These are discrete skills that can be taught. The goal is to help students detect and avoid bad reasoning in school, career, and personal life, especially to detect false claims and avoid being fooled and manipulated, even when some information is unknown. These skills are exercises toward that goal. Most of these require ongoing practice, not just a one-time unit.
Fact / Opinion — Too many people, including adults, assume their opinion is a “correct” fact, or that facts are opinions subject to debate. Curriculum apps can give students practice distinguishing facts from opinions, like FactOpy.com. CCSS requires this in grades 6-8 only, but students can learn this much younger, and since adults struggle with this I recommend grades 4?-12.
Logical Fallacies — People are prone to flawed reasoning in personal arguments, business decisions, and political debate, both intentionally and unintentionally. Fallacies can get very abstract and they have archaic names, so they’re usually reserved for college philosophy. But curriculum can simplify fallacies and layer them by grade level, like Foolacy.com. CCSS requires students to detect “fallacious reasoning” in grades 9-10 only, but students can start learning this much younger, and since adults struggle with this I recommend grades 5-12.
Ad Techniques — Advertisers know how to manipulate us to spend and vote against our own interests. Knowledge of these techniques is good armor: Lifestyle ads (halo effect), FUD (fear uncertainty doubt), Endorsement (false authority), Appeal to Nature, Appeal to Tradition, etc. These are like visual fallacies, and they are covered in Foolacy.com
Correlation / Causation — People naturally confuse this all the time, adults too, which undermines personal arguments, business decisions, and political debate. Usually this is taught only in Statistics courses, which is all CCSS requires. But it’s also part of logical fallacies (post hoc, cum hoc) and a tenet of the scientific method. The NGSS does not name this skill specifically. I recommend it be taught and practiced as part of the scientific method, grades 7?-12.
Credibility, Bias, Motive — Too many adults fall for disinformation. The CCSS has good requirements in grades 6-12 to assess the credibility of sources, and in grade 8 to evaluate their motives. There has been growing instruction in Media Literacy, especially to assess claims on the internet. I recommend the CCSS requirements be broadened to include detecting bias, motive, and qualifications for claims in all media, grades 5?-12.
Plausibility — Science deniers and conspiracy theorists have been growing lately. Surprisingly, presenting factual information does little to persuade them. One of the underlying causes is their inability to distinguish plausible explanations (the consensus of experts is correct) from implausible explanations (multitudes of government agencies and institutions are coordinating a massive cover-up of their twisted nefarious plot). This skill is not specifically required in the CCSS. At the very least we can ask students to evaluate the plausibility of various claims to make them more aware of motivated reasoning. I developed a lesson for this in ThinkKeen.com
Statistics & Probability — Probability is not intuitive to the human mind, so many debates are based on false assumptions. Statistics & Probability is probably one of the most practical math classes, both for critical thinking and as a job skill in demand (the internet led to a massive data explosion in many industries). I hope they all include Bayesian probability and base-rate neglect, since this leads to much misinformation. This course is usually optional, but I recommend more high schools promote it or even require it.
Lying with Statistics — Much misinformation is based on true-but-distorted statistics, with many tricks that make graphs misleading and take numbers out of context. The CCSS/NGSS does not specifically require students to detect these. I recommend it be taught not only in Statistics courses but also repeated in math and science classes. I developed lessons for this — see ThinkKeen.com
Controlled Studies — People fall for quack remedies, miracle weight-loss tricks, pseudosciences, etc. based solely on anecdotal stories. While Experimental Design is a subset of the Scientific Method and Nature of Science, the NGSS does not specifically require students to learn about randomized control groups, placebos, sample sizes, etc. This applies to everyday ads and scams, so I recommend this be required in grades 9-12. Curriculum can test students to identify what would be required to prove a given claim. I developed lessons for this — see ThinkKeen.com
Distinguishing Pseudoscience Because standards do not require students to learn about controlled studies, many students are unable to distinguish quackery and pseudoscience from science. This is not mentioned or required in the NGSS (only Florida requires this). I recommend this be required in grades 8-12. I developed lessons for this — see ThinkKeen.com
Risk / Reward — Students should learn to make calculated financial decisions, like credit card debt, extended warranties, gambling, savings plans, etc. They should also learn to analyze qualitative decisions for pros & cons, and short-term sacrifices vs long-term benefits. Certainly some of this is already sprinkled in many courses. I hope there are units and curriculum focused on this.
Cognitive Biases — People would make wiser decisions if they were aware of their natural misperceptions, such as loss aversion and the sunk-cost fallacy. Some of these are the foundations of logical fallacies (e.g. bandwagon effect). They could be taught in a similar way, like Your Bias Is.
Pros & Cons — Debate skills are useful, but they trap people in binary thinking and partisan politics by arguing “my side” is correct and perfect while “your side” is completely wrong. Real life isn’t so black and white, and perfect solutions are rare, so normally we must choose from multiple imperfect solutions. Instead of debating, I recommend students analyze pros & cons of both sides, especially for emotional hot-button topics where this is more challenging.
Moral Dilemmas — Discussing and debating moral dilemmas helps students question assumptions and absolute rules (e.g. is it ever okay to steal, even if it saves a life?), and what is “fair” for whom. This understanding is very relevant to policy debates (e.g. when should social media platforms ban a repeat offender).
Scams — Crime stories are popular, but few students will become police detectives. Much more likely they will get scammed in their life many times — fake products, phishing for passwords, etc. Students can practice critical thinking by identifying suspicious clues in various scam scenarios — too good to be true, get rich quick, flattery, scare tactics, etc.
Game Theory — This challenges students to think strategically about how people would really react. This skill is relevant to policy debates to avoid unintended consequences. (e.g. A fine too small actually increases bad behavior. Paying a bounty for snakes killed leads to people breeding snakes.)
Reality vs Fiction — In fiction the underdog always wins, the hero never gets hurt or pays any consequences, the enemy has no virtue, conspiracies abound, and everyone lives happily ever after. Most kids intuit how reality is different, but for some it might distort their perception and decision-making toward magical thinking. Literature is a wonderful expression of our fantasies and fears, but I wonder if teachers should always ask students to analyze and discuss what parts of each story are unrealistic.
Brain Teasers — Trick questions help students learn to ignore irrelevant clues, which may help them analyze misleading claims in the real world.
Critical thinking is a broad and abstract concept, so below are the related components. Most of these actually are taught in schools, so the skills above focus mostly on the critical gaps.
Logic — Formal logic is the application of objective rules to determine an answer. There is no subjectivity, so there is only one correct answer. Math is an application of logic, so this is well taught in schools. Logic puzzles and computer programming are also excellent for learning logic.
Reasoning — Broadly, reasoning is synonymous with critical thinking. More specifically it is an extension of logic involving analysis, often subjective. This is well covered in many subjects, especially writing.
Analysis — Breaking something down into its components. This is taught in many subjects, e.g. literary analysis is breaking down a story into setting, protagonist, antagonist, conflict, resolution, exposition, theme, motif, etc.
Knowledge — Knowledge helps inform your judgement, e.g., knowledge of biology helps you identify quack medical cures. Education covers knowledge well, though it is a fair criticism that schools put too much emphasis on knowledge, and sometimes teach knowledge that has little practical use beyond school.
Objectivity — Critical thinking requires you to be aware of and manage your own biases, and to be open to changing your mind. Also it helps to intuit other people’s biases and motives. This is part of Social-Emotional Learning (SEL), which is not taught enough in most schools. While this is critical gap, there are many other resources for SEL, so it is not my focus here.
Morality — Critical thinking requires fair and ethical decisions. While morality is not formally structured in the curriculum, it is discussed often, especially in literature and social studies.
Problem Solving — This can range from very narrow (e.g. puzzles) to very broad (e.g. fair compromises), and use any/all of the above skills. Narrow problem-solving is well taught, but broad problem-solving is inconsistent in the curriculum.
Judgement — Making good decisions is the culmination of all of the above. It is difficult to put into curriculum, and difficult to test, so it is not taught enough. This is a critical gap, so this is the focus of all the specific skills above this section.
Any other critical thinking skills? Please contact me.