Ask the Cognitive Scientist: How Can Educators Teach Critical Thinking?

By Daniel Willingham, American Educator Last updated 2024/05/27


In this column for American Educator, cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham defines critical thinking and provides strategies for fostering thinking in the everyday classroom. Willingham defines critical thinking in three ways stating it must be: novel, self-directed and effective and that it is the third attribute that makes it difficult as what constitutes effective thinking varies from domain to domain. He explains how explicitly teaching critical thinking skills only sometimes transfers across domains however, extensive stores of knowledge within the domain can lead to critical thinking as it enhances the ability to deploy critical thinking strategies as needed. He provides 4 key strategies for teaching students to think critically, including identifying what is required in each domain, what domain knowledge is critical to understand, identifying the best sequence to learn the new skills, and identify which skills should be revisited in subsequent years.

Curriculum Connection

A1. Transferable Skills
Critical thinking is essential in all areas of the curriculum and this article broadly supports the successful implementation of developing critical thinking skills across the curricula. 
Grade(s): K 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Topic(s): Comprehension

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