Schools often highlight critical thinking as one of their highest goals. But the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are not very specific about how to teach it. Furthermore, data below shows critical thinking skills get very little instruction time, even by well meaning teachers.
“Critical thinking” is a rather abstract goal with a broad definition, so the first step is to clarify the definition and identify specific teachable skills:
Abstract Definition: Decision-making and problem-solving using reason, logic, analysis, unbiased objectivity, and good judgement.
Practical Definition: Detecting bad reasoning (from yourself too), especially to detect false claims and avoid being fooled, even when some information is unknown.
• Fact / Opinion
• Logical Fallacies
• Correlation / Causation
• Credibility, Bias, Motive: Media Literacy
• Scientific Method vs. Pseudoscience
Note that logic is the application of objective rules, which is taught through math and other subjects. Analysis is breaking down ideas into smaller components, which is also taught. Knowledge helps inform your judgment. Critical thinking incorporates all to make a subjective judgment. The component skills are just exercises to help develop critical thinking.
In the CCSS & NGSS this is how many standards mention each skill. For comparison, notice that Quadratic Equations are cited much more than critical thinking skills:
Actual classroom data shows a similar imbalance where critical thinking skills are taught significantly less. Below are relatively how many assignments and tests are given for various topics. Do you think this reflects what is most important for students to learn in life?
statistics textbooks is that correlation is not causation.
It is also one of the first things forgotten.”
These skills need to be practiced regularly, not just taught once. If critical thinking is at least as important as math and vocabulary, then it should be taught just as much.
Since the CCSS & NGSS do not specifically require many component skills for critical thinking, this is probably why many teachers spend so little time on them. We need to revise these and the state curriculum standards. In the meanwhile, we can augment the district and school curriculum.
Of course class time is limited, so adding more requirements means reducing other parts of the curriculum, which is a difficult and painful decision. It would be wise to identify what knowledge and skills are rarely used or remembered beyond school, to replace that instruction time with more critical thinking skills. To paraphrase a proverb:
Teach someone to think, they learn for a lifetime.
To fill gaps in the curriculum, I am developing free learning apps, and more curriculum developers need to create more content for these skills.