Advantages and Disadvantages of Critical Thinking In Education

Looking for advantages and disadvantages of Critical Thinking In Education?

We have collected some solid points that will help you understand the pros and cons of Critical Thinking In Education in detail.

But first, let’s understand the topic:

What is Critical Thinking In Education?

Critical thinking in education is when students learn to think clearly and make smart choices by asking questions, looking at all sides of a problem, and using logic before deciding what they believe or what action to take.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of Critical Thinking In Education

The following are the advantages and disadvantages of Critical Thinking In Education:

Advantages and disadvantages of Critical Thinking In Education

Advantages of Critical Thinking In Education

  • Enhances problem-solving skills – Critical thinking helps students tackle complex issues by breaking them down into smaller, more manageable parts. This approach leads to better solutions.
  • Promotes independent thinking – It allows students to rely on their own reasoning and analysis, making them self-sufficient learners who can explore ideas on their own.
  • Encourages open-mindedness – Being open to different viewpoints, critical thinking teaches students to consider various perspectives before forming an opinion, which broadens their understanding.
  • Improves decision-making ability – It sharpens the ability to weigh options and assess the consequences, leading to smarter choices in academic and everyday situations.
  • Fosters effective communication – Critical thinking equips students with the ability to articulate their thoughts clearly and listen to others, which is key in collaborating and sharing ideas effectively.

Disadvantages of Critical Thinking In Education

  • Can hinder quick decision-making – Critical thinking sometimes makes it hard to make fast choices because it asks for careful thought and weighing of options.
  • May lead to overthinking – Thinking too much about all the possible outcomes and angles can make simple decisions feel more complicated than they need to be.
  • Requires extensive time and resources – Teaching people to always think critically can take a lot of effort and tools, which might not always be easy to find or afford.
  • Can cause analysis paralysis – When you try to think about every detail, you can get stuck and find it hard to decide on anything at all.
  • Might discourage creative spontaneity – Focusing too much on critical thinking could take away from the ability to come up with new ideas quickly and act on them without second-guessing.
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Innovative Teaching Ideas

Critical thinking for teachers and students

advantages and disadvantages of critical thinking in the classroom

What Do We Mean by the Term ‘Critical Thinking?’

Firstly, there is no single, commonly agreed definition of the term ‘critical thinking’.

However, most commonly as teachers, we use it to refer to what are known as the higher-order thinking skills.

These higher-order thinking skills are skills that require us to think in a deeper, more complex manner.

If you are familiar with Bloom’s taxonomy, think of the upper levels of the hierarchy – analyze, evaluate, create. We could also add infer to this list of critical thinking skills.

Put simply, critical thinking requires the student to engage in an objective analysis of a topic and evaluate the available information in order to form a judgment.

Critical thinking demands a systematic approach to evaluating new information. It encourages us to question and reflect on our own knowledge and how we arrive at the opinions we have and make the decisions we make.

advantages and disadvantages of critical thinking in the classroom


  Why Is Critical Thinking Important?

Our students need to be able to think critically to make rational decisions on what to believe or what course of action to take.

An inability to think critically can leave students vulnerable to muddied thinking and the possibility of believing in unsound ideas.

Critical thinking helps students to filter the wheat from the chaff, intellectually speaking.

Developing strong critical thinking skills helps students to eliminate dubious data to leave only the strongest, most reliable information.

At its core, critical thinking is about having good reasons for our beliefs. It helps us to navigate through bias (our own and that of others) to avoid manipulation or becoming enslaved by our feelings. These are essential skills in an age of overwhelming information.

Helping our students to develop their critical thinking skills not only inoculates them against embracing flawed ideas, but these skills are also some of the most in-demand by employers and this looks set to continue to be so well into the future.

This is due to the ever-increasing pace of technological change. It is impossible to accurately predict the specific requirements of many future jobs. One thing is for sure though, so-called soft skills such as critical thinking will ensure students will be able to adapt to whatever shapes the workplace of the future will take.

Teaching Critical Thinking 

There are any number of ways to introduce critical thinking into the classroom, either as discrete activities or interwoven into lessons with other stated objectives. However, it is helpful to students to take the time to teach a variety of strategies to help them think critically about the ideas they encounter which will help them form their own opinions.

An opinion based on critical thinking does not rely on gut feeling, but rather on rational reasoning which often requires some form of initial research.

Let’s start by taking a look at some ways you can encourage critical thinking in your classroom, especially in the research process.


A complete guide to teaching Critical Thinking

This 180 page e-book is an excellent resource for teachers looking to implement critical thinking in the classroom.

It is packed full of great content whether you are just starting out, or looking to go further.

It makes relevant connections to technology, STEM, and critical and creative thinking.

Teaching Strategies: A Step-by-Step Approach to Critical Thinking

The following process is a useful template for teaching students. When embarking on their research, this template provides a step-by-step process that they can use to structure their investigations.

1. Format the Question

In the age of the Internet, access to information is no longer the major hurdle facing the inquisitive student investigator. If anything, the real problem now is knowing how to appropriately sift through the almost inexhaustible amount of information out there.

The key to this filtration process is the formulation of the research question. How the question is composed and formatted will inform exactly what information the student is looking for and what information can be discarded.

The type of question formatted here will depend on the purpose of the research. For example, is the question intended to establish knowledge? Then, it may well be a straightforward What type question, for example, What are the consequences of a diet high in processed sugars?

If the question is geared more towards the use of that information or knowledge, then the question may be more of a Why type question, for example, Why do some commentators claim that a diet high in processed sugars is the greatest threat facing public health?

One extremely useful tool to assist in formatting questions that make demands on student critical thinking abilities is to employ Bloom’s taxonomy.

2. Gather the Information

Once the question has been clearly defined, then the process of gathering the information begins. Students should frequently refer back to their research questions to ensure they are maintaining their focus.  

As they gather information concerning their question, reference to their initial question will help them to determine the relevance of the information in front of them. They can then weigh up whether or not the information helps move them further toward answering their initial research question.

3. Apply the Information  

The ability to think critically about information is of no use unless the understanding gained can be applied in the real world.

The most practical application of this skill is seen when it is used to inform decision-making. When faced with making a decision, encourage students to reflect on the concepts at work in regard to the choice they face.

They must look at what assumptions exist and explore whether their interpretation of the issue is a logically sound one. To do this effectively, they will also need to consider the effects of that decision.

advantages and disadvantages of critical thinking in the classroom

4. Consider the Implications

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

As the old proverb suggests, our well-intended decisions can sometimes lead to unforeseen negative consequences. When considering paths of action, we need to encourage our students to reflect deeply on all possible outcomes of those actions: short, medium, and long-term.

Unintended consequences are outcomes that are unforeseen and can often undo much of the good of the original decision.

There are many fascinating examples of this phenomenon that are easily found online and can be interesting to share with the students.

One such example was uncovered by the economist Sam Peltzman. He found that when mandatory seat-belt legislation was passed in some of the US states the number of fatalities of drivers did go down as a result. However, he also found that this was offset by an increase in fatalities among pedestrians and cyclists as drivers felt safer wearing seat belts and many drove faster as a result.

5. Explore Other Points of View

This is the final testing ground of an opinion that has been forged in the fires of critical thinking. Though students will have been exposed to competing ideas earlier in the research stage, they should now take the time to measure their matured opinions against these other points of view.

Exploring alternative viewpoints helps us to evaluate our own choices and avoid stagnating in our own biases and innate preferences. Doing this helps us to make the most informed decisions possible.

Now that we’ve had a look at a step-by-step approach to critical thinking, let’s take a look at some creative ways to help students exercise those critical thinking muscles in the classroom. Getting critical doesn’t have to be boring!

Critical Thinking Games and Activities

The Barometer: Find Out Where You Stand

When considering where we stand on issues, it’s important to realise that things don’t always have to be a zero-sum game.  Things don’t have to be all or nothing.  Students need to learn that opinions can be nuanced and that often there exists a spectrum of opinions on any given issue.

In this activity, give the students a controversial issue to consider. Assign the extremes on the issue to opposite ends of the classroom and instruct students to arrange themselves along a continuum based on how strongly they feel about the issue.

They’ll likely need to engage in some free-flowing conversation to figure this out and setting a time limit will help ensure this discussion doesn’t go on endlessly.

Draw an Analogy: Making Lateral Links

This game encourages students to think creatively and indirectly about an idea or a subject and it can be used in practically any context. It encourages students to make comparisons between seemingly unconnected things by analyzing both for any underlying concepts that may link them together somehow – no matter how tenuously!

Start by asking your students a creative question based on the topic or idea you are exploring together in the classroom. The format of these questions should closely follow a similar pattern to the following examples:

●      How is raising a child like building a house?

●      Why is an egg like a hunk of marble?

●      How is a bookshelf like a lunchbox?

The more inventive the elements in each question are, the more challenging it will be for the students to make links between the two of them.

This game can generate some interesting responses and is easy to differentiate for students of all ages. Younger students may enjoy a simpler question format such as ‘ Smell is to nose as sight is to… ’ where the links between the elements are much more obvious.

For older students, remember too that when devising the questions the links between the different elements do not have to be obvious. Indeed, as far as you’re concerned they do not even have to exist. That’s for the students to explore and create.

Build Critical Thinking Skills with Brain Teasers

Brain teasers are great fun and an enjoyable way to fill a few minutes of class time, but they also provide great exercise for students’ critical thinking abilities. Though they are often based on unlikely premises, the skills acquired in solving them can have real-world applications.

Let’s take an example to see how this works. Ask your students the following teaser – you might want to set a time limit and have them write their answers down to put some added pressure on:

A rooster sits on a barn and is facing west. The wind is blowing eastward at a speed of 15 kilometers per hour. The rooster lays an egg. Which cardinal direction does the egg roll?  

The answer is, of course, that there is no egg. Roosters are male and therefore can’t lay eggs.

One of the reasons why so many will get this simple teaser wrong is that despite knowing that a rooster is a male chicken, they overlook it due to the casualness with which it’s thrown into the teaser.  

The other reason is the misdirection caused by the quite meticulous detail provided. Students are likely to pay too much attention to the details such as the speed of the wind, its direction, and the direction of the rooster is facing.

All these irrelevant details distract the students from the fact that the only information required to solve this teaser is provided by the 2nd word of the riddle.

There are numerous brain teasers freely available on the Internet. Weaving them into your lessons gives students opportunities to sharpen their critical thinking skills by sorting relevant from irrelevant details and encouraging students to analyze closely the relevant details provided.

Build the Habit and Become a Critical Thinker

advantages and disadvantages of critical thinking in the classroom

In this article, we have taken a look at some concrete ways to practice critical thinking skills in the classroom. However, becoming a critical thinker is much more about developing consistent critical thinking habits in our approach to ideas and opinions.

To help your students develop these habits, be sure to encourage intellectual curiosity in the classroom. Ask students to examine their own assumptions and evaluate these in light of opposing opinions and available evidence.

Create opportunities in your lessons to explore advertisements and even political statements together. Fight the urge to impart your own beliefs and biases in favor of allowing students to determine the credibility of the sources themselves. Encourage them to draw their own conclusions.

Consistently insist that your students provide evidence to support their conclusions when they express opinions in classroom discussions.

In time, the habit of critical thinking will inform how your students approach any new information that they come across. This will leave them better able to think clearly and systematically and better able to express themselves coherently too.

Create opportunities in your lessons to explore advertisements and even political statements together. Fight the urge to impart your own beliefs and biases in favor of allowing students to determine the credibility of the sources themselves. Encourage them to draw their conclusions.

Fostering Future Thinkers: 10 Dynamic Strategies for Cultivating Critical Thinking in the Classroom

  • Socratic Questioning: Encourage students to engage in thoughtful discussions by employing Socratic questioning. This method involves asking open-ended questions that prompt deeper exploration of concepts, helping students develop analytical and reasoning skills.
  • Real-World Problem-Solving: Integrate real-world problems into the curriculum, allowing students to apply critical thinking skills to authentic situations. This hands-on approach fosters practical problem-solving abilities and encourages creativity.
  • Debate and Discussion: Organize debates and class discussions to expose students to diverse perspectives. This not only enhances their critical thinking but also teaches them how to construct persuasive arguments and consider alternative viewpoints.
  • Case Studies: Utilize case studies from various fields to present complex scenarios. This challenges students to analyze information, identify key issues, and propose effective solutions, fostering critical thinking within specific contexts.
  • Critical Reading and Writing: Emphasize critical reading and writing skills. Encourage students to analyze texts, identify main arguments, evaluate evidence, and express their thoughts coherently in writing. This enhances both analytical and communication skills.
  • Concept Mapping: Introduce concept mapping as a visual tool to help students organize thoughts and relationships between ideas. This technique enhances their ability to see the bigger picture and understand the interconnectedness of concepts.
  • Problem-Based Learning (PBL): Implement problem-based learning approaches, where students work collaboratively to solve complex problems. This method promotes critical thinking, teamwork, and the application of knowledge to real-world situations.
  • Cognitive Dissonance Activities: Engage students in activities that provoke cognitive dissonance, challenging their existing beliefs or assumptions. This discomfort encourages critical examination and reflection, leading to intellectual growth.
  • Metacognition Development: Foster metacognition by prompting students to reflect on their thinking processes. Encourage them to analyze how they approach problems, make decisions, and solve challenges, promoting self-awareness and self-correction.
  • Role-Playing Scenarios: Create role-playing scenarios that require students to step into different perspectives or roles. This immersive approach encourages empathy, perspective-taking, and the ability to analyze situations from multiple viewpoints, enhancing overall critical thinking skills.

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Classroom Q&A

With larry ferlazzo.

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.

Integrating Critical Thinking Into the Classroom

advantages and disadvantages of critical thinking in the classroom

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(This is the second post in a three-part series. You can see Part One here .)

The new question-of-the-week is:

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

Part One ‘s guests were 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.

Today, Dr. Kulvarn Atwal, Elena Quagliarello, Dr. Donna Wilson, and Diane Dahl share their recommendations.

‘Learning Conversations’

Dr. Kulvarn Atwal is currently the executive head teacher of two large primary schools in the London borough of Redbridge. Dr. Atwal is the author of The Thinking School: Developing a Dynamic Learning Community , published by John Catt Educational. Follow him on Twitter @Thinkingschool2 :

In many classrooms I visit, students’ primary focus is on what they are expected to do and how it will be measured. It seems that we are becoming successful at producing students who are able to jump through hoops and pass tests. But are we producing children that are positive about teaching and learning and can think critically and creatively? Consider your classroom environment and the extent to which you employ strategies that develop students’ critical-thinking skills and their self-esteem as learners.

Development of self-esteem

One of the most significant factors that impacts students’ engagement and achievement in learning in your classroom is their self-esteem. In this context, self-esteem can be viewed to be the difference between how they perceive themselves as a learner (perceived self) and what they consider to be the ideal learner (ideal self). This ideal self may reflect the child that is associated or seen to be the smartest in the class. Your aim must be to raise students’ self-esteem. To do this, you have to demonstrate that effort, not ability, leads to success. Your language and interactions in the classroom, therefore, have to be aspirational—that if children persist with something, they will achieve.

Use of evaluative praise

Ensure that when you are praising students, you are making explicit links to a child’s critical thinking and/or development. This will enable them to build their understanding of what factors are supporting them in their learning. For example, often when we give feedback to students, we may simply say, “Well done” or “Good answer.” However, are the students actually aware of what they did well or what was good about their answer? Make sure you make explicit what the student has done well and where that links to prior learning. How do you value students’ critical thinking—do you praise their thinking and demonstrate how it helps them improve their learning?

Learning conversations to encourage deeper thinking

We often feel as teachers that we have to provide feedback to every students’ response, but this can limit children’s thinking. Encourage students in your class to engage in learning conversations with each other. Give as many opportunities as possible to students to build on the responses of others. Facilitate chains of dialogue by inviting students to give feedback to each other. The teacher’s role is, therefore, to facilitate this dialogue and select each individual student to give feedback to others. It may also mean that you do not always need to respond at all to a student’s answer.

Teacher modelling own thinking

We cannot expect students to develop critical-thinking skills if we aren’t modeling those thinking skills for them. Share your creativity, imagination, and thinking skills with the students and you will nurture creative, imaginative critical thinkers. Model the language you want students to learn and think about. Share what you feel about the learning activities your students are participating in as well as the thinking you are engaging in. Your own thinking and learning will add to the discussions in the classroom and encourage students to share their own thinking.

Metacognitive questioning

Consider the extent to which your questioning encourages students to think about their thinking, and therefore, learn about learning! Through asking metacognitive questions, you will enable your students to have a better understanding of the learning process, as well as their own self-reflections as learners. Example questions may include:

  • Why did you choose to do it that way?
  • When you find something tricky, what helps you?
  • How do you know when you have really learned something?


‘Adventures of Discovery’

Elena Quagliarello is the senior editor of education for Scholastic News , a current events magazine for students in grades 3–6. She graduated from Rutgers University, where she studied English and earned her master’s degree in elementary education. She is a certified K–12 teacher and previously taught middle school English/language arts for five years:

Critical thinking blasts through the surface level of a topic. It reaches beyond the who and the what and launches students on a learning journey that ultimately unlocks a deeper level of understanding. Teaching students how to think critically helps them turn information into knowledge and knowledge into wisdom. In the classroom, critical thinking teaches students how to ask and answer the questions needed to read the world. Whether it’s a story, news article, photo, video, advertisement, or another form of media, students can use the following critical-thinking strategies to dig beyond the surface and uncover a wealth of knowledge.

A Layered Learning Approach

Begin by having students read a story, article, or analyze a piece of media. Then have them excavate and explore its various layers of meaning. First, ask students to think about the literal meaning of what they just read. For example, if students read an article about the desegregation of public schools during the 1950s, they should be able to answer questions such as: Who was involved? What happened? Where did it happen? Which details are important? This is the first layer of critical thinking: reading comprehension. Do students understand the passage at its most basic level?

Ask the Tough Questions

The next layer delves deeper and starts to uncover the author’s purpose and craft. Teach students to ask the tough questions: What information is included? What or who is left out? How does word choice influence the reader? What perspective is represented? What values or people are marginalized? These questions force students to critically analyze the choices behind the final product. In today’s age of fast-paced, easily accessible information, it is essential to teach students how to critically examine the information they consume. The goal is to equip students with the mindset to ask these questions on their own.

Strike Gold

The deepest layer of critical thinking comes from having students take a step back to think about the big picture. This level of thinking is no longer focused on the text itself but rather its real-world implications. Students explore questions such as: Why does this matter? What lesson have I learned? How can this lesson be applied to other situations? Students truly engage in critical thinking when they are able to reflect on their thinking and apply their knowledge to a new situation. This step has the power to transform knowledge into wisdom.

Adventures of Discovery

There are vast ways to spark critical thinking in the classroom. Here are a few other ideas:

  • Critical Expressionism: In this expanded response to reading from a critical stance, students are encouraged to respond through forms of artistic interpretations, dramatizations, singing, sketching, designing projects, or other multimodal responses. For example, students might read an article and then create a podcast about it or read a story and then act it out.
  • Transmediations: This activity requires students to take an article or story and transform it into something new. For example, they might turn a news article into a cartoon or turn a story into a poem. Alternatively, students may rewrite a story by changing some of its elements, such as the setting or time period.
  • Words Into Action: In this type of activity, students are encouraged to take action and bring about change. Students might read an article about endangered orangutans and the effects of habitat loss caused by deforestation and be inspired to check the labels on products for palm oil. They might then write a letter asking companies how they make sure the palm oil they use doesn’t hurt rain forests.
  • Socratic Seminars: In this student-led discussion strategy, students pose thought-provoking questions to each other about a topic. They listen closely to each other’s comments and think critically about different perspectives.
  • Classroom Debates: Aside from sparking a lively conversation, classroom debates naturally embed critical-thinking skills by asking students to formulate and support their own opinions and consider and respond to opposing viewpoints.

Critical thinking has the power to launch students on unforgettable learning experiences while helping them develop new habits of thought, reflection, and inquiry. Developing these skills prepares students to examine issues of power and promote transformative change in the world around them.


‘Quote Analysis’

Dr. Donna Wilson is a psychologist and the author of 20 books, including Developing Growth Mindsets , Teaching Students to Drive Their Brains , and Five Big Ideas for Effective Teaching (2 nd Edition). She is an international speaker who has worked in Asia, the Middle East, Australia, Europe, Jamaica, and throughout the U.S. and Canada. Dr. Wilson can be reached at [email protected] ; visit her website at www.brainsmart.org .

Diane Dahl has been a teacher for 13 years, having taught grades 2-4 throughout her career. Mrs. Dahl currently teaches 3rd and 4th grade GT-ELAR/SS in Lovejoy ISD in Fairview, Texas. Follow her on Twitter at @DahlD, and visit her website at www.fortheloveofteaching.net :

A growing body of research over the past several decades indicates that teaching students how to be better thinkers is a great way to support them to be more successful at school and beyond. In the book, Teaching Students to Drive Their Brains , Dr. Wilson shares research and many motivational strategies, activities, and lesson ideas that assist students to think at higher levels. Five key strategies from the book are as follows:

  • Facilitate conversation about why it is important to think critically at school and in other contexts of life. Ideally, every student will have a contribution to make to the discussion over time.
  • Begin teaching thinking skills early in the school year and as a daily part of class.
  • As this instruction begins, introduce students to the concept of brain plasticity and how their brilliant brains change during thinking and learning. This can be highly motivational for students who do not yet believe they are good thinkers!
  • Explicitly teach students how to use the thinking skills.
  • Facilitate student understanding of how the thinking skills they are learning relate to their lives at school and in other contexts.

Below are two lessons that support critical thinking, which can be defined as the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment.

Mrs. Dahl prepares her 3rd and 4th grade classes for a year of critical thinking using quote analysis .

During Native American studies, her 4 th grade analyzes a Tuscarora quote: “Man has responsibility, not power.” Since students already know how the Native Americans’ land had been stolen, it doesn’t take much for them to make the logical leaps. Critical-thought prompts take their thinking even deeper, especially at the beginning of the year when many need scaffolding. Some prompts include:

  • … from the point of view of the Native Americans?
  • … from the point of view of the settlers?
  • How do you think your life might change over time as a result?
  • Can you relate this quote to anything else in history?

Analyzing a topic from occupational points of view is an incredibly powerful critical-thinking tool. After learning about the Mexican-American War, Mrs. Dahl’s students worked in groups to choose an occupation with which to analyze the war. The chosen occupations were: anthropologist, mathematician, historian, archaeologist, cartographer, and economist. Then each individual within each group chose a different critical-thinking skill to focus on. Finally, they worked together to decide how their occupation would view the war using each skill.

For example, here is what each student in the economist group wrote:

  • When U.S.A. invaded Mexico for land and won, Mexico ended up losing income from the settlements of Jose de Escandon. The U.S.A. thought that they were gaining possible tradable land, while Mexico thought that they were losing precious land and resources.
  • Whenever Texas joined the states, their GDP skyrocketed. Then they went to war and spent money on supplies. When the war was resolving, Texas sold some of their land to New Mexico for $10 million. This allowed Texas to pay off their debt to the U.S., improving their relationship.
  • A detail that converged into the Mexican-American War was that Mexico and the U.S. disagreed on the Texas border. With the resulting treaty, Texas ended up gaining more land and economic resources.
  • Texas gained land from Mexico since both countries disagreed on borders. Texas sold land to New Mexico, which made Texas more economically structured and allowed them to pay off their debt.

This was the first time that students had ever used the occupations technique. Mrs. Dahl was astonished at how many times the kids used these critical skills in other areas moving forward.


Thanks to Dr. Auwal, Elena, Dr. Wilson, and Diane 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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  • Effective Teaching Strategies

Teaching Critical Thinking: Some Practical Points

  • October 4, 2018
  • Linda B. Nilson, PhD

We all endorse it and we all want our students to do it. We also claim to teach it. “It” is critical thinking, and very few of us actually teach it or even understand what it is (Paul & Elder, 2013). Research tells us that our students learn critical thinking only after we receive training in how to teach it and design our courses explicitly and intentionally to foster critical thinking skills (Abrami, Bernard, Borokhovski, Wade, Surkes, Tamim, & Zhang, 2008). We have to start by formulating assessable critical thinking learning outcomes and building our courses around them.

It is little wonder we don’t understand what critical thinking is. The literature around it is abstract and fragmented among several different scholars or scholarly teams who work in their own silos and don’t build on or even cite each other. Still, we can find some common ground among them. While each has a different definition of critical thinking, they all agree that it involves the cognitive operations of interpretation and/or analysis, often followed by evaluation. They also concur that students have to critically think about something , which means students have to learn how to do it in a discipline-based course. Another point of agreement is how difficult it is to do; it goes against our natural tendency to want to perceive selectively and confirm what we already “know” to be true. Therefore, critical thinking involves character as well as cognition. Students must be inclined to pursue “truth” over their own biases, persist through challenges, assess their own thinking fairly, and abandon mistaken reasoning for new and more valid ways of thinking. These intellectual “virtues” don’t come easily or naturally.

Critical thinking scholars also agree that questions are central to students acquiring critical thinking skills. We must ask students challenging, open-ended questions that demand genuine inquiry, analysis, or assessment—questions like these:

  • What is your interpretation/analysis of this passage/data/argument?
  • What are your reasons for favoring that interpretation/analysis? What is your evidence?
  • How well does your interpretation/analysis handle the complexities of the passage/data/argument?
  • What is another interpretation/analysis of the passage/data/argument? Any others?
  • What are the implications of each interpretation/analysis?
  • Let’s look at all the interpretations/analyses and evaluate them. How strong is the evidence for each one?
  • How honestly and impartially are you representing the other interpretations/analyses? Do you have a vested interest in one interpretation/analysis over another?
  • What additional information would help us to narrow down our interpretations/analyses?

These are just a few examples of the kinds of questions that require your students to engage in critical thinking. After giving an answer, students must also 1) describe how they arrived at their answer to develop their metacognitive awareness of their reasoning and 2) get feedback on their responses—from you, a teaching assistant, another expert, or their peers—so they can correct or refine their thinking accordingly.

Some teaching methods naturally promote inquiry, analysis, and assessment, and all of them are student-active (Abrami et al., 2008). Class discussion may be the strongest, and it includes the debriefings of complex cases, simulations, and role plays. However, debates, structured controversy, targeted journaling, inquiry-guided labs, and POGIL-type worksheets are also effective. All of these learning experiences can arouse students’ curiosity, stimulate their questions, and induce them to explain and justify their arguments.

Finally, we need to remember that instructors are role models. Students need to see us showing the courage to question our own opinions and values, the fair-mindedness to represent multiple perspectives accurately, and the open-mindedness to entertain viewpoints opposed to our own. When we do this, we should let students know that we are practicing critical thinking.

Two faculty members, Mel Seesholtz and Brian Polk, illustrate these qualities during their regularly scheduled debates in their course, Religion in American Life. The latter is a noted critic of dogma-based organized religion and the former, a college chaplain. While sincerely trying to forward their viewpoint, they consciously model critical thinking, civil discourse, and the complementary dispositions for their class (Seesholtz & Polk, 2009). They demonstrate that the stormy wars of words so common in today’s political mass media do not represent the only way to disagree. If students don’t see the thoughtful, respectful alternative, how will they be able to peacefully co-exist with one another in this diverse world?

References Abrami, P. C., Bernard, R. M., Borokhovski, E., Wade, A., Surkes, M. A., Tamim, R., & Zhang, D. (2008). Instructional interventions affecting critical thinking skills and dispositions: A stage 1 meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 78 (4), 1102-1134.

Paul, R., & Elder, L. (2013). Study of 38 public universities and 28 private universities to determine faculty emphasis on critical thinking in instruction. Available at http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/study-of-38-public-universities-and-28-private-universities-to-determine-faculty-emphasis-on-critical-thinking-in-instruction/598

Seesholtz, M., & Polk, B. (2009, October 10). Two professors, one valuable lesson: How to respectfully disagree. Chronicle of Higher Education. Available at http://chronicle.com/article/Two-Professors-One-Valuable/48901/

Dr. Linda B. Nilson recently retired from Clemson University, where she was the founding director of the Office of Teaching Effectiveness and Innovation. Her books include Creating Self-Regulated Learners: Strategies to Strengthen Students’ Self-Awareness and Learning Skills (Stylus, 2013) and Teaching at Its Best: A Research-Based Resource for College Instructors (Jossey-Bass, 2010) .

This article originally appeared on Faculty Focus in 2016. © Magna Publications. All rights reserved.

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Enhancing Critical Thinking through Class Discussion

A Guide for Using Discussion-Based Pedagogy

Discussion-based pedagogies are dialogue-based approaches to teaching and learning that are intended to promote interactive and participatory classroom environments.  They empower students to take the lead in exploring complex and challenging issues, and to transform their classroom spaces into participatory democracies.  When using discussion-based strategies, instructors play the role of facilitator rather than “teacher,” and focus classroom efforts on encouraging dialogue and discourse rather than providing didactic transmission of information.  Inter-disciplinary classroom research in higher education suggests that the effective use of discussion-based pedagogies has many potential advantages in terms of resulting learning outcomes for students, including enhanced development of critical thinking skills, problem solving ability, and understanding of diverse perspectives, amongst others. 

This guide dispels many common perceptions about potential disadvantages associated with discussion-based pedagogy, and provides user templates for three specific discussion-based strategies: (1) deliberative discussion, (2) structured controversy, and (3) problem-based discussion.  Each guide offers readers practical strategies to apply in classrooms across disciplines, including adaptable scripts, procedures, and evaluation approaches for each strategy.  

Related content

Learning module: critical reflection, learn more », the teaching squares guide: observe and reflect on teaching and learning.

advantages and disadvantages of critical thinking in the classroom

5 Critical Pedagogy: Challenging Bias and Creating Inclusive Classrooms


Regardless of the type of library you work in, your learners will come from varied backgrounds, identities, and life experiences, and will bring different interests and educational needs to the classroom. These experiences shape how learners experience the classroom, the content, and the learning activities, and ultimately impact what they learn and how they use that knowledge. As instructors, we need not only to recognize these differences and how they influence learning but also acknowledge and honor the richness of experience our learners bring. We need to create an inclusive classroom environment where everyone feels welcome and valued, and where our content is relevant to our learners’ diverse identities and interests.

In order to be effective in this role, we must better understand how existing educational, social, and political systems shape our learners’ experiences from their earliest moments and continue to influence what and how they learn inside and outside of the classroom through the rest of their lives. We must recognize how bias has impacted and continues to impact both our learners’ and our own experiences, and develop culturally competent and inclusive practices in order to mitigate bias in the classroom and interact effectively with learners from varied cultural backgrounds.

Critical pedagogy provides a theoretical framework to examine issues of power in the classroom, and to surface and challenge the biases and oppressive structures that can undermine learning and alienate students. Inclusive teaching offers strategies for translating that theoretical knowledge into action. This chapter begins with a brief overview of critical pedagogy, followed by an examination of some of the biases critical pedagogy uncovers and how those biases can impact the work we do as instructors. Next, the chapter presents strategies for mitigating bias, improving our cultural competence, and creating inclusive classrooms where all learners are able to engage with relevant content and effective pedagogies. Chapter 6 extends the discussion of inclusion to address specific issues of accessibility and universal design for learners with disabilities.

Critical Pedagogy

As discussed briefly in Chapter 3, social constructivists in particular recognize that learners’ cultures, including shared values, behaviors, and beliefs, shape their knowledge. However, no society is made up of a single, monolithic culture; rather, different communities reflect different values and beliefs, and encourage and discourage different behaviors. Political, social, and educational systems tend to reflect the dominant culture, and over time the values, behaviors, and beliefs associated with that culture become so ingrained as to be invisible. Those living within the dominant culture do not recognize it as a system but simply see it as “normal,” and anything outside of that system is “other” than normal. Some educational theorists recognized that these differences have a profound impact on education.

Bourdieu (see, e.g., Bourdieu & Passeron, 2000) and Freire (2000), for instance, saw that traditional educational systems tended to reflect and favor the experiences of children from wealthy families. Because these children understood that system and saw themselves reflected in it, they thrived and were successful, while children from poorer families struggled. Since the dominant systems are essentially invisible, those in power tend to attribute the challenges faced by marginalized individuals as inherent to the person. In other words, if a child from a poor family struggles to learn to read, teachers will often assume the issue is with the child’s innate ability to learn, rather than recognize that the child might not have had the same preliteracy experiences and current support systems that other children have. Because they do not recognize the root issue, these educational models tend to replicate rather than challenge the existing systems, so learners from the dominant culture continue to succeed while those from marginalized communities continue to struggle, a phenomenon that Bourdieu refers to as cultural reproduction. While earlier theorists tended to focus mostly on the impact of economic disparities in education, other writers and educators like bell hooks, Henry Giroux, and Ileana Jiménez have applied feminist, queer, and critical race theory to examine how existing classroom power structures marginalize women, people of color, individuals who identify as LGBTQIA+, and other learners as well.

Importantly, critical pedagogy does not end with theory but rather focuses on praxis, or translating knowledge into action. Critical pedagogy sees education as a tool for empowerment, a place where learners develop the knowledge and skills they need to undo oppressive structures and achieve liberation (Freire, 2000; Tewell, 2015). Unlike the traditional “banking” model of education that positions learners as passive recipients of information, in a classroom guided by critical pedagogy, learners engage with problems that are personally meaningful and are active agents in their own education, and through that education gain agency to enact change in the world beyond the classroom (Elmborg, 2006; Freire, 2000; Tewell, 2015).

Critical pedagogy informs the critical approaches to information literacy discussed in Chapter 2, which urge us to move away from a skills-based, teacher-centered approach to information literacy toward one that questions dominant information structures and adopts student-centered teaching methods. Building on the ideas of agency and empowerment, critical information literacy encourages learners to see themselves as part of the “scholarly conversation” and as creators of information, rather than just consumers, and provides them with ways to recognize and challenge dominant powers within the current systems of creating, sharing, and evaluating information. Thus, for instructors, critical pedagogy pushes us to surface power dynamics in the classroom and the larger communities in which our learners live, and to reflect on how our own culture and biases color our approach to the classroom. In doing so, it offers a model for a more inclusive teaching practice.

Bias in the Classroom

We all have bias. These biases might be based on gender, race or ethnicity, class, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, body type, or other elements of people’s personal identity. In some cases, we may be aware that we have a bias, while in other cases, we hold unconscious biases that we have unwittingly picked up over the course of our lifetime. Banaji and Greenwald (2013) show that our unconscious biases are particularly pernicious because we are unaware of the effect they have on our thoughts and actions, resulting in discriminatory judgments and behaviors that are automatic and hard to recognize. For example, research shows that when given résumés with equivalent qualifications from applicants with stereotypically white names and stereotypically Black names, search committees will favor applicants with stereotypically white names (Bertrand & Mullainathan, 2003) and that orchestras have historically favored men over women in auditions (Goldin & Rouse, 2000). Unconscious bias also affects library services. Shachaf and Horowitz (2006) found differences in librarians’ replies to email reference queries based on the patron’s perceived ethnicity and religious affiliation, including the time taken to reply, length and quality of answers, and the use of welcoming, professional greetings and conclusions. These examples demonstrate one of Banaji and Greenwald’s important findings–that hidden biases result in acts of commission, such as favoring men or whites in hiring, as well as acts of omission, such as providing less thorough service to some patrons.

It can be uncomfortable and even challenging to recognize our own bias. As Sue (2010a) notes, most people “see themselves as fair-minded individuals who would never consciously discriminate” and “their self-image of being ‘a good moral human being’ is assailed if they realize and acknowledge that they possess biased thoughts, attitudes and feelings.” As we grapple with our own biases, it can be helpful to remember that our brains evolved to develop heuristics that allow us to function effectively and safely in our environment. These heuristics often operate at an unconscious level; if you have ever seen a snake and instinctively jumped back even before you could assess whether the snake was venomous, you have experienced an unconscious heuristic that told you snakes are dangerous. Unfortunately, unconscious thoughts and biases influence how we react to people as well, particularly when we perceive those people as “different” from ourselves. If we want to be fair-minded, rational people, it is essential that we identify and reflect on our unconscious biases, including recognizing how our society shapes and influences those biases, in order to mitigate the effect they have on our thoughts and actions (Banaji and Greenwald, 2013). Activity 5.1 provides an opportunity to learn more about unconscious biases you may hold.

Activity 5.1: Take an Implicit Bias Test

As part of its research on implicit bias, Project Implicit at Harvard University offers tests that attempt to measure personal biases. While these tests are not perfect measures, they offer a starting point for reflecting on how we might be impacted by unconscious bias. Visit Project Implicit and try one or more of the available tests.

Questions for Reflection and Discussion:

  • How did you feel about your results? Were you surprised or uncomfortable? Did other feelings emerge?
  • If your test results revealed a personal bias, how might that bias affect your work in the classroom? What strategies could you use to mitigate this bias and deliver high-quality instruction to all your learners?


One manifestation of bias is microaggressions, which Sue (2010a) defines as “the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.” Microaggressions may be aimed at women, people of color, individuals who identify (or are perceived) as LGBTQIA+, and people with disabilities, among others. Microaggressions come in many forms, including verbal (e.g., “Where are you from?” which implies a person of color must be a foreigner; telling a woman to smile), nonverbal (e.g., clutching one’s purse more tightly or crossing the street around a person of color), or environmental (e.g., Native American mascots) (Sue, 2010b). While microaggressions may appear minor, they create hostile classroom environments, perpetuate stereotype threat, lower workplace productivity, and cause mental and physical health problems (Sue et al., 2009, p. 183).

Because microaggressions often reflect our unconscious biases, they can be hard to eliminate. Princing (2019) notes that when we first meet someone new, we tend to notice what makes them different from us. She recommends we reflect on those thoughts and question any beliefs or stereotypes that may accompany them. The Reinert Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning (n.d.) also recommends that instructors reflect on their assumptions and expectations as a first step to avoid committing microaggressions. For example, an instructor who assumes that learners from first-generation or lower socioeconomic backgrounds are less prepared for college might make a comment to that effect in the classroom, making students hesitant to attend office hours lest they confirm the instructor’s negative belief. Additional strategies instructors can use:

  • Resist the myth of color blindness. Unconscious bias makes it difficult to be truly colorblind. In addition, claims of color blindness obscure structural disadvantages and the very real differences in the experiences of people from marginalized groups (Princing, 2019).
  • Believe the stories of people from marginalized groups. We can learn more about everyday bias by listening to and learning from the stories of individuals who have firsthand experience with bias. We must take care not to dismiss those stories as exaggerations, misunderstandings, or isolated incidents.
  • Do not ask students to speak for their entire racial or culture group. As noted elsewhere in this chapter, learners from the same broad cultural group will not necessarily share all of the same values, beliefs, and understandings, and students may not feel capable of speaking for the experience of others (Reinert Center, n.d.). In addition, singling out learners in this way can make it appear that the instructor sees them as a one-dimensional representative of a particular identity, rather than as an individual bringing varied strengths, interests, and experiences to the classroom.
  • Assume groups you are talking about are represented in the classroom. Treating every classroom interaction as if we were speaking with a member of the group under discussion can remind us to choose our words with care (Reinert Center, n.d.).
  • Remain open to learning about microaggressions and yourself. While it is natural to feel defensive when others point out that we have said something problematic or offensive, we can approach such instances as learning opportunities.

In addition to recognizing the role that bias might play in our own actions, instructors should be aware that students will bring their own biases to the classroom. These biases will affect how learners understand and interact with instructional content, peers, and instructors, and instructors should be attentive to instances where learners commit microaggressions against one another. Microaggressions can be awkward and even challenging to address, especially if they were framed as a compliment (e.g., “You speak English so well”) or reflect commonly accepted stereotypes. Offenders may be unaware of the offense they have caused and because they did not intend to offend others, may be reluctant to accept responsibility for having done so. However, it is important to address such events clearly and promptly. Sue et al. (2019, p. 134) note that when microaggressions occur, small interventions by allies and bystanders have a “profound positive effect in creating an inclusive and welcoming environment” and discouraging further microaggressions. Strategies for addressing microaggressions in the classroom include:

  • Make the “invisible” visible.  Create awareness by naming the microaggression with statements such as “I think that’s a stereotype I just heard” (Sue et al., 2019, p. 136).
  • Disarm the microaggression. Statements such as “I don’t agree” or “I don’t see it that way” and actions such as shaking one’s head communicate to the perpetrator and others that the microaggression is not acceptable (Sue et al., 2019, p. 136).
  • Take an educational, nonpunitive approach. Turn microaggressions into teachable moments by asking learners to reflect on their assumptions (Center for Teaching and Learning, n.d., p. 11). Phrases like “it sounds like you think” or “Could there be another way to look at this?” can prompt speakers to identify and question their unconscious biases (Gonzaga et al., 2019). Ferguson (2015) suggests we approach microaggressions in the spirit of “calling in” rather than “calling out.”
  • Redirect. When students are asked to speak for all members of their racial or cultural group, we can redirect the conversation with statements such as “Let’s open this question up to others” (Gonzaga et al., 2019).
  • Use “I” statements. The use of “I” statements such as “I felt uncomfortable when you said . . . ” communicate impact while minimizing blame (Gonzaga et al., 2019).
  • Discuss intent versus impact. Instructors can use statements like “I know you meant to be funny, but you hurt . . . ” to help learners recognize the impact of something they said. If learners struggle with the idea that they may have offended or harmed someone despite not intending to cause offense, instructors can use metaphors such as bumping someone in the grocery store or causing a car accident to explain the difference between intent and impact (and the need to make amends).
  • Rewind. Sometimes microaggressions happen so quickly, the conversation moves on before they are addressed. Statements like “I’d like to revisit something that was said earlier” allow us to step back and address these microaggressions ( Gonzaga et al., 2019).

Another manifestation of bias can be “othering,” or treating the history and experiences of white, middle-class, heterosexual, cisgender, able-bodied people as universal or the norm, while presenting the history and experiences of other groups as unusual, exceptional, or only of interest to members of those communities. For example, displaying books by Black authors in February, but not at other times, sends an implicit message that the history of America is the actions and accomplishments of whites and that the accomplishments of others are of limited value or interest. While special displays and programs are an important way to recognize and support events like Black History Month, Women’s History Month, and Pride Month, librarians should also integrate materials by individuals of color, women, and LGBTQIA+ authors into displays year-round.

In some cases, the systems that are foundational to libraries treat selected groups as the other. For example, the Dewey Decimal System reserves 200-289 for topics related to Christianity and the Bible, leaving only the 290s for all other religions; Schingler (2015) points out that this reflects an underlying assumption that Christianity not only has more to say on theological topics, what it has to say is more valuable. Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) are notoriously problematic in their treatment of women and people of color (Berman, 1969, 1993; Drabinski, 2008; Knowlton, 2005). The presence of subject headings such as “women astronauts” and “African American business enterprises” reveals an assumption that these professions are for white men and that the presence of others is unusual or remarkable, while subject headings that utilize biased terminology, such as “illegal aliens,” send a message about who belongs in America.

These instances of bias and othering can create barriers to information seeking. Howard and Knowlton (2018) point out that Library of Congress Classification distributes materials related to African American and LGBTQIA+ issues throughout the collection, making browsing or even grasping the scope of the topic challenging for researchers. Even when controlled vocabulary uses neutral terminology, the accompanying thesauri can obscure topics for patrons trying to identify the database’s preferred subject heading. For example, a search for “queer” in the ERIC thesaurus returns “the term(s) you entered could not be found” with no suggestions for next steps ( ERIC uses the subject heading “homosexuality”). In comparison, a search for “queer” in the thesaurus for PubMed takes one to the preferred subject heading, “sexual and gender minorities,” along with notes about how the term is applied and related/narrower terms.

As part of creating inclusive classrooms, we must be aware of the ways in which library systems and spaces can “other” marginalized groups, and take steps to improve equity and inclusion in our spaces and collections. For example, when creating lessons, we can plan search examples that reflect the diversity of our community and learners’ interests. As appropriate, we can surface and acknowledge problematic practices, and engage students in a dialogue about the impact of those practices and how they might be changed. Integrating diversity into curricular content is addressed in more detail later in this chapter.

Deficit-Based Thinking

Learners, by their very nature, come to our libraries and classrooms with gaps in their knowledge and skills. Oftentimes, instructors seek out research that will help them identify these gaps in order to develop relevant content. While this research can provide valuable guidance for instructors, it is sometimes framed solely in terms of what learners are lacking and can lead us to focus exclusively on students’ weaknesses, an approach termed deficit-based thinking.

Increasingly, educators are taking an asset-based approach that recognizes and builds on the strengths students bring to the classroom (Heinbach, 2019; Ilett, 2019; Kocevar-Weidinger et al., 2019; Matteson & Gersch, 2019; Tewell, 2020). For example, research on returning adult learners may show that they lack up-to-date research and citation skills, framing this as a problem that will hinder academic success. An asset-based approach recognizes that adult learners, by virtue of having spent time in the workforce, bring valuable life experience that can enrich classroom discussions, along with strong collaborative and interpersonal skills developed in the workplace. In addition, adult learners tend to have clear educational and career goals and are highly motivated to develop the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in higher education. As another example, Kocevar-Weidinger et al. (2019) show that despite the stereotype that first-year college students lack research skills, they actually have extensive everyday research experience that can serve as a starting point for academic information literacy instruction.

Sometimes things characterized as weaknesses or deficits are in fact strengths if we recast our narrative. For instance, research on first-generation students may focus on the challenges they encounter because their families are unable to advise them on how to navigate the academic and social aspects of college. Research also shows that first-generation undergraduate students are less likely to use campus support services (Longwell-Grice et al., 2016; Portnoi & Kwong, 2011). An asset-based approach recognizes that families of first-generation students are often very supportive of their students’ academic endeavors and, if given information about support services on campus, will recommend their students take advantage of such services. Thus, while they lack firsthand knowledge of higher education, family members can be a conduit to connecting first-generation students to campus resources. Activity 5.2 asks you to think more deeply about asset-based approaches.

Activity 5.2: Reflecting on Asset-Based Thinking

Individually or with a group of classmates, select a group of learners you might work with, such as recent immigrants, English-language learners, international students, or older adults.

  • What gaps in knowledge or skills are typically ascribed to this group? Are these viewed as simple gaps or as deficits?
  • What strengths will this group of learners bring to the classroom?
  • How could you use an asset-based approach to build on these strengths in designing instruction?

Cultural Competency

Cultural competency is the ability to work effectively with people from varied cultural backgrounds. Cultural competency is an essential skill for librarians; it prepares us to recognize barriers to information use, to work with colleagues and patrons of diverse backgrounds, and to develop culturally responsive services and programs (Cooke et al., 2017; Kim & Sin, 2006; Morris, 2007; Overall, 2009). Instructors who are culturally competent understand how culture influences teaching and learning, and are able to engage learners from diverse backgrounds in the classroom.

Cultural differences can emerge in our classrooms in numerous ways. For example, contemporary American classrooms tend to be student-centered; students are expected to ask questions during lectures, discuss ideas and even disagree with instructors and peers, and engage in self-directed learning activities. In contrast, some cultures value teacher-centered classrooms where learners are expected to listen respectfully as teachers share their expertise. International students and recent immigrants who are accustomed to teacher-centered instruction may be uncomfortable during discussions and student-led activities and may even feel instructors are abdicating their responsibility to share expertise. They may also be reluctant to “bother” the instructor by asking questions or admitting they did not understand something. Culturally competent instructors can attend to these differences by interspersing discussion and active learning with direct instruction, encouraging questions and participation in discussions, and explaining how the planned activities support learning. In addition, librarians can create more culturally inclusive classrooms by:

  • Speaking slowly and clearly, especially when working with learners from different cultures and language backgrounds.
  • Avoiding slang, idioms, and sarcasm, none of which translates well across cultures, and using humor judiciously.
  • Avoiding library jargon, which is likely to be unfamiliar to international students and recent immigrants, as well as to novice learners in general.
  • Respecting cross-cultural rules for personal space and touching.
  • Making expectations for participation explicit.

Cultural differences may surface in surprising ways. Bunner (2017, p. 43) provides an example of a student who got in trouble for answering a question in class, not realizing that the teacher was asking a rhetorical question, something that does not exist in his culture. The student explained, “in my culture when an adult asks you a question, you are supposed to answer.” Osa et al. (2006) highlight the care we must take in using or interpreting body language and facial expressions; they provide the example of raised eyebrows, which can indicate surprise, interest, approval, skepticism, or disapproval, depending on the culture of the speaker. Whether or not to make eye contact as a sign of respect and the appropriate finger with which to point also differ by culture.

These are only a few examples of cultural differences. Cultural differences also influence written and conversational communication styles, preferences for individual or cooperative problem solving and study, tolerance for uncertainty, conventions of politeness, and expectations for how children will interact with adults (Brook et al., 2015; Cifuentes & Ozel, 2006; Gay, 2002; Weinstein et al., 2003). Activity 5.3 asks you to think about cultural differences you have experienced.

Activity 5.3: Reflecting on Cultural Differences

Think of a specific instance of a cultural difference or misunderstanding that you have observed.

  • What behaviors were central to the situation?
  • What values, beliefs, or assumptions are reflected in the behaviors of each person involved?
  • How might these values, beliefs, or assumptions influence a person’s experience in the classroom?
  • How might your recognition of these values, beliefs, and assumptions impact your understanding of your students and your instruction?

In order to provide culturally competent instruction, librarians must develop their cultural knowledge and translate that knowledge into strategies for action. Villagran (2018) suggests librarians use the Cultural Intelligence (CQ) model as a framework for reflection and professional development. This model, shown in Figure 5.1, has four components: drive, knowledge, strategy, and action (Cultural Intelligence Center, n.d.).

  • Drive: This component reflects our interest, persistence, and confidence in learning about other cultures and working in culturally diverse environments. For example, librarians might be motivated to learn about other cultures in order to improve their ability to design and deliver inclusive services for members of their community.
  • Knowledge: This component is our understanding of cultural similarities and differences. Instruction librarians who want to improve their cross-cultural knowledge might seek out readings and professional development opportunities on how culture impacts teaching and learning.
  • Strategy: This component reflects the metacognitive element of cultural competence; it is our ability to plan for and reflect on multicultural encounters. Culturally competent instruction librarians recognize their learners will come from varied backgrounds, develop strategies to create inclusive instruction, and reflect on their teaching experiences in order to identify areas for improvement.
  • Action: This component is our ability to use appropriate behaviors during multicultural interactions. Instruction librarians can translate cultural competence into action through their instructional design and delivery and through their interactions with individual learners.

Figure 5.1: The Cultural Intelligence Model

advantages and disadvantages of critical thinking in the classroom

An example may demonstrate how librarians can use the Cultural Intelligence model as a guide to professional development. Early in her career as an academic librarian, one of the authors, Melissa, heard that international students from Asia would answer questions such as “Do you understand?” with “yes” out of politeness, whether or not they understood the material being taught. Concerned that she might not be teaching international students effectively (drive), Melissa sought out articles about library services for international students and talked with a colleague with expertise in the area (knowledge). This research helped her better understand cultural differences in teaching and learning, and confirmed the need to modify the instructional strategies she used in the classroom and at the reference desk (strategy). As a result, Melissa became conscientious about speaking slowly, avoiding slang and library jargon, using open-ended questions that could not be answered with “yes,” providing written handouts, and using a pencil or her entire hand to point, instead of the index finger (action).

Librarians can use a number of strategies to develop their cultural knowledge, including reading books and articles, participating in relevant conferences and webinars, and attending cultural events such as festivals, museum exhibits, and film screenings. Reflection is an important part of cultural competence; a teaching journal, discussed in more detail in Chapter 14, can prompt librarians to reflect on classroom experiences, record teaching success, and identify areas for improvement. Conversations with colleagues are also a way to increase cultural knowledge, reflect on one’s teaching, and develop new strategies for inclusive pedagogy. Activity 5.4 is an exercise to reflect on your own learning and instructional practices using the Cultural Intelligence model.

Activity 5.4: Building Cultural Competency

Using the Cultural Intelligence Model shown in Figure 5.1, reflect on your cultural competence, either in general or with regard to a specific patron group with whom you anticipate working.

  • How would you rate your cultural competence? Are you stronger in some areas, such as Drive or Knowledge, than others?
  • What motivates you to improve your cultural competency?
  • How have you built your cultural knowledge? What resources can you use to continue building your knowledge?
  • Do you feel confident applying your cultural competence in the classroom? What strategies would you use as you plan and deliver instruction?

While learning about different cultures can empower librarians to provide more culturally relevant instruction, librarians should avoid categorizing or stereotyping specific learners. Cultural groups are not static or homogeneous, meaning learners from the same broad cultural group will not necessarily share all of the same values, beliefs, and understandings, or react in exactly the same way to instructional experiences. In addition, learners are comprised of multiple identities, of which culture is only one aspect. Thus, we should use the knowledge we develop about different cultures as a way to be alert to potential differences that could lead to misunderstandings, but not to pigeonhole or predict the behavior and experience of an individual learner.

Strategies for Inclusive Teaching

Increasing our knowledge and understanding of other cultures is only a first step toward cultural competence and inclusive teaching. We also need to parlay that understanding into instructional practices that acknowledge, appreciate, and attend to the rich diversity of our classrooms. This section presents strategies for inclusive teaching, including fostering a positive classroom climate, integrating diverse content, and using inclusive pedagogies.

Fostering a Positive Classroom Climate

Our sense of belonging in the classroom influences our motivation to learn. The Center for Teaching and Learning (2019) at Columbia University identifies four types of classroom environments:

  • Explicitly Marginalizing: The instructor or other students say or do things, such as committing microaggressions or repeating stereotypes, that exclude learners and perspectives from marginalized backgrounds.
  • Implicitly Marginalizing: The instructor excludes some learners through subtle actions such as calling primarily on male students or using examples solely from the predominant culture.
  • Implicitly Centralizing: The instructor will discuss issues of marginalization and diversity if a student raises the topic, but such conversations are not planned or presented as essential.
  • Explicitly Centralizing: The instructor intentionally integrates marginalized perspectives into course content, raises issues of diversity and inclusion, and takes action to foster sensitivity, such as establishing norms for discussion and group work.

While the environment in any classroom can fluctuate, the overall classroom climate is often less inclusive and welcoming than instructors realize. In one study, instructors rated their course as falling midway between implicitly and explicitly centralizing, while learners rated the same course as implicitly marginalizing (Center for Teaching and Learning, 2019).

One conclusion we might take away from this research is the need for critical self-reflection on the part of instructors. In addition, the research suggests that instructors must make a concerted effort to create an inclusive classroom environment. Some strategies we can use include:

  • Express interest in students. Welcoming participants as they enter the room and learning their names help participants feel recognized (if you are worried about remembering names, you can have them create a table tent or name tag). In addition, instructors should come out from behind podiums, which can be perceived as distancing, to engage with participants. Reflective activities such as minute papers also offer opportunities to respond to individuals and demonstrate interest in their learning (Center for Teaching and Learning, n.d.; Bunner, 2017).
  • Establish ground rules for discussions. Establishing guidelines for civil, constructive interaction is becoming more common in credit courses; oftentimes, instructors engage students in creating these guidelines in order to foster a sense of ownership. The time constraints of library workshops may not allow for lengthy or collaborative agreements; however, librarians can establish simple ground rules, such as respecting the opinions of others and valuing diverse perspectives, at the beginning of sessions (Watts, 2017).
  • Foster student-to-student relationships. Instructional strategies that foster interaction such as think-pair-share, small group work, and class discussions promote positive classroom relationships.
  • Make expectations explicit. As mentioned earlier, cultural background can influence classroom behaviors such as participation styles and how, or whether, to ask questions. Instructors should make their expectations explicit with comments such as “I hope you will ask a lot of questions as we go along,” or “Right now we are going to work independently, but later we’ll share our work with others.”
  • Express high expectations for all students. Instructors should use an encouraging, positive tone, while also setting high expectations for all learners. Gay (2002) and Weinstein et al. (2003) point out that stereotypes based on race and/or gender can cause instructors to lower expectations for certain groups of students. Weinstein et al. (2003) offer the example of a non-native speaker of English who was offended when a teacher told him his English was “good,” rather than suggesting he continue to practice. He felt the former was patronizing and did not help him improve his language skills.
  • Address microaggressions and other forms of bias. As discussed earlier, instructors should be mindful of stereotypes and take care not to perpetuate them, and to practice intervention strategies that can be used when microaggressions occur in the classroom.
  • Ask for feedback. Instructors can use course evaluations and classroom observations to gather feedback on how well they foster an inclusive classroom environment.

Integrating Diverse Content

All learners have a right to instructional offerings that address their needs and interests. At the program level, we should offer workshops and other instructional resources on a wide variety of topics that are suitable for patrons of varied ages and ability levels. We should take care to schedule classes and programs at varied times to ensure access for the widest number of people. For example, a traditional storytime program on a weekday morning will serve families with a stay-at-home parent as well as families where parents work the late shift or on weekends, while a pajama storytime held in the evening will serve families where parents and other caregivers work during the day.

In addition, our course content should reflect the diversity of our communities and the larger world. Not only does this allow learners to “see” themselves in the curriculum, it provides opportunities for all learners to learn about diversity and equity and to develop cultural competence. In addition, integrating discussions of diversity and equity throughout the curriculum ensures these issues are not “othered” or treated as an addendum to a curriculum where whiteness and heterosexuality are the norm. Further, we must engage these topics in authentic ways, rather than with benign or superficial celebrations of multiculturalism (Bunner, 2017, p. 42; Kumasi & Hill, 2011, p. 252). Some strategies librarians can use to integrate diversity and inclusion into instructional content:

  • Use diverse examples. For instance, a librarian teaching a workshop on Overdrive can conduct sample searches featuring authors of diverse identities. An academic librarian or archivist teaching students to locate primary documents from World War II might highlight sites with materials from the Tuskegee Airmen or the all Japanese-American 442nd Regiment. Hinchliffe (2016) notes that librarians can call attention to issues of human rights through the examples used in class.
  • Choose metaphors and analogies carefully. While metaphors and analogies can help learners build on prior knowledge and make concepts more concrete, they are often embedded in cultural knowledge or experiences that not everyone will share. Similarly, pop culture references may exclude learners based on their age or cultural background, although in some cases librarians can pause to offer a brief explanation.
  • Discuss how issues of race, class, and gender impact the material being covered. Gorski and Swalwell (2015, p. 36) argue, “at the heart of a curriculum that is meaningfully multicultural lie principles of equity and social justice—purposeful attention to issues like racism, homophobia, sexism, and economic inequality.” Gay (2002) suggests that instructors address topics such as racism, historical atrocities, and structures of power, and contextualize issues within race, class, and gender. While librarians may initially feel uncomfortable discussing challenging topics in the classroom, Bunner (2017, p. 43) found that ignoring issues of race is more problematic for students of color than imperfect conversations.
  • Model how participants can seek out marginalized voices and perspectives. In addition to incorporating a wide range of perspectives into our own teaching, we can encourage others to adopt a wider perspective and demonstrate resources and search strategies to uncover marginalized voices.

As part of creating a more inclusive curriculum, librarians will need to build collections that incorporate the histories and voices of marginalized groups. After all, it will be difficult to use diverse examples or demonstrate strategies for surfacing marginalized voices if our print and online collections do not contain that material. In addition, we need to be skilled at working within these collections. Curry (2005, p. 70) found that small behaviors like raised eyebrows, biting one’s lip, or a reserved or even neutral affect communicated discomfort while helping a patron research LGBTQIA+ topics, leading the patron to be less likely to ask for help in the future. In the same study, Curry (2005, p. 71) found that even librarians who indicated a willingness to help the patron lacked the necessary knowledge to identify appropriate sources of information. While Curry’s study focused on assisting patrons at the reference desk, her findings are very applicable to the classroom.

Part and parcel with building our knowledge of resources, we must understand the biases and weaknesses built into existing search systems, and develop strategies to find information within (or despite) those systems. Drabinski (2008) shares her experience of teaching with a colleague who incorrectly assumed that if LCSH has a heading for “African American women,” it must also have a heading for “white women” and advised students to use that phrase when searching. Noble (2012, 2018) shows that search engines such as Google are not neutral; rather, they replicate the biases inherent in society, delivering search results that reinforce stereotypical depictions of women and people of color. Ultimately, librarians who are committed to integrating equity and inclusion into the classroom must step back to look at the totality of their library’s spaces, collections, and systems.

Inclusive Pedagogy

Pedagogy is our approach to teaching. It reflects our understanding of the learning process, our goals for the classroom environment and student learning, and, subsequently, the activities one plans for the classroom. Instructors who practice inclusive pedagogy recognize that students have varied preferences for and comfort levels with different learning activities such as lecture, whole-class discussion, and small group work, and offer varied ways for learners to engage in the classroom.

Instructors can select from a wide variety of activities when planning instructional sessions. In fact, novice instructors are sometimes overwhelmed by the seemingly endless array of options. Chávez and Longerbeam (2016, pp. 8-9) suggest cultural approaches to teaching and learning range from “individuated,” which tend to compartmentalize content and treat learning as an individual experience, to “integrated,” which are more interconnected and focus on shared learning experiences. Instructors might seek to balance activities that reflect an individuated approach such as lecture, independent practice, and reflective writing, with activities that reflect an integrated approach such as discussion, case studies, and collaborative work.

Another approach we can take is balancing instructor-centered and learner-centered activities. Instructor-centered activities are those in which the instructor has a strong role in directing course content and the process of student learning, such as lecture and demonstration. In student-centered activities, students direct and shape their own learning; examples of student-centered activities include small group work, case-based and problem-based learning, and practice exercises that allow students to explore their own interests.

In addition to varying classroom activities, instructors can offer learners choices. For example, during an online searching activity, we might give learners the option of trying a task on their own or collaborating with their neighbor. Instructors can also adapt activities to create a more inclusive environment. For example, workshop participants might be reluctant to engage in a discussion with others they do not know well, especially if the topic is sensitive. A think-pair-share, which offers time for individual reflection and ordering one’s thoughts, or a small group discussion, where one shares ideas with just a few others, may feel safer for participants and can be used as a lead-in to a whole-class discussion or activity.

Emancipatory Education

While inclusive pedagogy outlines the strategies we can take as instructors to honor our learners’ experiences and make our classrooms and instruction welcoming and accessible to all learners, critical pedagogy also recognizes learners as agents in the classroom and in the world. In Pedagogy of the Oppressed , Freire (2000) discusses the emancipatory aspects of education, or how education can be structured so as to empower marginalized and oppressed communities to liberate themselves from systems of oppression. Crucial to Freire’s approach is that the learners are the agents of their own liberation. Instructors can facilitate this process by recognizing and mitigating bias and through the inclusive strategies outlined in this chapter, but ultimately, learners should be empowered to act on their own behalf.

We can foster emancipatory education within the library classroom by surfacing oppressive practices not only within education but within library systems and structures, facilitating dialogues about these practices, and encouraging students to imagine and adopt roles for themselves in challenging those systems. Chapter 2 outlines steps we could take in the context of critical information literacy, such as helping students recognize how prevailing publishing practices and notions of authority favor some voices and marginalize others, and encouraging them to seek out those voices that have been marginalized to include their perspectives. We can also work with learners to take action in the wider world, as librarians at Dartmouth College did when they collaborated with students to petition the Library of Congress to eliminate the term “illegal aliens” from its official subject headings (Albright, 2019).

Our learners bring varied backgrounds, identities, and educational needs to the classroom. Using critical pedagogy as a guide, librarians can adopt inclusive teaching practices that create classrooms, libraries, and, ultimately, communities that are more just and equitable for all members.

Key takeaways from this chapter include:

  • Instructors should understand the role unconscious bias plays in discrimination and inequity, and develop strategies to prevent and address microaggressions, othering, and deficit thinking.
  • Cultural competence is a set of knowledge, skills, and dispositions that enable librarians to interact effectively with patrons from diverse backgrounds. Instruction librarians need to understand how culture affects teaching and learning, and develop strategies for inclusive pedagogy.
  • Elements of inclusive teaching include fostering a positive classroom climate, integrating diverse perspectives and issues of diversity and equity into course content, and using inclusive pedagogies.

Activity 5.5 asks you to reflect on inclusive teaching.

Activity 5.5: Reflecting on Inclusive Teaching

Find (or draw) an image, photo, gif, etc., that captures your thoughts on inclusive teaching. Share your image and a brief explanation with your classmates.

Suggested Readings

Accardi, M. T., Drabinski, E., & Kumbier, A. (Eds.). (2010). Critical library instruction: Theories and methods . Library Juice Press.

Edited by leading writers on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion in LIS, this book offers a series of authored chapters that apply feminist, critical race, queer, and anti-oppressive theory and strategies to the library classroom. Chapters range from a broad examination of social power in the library classroom to application of specific strategies such as service learning and problem-based learning.

Adichie, C. N. (2009). The Danger of a Single Story. TED: Ideas Worth Spreading . https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_ngozi_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story

Adichie’s warning about how seeing others through a “single story” reflects systems of power and leads to deficit thinking is an important one for instruction librarians.

Banaji, M. R., & Greenwald, A. G. (2013). Blind spot: Hidden biases of good people . Delacorte.

Based on the authors’ extensive research, this is an excellent and highly readable introduction to unconscious bias.

Bunner, T. (2017). When we listen: Using student voices to design culturally responsive and just schools.  Knowledge Quest, 45(3), 38–45.

Bunner worked with students in grades 4 through 12 to identify strategies for culturally responsive teaching. In this article, she outlines six strategies and uses student voices to illustrate their importance and examples of successful implementation. The article includes an activity where instructors can reflect on their own practice.

Ettarh, F. (2018). Vocational awe and librarianship: The lies we tell ourselves. In the Library with the Lead Pipe . http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2018/vocational-awe/

Ettarh coined the term “vocational awe” to describe the perception that librarianship is a calling that requires sacrifice. As a result of vocational awe, librarians are hesitant or unable to critique libraries and the work of librarians, not only leading to workplace problems but oftentimes preventing us from solving (or even acknowledging) those problems.

Feminist Teacher . https://feministteacher.com .

By noted critical pedagogist Ileana Jiménez, this blog explores a variety of issues around critical pedagogy, diversity, equity, and inclusion in teaching, with a focus on the K-12 classroom.

Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the oppressed (30th anniversary edition). Bloomsbury.

Freire’s foundational text examines the ways in which traditional models of education replicate oppressive structures and argues for an educational model that centers the learners’ experiences in order to empower them to challenge those systems.

Gay, G. (2002). Preparing for culturally responsive teaching. Journal of Teacher Education, 53(2), 106-116. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022487102053002003

Gay provides four strategies for culturally responsive pedagogy: developing knowledge about cultural diversity, designing culturally relevant curricula, developing cross-cultural communication skills, and demonstrating caring.

Inclusive teaching: Supporting all students in the college classroom. Center for Teaching. Columbia University. https://www.edx.org/course/inclusive-teaching-supporting-all-students-in-the

Available from edX, this professional development course offers a thoughtful introduction to inclusive teaching. Although aimed at faculty teaching credit courses, instructors in all types of libraries will find valuable tips for creating an inclusive classroom environment, diversifying content, and engaging in critical self-reflection. A print resource with similar information, Guide to inclusive teaching at Columbia , is available online at https://ctl.columbia.edu/resources-and-technology/inclusive-teaching-resources/ and numerous videos from the course are available from Columbia Learn on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/user/CCNMTL/playlists?view=50&sort=dd&shelf_id=26

Jensen, R. (2004). The myth of the neutral professional. Progressive Librarian, 24, 28-34. http://www.progressivelibrariansguild.org/PL/PL24/028.pdf

Jensen challenges the myth of neutrality within libraries, arguing that to claim to be neutral is to support the existing political system. His critique of library programming is particularly relevant for instruction librarians.

Leckie, G. J., Given, L. M, & Buschman, J. E. (2010). Critical theory for library and information science: Exploring the social from across the disciplines . Libraries Unlimited.

Through a series of essays, chapter authors explore various aspects of library and information science through different critical lenses and apply the work of specific theorists to examine current practices in LIS. Chapter 8 proposes a model for transformative pedagogy based on the work of Freire, but readers will find inspiration and ideas for integrating critical theory into their work throughout the text.

McCombs School of Business. (2018). Implicit bias. University of Texas. https://ethicsunwrapped.utexas.edu/video/implicit-bias

This brief, nine-minute video offers a cogent introduction to unconscious bias.

Southern Poverty Law Center. (2015). Speaking up: Responding to everyday bigotry. https://www.splcenter.org/20150125/speak-responding-everyday-bigotry

The Southern Poverty Law Center offers strategies and scripts for responding to microaggressions and other forms of bigotry in workplace, educational, social, and family settings.

Souza, T. (2018, April 30). Responding to microaggressions in the classroom: Taking ACTION. Faculty Focus . https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/effective-classroom-management/responding-to-microaggressions-in-the-classroom

Souza provides a framework and helpful scripts for instructors to address microaggressions.

Storti, C. (1997). Culture matters: The Peace Corps cross-cultural workbook. Peace Corps Information Collection and Exchange. https://files.peacecorps.gov/multimedia/pdf/library/T0087_culturematters.pdf

Developed for Peace Corps volunteers, this interactive workbook is an excellent introduction to cultural competence. Chapters address how people of different cultures understand the concept of self, personal and social obligations, time, and locus of control, and how these differences impact communication, interpersonal relationships, and the workplace.

Sue, D. W., Alsaidi, S., Awad, M. N., Glaeser, E., Calle, C. Z., & Mendez, N. (2019). Disarming racial microaggressions: Microintervention strategies for targets, white allies, and bystanders. American Psychologist, 74 (1) , 128-42. https://doi.org/10.1037/amp0000296

Sue et al. provide a concise introduction to microaggressions and the harm they cause and suggest strategies that targets, allies, and bystanders can use to disarm them. Although the discussion and examples focus on racial microaggressions, the strategies are applicable to all types of microaggressions.

Tewell, E. (2015). A decade of critical information literacy: A review of the literature. Communications in Information Literacy, 9 (1) , 24-43. https://doi.org/10.15760/comminfolit.2015.9.1.174

Tewell provides a concise, cogent explanation of critical pedagogy and its application to library instruction.

Weinstein, C., Curran, M., & Tomlinson-Clarke, S. (2003). Culturally responsive classroom management: Awareness into action. Theory into Practice, 42(4), 269-276. https://doi.org/10.1207/s15430421tip4204_2

This article is rich with examples of how culture affects expectations for teaching and learning, and provides strategies for developing a culturally responsive classroom practice.

Albright, C. (2019, April 22). ‘Change the subject’: A hard-fought battle over words. Dartmouth News . https://news.dartmouth.edu/news/2019/04/change-subject-hard-fought-battle-over-words

Berman, S. (1969, February 15). Chauvinistic headings. Library Journal, 94, 695.

Berman, S. (1993). Prejudices and antipathies: A tract on the LC subject heads concerning people. McFarland.

Bertrand, M., & Mullainathan, S. (2003). Are Emily and Greg more employable than Lakisha and Jamal? A field experiment on labor market discrimination (NBER Working Paper No 9873). https://www.nber.org/papers/w9873

Bourdieu, P., & Passeron, J.C. (2000). Reproduction in education, society, and culture (2nd edition). Sage Publications.

Brook, F., Ellenwood, D., & Lazzaro, A. E. (2015). In pursuit of antiracist social justice: Denaturalizing whiteness in the academic library.  Library Trends, 64, 246-284. https://doi.org/10.1353/lib.2015.0048

Bunner, T. (2017). When we listen.  Knowledge Quest, 45(3), 38–45.

Center for Teaching and Learning. (n.d.). Guide to inclusive teaching at Columbia . Columbia University. https://ctl.columbia.edu/resources-and-technology/inclusive-teaching-resources/

Center for Teaching and Learning. (2019). Common challenges related to course climate [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=441&v=blM6IPlu2nM

Chávez, A. F., & Longerbeam, S. D. (2016). Teaching across cultural strengths: A guide to balancing integrated and individuated cultural frameworks in college teaching. Stylus.

Cifuentes, L., & Ozel, S. (2006). Resources for attending to the needs of multicultural learners. Knowledge Quest, 35 (2) , 14-21.

Cooke, N. A., Spencer, K., Jacobs, J. M., Mabbott, C., Collins, C., & Loyd, R. M. (2017). Mapping topographies from the classroom: Addressing whiteness in the LIS curriculum. In G. Schlesselman-Tarango (Ed.), Topographies of whiteness: Mapping whiteness in library and information science (pp. 235-250). Library Juice Press.

Cultural Intelligence Center. (n.d.). CQ model. https://culturalq.com/about-cultural-intelligence/research/

Curry, A. (2005). If I ask, will they answer? Evaluating public library reference service to gay and lesbian youth. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 45, 65-75.

Drabinski, E. (2008). Teaching the radical catalog. In K. R. Roberto (Ed.), Radical cataloging: Essays at the front . McFarland. http://www.emilydrabinski.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/drabinski_radcat.pdf

Elmborg, J. (2006). Critical information literacy: Implications for instructional practice. Journal of Academic Librarianship, 32 (2) , 192-9. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.acalib.2005.12.004

Ferguson, S. (2015). Calling in: A quick guide on when and how. Everyday Feminism . https://everydayfeminism.com/2015/01/guide-to-calling-in/

Gay, G. (2002). Preparing for culturally responsive teaching. Journal of Teacher Education, 53 (2) , 106-116. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022487102053002003

Goldin, C., & Rouse, C. (2000). Orchestrating impartiality: The impact of “blind” auditions on female musicians. American Economic Review, 90 (4) , 715-741. https://doi.org/10.1257/aer.90.4.715

Gonzaga, A. M., Ufomata, E., Bonifacino, E., & Zimmer, S. (2019, August 29). Microaggressions: What are they? How can we avoid? How can we respond? [PowerPoint slides]. https://www.chp.edu/-/media/chp/healthcare-professionals/documents/faculty-development/microaggressions.pdf?la=en

Gorski, P. C., & Swalwell, K. (2015). Equity Literacy for All. Educational Leadership, 72(6), 34-40.

Heinbach, C., Fiedler, B. P., Mitola, R., & Pattni, E. (2019, February 6). Dismantling deficit thinking: A strengths-based inquiry into the experiences of transfer students in and out of academia. In the Library with the Lead Pipe. http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2019/dismantling-deficit-thinking/

Hinchliffe, L. J. (2016). Loading examples to further human rights education. In N. Pagowsky & K. McElroy (Eds.), Critical library pedagogy handbook 1: Essays and workbook activities (pp. 75-84). ACRL. http://hdl.handle.net/2142/91636

Howard, S. A., & Knowlton, S. A. (2018). Browsing through bias: The Library of Congress classification and subject headings for African American studies and LGBTQIA studies. Library Trends, 67 (1) , 74-88. http://doi.org/10.1353/lib.2018.0026

Ilett, D. (2019). A critical review of LIS literature on first-generation students. portal: Libraries and the Academy, 19 (1) , 177-96. http://doi.org/10.1353/pla.2019.0009

Kim, K., & Sin, S. J. (2006). Recruiting and retaining students of color in LIS programs: Perspectives of library and information professionals. Journal of Education for Library and Information Science, 47 (2) , 81-95.

Knowlton, S. A. (2005). Three decades since Prejudices and Antipathies : A study of changes in the Library of Congress Subject Headings. Cataloging and Classification Quarterly , 40 (2), 123-145. https://doi.org/10.1300/J104v40n02_08

Kocevar-Weidinger, E., Cox, E., Lenker, M., Pashkova-Balkenhol, T. T., & Kinman, V. (2019). On their own terms: First-year student interviews about everyday life research can help librarians flip the deficit script.  Reference Services Review, 47 (2) , 169–192.   https://doi.org/10.1108/RSR-02-2019-0007

Kumasi, K. D., & Hill, R. F. (2011). Are we there yet? Results of a gap analysis to measure LIS students’ prior knowledge and actual learning of cultural competence concepts. Journal of Education for Library and Information Science, 52 (4) , 251-264.

Longwell-Grice, R., Adsitt, N. Z., Mullins, K., & Serrata, W. (2016). The first ones: Three studies on first-generation college students.” NACADA Journal, 36(2), 34-46. https://doi.org/10.12930/NACADA-13-028

Matteson, M. L., & Gersch, B. (2019). Unique or ubiquitous: Information literacy instruction outside academia. Reference Services Review 47 (1) , 73-84. https://doi.org/10.1108/RSR-12-2018-0075

Morris, V. J. (2007, January). A seat at the table: Seeking culturally competent pedagogy in library education [Conference presentation]. American Library Association Midwinter Meeting / Association of Library and Information Science Education Annual Conference, Forum on Library Education, Seattle, WA, United States. http://www.pages.drexel.edu/~gdc27/final/documents/seatatthetable.pdf

Noble, S. U. (2012, Spring). Missed connections: What search engines say about women. Bitch, 54 . https://safiyaunoble.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/54_search_engines.pdf

Noble, S. U. (2018). Algorithms of oppression: How search engines reinforce racism . New York University.

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Portnoi, L. M., & Kwong, T. M. (2011). Enhancing the academic experiences of first-generation master’s students. Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, 48 (4) , 411-27. https://doi.org/10.2202/1949-6605.6268

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Schingler, M. A. (2015, August 18). How Dewey do: Head-scratching library categorizations. Book Riot. https://bookriot.com/2015/08/18/head-scratching-dewey-decimal-systemhead-scratching-dewey-decimal-system-categorizations/

Shachaf, P., & Horowitz, S. (2006). Are virtual reference services color blind? Library & Information Science Research, 28 (4) , 501-20. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lisr.2006.08.009

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Instruction in Libraries and Information Centers Copyright © 2020 by Laura Saunders and Melissa A. Wong is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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The Benefits of Critical Thinking & How to develop it

March 01, 2023

The Benefits of Critical Thinking & How to develop it

Before we proceed to understand the importance and benefits of critical thinking for students, it is important to understand what critical thinking is.

Critical thinking is the mode of thinking about any subject, problem, or content. It skillfully thinks. Later, it implements and inherent those intellectual thoughts upon them. The best part of critical thinking is, it improves the quality of thinking.

It has intellectual values like clarity, sound evidence, precision, good reasons, relevance, consistency, depth, breadth, and fairness.

Critical thinking requires a proper process, it involves skillfully conceptualizing, analyzing different aspects, synthesizing, most importantly evaluating whatever information is gathered, keenly observing all factors, and experiencing the overall view.

Now let us understand the benefits of critical thinking.

1] it helps to improve decision making.

Critical thinking will let you make decisions by yourself. It will help you improve decision-making.

For students, while making career decisions or making a new career move, it is crucial to make quick decisions, and hence critical thinking plays a vital role here.

2] Enhances problem-solving ability

Problem-Solving is the key skill required for adapting to changes and facing challenges.

This skill of critical thinking should be developed by students to avoid making any situation complex and help find a solution to it.

For instance, two people in the same situation have been given and asked to find a solution. One person might take 5 minutes yet can’t give a relevant solution, whereas another person with problem-solving ability will dedicate enough time to research and provide a relevant solution.

Read Here: The Importance of Problem-Solving Skills & How to Develop Them

3] refine your research skills.

Critical Thinking will refine your research skills, moreover will help you research accurately by observing, analyzing, synthesizing, and experimenting with every aspect in detail for a better result.

4] Polishes your creativity

It will help you polish your creative side. Creativity unquestionably defines itself as a requisite skill in the collaborative modern workforce. As critical thinking will surely polish your creativity.

5] Stimulates Curiosity

It stimulates curiosity in you to find the right solution for the problem or the subject you are working on. Curiosity will let you dig and delve deeper to get a better result. This factor will let you stay a lifelong learner.

All these aspects of critical thinking play a vital role in Banking and financial sector. If you are seeking to develop these crucial skills, then you must certainly opt for ‘ Thandomal Shahani Centre for Management ’ institute based in Mulund, Mumbai.

It is one of the Best institutes, aids in developing critical thinking with its innovative teaching methodology, and focuses on comprehensive development, providing students with a globally relevant curriculum, and international faculty members who have hands-on business leadership.

Additionally, If you want to enroll in Professional Diploma in Banking, Financial Services, and Insurance (PDBFSI) or top global MBA courses, you can visit the site for detailed information where you will find the program, curriculum, specializations, certifications, eligibility criteria, and everything related to it.

Now lets us learn how to develop Critical Thinking skills

– ask questions.

For developing critical skills, it is important to ask more questions. The more you ask questions, the more the curiosity and quest to learn increase. The questions will clarify your thinking, and conceptualizing and analyzing will become more accessible through it.

– Scrutinize the consequences

By asking questions, you have the availability of various options. However, you must not make a hasty decision. You have to scrutinize the consequences of each option and accordingly take a decision. Therefore, it will lead to solving your problems.

– Become Active Listener

To be a critical thinker, you need to first be an active listener. You will ask numerous questions to satisfy your quest, but to know the answers, you need to be a good listener too. Listen to different people’s thoughts, views, and opinions; these will help you form your own decisions.

Know what are the advantages of developing Critical Thinking Skills

advantages of developing critical thinking skills

Now that you know the importance and advantages of critical thinking.

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What Are the Benefits of Critical Thinking Skills?

Kori morgan.

Critical thinking can help you assess ideas and build well-supported arguments.

From solving problems in class assignments to facing real world situations, critical thinking is a valuable skill for students to master. Critical thinking is the ability to analyze the way you think and present evidence for your ideas, rather than simply accepting your personal reasoning as sufficient proof. You can gain numerous benefits from mastering critical thinking skills, such as better control of your own learning and empathy for other points of view.

Explore this article

  • Autonomous Learning
  • Relying on teachers and classroom time
  • Higher Achievement
  • Learning critical thinking skills
  • Appropriate Emotional Appeal
  • 's to let your emotions
  • Teamwork and Empathy

1 Autonomous Learning

2 relying on teachers and classroom time.

Rather than relying on teachers and classroom time for instruction and guidance, students with critical thinking skills become more independent, self-directed learners. Researcher Jane Qinjuan Zhang writes that critical thinking enables students to assess their learning styles, strengths and weaknesses, and allows them to take ownership of their education. For example, students in an English class might write reflective letters about how their writing has improved and what they still need to work on. This lets them view their performance objectively and reach conclusions about what goals they can set next for their work.

3 Higher Achievement

4 learning critical thinking skills.

Learning critical thinking skills can also enhance your academic performance. According to Linda Elder and Richard Paul, authors of "Critical Thinking Development: A Stage Theory," students who know how to analyze and critique ideas are able to make connections across disciplines, see knowledge as useful and applicable to daily life and understand content on a deeper, more lasting level. For example, AP United States History students learn to analyze and compare historical events. Writing about history can therefore help them better understand its relevance and application to present-day concerns.

5 Appropriate Emotional Appeal

6 's to let your emotions.

It's easy to let your emotions take over when making an important decision or arguing for your opinion, especially if you are personally invested in it. However, "Why Critical Thinking?", a report from York University, asserts that critical thinking can help you effectively use emotional appeal, letting your feelings influence, but not control your reasoning. For example, a public speaking student arguing for health care reform might share a personal story about a relative who struggles with getting insurance, but also provide solid supporting evidence from credible sources to support this position.

7 Teamwork and Empathy

8 ultimately.

Ultimately, critical thinking skills help you to better understand the experiences and views of others, enhancing your ability to work with different people. For example, the Scholastic Parents article "Think About It: Critical Thinking" shares that group activities let elementary school students hear their peers' ideas for accomplishing a task, rather than zeroing in on their own thoughts. This not only shows them that any given problem can have multiple solutions, but lets them work together to agree on one idea. Activities like this teach students to cooperate rather than make judgments or assumptions.

  • 1 University of Sydney: Orientation Lecture Series: Learning to Learn: Developing Critical Thinking Skills
  • 2 The Critical Thinking Community: Critical Thinking Development: A Stage Theory
  • 3 Scholastic Parents: Think About It: Critical Thinking

About the Author

Kori Morgan holds a Bachelor of Arts in professional writing and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and has been crafting online and print educational materials since 2006. She taught creative writing and composition at West Virginia University and the University of Akron and her fiction, poetry and essays have appeared in numerous literary journals.

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🌲The Difficulties of Teaching Critical Thinking

Teaching critical thinking in an optimal way is pretty hard when a course has a strict content or assessment focused pacing guide.

Eleanor Konik

I write stories & articles inspired by all eras of history & science... so I wind up putting notetaking software like Obsidian & Readwise thru their paces.

Note: This blog post was originally written for my Master Degree’s in Leadership in Teaching via Notre Dame of Maryland University. For readability, I’ve removed some of the inline citations, added some clarification, and omitted some of the academic formatting. If anybody wants my full references list or a copy of the original paper, I’m happy to send it along, but I’m sharing it here because some folks have demonstrated an interested in the sorts of teaching meta I’ve described in The Difficultues of Teaching Notetaking.

The educational priorities of a society are an ever-shifting goalpost that are inherently impacted by labor needs, technology, and values. From apprenticeship systems in Medieval Europe to bureaucratic tests in Imperial China to the famous universities of Timbuktu , the nature of what is taught to adolescents of various social classes, why it is taught, and how it is taught has shifted drastically over time. As the global community moves into the Information Age, lecture and memorization-based methods of education have become increasingly outmoded.

Note: By “outmoded,” I mean I not only don’t use them in my teaching, neither did my teachers 15 years ago. I still cringe every time I read a modern article criticizing “traditional teaching,” as though it’s at all normal to see lecture-based memorization in a normal American classroom.

My 8th grade Social Studies teacher made this point to me as far back as the 1990s. I visited his classroom at the end of the school year and asked why I hadn’t learned more about a particular topic of interest that I no longer recall – but I remember his response vividly. Although search engines & personal computers were still relatively new in the popular consciousness of the time, he explained that knowledge of dates and names was less important in a world where that information was easier to access than at any time previous, and so skills, not facts, were what he wanted to impart.

He was hardly alone in that opinion. A common criticism of modern education systems that they do not do enough to teach the critical thinking skills that modern students need to be successful in the workforce.

Development of the Common Core State Standards began in 2009 in part to address this precise problem. The trend is continuing. In the last 3 years of my teaching career, my district moved away from multiple-choice tests in grades 6 thru 12 Social Studies to assessing using Document Based Questions (DBQs). These test the student’s ability to analyze sources, make connections, and craft compelling arguments instead of relying primarily on knowledge.

What is the best way to assess critical thinking?

Critical thinking skills are a key component of being “ college and career ready ,” but precise definitions of critical thinking vary depending on the source and many components have been identified. For example, although there are many assessments of critical thinking, the Critical Thinking Assessment Test is unique in that it was “designed for use by college faculty to help them improve their development of students’ critical thinking skills.”

The Critical-thinking Assessment Test (CAT) looks for the skills relating to

  • evaluating information
  • creative thinking
  • learning and problem solving
  • communication

Of these, creativity and problem solving are the two components of critical thinking that are often most difficult to assess in an objective, standardized, numerical manner. They are therefore of interest in terms of identifying potential best practices for teaching them.

In addition to tests like the CAT, there are organizations specifically geared toward teaching creative problem-solving. In the 1970s, Dr. C. Samuel Micklus, challenged his Industrial Design students to use their creativity to solve unique problems, and found the experience valuable enough that he created a course called Creative Problem Solving .

Other students – and their teachers – asked to be included in the challenges, and from there were born organizations like Olympics of the Mind; Creative Competitions, Inc; and Destination Imagination .

From a personal standpoint, having been a member of both Odyssey of the Mind (“OM”) in elementary school and Destination Imagination (“DI”) in high school, I found them to be valuable experiences. Winning the state-level competition two years out of four was one of the highlights of my high school experience, but the question of whether I was selected because I was “natively good” at creative problem solving, whether I learned creative problem-solving skills during the program, or some combination of both, still lingers.

Critical thinking really IS in decline.

Despite the well-meaning efforts of the National Governors Association, assessment writers, teachers, and organizations like Destination Imagination, creative thinking skills appear to be declining across America. Since testing using the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking began in the 1960s, creative thinking scores have declined despite a generalized increase in Intelligence Quotient (IQ) scores.

Note: standardized tests/measures like BMI and IQ and PARCC scores are, in my opinion, a fairly terrible way to evaluate individuals , but are still useful for measuring generalities in a population.

Sources disagree on whether it is possible to teach creative problem-solving skills in the “traditional” school environment. In the United States, however, the Common Core State Standards make it clear that educators in most jurisdictions must do so. The Common Core State Standards leave curriculum-writing in the hands of individual districts, however, so individual districts and teachers often have some measure of discretion in how they teach these skills.

Many teachers think that critical thinking skills are inherent to the nature of their classes, but there is a gap in studying how to teach specific components – like creativity and problem solving – to teenagers. Although there are some hints that targeted instruction is effective in teaching critical thinking, creativity, and problem solving, details on how best to integrate targeted instruction are lacking in the literature.

Let’s define our terms.

The Glossary of Education Reform defines critical thinking as “an umbrella term that may be applied to many different forms of learning acquisition or to a wide variety of thought processes. In its most basic expression, critical thinking occurs when students are analyzing, evaluating, interpreting, or synthesizing information and applying creative thought to form an argument, solve a problem, or reach a conclusion.” I’m focused on applying creative thought to solve a problem aspect of creative thinking, synthesized into the term creative problem solving.

Creative in the educational context is often used but rarely defined. Brookhart defines creative to mean ‘original and of high quality.’ The characteristic that best indicates that a student is creative is their ability “put things together in new ways.” My favorite definition is that creative is “the interaction among aptitude, process, and environment by which an individual or group produces a perceptible product that is both novel and useful as defined within a social context.” Really, though, it’s one of those things where “you know it when you see it.”

Instructional factors, as opposed to learner factors, refer to teacher-controlled aspects of education, instructional factors such as quality of instructor, learning activities, and learning supports

How do pre-existing factors impact critical thinking skills?

Before researchers and educators can begin evaluating the value of targeted instruction in creative problem-solving skills, it is useful to investigate the relevant advantages and disadvantages students bring with them into the classroom. From an equity perspective, inherent and pre-existing factors may provide perspective and inform instruction choices in the same way that an awareness of other systemic biases in education can inform instructional choices.

Cultural and demographic factors beyond the control of educators nonetheless play a role in students’ creative problem-solving skills. Demographic class does not always correlate to a significant difference in critical thinking skills, for example in the case of gender. Parent education level and job type does correlates to student ability to think creatively, though. Students’ nationality also significantly impacts critical thinking development , although it is unclear precisely why. Demographic differences or instructional policies (or both, or neither) may be contributors. Although broad-spectrum analysis of the impact of external factors such as cultural norms, GDP, social supports, etc., on creative problem solving skills have not been addressed by any studies I was able to find, they may play a role given their impacts on other aspects of child development.

Grade level also correlates to critical thinking ability. When surveying high school students in Bosnia and Turkey, Becirovic, Hodžic, & Brdarevic-Celjo (2019) found that students’ grade level significantly impacts critical thinking development. It is unclear whether this is a function of cognitive development related to biological development associated with aging or instructional growth. With regards to creativity specifically, Kim (2011) found that children’s ability to come up with creative new ideas went up steadily until third grade, stayed static between 4th and 5th grade, then decreased, potentially indicating that children “become alert to issues like accuracy and appropriateness of their responses when they generate ideas.” However, Shavelson (2010) found that seniors at many higher education institutions demonstrated stronger critical thinking skills than similarly situated freshmen. Although “granular analysis of their results” indicates that instructional factors were a significant factor, that does not rule out the possibility of that an adolescent’s precise age may play a role in creative problem solving, given that “abstract thinking ability and ability for synthesis and organization thinking processes” increase with age.

There are barriers to teaching creative problem-solving skills.

One of the difficulties of teaching creative problem solving and other critical thinking skills in the traditional classroom is that the traditional classroom wasn’t designed for it. Revolutionary change is hard, especially for something as important as a public school system… and we’ve been burned before. For example, open floorplan class designs with mixed-age project-based learning with high levels of materials choice look great on paper (see also: Montessori schools), but they’re all but impossible to implement on a wide scale , and school districts that try usually wind up with a horrible mishmash of traditional classrooms that just happen to not have walls. Implementing Montessori educational philosophies is all but impossible for an individual teacher in a traditional schoolhouse because of the financial investment required alone.

Students’ critical thinking skills benefit when instructors focus on teaching those skills in an explicit, purposeful manner. Many educators, especially those at the college level, consider critical thinking to be a major focus of their class “by virtue of the course content.” But unfortunately, implicit inclusion of creative problem solving skills can be less effective than intentional pedagogical focus on teaching relevant critical thinking skills, for example practical context problem solving. Teaching methods that rely on the fundamentals of the course structure or the nature of the academic discipline to teach critical thinking as a natural consequence of the class are less effective than when teachers focused on teaching explicit strategies promoting cognitive flexibility.

It can be really hard to find time to do that when a course has a strict pacing guide that is content instead of skills focused.

Choice, relevancy, and independence all matter.

The skills and focus of individual teachers have an impact on student improvement in creative problem-solving metrics. The amount of student choice offered by an individual teacher is positively correlated with the ability of students to overcome challenges and engage in the creative process, although this is actually less effective at improving creativity than active, targeted training.

Still, inquiry based instruction is an effective means of promoting cognitive flexibility and providing students opportunities to learn problem-solving skills . Requiring students to solve practical problems is more effective than learning by traditional means like rote memorization or lecture and is a small-scale shift that is often within an individual instructor’s discretion to make. Offering choice-based projects on relevant, high-interest topics are therefore likely to be an effective way for individual teachers to teach creative problem-solving skills to teenagers.

What about the people with more power than individual teachers?

When instructing students in a manner intended to enhance creative problem-solving skills, one potential method is to deviate from the traditional model of the classroom. Although Mawtus, Rodriguez-Cuadrado, Ludke, & Nicolson (2019) state that creative thinking is “not a separate subject,” their conclusion that it “can be embedded in a mainstream secondary school without affecting subject learning” (p. 94) speaks from a broader perspective than most teachers are able to individually implement, particularly given the requirements of standardized testing. The decision to implement a play-based pedagogical planning methodology is, like truly flexible seating, one that requires administrative support or an alternative method of teaching.

Globally, many teenagers learn outside of the “traditional” schoolhouse environment. A little over 3% of the school-age population in the USA was homeschooled in 2019 and this is a growing population. Nontraditional schooling environments have more freedom to experiment with sweeping changes to instructional styles. In Sweden, the Kunskapsskolan at Kista is known for informality, an open plan layout, and an emphasis on individualized learning and internet-based research .

Researchers have developed and studied a variety of comprehensive methodologies and models intended at least in part to enhance student creative problem-solving abilities. Play-based learning has been confirmed to increase creativity scores even over the student-centered choice-based models. Similarly, choice-based models alone were insufficient to improve student ability to think critically, although active training on the part of a teacher already possessing high creativity was very effective. The 3CM model of learning , which focuses on the “principle of bringing cool, critical, creative, and meaningful activities to the classroom,” was found to increase student creativity in solving mathematical problems because the learning situation pushed students into thinking systemically.

Major takeaways about teaching critical thinking:

The ability to creatively solve problems is on the decline, although educators and employers have a vested interest in fostering them. Creative problem-solving skills are key across contexts, from mathematics, to employment scenarios, to projects in the humanities. Although creativity itself declines as students progress throughout the secondary grades, other skills associated with critical thinking and problem-solving increase. Decisions made at the instructional level have the largest impact on the development of critical thinking skills, although demographic factors play a part, particularly with regards to non-biological factors like parental income and education level.

Lecture-based rote learning oriented toward standardized testing models is ill-suited to developing creative problem-solving skills. In searching for better teaching methods, researchers have focused primarily on the impacts of inquiry-based learning, choice-based learning, and play-based learning. Regardless of the particular manner lessons are established, active intervention on the part of instructors to deliberately train students in creative problem solving is most effective at improving creative thinking skills. Explicit, not implicit, instruction in creative problem-solving skills and their importance is an important factor in the successful development of creative problem-solving skills in teenagers.

Based on my read of the literature, it’s likely that creative problem-solving skills in teenagers will be improved by requiring students to engage in fun, inquiry-based, interest-based project pedagogy implemented over the long term if the methodology is implemented with flexible curriculum, very infrequent standardized testing, and teachers trained to actively intervene on an individual basis to encourage creativity and model systemic thinking.

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Spark & Sustain: How all of the world’s school systems can improve learning at scale

It is more important today than ever before to improve the quality and equity of education systems around the world. Automation is expected to increase demand for highly educated workers, creating a greater need for technological, socioemotional, and cognitive skills. The rise of generative AI is accelerating these workforce transitions. In addition to preparing students for the workforce, education systems are increasingly being asked to participate in resolving broader societal issues, from rising mental health challenges among young people 1 “Education: Overview,” World Bank, updated October 11, 2023. to political polarization 2 Sarah Garland, “Can we teach our way out of political polarization?,” Hechinger Report , January 25, 2021. to combating climate change. 3 “Climate change education,” UNESCO, accessed January 4, 2024.

About the authors

This article is a collaborative effort by Jake Bryant , Felipe Child , Ezgi Demirdag, Emma Dorn , Stephen Hall , Kartik Jayaram , Charag Krishnan , Cheryl Lim , Emmy Liss, Kemi Onabanjo, Frédéric Panier, Juan Rebolledo, Jimmy Sarakatsannis , Doug Scott, Roman Tschupp, Seckin Ungur , and Pierre Vigin, representing views from McKinsey’s global Education Practice.

Student learning improvements are not keeping up with these demands. More children than ever are in school, but many are not mastering basic skills. The World Bank estimates that seven in ten students in low- and middle-income countries are living in “learning poverty,” unable to read a simple text by the end of elementary school. The same is true for nearly nine in ten students in sub-Saharan Africa. This means that the majority of the world’s children are born into education systems where they will not learn to read by the end of elementary school. 4 “70% of 10-year-olds now in learning poverty, unable to read and understand a simple text,” World Bank, June 23, 2022.

More children than ever are in school, but many are not mastering basic skills.

Much of the global discussion about educational performance revolves around a small subset of mostly high-income countries that get relatively high scores on the three major assessments: the Programme for International Assessment (PISA), the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), and the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS). In our schema below, we classify those countries as having “good” or “great” performance.

However, more than 90 percent of children live in countries where average educational outcomes are below poor, poor, or fair. 5 Based on UNESCO population data of countries with World Bank Harmonized Learning Outcome (HLO) data. Historically, many of these countries have not taken international assessments, but more recently, the introduction of regional assessments 6 Relevant regional assessments include the Southern and Eastern Africa Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality (SACMEQ), Programme for the Analysis of Education Systems (PASEC), and Latin American Laboratory for the Assessment of the Quality of Education (LLECE). and the Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) has enabled a broader global comparison of learning outcomes. The OECD suggests that approximately 20 PISA points are equivalent to a year of learning. By that measure, high school students in many sub-Saharan African countries may be ten or more years behind their peers in Europe, North America, or East Asia (Exhibit 1). 7 The translation of PISA points to a year of learning is an art, not a science. The latest analysis from the OECD suggests that approximately 20 PISA points reflect a year of learning, while the World Bank suggests a year of learning equates to 20 to 50 PISA points. There is likely some variation depending on a student’s age; typically, students in earlier grades learn more content in a single year than students in later grades.

In the decade preceding the COVID-19 pandemic, student performance in most school systems globally stagnated—or declined. Of the 73 countries with longitudinal data over the past decade, only 23 managed to achieve significant, sustained, and consistent improvements in student outcomes. In 17 systems, student performance declined by half a year of learning or more. 8 Countries are categorized as “improved” if they gained ten points on two subject tests across PISA math, PISA reading, PISA science, PIRLS reading, TIMSS math, and TIMSS science in the past decade and if they improved by ten points or more on average across tests. Countries are categorized as “declined” if they lost ten points on two subject tests in the past decade. Countries are categorized as “stagnated” if they are not categorized as “improved” or “declined.” Some of these categorized as stagnated had stable performance; others had differing performance across different tests. Countries are excluded from the analysis if they lack enough evidence (for example, if they have not taken two international tests with a decade’s worth of data). Systems that historically performed at the highest levels were most likely to experience declines (Exhibit 2). Even in high-performing countries, overall system performance may mask significant inequities; every system that participates in PISA shows gaps in performance correlated with socioeconomic status.

In the decade preceding the COVID-19 pandemic, student performance in most school systems globally stagnated—or declined.

The pandemic only exacerbated these challenges. Lost learning time widened equity gaps within and between countries, with students ending up, on average, eight months behind where they would have been absent the pandemic. Meanwhile, the pandemic’s shift to remote work and e-commerce accelerated changes in the workforce. This is creating a scissor effect: learning losses are colliding with an increasing need for higher-order skills.

The stakes are high: if historical trends continue, more than 700 million children will remain in learning poverty in 2050. The pandemic wiped out decades of educational improvements, and we cannot wait decades to make up these losses. The world’s population is growing fastest in the places where learning is the furthest behind. 9 Population growth is projected to be significant in many low- and middle-income countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa (for example, 43 percent projected population growth in the Democratic Republic of the Congo from 2019 to 2030), but flat or negative in many higher-income countries (for example, 1 percent projected population decline in Canada over the same period). “Population estimates and projections,” World Bank, updated December 20, 2023. If we do nothing, the implications for economic growth and political stability worldwide will be tremendous. However, this grim future is not inevitable. If all systems could improve student outcomes at the rate of the top improvers, an additional 350 million students could be lifted out of learning poverty in the next 30 years (Exhibit 3). This report considers what it would take to make that happen.

Systems beating the odds

At first glance, the lack of progress may seem puzzling. Over the past decades, the education community has researched, developed, and codified strong evidence on what students need to master foundational skills such as reading, writing, and critical thinking. We know what interventions work to move most students to proficiency. Over the past decade, per-capita education spending has increased in countries of all income levels. 10 Education Finance Watch 2023 , a joint report from the World Bank, the Global Education Monitoring Report, and the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, 2023. And yet our global survey of 400 education leaders globally found that only 20 percent of education improvement efforts meet their stated goals (Exhibit 4).

To understand how school systems globally can reignite growth and recover from the learning losses of the pandemic, McKinsey examined the decade prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. We conducted research across both improving and declining school systems; analyzed global data; and spoke with more than 200 system leaders, donors and philanthropists, not-for-profit leaders, academics, and educational consultants.

Our interviews all pointed to the complexity of the implementation challenge. Most school systems struggle to turn improvements into action at scale. Our research demonstrates that to make changes stick, it is not enough for leaders to know “what” interventions to use. It also requires understanding “how” to implement them well at scale. In many systems, well-intentioned changes fizzle out. Stagnating school systems tend to get stuck in a few “failure modes”:

  • Conflicting directions. Education is not seen as a priority, resulting in an inability to raise the donor or domestic funds needed to deliver. Goals are too numerous, too far out in the future, and hard to measure, and there is a lack of coherence across the individual elements of reform.
  • Leadership discontinuity. Educational change requires more time than politics often allows. Rapid electoral cycles and short tenures for ministers of education can lead to a whipsaw of priorities, which can in turn confuse and disillusion educators and families. This is exacerbated when reform efforts are tied to political structures, rather than more deeply embedded within institutions.
  • Organ rejection of reform. Improvements may falter in the face of pushback from communities and educators who feel they were not consulted. Top-down policies may not actually work once they reach the classroom.
  • Insufficient coordination and pace of change. Too much time is spent on developing strategy and not enough on creating an implementation road map with aligned budgets, timelines, and accountability.
  • Limited implementation capacity. A lack of program management and analytical capacity within government undermines reform efforts—great educators do not always make great managers. Donor technical assistance ends up overly dependent on international consultants, who leave, rather than local players.
  • Flying blind. Leaders at all levels operate without sufficient data, missing key opportunities to create transparency and to intervene.
  • Standing still. Systems try to solve today’s problems with yesterday’s solutions. Leaders may pilot new ideas but without a plan for how to measure impact and take them to scale.

Yet failure is not inevitable. The good news is that some systems are beating the odds and producing meaningful gains in student learning year after year. These outlier school systems exist on every continent and at every level of national development. The global education community can chart a new path by learning from these systems.

To identify improving systems, we looked at national systems that had achieved sustained, consistent, and significant improvements in student outcomes as measured by international assessments, 11 This included PISA, TIMSS, and PIRLS. as well as at lower-income systems with emerging evidence of improvement on regional assessments. 12 Relevant regional assessments include SACMEQ, PASEC, and LLECE. We also identified relevant subnational improvers using national assessment data. 13 This included the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) in India, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in the United States, the National Achievement Survey (NAS) in India, Sistema Nacional de Avaliação da Educação Básica (SAEB) in Brazil, and the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) in England. None of the 14 systems that we profiled is perfect, and in some, the absolute level of achievement is still low, but each has meaningful lessons to impart at different stages of the educational improvement journey from below poor to poor to fair to good to great (Exhibit 5). 14 Some of these systems faltered in more recent assessments, including the 2021 PIRLS and 2022 PISA administrations, though we believe these results are largely a reflection of recent global crises. Because of that, our historical analysis is based on the decade preceding the pandemic.

Some systems are beating the odds and producing meaningful gains in student learning year after year.

Our analysis suggests that successful systems, at every level of spending and national development, use reinforcing strategies to create a virtuous cycle, enabling significant, long-term gains in student learning (Exhibit 6):

  • Anchor in the evidence. Based on clear research into what improves outcomes, successful school systems ground changes in the classroom, focusing first and foremost on teachers and the content they deliver. They choose evidence-backed strategies relevant to their starting place and prioritize foundational learning, particularly in systems with limited resources. They use technology as a tool to enhance learning, not as an end in itself.
  • Build a durable coalition for change. Successful school systems focus on a few coherent priorities, rallying stakeholders around them to ensure that everyone—from system leadership to principals to teachers—is on board. They invest in authentic, two-way communication with families, educators, and communities to design better policies and build deeper buy-in.
  • Create delivery capacity to scale. Successful systems move quickly from strategy to implementation, pacing reforms to show early traction while building stamina for the long road to impact. They build dedicated delivery teams with the organizational structures and individual skills to execute on plans over time.
  • Drive and adapt with data. Successful systems rigorously measure what matters—student learning outcomes—and use transparent data to improve their interventions. As they roll out tried-and-true methods, they also create space for innovation and measure what they innovate, which feeds back into the evidence base of what works.

Individually, these strategies may seem obvious or incremental. Together, they are transformative. Our survey suggests that systems that used all seven of the “how” levers above were six times more likely to be successful in meeting their goals for student outcomes and system transformation than those that used four or fewer (Exhibit 7).

Anchor in the evidence

Ground system strategy in better classroom instruction. The global education community knows what strategies drive learning outcomes. Successful systems focus on interventions closest to students and work outward, starting with the classroom (what is taught, how it is taught), then the school (what supports exist for students and teachers), and finally aligning the system supports (performance management, infrastructure, funding) to what is needed in the classroom (Exhibit 8).

For example, Singapore invests heavily in its instructional core throughout the curriculum and across teacher recruitment, development, and retention. Teacher candidates are drawn from the top 30 percent of their graduating class and must demonstrate core content knowledge. Once in the system, teachers complete 100 hours of professional development annually and receive coaching and weekly collaborative sessions with master and senior teachers. Professional development is practical and tailored, offered in digestible modules, and delivered in classrooms. 15 Singapore: A teaching model for the 21st century , Center on International Education Benchmarking, 2016.

In Poland, reforms in the early 2000s focused on redesigning the national curriculum—first in elementary grades and later in secondary schools—and on investments at the teacher, principal, and school level to reinforce adoption. Based on research about learning and comprehension, the curriculum was redesigned to prioritize critical thinking and reasoning where there had previously been a content overload. Teachers were engaged in the redesign to inform what strategies might lead to the best uptake; expert coaches worked with teachers to build their skills around the new curriculum. 16 Fernando M. Reimers, Audacious Education Purposes: How Governments Transform the Goals of Education Systems , New York, NY: Springer, 2020.

Start the journey where you are. To select the best interventions, school systems need to consider their starting student performance, their financial resources, and the capabilities of their teachers and school leaders. One of the biggest mistakes that school systems can make is to “lift and shift” best practices from a system that operates in a vastly different context. In our methodology, we group school systems into five performance bands, based on student learning levels: below poor, poor, fair, good, and great. While the elements of school system excellence remain the same, the interventions differ.

Education technology—great potential but mixed results

While education technology, including generative AI, has great potential to improve access and quality, it is not a silver bullet and can cause more harm than good if it becomes a distraction to proven, tried-and-true methods to deliver student outcomes. History is littered with examples of universal device and connectivity programs that did not yield improvements in student outcomes. Data from the 2022 Programme for International Assessment (PISA) questionnaire, which was issued with the assessment, creates additional reason for pause regarding the use of technology in schools, given that a arge number of students reported feeling distracted by devices while engaged in classroom instruction. While learning outcomes were often better for students who used devices in school for learning than for those who did not, the benefits were strongest for those who used their device for less than an hour a day; the impact decreased with additional use. Moreover, students who used devices at home for leisure for more than an hour a day saw a big decline in math performance. 1 Andreas Schleicher, PISA 2022 insights and interpretations , OECD, 2023.

Effective technology strategies start in the classroom—with an understanding of how technology will further student learning goals and provide support for teachers. They are focused on the ability of software to address specific use cases rather than just hardware distribution, are integrated into and aligned with the existing curriculum, involve significant professional learning and support for teachers, and consider putting technology in the hands of teachers rather than just students. Effective technology strategies are also tailored to journey and context—including existing infrastructure and existing teacher and principal capabilities.

As school systems progress toward good and great performance (for example, Poland and Singapore), increasing levels of school and teacher autonomy are possible, paired with effective accountability, capability building, and peer learning. Systems in the poor or below-poor performance bands (for example, Malawi and South Africa), by contrast, may be best advised to focus on foundational literacy and numeracy, ensure that instructional materials are available on a one-to-one basis, scaffold teachers through structured (or even scripted) lesson plans and in-situ coaching, and put effective assessment for instruction in place to account for greatly varying student achievement levels—a package of interventions sometimes referred to as structured pedagogy. Systems in the fair category (for example, Kenya) need to ensure the basics are in place, but they then can begin to expand selective earned autonomy, broader competency-based curricula tied to economic pathways, and incentives for teachers and school leaders to develop top talent (Exhibit 9). These imperatives to “start in the classroom” and “tailor to journey” apply equally to technology use (see sidebar, “Education technology—great potential but mixed results”).

For example, Ceará in Brazil, where performance was poor, prioritized Portuguese literacy and math in the curriculum, with a focus on elementary school, and invested heavily in supporting teachers to deliver quality content. All teachers received regular practical professional development, including classroom observations. The state government also led a long and sustainable journey to improve the quality of municipal education leaders, empowering them to provide better support for teachers and schools. From 2009 to 2019, Ceará registered an increase of nearly 12 percentage points on the National Assessment of Basic Education (Sistema Nacional de Avaliação da Educação Básica), moving from poor to fair. Ceará also saw the highest increase of any Brazilian state on the national index of educational quality in elementary education (Index of Development of Basic Education) between 2005 and 2017. 17 “The state of Ceara and the city of Sobral, in Brazil, are role models for reducing learning poverty,” World Bank, July 7, 2020.

In Punjab, India, where performance was below poor, leaders used Teaching at the Right Level to group students by level rather than age to reduce targeted learning gaps in primary school. Leaders used simple, quick one-on-one assessments to group students into levels at the start of the intervention, administered assessments throughout to track progress and adapt instruction based on students’ results, and reviewed aggregate data to make programmatic decisions. 18 Details of the Teaching at the Right Level implementation in Punjab are included in multiple years of the Pratham Foundation’s annual reports, accessed via the Pratham website. Teachers received training and support to change behaviors. While the share of students in India who could read a grade two text as measured by the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) declined from 2006 to 2014, the share in Punjab surpassed the national average and grew by 13.2 percentage points. 19 “Punjab rural: Trends over time: 2006-2014,” ASER, January 2015. Punjab moved from below poor to poor in the decade prior to the pandemic.

The journey is not perfectly linear for any system, and there are multiple paths to system improvement. In addition, in many systems, overall performance may mask inequities within the nation or region. In a single system, there can be schools ranging from below poor to great. This may require system leaders to consider a range of approaches to drive improvement based on schools’ starting points.

Build a durable coalition for change

Set fewer priorities to get more done. Education leaders are regularly pulled in too many directions. To counteract this, leaders of successful school systems define a North Star vision and choose a limited set of coherent, sustained, and evidence-based priorities (typically no more than three to six). They define these nonnegotiables based on the evidence of what works and ensure that donors and partners support this short list, channeling money and energy to what matters most.

For example, Mississippi reorganized its state education department and board to align their work against six core goals, started every meeting with a recap of these goals, and interrogated every new initiative against these priorities. 20 Emma Dorn, “ Behind the scenes of Mississippi’s school turnaround with Carey Wright ,” McKinsey, August 3, 2023. From 2010 to 2014, Kenya introduced 25 different interventions to address literacy rates and saw limited impact. 21 “Let’s Read: Understanding Kenya’s success in improving foundational literacy at scale,” RTI International, December 9, 2016. Starting in 2014, leaders pivoted and prioritized a singular evidence-based approach: Tusome. By relentlessly targeting the country’s low literacy rates through a proven approach, the initiative nearly doubled the share of students who met the government’s literacy benchmarks from 2014 to 2021. 22 Joseph Destefano et al., “Scaling up successfully: Lessons from Kenya’s Tusome national literacy program,” Journal of Educational Change , July 2018, Volume 19.

If everything is a priority, nothing is. Carey Wright, Former State Superintendent of Mississippi

Cultivate leadership beyond a single leader. True transformation can take a decade, but few leaders have that much time. Successful systems invest in civil servants who outlast political leaders and build a deep bench of talent at the central office (especially at the n-2 level 23 “N-2” is the organizational layer two levels below the minister—the individuals who report to the executive team that reports to the minister. These leaders are more likely to stay in place through political changes. ), at the middle layer, and across schools. Leaders foster institutions beyond the ministry, insulating education from politics by distancing the work from political structures and enabling a greater ecosystem of experts who can support policy development and implementation. Longevity also comes from embedding educational change into policies and procedures that are harder to reverse.

In Norway, for example, policy continuation was facilitated by the stability of senior civil servants from the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research and Directorate for Education and Training. These trusted institutions provided a common set of evidence-based research that both parties relied on as the fact base for policy. When the 2012 PISA results were released, leaders in both political parties called the same senior civil servant to understand the data and implications for policy. 24 Li-Kai Chen, Emma Dorn, and Tore Vamraak, “ Education reform in Norway: Looking beyond politics to bring sustained change ,” McKinsey, June 21, 2019. In Morocco, ministry leaders enshrined reforms in a framework law with bipartisan support and created binding mechanisms for new leadership to manage implementation.

My initiative is now being fulfilled by a conservative government. This kind of continuity gives me hope for the future. Kristin Halvorsen, Former Minister of Education of Norway

Engage educators and families authentically. Authentic engagement is hard to do well, but successful school systems treat it as nonnegotiable. Successful systems actively collect diverse stakeholder input at the outset and throughout implementation to design and refine policies that will resonate and work in the classroom. In practice, this includes engaging teacher, principal, and student advisory boards; conducting regular surveys of parents, students, and educators to keep a pulse; and ensuring that every member of the executive cabinet visits a diverse range of schools at least twice a month. Successful systems then create compelling change stories and use a broad tool kit to influence changes at the school and classroom level.

For example, during Kaya Henderson’s tenure as school chancellor in Washington, DC, the public school system worked closely with communities to communicate how school closures would lead to more resources in remaining schools, and it sought community input on how to transform school communities. When the district made subsequent closure decisions, there was less pushback from the community than otherwise expected. Overall, public school enrollment grew during this time period for the first time in decades, pointing to strengthened public confidence in the system. 25 Emma Dorn, “ Lessons in leadership: Transforming struggling US K–12 schools ,” McKinsey, March 28, 2023. Cecilia María Vélez White, former minister of education in Colombia, held monthly meetings with principals, convened more than 1,500 teachers, shared information with unions, and went on a listening tour to a different region every week. 26 Andres Cadena, Li-Kai Chen, Felipe Child, and Emma Dorn, “ Bringing major improvements to education in Colombia ,” McKinsey, May 29, 2019.

We asked people, ‘Ten years from now, what should DCPS look like? What are your hopes and your dreams for the district and for your students?’ Kaya Henderson, Former Chancellor of DC Public Schools

Create delivery capacity to scale

Create coordination and a cadence for change. Successful systems move quickly to turn their plans into action. They create a concrete road map, pressure-test their implementation plans, and ensure the budget is oriented around priorities. They pace their changes to show quick wins in the first six months to demonstrate momentum. At the same time, they design for scale to ensure that changes have their intended impact.

For example, as part of the London Challenge initiative, London appointed dedicated advisers who were deployed to the schools that were struggling the most. The advisers provided on-the-ground coaching and brought immediate recommendations back to the central department so resources could be deployed rapidly. 27 Marc Kidson and Emma Norris, Implementing the London Challenge, Institute for Government , July 10, 2014. South Africa created free literacy workbooks, adapted them to native languages, and distributed copies to 6.5 million students across 20,000 schools. A dedicated delivery team oversaw the entire process, from development to printing and delivery of the workbooks, and 40,000 trained teachers provided support for adoption. 28 “20,000 schools to receive workbooks,” SANews, July 6, 2010. From 2011 to 2015, more than 150 million workbooks were delivered to schools. 29 “South African women and girls empowered by literacy programme to take their place in society,” UNESCO, September 7, 2015.

You can be nimble and agile. The fact that you can work at a ridiculously higher speed than government normally works makes people believe in you in a completely different way. Sir Jon Coles, Former Director of the London Challenge

Build implementation structures and skills. Many school systems struggle to access the in-house talent to implement major changes. In addition to great educators, school systems need great project managers and implementors to translate strategy at the ministry into implementation in every classroom across the system. Successful systems ensure dedicated implementation capacity within the central team, at the middle layer, and across schools. This involves establishing clear roles and responsibilities for making decisions and approving investments, as well as creating an army of changemakers in the field to bring changes to fruition. Systems can then assess their delivery capacity across this structure and hire or build missing capabilities.

For example, under Jaime Saavedra’s leadership in Peru, the ministry brought in experienced managers from within and outside of government, with a specific goal of improving management and the pace of change. At the same time, Peru also reformed the process for selecting its 15,000 school principals to ensure high-caliber management talent in schools. 30 Li-Kai Chen, Felipe Child, Emma Dorn, and Raimundo Morales, “ An interview with former Peruvian Minister of Education Jaime Saavedra ,” McKinsey, September 26, 2019. In Ceará, Brazil, the 150 highest-performing schools adopted the 150 lowest-performing schools. If the lower-performing school improved, both schools in the pair were financially rewarded. This pairing of successful and struggling schools has also worked in London and in Shanghai. In Shanghai, deputy school leaders of successful schools can only be promoted to principal or school leader if they first lead the turnaround of a struggling school. 31 Joanna Farmer and Ben Jensen, School turnaround in Shanghai: The empowered-management program approach to improving school performance , Center for American Progress, May 2013.

I ended up changing most of the top 60 positions in the ministry to ensure the right managerial skills and implementation capacity, including attracting people from the Ministry of Finance. Jaime Saavedra, Former Minister of Education of Peru

Drive and adapt with data

Measure student outcomes and make them transparent. Successful school leaders build robust data systems, identify trends, and use the data to build a shared culture of continuous improvement. They make important information public to build momentum, segment schools for accountability and support, and use data to drive improvement at every level, from system strategy to instruction in schools.

For example, in Estonia, student outcome data is linked with broader social data. The government maintains a centralized data system for all public services with a unique ID for each citizen. Families can look at their own child’s achievement data within this broader context. The ministry makes school-level data transparent to the public and regularly uses this data to support policy making. Data is sufficiently protected, and there is a high degree of trust among citizens. 32 “Building an integrated data system: Lessons from Estonia,” NCEE, May 2, 2021. In Sierra Leone, the ministry has built data systems from the ground up, digitalizing the school census and linking it to student performance data, enabling data to become the reference point for all interventions. Data on gender inequities in access has informed new policies, which have helped increase enrollment among girls. 33 Tichafara Chisaka and Kate Richards, “Supporting girls’ education in Sierra Leone through inclusive data systems,” Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data, July 19, 2021.

I made sure that we had data to inform everything we did. From day one, all policies had to be grounded in data and evidence. David Moinina Sengeh, Minister of Basic and Senior Secondary Education and Chief Innovation Officer for Sierra Leone

Roll out what works, but create space for innovation. Successful systems create space for innovation and, critically, measure what they innovate to add to the existing evidence base of what works. Most innovation in education systems will likely be oriented toward continuous improvement and sustaining practices. However, there is also a need for more-disruptive innovation, especially in systems where performance is poor or below poor and where exponential growth in achievement is needed. Innovation is needed both to improve the effectiveness of existing interventions and to create more-scalable models.

For example, structured pedagogy approaches currently provide the best evidence base for improving literacy and numeracy across low-income countries—but financial and human capital constraints mean that systems will not be able to roll out and scale such approaches rapidly enough to reach this generation of students. In Malawi, education leaders are scaling up a foundational literacy and numeracy program that uses robust, solar-powered, offline tablets in primary-school education. The intervention was first tested as a pilot with external partners, and the government has built a team strictly focused on the rollout. A big part of the innovation is in the streamlined implementation—schools and teachers can be set up to run the program within weeks. The program is being measured and tested as it scales. 34 “Building Education Foundations through Innovation & Technology: Malawi scale-up program overview,” Government of Malawi Ministry of Education, September 8, 2022.

Singapore has demonstrated that even the most successful school systems need to keep innovating, particularly as the needs of students change. This has led to new experiments and investments in social-emotional learning and 21st century skills to complement the already-strong approach to math and literacy instruction, based on emerging research on the importance of student mindsets on educational outcomes. 35 Dennis Kwek, Jeanne Ho, and Hwei Ming Wong, “Singapore’s educational reforms toward holistic outcomes,” Brookings, March 16, 2023. Singapore’s system is unique among top PISA scorers in that it continues to grow while others have stagnated.

When we talk about professional learning, we can never say we have arrived. . . . The moment we say we have arrived, that will cause our downfall. Yen Ching Chua-Lim, Deputy Director-General of Education (Professional Development), Singapore

Individually, these strategies may seem obvious or incremental. Together, they are transformative. The slow and steady work of implementation sets improving school systems apart from the rest. This is not really a story about beating the odds. It is a story about the systems that were able to change the odds. Education leaders can—and must—learn from them.

Jake Bryant is a partner in McKinsey’s Seattle office; Felipe Child is partner in the Bogota office; Ezgi Demirdag is a partner in the Istanbul office; Emma Dorn is a senior knowledge expert and associate partner in the Silicon Valley office; Stephen Hall and Roman Tschupp are partners in the Dubai office; Kartik Jayaram is a senior partner in the Nairobi office; Charag Krishnan is a partner in the New Jersey office; Cheryl Lim is a partner in the Kuala Lumpur office; Kemi Onabanjo is an expert associate partner in the Lagos office; Frédéric Panier is a partner in the Brussels office, where Pierre Vigin is an expert associate partner; Juan Rebolledo is an associate partner in the Mexico City office; Jimmy Sarakatsannis is a senior partner in the Washington, DC office; Doug Scott is a senior expert in the Chicago office; and Seckin Ungur is a partner in the Sydney office. Emmy Liss is a senior adviser to McKinsey’s Education Practice

The authors wish to acknowledge the tireless work of school system leaders, school principals, and particularly classroom teachers, who have dedicated their lives to educating youth and who are working every day to close gaps in student achievement. This research benefited from the contributions of hundreds of global education experts and McKinsey team members. Please see the larger report for a complete set of acknowledgments.

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The Disadvantages of Critical Thinking: Don’t Overthink It

Sometimes, critical thinking can lead us to spend too much time and energy on analyzing every detail and possibility of a situation, which can cause stress. Overthinking can also prevent us from taking action or trusting our intuition when it is appropriate. And also make us focus on the flaws, risks, and weaknesses of an idea or a solution, rather than on its strengths, benefits, and opportunities. This can lead to a pessimistic or cynical attitude that can affect our motivation and creativity. Emphasizing the negative can also make us overlook or dismiss positive feedback. It's our duty to identify them and take actions.

advantages and disadvantages of critical thinking in the classroom

Sanju Pradeepa

Disadvantages of critical thinking

We’ve all had moments when we spent more time thinking than acting. And that’s usually because we got caught up in the process of critical thinking. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to indulge in. After all, it makes us analyze our decisions, weigh the pros and cons, and come out with a conclusion that is backed by facts and data.

But what if there’s a downside to critical thinking? To be clear, this isn’t an attempt to convince you to just go with your gut feeling all the time. Instead, this article is intended to provide perspective on how excessive overthinking can hinder your progress instead of helping you make an informed decision.

We’ll cover why using critical thinking too much can lead to poor decision-making, how it affects your stress levels, and when it matters most. So don’t overthink it. Let’s dive in and explore the disadvantages of critical thinking together.

Table of Contents

What is critical thinking.

Critical thinking is a term you’ve probably heard bandied about, but what does it actually mean? In short, it’s a way of examining information and forming opinions or judgments based on the evidence at hand.

It’s the ability to take an analytical approach to a problem. This means that critical thinking involves analyzing information in order to form an opinion and then continuing to assess the data in order to challenge and modify that opinion.

At its best, critical thinking can lead to more informed decisions and more effective problem-solving. But there are also some disadvantages to this method of thinking. Read on for more information.

Let’s know more about Critical Thinking – 7 Types of Critical Thinking: A Guide to Analyzing Problems

Disadvantages of Critical Thinking, When You Have Too Much

We all value the power of critical thinking; it’s an invaluable skill to have in any field. But like anything, too much of a good thing can be a problem.

When we overthink things and become overly critical, the consequences can be significant. Often, it can prevent us from making decisions in a timely manner, if at all. It can also lead to missed opportunities, as we become paralyzed by our analysis and fail to seize the moment.

Furthermore, analysis paralysis can lead to high levels of stress and anxiety as we struggle to make up our minds on a given subject or action. We might even fail to recognize the real risks at hand when focusing too much on minor details and missing out on what matters most for successful outcomes.

The takeaway here is that being critical is valuable but remember to balance it with intuition and trust your instincts before you get too deep into overthinking things.

1. Difficulty in Decision-Making

Disadvantages of Critical Thinking-Difficulty in Decision-Making

One of the biggest disadvantages of critical thinking is that it can be difficult to make decisions. Because critical thinkers are constantly analyzing and evaluating data to draw conclusions, this can be a time-consuming process.

Even after all the facts and evidence have been gathered, it can take a long time to weigh the pros and cons of each option before making the best decision possible. This means that in some cases, a critical thinker will not be able to make a decision quickly or easily.

On top of that, if there is not enough data or information available about a particular decision, it can be even harder for a critical thinker to come up with a solid solution in an efficient manner. This can cause even more delays in decision-making and may lead to frustration as well as inadequate solutions.

2. You might be overthinking every situation.

Disadvantages of Critical Thinking- You might be overthinking every situation

When you engage in critical thinking, you may find yourself overthinking every situation and making an issue out of things that don’t need your attention. Going back to our earlier example, if you were to critically analyze the situation of your friend sleeping at your house, you might start to worry about the extra resources it may consume or about how it may affect your relationship. While this could be true, it might also be a bit excessive. In certain situations, it’s better to accept certain things and not overthink them.

This is one of the most common disadvantages of critical thinking: overthinking can lead to analysis paralysis, where one is so focused on analyzing a situation that one becomes unable to make any decisions at all. This can lead to frustration and decreased productivity as no progress is made. Additionally, engaging in too much critical thinking can lead to stress and burnout , which are both counterproductive in any situation.

Therefore, while it’s important to engage in critical thinking when necessary and appropriate, it’s also important not to overdo it. Otherwise, the outcomes you’re hoping for will never be achieved.

3. Unavoidable biases and prejudices

Disadvantages of Critical Thinking-Unavoidable biases and prejudices

You may think that critical thinking is the answer to everything, but it has its disadvantages too. Most notably, it’s impossible to completely remove our biases and prejudices when looking at the facts. We all have a unique way of looking at things , and these biases may affect how we interpret evidence.

Confirmation Bias – One of the most common biases is called “ confirmation bias,”  where people seek out evidence that supports what they already believe or look for fault in evidence that contradicts it. This often leads to people discrediting any evidence they don’t agree with.

Overconfidence – Another common bias is overconfidence, which can lead us to make more decisions than necessary or, worse yet, poor decisions based on what we think we know.

These biases can affect how people interpret evidence and make decisions, regardless of how logical and reasoned those decisions might seem. That’s why we need to be aware of our own prior beliefs , values, and experiences to prevent our biases from affecting our judgment when using critical thinking skills.

4. Disruption of Imagination and Creativity

Disadvantages of Critical Thinking-Disruption of Imagination and Creativity

As great as it may sound, critical thinking can have its downsides, particularly in the area of imagination and creativity. The process of critical thinking often encourages a strict focus on facts and evidence, which can lead to tunnel vision and the inability to think outside the box.

When we focus too much on analysis and facts, we can become stifled in our creative pursuits. This means that instead of creating something new or being able to think of novel solutions to problems, we are confined by existing thought patterns that don’t allow for exploration or experimentation outside of what is already known.

Limiting Ourselves – Critical thinking is great when it comes to evaluating or assessing existing information or situations, but when it comes to innovating, critical thinking can be limiting. After all, if we are stuck looking at the same evidence from different perspectives, how much further can we go? We need to be open to new ideas and experiences if we want to move forward in our creative pursuits.

Training our brain for critical thinking – An over-reliance on critical thinking skills means that our brains get trained over time to do less imaginative things because our brains become accustomed to relying on a certain pattern of thinking. This means that our brains become so accustomed to certain types of analysis that there is little room left for coming up with unique solutions or uncovering innovative ideas.

It’s true; critical thinking has its advantages. But relying too heavily on this form of thinking could mean that you’re missing out on opportunities for growth and creativity.

5. Lack of Emotional Engagement

Disadvantages of Critical Thinking-Lack of Emotional Engagement

Another possible disadvantage of critical thinking is a lack of emotional engagement. The process of critical thinking involves looking at a problem objectively, dispassionately analyzing the facts, and logically concluding. This can be helpful, but it can also lead to a disconnect with the emotional aspect of the problem or issue at hand.

At times, emotional engagement is essential for tackling certain problems. For example, certain social issues might require individuals to tap into their emotions and empathy to come up with solutions that can bring about positive change without harming anyone or anything.

Moreover, emotional understanding is important for developing solutions that take into account different perspectives and experiences. This can help create solutions that are more inclusive and equitable for everyone involved.

Ultimately, critical thinking should not be used as an exclusive method for problem solving or decision-making; it should be used in conjunction with emotional understanding and empathy. This balance between intellectual analysis and emotional engagement can help to ensure solutions that are highly effective and satisfying for everyone involved.

6. Potential for stress and anxiety

Disadvantages of Critical Thinking-Potential for stress and anxiety

As discussed previously, critical thinking can be a great skill to have. However, it does come with disadvantages. For instance, people who engage in critical thinking can experience significant stress and anxiety as a result of constantly evaluating complex ideas and situations.

This is especially true for those who are very good at it, as they may feel pressure to always think critically and make the “right” decision. Additionally, when you’re constantly taking a hard look at problems from all angles, it can be easier to become overwhelmed. It can be difficult to decide which way to go when you have so many options available.

The constant search for evidence – People who think critically often spend a lot of time searching for evidence or trying to find the correct interpretation of facts. While this might lead to effective problem-solving and decision-making, it can also be exhausting psychologically. When you’re constantly sifting through evidence looking for the right answer, it can be hard not to become overwhelmed or discouraged if you don’t find what you’re looking for right away.

The struggle between intuition and logic – It’s also common for critical thinkers to struggle with integrating intuition into their thought processes since they tend to rely heavily on logic and evidence-based reasoning. While this type of thinking is valuable in certain scenarios, relying solely on logic can lead to overlooking potential solutions that may be based more on emotion or instinct than on facts. This can make it difficult for critical thinkers to make decisions without feeling like they’ve overlooked something important.

7. Critical thinking can be time-consuming.

Disadvantages of Critical Thinking-Critical thinking can be time-consuming

You know that critical thinking is important, but have you ever considered the time it takes to think critically? Well, thinking critically can be a time-consuming endeavor .

You might not think twice about making a quick decision based on intuition or reverting to old habits, but truly making a thoughtful, well-informed decision requires more effort. It’s easy to underestimate the amount of time it can take to dig into the facts and look at an issue from all angles, but that’s what critical thinking is all about.

To ensure that you get the best possible outcome, there are several steps in critical thinking:

  • Identify and analyze the problem.
  • Research and gather data from reliable sources.
  • Generate alternative solutions and evaluate them logically.
  • Choose the most suitable option.
  • Implement your chosen option, then evaluate its effectiveness and impact.
  • Adjust your plan as needed.

This type of process uses up more of our precious time, but it is worth it when you come out with an informed, well-reasoned solution that you can confidently stand behind. That’s why so many organizations prioritize this way of thinking when faced with tough decisions.

8. Critical thinking can lead to uncertainty.

Disadvantages of Critical Thinking-Critical thinking can lead to uncertainty

One of the major disadvantages of critical thinking is that it often leads to uncertainty. When you’re looking at a problem or issue from all angles and considering all the available evidence, it can be difficult to come to a definitive solution. It can be hard to know exactly what steps to take as there may be multiple potential solutions.

This can lead to indecision and doubt, which can slow down progress on any project you’re working on. Furthermore, if there are many possible solutions available, it can take time and effort to evaluate each one fully before coming to a decision.

Another downside of critical thinking is that it requires a lot of mental energy and effort. Balancing this with other aspects of work or life can be tricky, as focusing too much on one area at the expense of others is not desirable. It’s important to remember that there are limits to how much critical thinking you should do in any given situation.

While there are certain disadvantages to critical thinking, it is certainly a skill worth having. It can enable you to see past false claims and identify logical fallacies, form your own well-reasoned opinions, and spot when others might be attempting to manipulate or deceive you.

That said, it’s important to remember that critical thinking doesn’t necessarily lead to the “right” answer. It’s important to keep an open mind and be willing to have your beliefs challenged. When used responsibly, critical thinking can be an invaluable asset to anyone. 

  • The Advantages & Disadvantages of Critical Thinking by MICAH MCDUNNIGAN published in CLASSROOM (https://classroom.synonym.com/)
  • Is Critical Thinking Overrated?  Disadvantages Of Critical Thinking published in EGGCELLENT Work (https://eggcellentwork.com/)

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18 Classroom and Online Debate and Discussion Language and Critical Thinking Activities

Introducing a topic in the classroom can be one of the trickiest tasks for a teacher. Sometimes, it can take a a lot of experience and a lot of practice to get the icebreaker, or warm-up, or introduction to a topic just right. However, when you do get it right, you usually know that you have got it right forever and you can slide right into that topic effortlessly. The right set of vocabulary, the right listening activity, the right set of images,  and/or  the right brainstorming format can help get debate and discussion topics moving and flowing smoothly.

1 Expressing opinions about careers

A vocabulary and discussion exercise for talking about aspects of work and employment.

advantages and disadvantages of critical thinking in the classroom

(download PDF)

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2 Functions of the brain

I think the brain is a great teaching topic. I really look forward to teaching this. There are so many things to talk about. To just see the images, go to @eslflowlessons on Instagram.

advantages and disadvantages of critical thinking in the classroom

Mastering Decision-Making: Practical ESL Language Resources for Real-world Communication

Listening/speaking exercises for the latest technological advances

Medical Sciences Listening/Speaking,Language and Vocabulary Exercises

6 present perfect grammar, speaking and listening Exercises

Icebreaker activities for “Success and failure” and “Taking risks”

Topical reading comprehension exercises

3 Fears and phobias

Everyone has fears and phobias. So this is a good topic for English language learners. It’s also useful for students to learn the different words used for talking about fears and phobias.


advantages and disadvantages of critical thinking in the classroom

(see the YouTube video)


advantages and disadvantages of critical thinking in the classroom

4 Controversial  topics

This is a brainstorming/ listening/ critical thinking discussion worksheet for talking about controversial topics. Students need to decide whether they are pro or con each issue and support their position with three reasons. Then they can listen to the audio and compare answers.

advantages and disadvantages of critical thinking in the classroom

Controversial topics (PDF)

(see the video version on YouTube)

5 Success or failure? (with audio and answers)

I have noticed over the years that students struggle with the words “success” and “failure” and their various forms. They struggle with the pronunciation (hmmm.. “success” vs “succeed” ,“fail” not “fell”! – and “failure” pronounced as “failyer”) and the grammar. But  success and failure  is a fantastic stand-alone topic for a class. It’s great for brainstorming, discussions and much more.

advantages and disadvantages of critical thinking in the classroom

6 Taking risks (with audio and answers)

The pronunciation of the word “risk” is another word that many English as a Second Language students find difficult to pronounce. They have trouble with the ending sounds and also the past tense form (“risked” pronounced as “riskt”). But like  success and failure  it’s a fantastic stand-alone classroom discussion topic. In fact, these two topics are really quite complementary. They are ways we talk about work and living.

advantages and disadvantages of critical thinking in the classroom

7 Advantages/disadvantages of watching TV (with audio and script)

Students look at the pictures or use their own ideas to list the advantages and disadvantages of watching TV. Then they can listen to the audio and add to their answers.

advantages and disadvantages of critical thinking in the classroom

Advantages/disadvantages of watching TV (PDF)

9 Working from home vocabulary and brainstorm

“Working from home” is a great topic for English language classes. In the current circumstances nearly everyone has some experience of working from home. So it’s a great discussion topic, and it could also used for classes involving giving opinions, making comparisons (home vs office), teaching argumentative writing or discussing technological change. It also has its own  fairly specific set of vocabulary.

Working from home vocabulary and brainstorm worksheet

Working from home (PDF)

   10 Global issues vocabulary (with answers)

  This is an  English  language  exercise  introducing and exploring the language and vocabulary of global issues. Students try to match the vocabulary with the appropriate pictures. They then rank the issues1-10 in order of  importance.

Global issues vocabulary and ranking activity for students.

Global issues (PDF)

11 Brainstorming offline learning vs online learning (with answers)

  This is an exercise for discussing the advantages/disadvantages of  online learning and offline learning . Students look at the pictures and then try to write down as  many ideas as they can on the second page of the PDF.

Online vs online learning critical thinking exercise

Online vs offline learning (PDF)

12 Advantages/disadvantages of living in the city

Students look at the pictures or use their own ideas to list the advantages and disadvantages of living in the city.

Brainstorming advantages disadvantages of living in the city for classroom debate and discussion activity.

Advantages/disadvantages of living in the city (PDF)

13 Advantages/disadvantages of studying abroad (with answers)

Students look at the pictures or use their own ideas to list the advantages and disadvantages of studying abroad.

Brainstorming advantages/disadvantages of studying abroad

Advantages/disadvantages of studying abroad (PDF)

14 Globalization vocabulary and questions

Globalization is a topic for a more worldly class capable of talking about some complex issues. This probably won’t suit everyone but for the right class it might be a good icebreaker and intro into a really interesting topic.

Globalization vocabulary and discussion exercise.

Globalization vocabulary and questions (PDF)

15 Advantages/disadvantages of globalization (with answers)

  Students look at the pictures or use their own ideas to list the advantages and disadvantages of globalization. 

Brainstorming advantages disadvantages of globalization for classroom debate and discussion activity.

Advantages/disadvantages of globalization (PDF)

16 DNA testing – vocabulary and speaking worksheet

    This English language academic vocabulary and speaking worksheet can be used to introduce the  topic and vocabulary of DNA testing Students match the vocabulary to the appropriate pictures then try to answer the questions at the bottom.

DNA testing vocabulary & speaking worksheet (PDF)

DNA testing and discussion (PDF)

17 Personal opinions about the internet and social trends

An English language speaking worksheet for generating discussion about the internet and social trends. Students write the benefits/disadvantages of each issue on the worksheet.

Brainstorming the advantages and disadvantages of the internet and social trends

Personal opinions about the internet and social trends (PDF)

 18 Advantages/disadvantages of working for a big company (with answers)

   This is a business English  ESL  exercise to help students discuss the advantages and disadvantages of working for a big company.

Brainstorming advantages disadvantages of working for a big company for classroom debate and discussion activity.

Advantages and disadvantages of working for a big company (PDF)

 19 Advantages/disadvantages of starting a small business (with answers)

This is a business English ESL exercise to help students discuss the advantages and disadvantages of starting a small business.

Brainstorming advantages disadvantages of starting a small business for classroom debate and discussion activity.

Advantages and disadvantages of starting a small business (PDF)

 20 Rise of the robots and automation brainstorming and discussion worksheet (with answers)

This is an exercise to explore the vocabulary and language used to talk about new technology and encourage discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of robots and automation.

Rise of the robots technology brainstorming and writing worksheet.

Rise of the robots (PDF)

Classroom worksheet for brainstorming the benefits of robotics and automation

Adantanges of automation (PDF)

Brainstorm disadvantages of automated devices and robots

Disadvantages of automation (PDF)

Other resources

20 Brilliant Business English Speaking and Listening Skills Worksheets

10 Essential Business English Vocabulary Exercises and Worksheets

Job  interview listening/speaking exercises

5 Gerunds and Infinitives Grammar, Speaking and Listening Activities

Passive voice listening/speaking Exercises

Personality listening/speaking activities

Environmental issues listening/speaking

Health vocabulary and speaking listening exercises

advantages and disadvantages of critical thinking in the classroom

14 Replies to “Classroom debate and discussion language and critical thinking activities”

Great materials! Thank you so much! I’ve just accepted an ESL position mid-semester. Yikes! No plan going forward. This helps tremendously with my need to teach essay writing.

No problem. Yes. I find worksheets with pictures are great icebreakers and a great way to start a class.

Regards, Peter

Outstanding activities! I will use these at the high school level!

Thanks. I appreciate the feedback.

Thanks. Very useful and interesting activities!

Thanks so much, These are great for my Year 8 EAL class 🙂

Really glad to hear that.


Thank you! Really Nice!

Thankyou so much

Great!Thanks a lot!

Thanks so much for the comments. Just in the process of adding audio to most exercises. Hope it’s useful!

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Is critical thinking overrated  disadvantages of critical thinking.

An argument for the notion that critical thinking is overrated

Fans of Sheldon Cooper on the syndicated comedy series “The Big Bang Theory” might be inclined to agree with the argument that critical thinking is overrated. Sheldon is the quintessential critical thinker, but is completely lacking in social skills, empathy, and tact.

When it comes to matters of heart and his romance with Amy, he is totally hopeless and hapless at saying or doing anything that requires using normal emotional responses. Sheldon has the ability to painstakingly analyze, develop, and provide evidence for his ideas and theories, but he is completely lacking in social skills, and–in what we will cover in detail below–emotional intelligence.

Table of Contents

What are some disadvantages of critical thinking?

Fact gathering, analysis, and the belief that emotion has no place in critical thinking can lead to “analysis paralysis,” when intuition and experience can work faster and better. Rigid critical thinkers frequently:

  • consider both the positive and negative sides of everything
  • are more prone to think negatively than positively—hence, the term “critical”
  • often suffer from depression, OCD, or anxiety when their critical thinking habits don’t produce desired results
  • tend towards perfectionism, when excellence will suffice
  • are hypercritical of themselves and others
  • avoid any decision that has an emotional element whatsoever

Critical thinkers need to develop emotional intelligence

There is a middle ground and a hybrid form of critical thinking where emotions can be factored into critical thinking. Emotional intelligence according to  Psychology Today   is “the ability to identify and manage one’s own emotions, as well as the emotions of others.”

Emotional intelligence includes the “ability to identify and name one’s own emotions” and apply those emotions to clear thinking and problem solving. Emotional intelligence also includes the ability to manage and regulate emotions and  apply them to tasks that include critical thinking  and problem solving.

For people in leadership positions, emotional intelligence is an essential element of problem solving. Having emotional intelligence is likewise an essential ingredient to successfully managing people.

  • The Ultimate Guide To Critical Thinking
  • Is Critical Thinking A Soft Skill Or Hard Skill?
  • How To Improve Critical Thinking Skills At Work And Make Better Decisions
  • 5 Creative and Critical Thinking Examples In Workplace
  • 25 In-Demand Jobs That Require Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving Skills

Elements of emotional intelligence

Daniel Goldman, Ph.D., the author of the New York Times bestseller  Emotional Intelligence and Social intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships,   describes the five key elements to emotional intelligence:

1 . Practicing self-awareness : Knowing how you feel and how your emotions and actions can affect those around you. This means having a clear understanding of your weaknesses and strengths.

Self-aware leaders and team members spend a few minutes each day keeping a journal. They are slow to display anger and rarely give in to strong emotions. They know that, no matter what the situation, they can always choose how to react.

2.  Staying in control through self-regulation : This is the ability to avoid stereotyping others, engaging in personal attacks, or making rushed emotional decisions.

Emotionally intelligent people have a solid foundation of values and a code of ethics. They hold themselves accountable and admit and learn from their mistakes. Their stress-relieving practices involve deep-breathing to restore personal calm and often writing down their negative feelings on a sheet of paper, ripping it up, and throwing it away.

3.  Being self-motivated : Emotionally intelligent people are relentlessly dedicated to reaching their goals. They have high personal standards of their own and their group’s quality of work.

Self-motivated people constantly re-examine what they really love about their career. They can always see something positive in any bad situation—if only a lesson learned for future reference.

4.  Walking a mile in the other person’s shoes : Having empathy is another key element of emotional intelligence. This involves a dedication to developing the people on their team, giving constructive feedback, challenging those who are acting unfairly, and always listening to those who ask for help.

Empathetic people take time to look at situations from the perspective of others—even if their opinions and attitudes don’t seem to make good sense. That involves active listening and being sensitive to the feelings and emotions of others.

5.  Having social skills : Social skills—successfully dealing with people with a variety of backgrounds, etc.—are what make a leader and team member great communicators. Their excitement and enthusiasm are infectious, and they set the ideal example for hard work and dedication.

Good social skills include conflict resolution, improving communication skills, and getting into the habit of praising others when the praise is earned.

Employers, however, do not think that critical thinking is overrated

The bottom line is that critical thinking is a necessary skill for almost every job. Employees who can analyze evidence, question and test assumptions and hypotheses and draw conclusions from a variety of data inputs are widely sought after.

According to the  National Association of Colleges and Employers , employers who responded to their survey “rated critical thinking/problem solving as  the most essential competency  among new hires.”

Critical thinking/problem solving was rated 4.62 on a scale of 5. Teamwork/collaboration and professionalism/work ethic ranked just below with scores of 4.56 and 4.46, respectively.

The hybrid combination of critical thinking and emotional intelligence

So, while critical thinking is mainly a rational process, humans can never be 100% rational. To be completely rational would require abandoning our humanity, empathy and ethics.

Part of the process in communicating with others is recognizing that sometimes critical thinking is overrated and can be emotionally challenging. Expressions of emotion must be listened to. They can be evidence of deeper problems and require flexibility and openness to authentic expressions of others.

Your takeaways

  • Dr. Sheldon Cooper, the brilliant, but socially challenged character in  The Big Bang Theory,  is a classic example of how critical thinking can be overrated.
  • There are some disadvantages to critical thinking. They include overthinking, emphasizing the negative, and perfectionism.
  • Critical thinking often includes a rigid avoidance of emotion. However, emotional intelligence can be combined with critical thinking for better communication and problem solving.
  • Elements of emotional intelligence are self-awareness, self-regulation, self-motivation, empathy, and social skills.
  • Nevertheless, employers place a premium on critical thinking skills. Combining critical thinking skills with emotional intelligence is a hybrid solution to problem solving and communication requiring a human touch.
  • 10 Best Books On Critical Thinking And Problem Solving
  • 12 Common Barriers To Critical Thinking (And How To Overcome Them)
  • How To Promote Critical Thinking In The Workplace
  • Critical Thinking vs Problem Solving: What’s the Difference?
  • Brainstorming: Techniques Used To Boost Critical Thinking and Creativity
  • 11 Principles Of Critical Thinking  

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Jenny Palmer

Founder of Eggcellentwork.com. With over 20 years of experience in HR and various roles in corporate world, Jenny shares tips and advice to help professionals advance in their careers. Her blog is a go-to resource for anyone looking to improve their skills, land their dream job, or make a career change.

Further Reading...

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From Good To Great: 20 Examples Of Exceeding Expectations

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17 Tips To Improve Your Ability To Work Independently

smart career objectives

Ultimate Guide to Setting SMART Career Objectives (with Examples)

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Critical Thinking vs Problem Solving: What's the Difference?

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