Critical Thinking

If you ask curriculum designers exactly how critical thinking skills are developed, the answers are often vague and unhelpful for those wanting to teach it.

This is partly because of a lack of clarity about the term itself and because there are some who believe that critical thinking cannot be taught in isolation, that it can only be developed in a discipline context – after all, you have think critically about something.

So what should any mandatory first year course in critical thinking look like? There is no single answer to that, but let me suggest a structure with four key areas:

  1. argumentation
  2. logic
  3. psychology
  4. the nature of science.

I will then explain that these four areas are bound together by a common language of thinking and a set of critical thinking values.

1. Argumentation

The most powerful framework for learning to think well in a manner that is transferable across contexts is argumentation.

Arguing, as opposed to simply disagreeing, is the process of intellectual engagement with an issue and an opponent with the intention of developing a position justified by rational analysis and inference.

Arguing is not just contradiction.

Arguments have premises, those things that we take to be true for the purposes of the argument, and conclusions or end points that are arrived at by inferring from the premises.

Understanding this structure allows us to analyse the strength of an argument by assessing the likelihood that the premises are true or by examining how the conclusion follows from them.

Arguments in which the conclusion follows logically from the premises are said to be valid. Valid arguments with true premises are called sound. The definitions of invalid and unsound follow.

This gives us a language with which to frame our position and the basic structure of why it seems justified.

2. Logic

Logic is fundamental to rationality. It is difficult to see how you could value critical thinking without also embracing logic.

People generally speak of formal logic – basically the logic of deduction – and informal logic – also called induction.

Deduction is most of what goes on in mathematics or Suduko puzzles and induction is usually about generalising or analogising and is integral to the processes of science.

Logic is fundamental to rationality.

Using logic in a flawed way leads to the committing of the fallacies of reasoning, which famously contain such logical errors as circular reasoning, the false cause fallacy or appeal to popular opinion. Learning about this cognitive landscape is central to the development of effective thinking.

3. Psychology

The messy business of our psychology – how our minds actuality work – is another necessary component of a solid critical thinking course.

One of the great insights of psychology over the past few decades is the realisation that thinking is not so much something we do, as something that happens to us. We are not as in control of our decision-making as we think we are.

We are masses of cognitive biases as much as we are rational beings. This does not mean we are flawed, it just means we don’t think in the nice, linear way that educators often like to think we do.

It is a mistake to think of our minds as just running decision-making algorithms – we are much more complicated and idiosyncratic than this.

How we arrive at conclusions, form beliefs and process information is very organic and idiosyncratic. We are not just clinical truth-seeking reasoning machines.

Our thinking is also about our prior beliefs, our values, our biases and our desires.

4. The nature of science

It is useful to equip students with some understanding of the general tools of evaluating information that have become ubiquitous in our society. Two that come to mind are the nature of science and statistics.

Learning about what the differences are between hypotheses, theories and laws, for example, can help people understand why science has credibility without having to teach them what a molecule is, or about Newton’s laws of motion.

Understanding some basic statistics also goes a long way to making students feel more empowered to tackle difficult or complex issues. It’s not about mastering the content, but about understanding the process.

The language of thinking

Embedded within all of this is the language of our thinking. The cognitive skills – such as inferring, analysing, evaluating, justifying, categorising and decoding – are all the things that we do with knowledge.

If we can talk to students using these terms, with a full understanding of what they mean and how they are used, then teaching thinking becomes like teaching a physical process such as a sport, in which each element can be identified, polished, refined and optimised.

Critical thinking can be studied and taught in part like physical processes. Flickr/Airman Magazine, CC BY-NC

In much the same way that a javelin coach can freeze a video and talk to an athlete about their foot positioning or centre of balance, a teacher of critical thinking can use the language of cognition to interrogate a student’s thinking in high resolution.

All of these potential aspects of a critical thinking course can be taught outside any discipline context. General knowledge, topical issues and media provide a mountain of grist for the cognitive mill.

General concepts of argumentation and logic are readily transferable between contexts once students are taught to recognise the deeper structures inherent in these fields and to apply them across a variety of situations.


It’s worth understanding too that a good critical thinking education is also an education in values.

Not all values are ethical in nature. In thinking well we value precision, coherence, simplicity of expression, logical structure, clarity, perseverance, honesty in representation and any number of like qualities. If schools are to teach values, why not teach the values of effective thinking?

So, let’s not assume that students will learn to think critically just by learning the methodology of their subjects. Sure it will help, but it’s not an explicit treatment of thinking and is therefore less transferable.


read the full article on;

Learning to think Critically

Learning to think critically

Peter Ellerton, a lecturer in Critical Thinking at The University of Queensland, writes in How to teach all students to think critically ‘let’s not assume that students will learn to think critically just by learning the methodology of their subjects. Sure it will help, but it’s not an explicit treatment of thinking and is therefore less transferable. A course that targets effective thinking need not detract from other subjects – in fact it should enhance performance across the board.’

Problem-based and inquiry-based learning programs, and concept-based curriculums with a focus on the big ideas at primary and secondary level have provided increased opportunities to focus on the teaching of generic skills. These interdisciplinary learning spaces have carved out time to teach thinking, to step out of the race to cover content and build the generic skills that students need.

In Intellectual Character: What It Is, Why It Matters, And How to Get It, Ron Ritchhart writes of developing explicit and goal-driven routines for thinking in classrooms. ‘For these routines to be effective, they usually consist of only a few steps, are easy to learn and teach, can be scaffolded or supported by others, and get used over and over again in the classroom,’ (Ritchhart, 2002)

Many familiar classroom practices and instructional strategies can be thought of as thinking routines if they are used over and over again in a way that makes them a core practice of the classroom. For example, KWL (What do you know? What do you want to know? What did you learn?), brainstorming, pushing students to give evidence and to reason by asking them ‘Why?’, classroom arguments or debates, journal writing, questioning techniques or patterns that are used repeatedly, and so on.

Teaching critical thinking.

Image © Shutterstock/Monkey Business Images

Ritchhart also sees routines as a major enculturating force for communicating expectations for thinking as well as providing students with the tools that they need to engage in that thinking.

Thinking routines help students answer questions they have:

  • How are ideas discussed and explored within this class?
  • How are ideas, thinking, and learning managed and documented here?
  • How do we find out new things and come to know in this class?

As educators, we need to uncover the various thinking routines that will support students as they go about this kind of intellectual work, or enact new ones if such routines are not readily present in our practice.

Scope and sequence curriculums that define thinking, programs that make time for the teaching of thinking and routines and strategies that are employed to allow students to demonstrate their thinking are all progress towards recognising the place of a ‘thinking curriculum’ in our schools. The challenge that remains is that of assessment.

Assessing thinking skills

To support schools to implement the CCT (Critical and Creative Thinking) curriculum, the Victorian Department of Education and the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA) developed an online assessment tool.

There is recognition that we need to understand more about how students’ thinking, both critical and creative, develops and how that development can be supported. The Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) views the development of innovative assessment as fundamental to conceptualising this work.

We are currently working on the development of several assessments of thinking. Our most innovative is one that is attempting to measure creative thinking.

Assessment is a term that many would see as antithetical to creativity. The idea of sitting a test seems, at face value, to be everything that is notcreative. But ACER views assessment as a tool of innovation and reform.

Gaining an accurate picture of a child’s current creative capability is essential to knowing how to tailor the child’s educational experiences to support his or her growth. This should be the goal of any creativity assessment. This information will allow educators and researchers to devise ways to support and foster creative development in young people, and allow us to be confident that we are indeed providing the strong educational base that they require for their future.

We are currently researching aspects of critical and creative thinking that are feasible to assess in a school context and are developing an assessment framework. The assessment framework for critical and creative thinking and sample assessment tasks that we develop will support future assessments of thinking.

We are committed to expanding teachers’ understanding of thinking, their ability to develop effective interpretations of critical and creative thinking, and their capacity to create situations in their classroom that prompt thinking, nurture and reward it.

We welcome Teacher readers to get in touch to share ideas about how they are assessing creative or critical thinking in their classrooms.

Stay tuned for a follow-up to this article, exploring how one school is assessing creative and critical thinking.


Ritchhart, R. (2002). Intellectual character: What it is, why it matters, and how to get it. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.

read the full article at


Now research exists to show what we all thought about the importance of a good breakfast.

Breakfast EVERY day helps pupils: Children who have cereal or toast found to perform twice as well in tests as those who do not eat before school

  • Survey asked 5,000 pupils aged nine to 11 about their eating habits 
  • Pupils were asked to list all the food and drink they had over 24 hours
  • Researchers found a great link between eating breakfast and test scores 

Those who start the day with cereal, bread, dairy or fruit were twice as likely to do well in tests, a Cardiff University study found. Having snacks such as crisps or sweets in the morning was no better than eating nothing at all, they said.

Researchers who asked 5,000 pupils aged nine to 11 from more than 100 primary schools found that youngsters who carried on eating fruit and vegetables at other times of the day also did better.

Pupils who eat a healthy breakfast every day are more likely to perform better in school, research shows (file picture of breakfast) 

Pupils who eat a healthy breakfast every day are more likely to perform better in school, research shows

While academics have long linked morning meals to brain power, the Cardiff team said their large study indicated the ‘strongest evidence yet’.

Dr Graham Moore, who worked on the study, said: ‘We analysed links between whether young people were eating breakfast and the quality of that breakfast.

‘There’s a significant association between eating breakfast and doing well, but there is also a link between a healthy breakfast and doing well.

Read more:
Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook

Effectiveness of assessment


Imagine you have 3 water jars, each with the capacity to hold a different, fixed amount of water. Jar A holds 21 units of water, B is capable of holding 127 units, and C can hold up to 3 units. How would you go about measuring a 100 units of water using these jars?*

This question formed the basis for Abraham Luchins’s classic experiment in which subjects were divided into two groups. The experimental group was given five practice problems, followed by 4 critical test problems. The control group did not have the five practice problems. All of the practice problems and some of the critical problems had only one possible solution (if you can’t be bothered working it out, see below.) While most of the test problems could be solved either with the solution learned in the practice rounds or with a simpler, more efficient method, one – the ‘extinction problem’ – could only be solved by generating a novel solution. The majority of the experimental subjects were anchored by their experience of the solution to the practice problems and struggled to see simpler more efficient solutions and were unable to tackle the extinction problem.

Read the article to consider the way we assess in the UK and its effectiveness

by David Didau

Close the gap; Pupil Premium


Post banner Image

The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) highlights effective strategies employed by schools that are successfully improving outcomes for their disadvantaged pupils in this research report.
Supporting the attainment of disadvantaged pupils: articulating success and good practice suggests effective schools are taking a staged, long-term approach to overcoming educational disadvantage. Schools must first deal with the basics of behaviour, attendance and academic competence, before moving onto employing metacognitive strategies, engaging parents, using data effectively across the school and sharing learning with colleagues in other schools. 
Below is a summary of the research findings:
Leaders in schools that were more successful in raising the attainment of disadvantaged pupils emphasised that there was no single intervention that had led to success. Rather, more successful schools appeared to be implementing their strategies in greater depth and with more attention to detail. 
By comparing more and less successful schools, the study identified seven building blocks for success. 
1. Promote an ethos of attainment for all pupils, rather than stereotyping disadvantaged pupils as a group with less potential to succeed. 
2. Have an individualised approach to addressing barriers to learning and emotional support, at an early stage, rather than providing access to generic support and focusing on pupils nearing their end-of-key-stage assessments. 
3. Focus on high quality teaching first rather than on bolt-on strategies and activities outside school hours. 
4. Focus on outcomes for individual pupils rather than on providing strategies. 
5. Deploy the best staff to support disadvantaged pupils; develop skills and roles of teachers and TAs rather than using additional staff who do not know the pupils well. 
6. Make decisions based on data and respond to evidence, using frequent, rather than one-off assessment and decision points. 
7. Have clear, responsive leadership: setting ever higher aspirations and devolving responsibility for raising attainment to all staff, rather than accepting low aspirations and variable performance. 
The most popular strategies, and those that schools considered to be the most effective, focused on teaching and learning, especially: paired or small group additional teaching; improving feedback; and one-to-one tuition. These strategies are all supported by evidence of effectiveness in the Sutton Trust/Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) Teaching and Learning Toolkit.
More successful schools have been focusing on disadvantaged pupils’ performance for longer and appear to have developed more sophisticated responses over time. Leaders in more successful schools said it had taken a period of around three to five years to see the impact of changes they had introduced feed through to pupils’ results.
Taken together, the findings suggest that schools which have been more successful in raising the performance of disadvantaged pupils have put the basics in place (especially addressing attendance and behaviour, setting high expectations, focusing on the quality of teaching and developing the role of TAs) and have moved on to more specific improvement strategies. 
In order to make further progress, the research indicates that they need to: 
  • support pupils’ social and emotional needs;
  • address individual pupils’ learning needs;
  • help all staff to use data effectively; and
  • improve engagement with families.
Once these strategies are in place, the next steps on the improvement journey include focusing on:
  • early intervention;
  • introducing metacognitive and peer learning strategies; and
  • improving their effectiveness in response to data on individual pupils’ progress.
Schools which have made the greatest progress in improving the attainment of disadvantaged pupils are in a position to set even higher expectations and to spread good practice through working with neighbouring schools and well as continuing to learn from and contribute to national networks
read the full report on

Why some kids try harder and some kids give up

My 18-month-old struggled to buckle the straps on her high chair. “Almost,” she muttered as she tried again and again. “Almost,” I agreed, trying not to hover. When she got it, I exclaimed, “You did it! It was hard, but you kept trying, and you did it. I’m so proud of you.”

Snapped the buckleThe way I praised her took a little effort on my part. If I hadn’t known better, I might have just said, “Clever girl!” (Or even “Here, let me help you with that.”) What’s so bad about that? Read on.

Stanford researcher Carol Dweck has been studying motivation and perseverance since the 1960s. And she found that children fall into one of two categories:

  • Those with a fixed mindset, who believe their successes are a result of their innate talent or smarts
  • Those with a growth mindset, who believe their successes are a result of their hard work

Fixed mindset: ‘If you have to work hard, you don’t have ability’

Kids with a fixed mindset believe that you are stuck with however much intelligence you’re born with. They would agree with this statement: “If you have to work hard, you don’t have ability. If you have ability, things come naturally to you.” When they fail, these kids feel trapped. They start thinking they must not be as talented or smart as everyone’s been telling them. They avoid challenges, fearful that they won’t look smart.

Growth mindset: ‘The more you challenge yourself, the smarter you become’

Kids with a growth mindset believe that intelligence can be cultivated: the more learning you do, the smarter you become. These kids understand that even geniuses must work hard. When they suffer a setback, they believe they can improve by putting in more time and effort. They value learning over looking smart. They persevere through difficult tasks.

What creates these beliefs in our kids? The type of praise we give them–even starting at age 1.

read the research and full article on;

5 Academic papers all teachers need to read

Five academic papers all teachers need to read

This blog post is a quick summary of five of the academic papers that have most influenced me in my development as a teacher, and I would heartily recommend all five to other teachers. I do not always agree with every single thing written in these papers (although I generally do agree with the overall thrust of their argument), but I have found these papers useful springboards to further thought, and, for those of you who read my blog regularly, you will no doubt see how my posts resonate with the ideas in these five papers.

All of these papers are behind pay-walls, but most (if not all) can be found for free online with a little searching.

(1) P. Hirst, ‘What is teaching?’, Journal of Curriculum Studies, 3.1, (1971)

I like this paper for its clarity, setting out on a conceptual analysis of the term ‘teaching’. It is a particularly useful article for determining what makes teaching different from other forms of activity.

(2) S. Bailin, R. Case, J.R. Coombs & L.B. Daniels, ‘Common misconceptions of critical thinking’, Journal of Curriculum Studies, 31.3, (1999)

I cite this paper a lot, not least because it takes a hatchet to common definitions of ‘critical thinking’.

(3) P.A. Kirschner, J. Sweller & R.E. Clark, ‘Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not Work: An Analysis of the Failure of Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Based Teaching’, Educational Psychologist, 41.2, (2006)

What is most impressive about this paper is its sheer scope and the clarity of its conclusions. There are those who agree and disagree strongly with those conclusions, but that tells us that – unlike a great many papers written about education – this one is propositional and forthright.

(4) E. Rata, ‘The politics of knowledge in education’, British Educational Research Journal, 38.1, (2012)

This is a good example of the importance of maintaining a distinction between everyday experience and theoretical knowledge. It captures nicely the current ‘social realist’ movement in the sociology of education.

(5) H. McEwan and B. Bull, ‘The pedagogical nature of subject matter knowledge’, American Educational Research Journal, 28.2, (1991)

This paper is perhaps a little leftfield, and I do not agree with every part of it, but I like its emphasis on the deep relationship scholarship and teaching.

Which is more important; planning or marking?

Why we’ve got planning and marking all wrong (part 2)

On Thursday I published a post that largely focussed on why I think we are expending too much effort on written marking. Today I want to pick up on why one of the worst costs of that excessive use of time, is the lack of time left to devote to planning.

Many people responded to both my recent polls stating that they consider marking and planning to be synonymous, or intertwined, or in some way part of the same thing. I argued previously that actually I think it is the looking at work that has the greatest impact on future teaching, not the written comments that get added to it.

It seems, though, that the “informing future planning” argument has become well-used to justify the massive volume of marking. Unfortunately, like with so much else about marking, the credit it is given outweighs its actual value, in my opinion. For while undoubtedly there is power in good formative marking, I’d argue there is much more in good planning. And interestingly it seems that a majority of people instinctively agree with me. Another simplistic poll suggested that a significant majority of teachers feel that planning has a greater impact on pupils’ progress than marking:


Yet if we looked at the amount of time spent doing each, the graph would be the other way around.

Read the full article on;