of the subject [ 36 ]. Going through this process led to the enhancement of critical thinking and problem-solving skills in them.

Another important point of participating in debate was that students were consciously challenged with materials that they completely agreed with but had to play the opposing role in the debate. This allowed students to look at the topic from a different view without bias.

Results of this research showed that applying debate method has remarkable effect on students’ knowledge, critical thinking ability, expression power, reasoning skills, information analysis abilities, and research skills. Both students and instructors considered the debate an effective method in improving learning outcomes and higher-level cognitive abilities.

The results of this study motivate educators to adopt creative teaching methods like debates to improve critical thinking and problem-solving skills among learners. Students can benefit from skill development, self-confidence building, and self-evaluation through involvement in debates. These results also have indication for educational practices and policies, the curriculum revision, assessment strategies, professional development for educators, and promoting student-centered learning approaches. Generally, the study emphasizes the strength of debates in improving student abilities and demands integrating innovative teaching methods to increase and improve the educational experience.

This study also had limitations. Some students did not find speaking and presenting in a group useful, and some disagreed with preparing to defend positions contrary to their own. To overcome these limitations, tutors emphasized the fact that individuals need to step out of their comfort zone for learning to occur [ 37 ]. Another limitation was the lack of a follow-up stage. Students graduated at the end of the semester, and access to them was not possible, so the post-test was immediately conducted after the debate. It should also be noted that students' inclination to provide a desirable report of their classroom experiences may affect the reported satisfaction of the debates (acquiescence bias). To overcome this limitation, all questionnaires were collected anonymously by someone outside the research team. Another limitation was the assessment of students' skills based on instructors personal opinions and using a checklist, without a standardized questionnaire to measure critical thinking, argumentation, and active listening skills before and after the intervention. However, all the tutors had completed relevant training courses on critical thinking, argumentation, and active listening and were able to assess the presence or absence of these skills in students. Another limitation of the study was the lack of control groups. It is recommended that future studies include control groups, including groups that have not received any additional training and those who have participated in teaching on the same topic using a fixed method such as lectures or flipped classrooms.

Some of the strengths of the study include preparing two opposing positions for a closed question and examining the collected documents by students supervised by mentors. When students engage in acquiring knowledge, they have the opportunity to make incorrect evaluations or conclusions based on their findings. Tutor feedback is necessary to ensure proper student learning. In this study, after data collection by student groups, small group discussions were conducted with the presence of mentors, allowing mentors to express their opinions on the topics covered during the debate.


While in the past, the curriculum was a study program that only provided knowledge and then evaluated the students' absorption of that knowledge, now the curriculum should be a collection of experiences in which students encounter information and make judgments about what is important, and use the perspectives they have acquired to understand beliefs and take informed action. Debate is one of the methods that can help students in this process.

The results of this study show that utilizing the debate in the classroom setting is an effective method for presenting the content. The evaluation process of data-driven reasoning enhances higher-level cognitive skills and teaches students how to use scientific databases. Each of these is important in developing expertise in the field. Debate also increases individuals' abilities in critical thinking, analysis, presenting arguments and evidence, and applying all of these in responses. Additionally, it helps individuals develop public speaking skills intuitively and tolerate different opinions and viewpoints.

Although the feasibility of teaching design and possible outcomes may vary in different areas, based on the positive results of this study, the authors urge modern educators to use debate as a teaching method alongside other methods.

Availability of data and materials

The author confirms that all data generated or analyses during this study are included in this published article and its supplementary information file.

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The authors would like to thank all the students who helped in distributing and collecting the data.

This work was funded by a grant from the Vice-Chancellor for Research and Technology (IR.UMSHA.REC.1401.644) from the Hamadan University of Medical Sciences.

Author information

Marjaneh Meschi and Samane Shirahmadi contributed equally to this work.

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Department of Community Oral Health, School of Dentistry and Dental Research Centers, Hamadan University of Medical Sciences, Hamadan, Iran

Marjaneh Meschi & Samane Shirahmadi

Department of Community Oral Health, School of Dentistry, Hamadan University of Medical Sciences, Hamadan, Iran

Mahrokh Amiri

Student of Biology, Faculty of Science, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada

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MM and SSh designed the study, supervised the data collectors, interpreted the results and drafted the manuscript; MA played a role in the analysis and interpretation of the data and in preparing and revising the manuscript; NEB participated in the data collection and writing the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Samane Shirahmadi .

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Meschi, M., Shirahmadi, S., Amiri, M. et al. Debating: effective and satisfactory learning method in dentistry. BMC Med Educ 24 , 307 (2024).

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    Performance tasks are specific activities that require students to demonstrate mastery of knowledge or skills through application within the task. The performance tasks that we utilize to assess critical thinking and problem solving are each aligned with a specific thinking type. In each task, students are required to make their thinking ...

  24. Teaching Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving in the Science Classroom

    Inquiry-based learning uses real-world phenomena to encourage students to think like scientists and develop problem-solving and critical thinking skills. Moreover, an inquiry-based science curriculum helps students take ownership of their learning. The National Science Teachers Association says, "Hopefully, kids can feel in science that they ...

  25. How Gamification Boosts Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving

    Critical thinking and problem-solving skills are essential for students to succeed in the 21st century. They involve analyzing, evaluating, creating, and applying information to various situations ...

  26. Developing Critical Thinking Skills in Kids

    Building Your Child's Critical Thinking Skills. Building critical thinking skills happens through day-to-day interactions as you talk with your child, ask open-ended questions, and allow your child to experiment and solve problems. Here are some tips and ideas to help children build a foundation for critical thinking: Provide opportunities for ...

  27. ECISD school named finalist in sixth annual 'Dream Bigger ...

    "STEM education helps students develop the critical thinking and problem-solving skills needed for academic and career success. Through Sparklight's annual […]

  28. Debating: effective and satisfactory learning method in dentistry

    Education in the modern world of health needs diverse methods of learning and teaching. The traditional education model has limited capacity for developing abilities such as critical thinking, problem-solving, and reasoning skills. Therefore, improving the quality of teaching-learning processes requires implementing educational innovations in the classroom and evaluating them.

  29. Fundamentals of Taxation for Individuals and Business Entities: A

    An innovative approach to understanding the federal income tax laws and using them to develop tax-efficient strategies for individuals and businesses. Present the big picture with a practice-based approach to understanding tax laws so students can develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills that prepare them for the real world. Fundamentals of Taxation for Individuals and Business ...