Consider this scenario. Your friend is distraught and not coherently expressing their needs. They are acting out through a rush of emotion and snide comments and unable to clearly identify why they are having issues. What do you do? Do you join in and express your own frustration or do you pause, and try to work through what your friend is saying to try and provide some help and support?
What about this scenario? A student in your class hits someone in class without any clear reason to be provoked. How do you think your teacher reacts? Perhaps they ask the two conflicting classmates if any other factors could have provoked this. Perhaps one of the students is having trouble at home or in other school subjects. Your teacher works to be as objective as possible when settling a dispute by summarizing the alternatives, with fairness to all sides to a disagreement. This may seem like a simple way to come to solutions, but what is being demonstrated in these scenarios is strong critical thinking skills.
What is critical thinking? Critical thinking is the ability to analyze information in an objective manner and come to a reasonable decision based on that information. Thinking critically involves analyzing data, facts and research findings and arriving at a conclusion based on that data.
Critical thinking is a form of reasoning that has developed over millennia. The teaching and practice of critical thinking dates back to the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates, who 2,500 years ago discovered by a method of probing questions that people could not rationally justify their claims to knowledge. Socrates established the fact that one cannot depend upon those in “authority” to have sound knowledge and insight and that persons may have power and high position and yet be deeply confused and irrational. He established the importance of asking deep questions that probe profoundly into thinking before we accept ideas as worthy of belief. In other words, he founded the idea of thinking critically and rationally of other’s positions.
Although critical thinking may be an ancient idea in human development, it is still not something that comes truly inherent to human beings. We must continue to work on developing these skills to become more critical thinkers as our lives progress. It’s important to question everything.
In this week’s Ontario eSecondary School blog, we’re looking at ways you can work on developing critical thinking skills. When we’re done, we hope you’re questioning what we’ve taught you!
Critical thinking skills and examples.
How do you react in situations? Do you think about multiple scenarios or perspectives, or do you react based on emotions and personal biases? If you answered emotions and personal biases, you may not be thinking critically when making decisions or coming to conclusions on things. Good critical thinkers can draw reasonable conclusions from a set of information, and discriminate between useful and less useful details to solve problems or make decisions.
Developing strong critical thinking skills is something that will be carried with you through high school, university or college and your working life. Critical thinking abilities are among the most sought-after skills in almost every industry and workplace.
As this article by ThoughtCo. highlights, “The circumstances that demand critical thinking vary from industry to industry. Some examples include:
- A triage nurse analyzes the cases at hand and decides the order by which the patients should be treated.
- A plumber evaluates the materials that would best suit a particular job.
- An attorney reviews evidence and devises a strategy to win a case or to decide whether to settle out of court.
- A manager analyzes customer feedback forms and uses this information to develop a customer service training session for employees.
Critical thinking uses analysis, communication, open-mindedness, problem solving and creativity in everyday decision making. To critically think is to be rational in your thinking and to consider all opinions in that rationality.
Rationality. What is it?
What does it mean to be rational? “Rational behavior refers to a decision-making process that is based on making choices that result in the optimal level of benefit or utility for an individual.” In other words, a rational decision is one based on critical and reasonable research and consideration of factors. Being too rational can lead to being too critical. With this in mind, it is important to consider what kind of rational thinker you are.
The website Clearer Thinking, devotes itself to techniques and research around how the human mind works. Using theories in psychology, neuroscience, and economics they look at insights and the scientific study of decision-making, habit formation, motivation, and cognitive biases. They created this interesting quiz on 16 different types of rational thinkers that exist. Their fun and free quiz will teach you a lot about your brain, where your strengths lie, and what you can do to improve your skills. You can take the Quiz here to find out what kind of rational thinker you are.
Being rational doesn’t necessarily mean one thinks critically though. In 1979 a study revealed that although people may try to think rationally, in reality humans don’t make rational decisions based on outcome, but rather, they think in terms of gains and losses using mental probing that often led them to less than optimal choices. In other words, they went with their gut instinct instead. We now know that our brain has cognitive biases that stop us from seeing the world as it really is and interacting with it in a way that will benefit us. Many of these biases are a product of our emotional judgments; we are too quick to trust our intuition.
What makes an exception critical thinker?
The best critical thinkers tend to follow habits that ensure they are reviewing all the information before making a decision. Consider this article on the “Eight Habits of Effective Critical Thinkers.” It highlights how high-level executives often follow habits when making critical decisions. The best critical thinkers look at the following:
- They are concerned with getting something right, rather than being right. They put aside their ego and recognize that they may not have all the answers and instead take the time to ask questions of people who do.
- They avoid jumping to conclusions. Gather as much important information and understand a situation or argument before taking an action.
- They do not accept information at face value. Ask questions and discover the information that is being presented to you. Someone providing you the information may have their own biases or agenda. It is important to consider that before making a decision.
- Don’t over analyze, it can slow you down. Although leaders often need to make decisions, it’s also critical they don’t over complicate things or become a bottleneck for information.
- They are continuous learners. Try to be as well-rounded as possible. Understanding a wide range of topics can help you to become a stronger decision maker and leader.
- Be flexible and open to alternative ideas. See more than one side of an issue and understand why people may feel the way that they do.
- Be critical of yourself. We’ll discuss this in more detail below, but it’s important to self-examine your own bias and understand how that could impact your decisions.
- Be confident but approachable. Strong leaders make decisions critically and think decisively. They remain patient when decisions are important and can digest the information to make clear and decisive decisions. That said, good leaders will take responsibility when their critical thinking may not have led to the best decision or a bad decision.
Leveraging these principles will not only allow you to be a good leader, but will put you well on the way to developing skills for critical thinking.
How to develop critical thinking skills?
If you can’t trust your intuition, then what is one to do? Try developing some critical thinking skills! Try starting with developing some key skills that will give you the tools to think critically and make smart and reasoned decisions.
Become a self critic
It’s important to be able to reflect on your own choices and your own bias. Ask yourself, “why” do you believe something and are there specific examples in your life where you could become emotionally attached to an idea? Self-reflection allows us to understand how we naturally respond to a situation or idea. Acknowledging your strengths, weaknesses and personal biases will allow you to know when these kinds of issues are impairing your ability to think critically.
Practice active listening
Listening intently is a skill that is very necessary to become a critical thinker. You need to fully listen and absorb what someone is saying before you begin thinking through your decision making process. When we hear someone’s stories, ideas, struggles or passions, we’re able to fully digest that information and analyze it. Active listening can help us fully understand what someone is telling us.
Analyzing the information paramount piece to critical thinking. To reach success, we need to analyze the information before us and break it down by assessing what is being said. We need to ensure we understand that information so that we can then dissect and assess all arguments. We also need to dissect our own biases and ideas as part of this process. When you step back to analyze an argument, you can become more objective in your assessment.
Consider your communication strategy when projecting your own thoughts. When you approach a scenario with compassion, you’re in a peaceful mindset, rather than a defensive one. By being in that mindset you can communicate clearly and effectively and can avoid putting your own judgements or emotional baggage on an idea. If someone doesn’t like your idea, it doesn’t mean it’s personal, it maybe just isn’t right. Consider that everyone comes from their own perspectives and those perspectives will shape their own opinions or ideas.
When thinking critically, you may come to a final conclusion that may have multiple impacts. Try to consider what the future impact of a decision may be. Foresight is an important component to success in all facets of life. What does the decision you’re making potentially look like in the future? What will you gain from a decision? Will it be positive or negative? Could there be multiple results to a solution? Being reflective of your own ideas and understanding how those things may impact things in the future can help you make those choices.
Activities for critical thinking
In order to build your critical thinking skills, consider completing some activities that will help you understand what critical thinking is. Although you may understand the concepts, putting it into practice is the only true way to become a critical thinker.
This helpful workbook has a number of different activities that can help you in developing these skills.
Critical Thinking in OES courses
Learning through Ontario eSecondary School can help you build your critical thinking skills. Many of our English and History courses are built with a lens that allows you to consider multiple opinions and facts in the materials you’re reading. For example, ENG4U, a Grade 12 English course emphasizes the consolidation of the literacy, communication, and critical and creative thinking skills necessary for success in academic and daily life. In the course, students analyse a range of challenging literary texts from various periods, countries, and cultures; interpret and evaluate informational and graphic texts; and create oral, written, and media texts in a variety of forms.
Meanwhile a course like HSB4U – Challenge & Change In Society, focuses on the use of social science theories, perspectives, and methodologies to investigate and explain shifts in knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviour and their impact on society. The course asks students to critically analyze how and why cultural, social, and behavioural patterns change over time.
OES is a purpose built online high school. Our instructors are experienced in teaching students online and our courses are structured in a clear and concise manner to make it easier for you to guide your learning. As an accredited Ontario online high school, we structure our courses per the Ontario Ministry of Education standards and break up our lessons into very intentional and digestible content that ensures our courses are consistent for all students and creates a positive and streamlined experience so you can earn Ontario high school credits online.
If you’re currently attending high school in Ontario, or if you’re looking for an adult high school in order to upgrade your marks as an international student, OES has a wide range of courses available. From SBI4U to MHF4U, the amazing teachers at OES are ready to support you and help you meet your goals all over the world.
The Ontario eSecondary School has been inspected and accredited by the Ontario Ministry of Education. What does this mean? As a virtual school, all of our courses are recognized by and can be used toward an Ontario Secondary School Diploma (OSSD) and are also recognized as part of your OUAC application. This makes OES a great partner for upgrading Ontario high school credits online and is also perfect for adult students or international students looking to earn credits for post-secondary.
Learn more about our courses at oeshighschool.com