What is critical thinking?Critical thinking is about logical thinking, and reasoning. It is the ability to look at information and to decide which is the most useful, or the most relevant to an argument. It is about forming an idea, or opinion and creating a logical way to explain that idea. Critical thinking is the development of the skill to create ideas to solve problems, to order information according to importance or usefulness, and to express a point briefly and clearly. As well as this, critical thinking is described as being goal­orientated. That is to say, when a person has a target, critical thinking is the skill to prioritise things, to put them in an order of importance, to achieve that goal. Overall, it is our ability to express our opinions and ideas in a creative and logical way, as well as our ability to use the information we a given in a good and constructive way.

source : citcom.eu
What is it’s role in Western development?

Critical thinking is an important part of western culture. We use it everyday in different ways and at different levels. In the workplace people are encouraged to solve problems on their own, and to debate ideas with other staff members, and in many cases to explain their ways of working to other members of the team. We use it in regards to the economy, the stock exchange etc.

Brokers use critical thinking to predict stock movement, to help the economy grow. it is used in  politics, and law, as politicians and lawyers have to argue their ideas in a logical and clear way for everyone to understand them, and to understand their plans. These are just two examples. Western development is founded on people’s ability to think individually, and to prioritise their ideas, goals and arguments. It is based on our need to explain and to rationalise so that we can achieve what we need to quickly, and to a high level. It has such a large importance in western working life because it is extremely important in our educational systems. Schools develop this skill early on in education, right from the start, students are encouraged to explain their ideas, and to construct an argument to prove their ideas, to explain their opinions, and even debate them in class.

The development of critical thinking (critical reading and writing)

Critical reading and writing skills are important in the western educational system. A lot of the time students have to write essays or reports and explain our views. For example in English Literature and History we have a system called PEE (point, evidence, explain). For example if a student had a question such as “why is London the best city?”, the student must give a point: ‘It is the best because it has a lot of restaurants’, and then evidence, so for example ‘in Trafalgar square there are over 50 restaurants, all different types of food’, and then they have to explain why this is a reason for London to be the best city, so for example ‘because there is variety, something for everyone to choose and to like etc.’ this is just an example. But exercises like this are very common in British schools, and it is how we learn about critical writing, how to express our views and the information when we write.

When we think about critical reading, we have to read a text, decide which is the most important  piece of information and explain. We read a text and try to think about why the author wrote the  document, why they wanted to talk about this topic etc. Critical reading for us is about interpretation, the way we read the novel or newspaper article. To develop critical reading, in British schools we are given a poem for example and we have to explain what it made us feel, were we happy? or sad? and explain why, by using examples from the poem. To develop these skills, british students are given homework activities, away from textbooks, and without the help of other students, and are asked to look at information and to interpret that. Work to do at home, and class discussions are how we develop our critical reading and writing skills.

How young people in Britain develop critical thinking

Young people in Britain develop this skill, mostly through subjects like history and literature at school. We have to write essays and reports, and explain different ideas, to explain to our teachers our interpretations of facts, not just that we know the facts. For example in my history class, we were given an event in history (a fact from history), and we had to explain its importance, how it had affected other events, or the people involved. We had to know more than just the information, we had to explain why it was important, and how it had changed other events, its impact on things. In subjects such as literature we study a novel, or a poem and the teacher will ask us “what do you think the author is saying in this text?”, “why do you think he/she wrote this?” It isn’t about what happens in the book etc. We have to study why they wrote what they did, and other things like this. Also, schools encourage us to debate. So, for example the class is split into two groups, and one group has to argue one point, the other group another point. For example one group has to argue that summer is the best weather, whilst the other has to argue that winter is the better weather. It can be any topic the teacher chooses, but when we debate and argue it helps us develop ideas and opinions, and then how to explain them well. After the debate, the whole class discusses the result and we can see how we developed a plan to show our ideas and how we could improve our skills. British schools need students to participate in class, to talk to the teacher. We don’t just listen to our teachers, but often we have to explain to our teacher what we have learnt, in our own words, which again helps us to develop our own way of thinking and analysing information.

In regards to goal­orientated thinking, in our first week of school our teacher asks us 3 questions “what would you like to do when you finish school?”, “what would you like to do when you are 30?”, “what one thing would you like to achieve whilst you are in school?”. Then students have to answer these, explain why, and how they are going to achieve it. This helps us to develop our planning skills, our logical thinking, and our ability to prioritise events, and to achieve what we want in a logical way. It is about how we plan for the future, how we want to develop our own future and how we want to contribute to our society. However, it isn’t only in our educational system that we can develop our critical thinking. In my friendship group we often discuss TV programmes, or movies, so talking about it with someone who has a different opinion can help a person understand how to express their ideas logically and rationally.

How to develop this

To develop critical thinking, it is good to use a variety of tasks. For example, in Britain there are  critical reading exercises, where a student must read a document (Newspaper article, for example) and explain in no more than 50 words what the document was about. This develops our ability to read a lot of information, and to prioritise what information is important, and what is extra detail. Another way is through problem solving games or exercises. For example, in my school we played this game:

“If you were stuck on an island, alone, and you only had 3 items, what would you take with you?” The student must choose any three items they want, and then discuss and debate with other students why they chose those things. So for example one student may have “a lighter" (to start a fire), bottled water (to drink) and a phone (to call for help). That is a suggestion. So then, this student has to argue why they chose those things. The idea is at the end to have one list of 3 items, for the whole class to agree on, so that everyone discusses and debates the usefulness of their items.

It is hard to develop critical thinking, because it is a way of life. Our educational system asks us to question what we read. They ask us “why is that?” a lot, and we have to explain what we think. In many classes there is no right or wrong answer. Our schools don’t use textbooks for a lot of their subjects, teachers can plan their own activities, which allows for more of these activities. So, one way to develop critical thinking is to use fewer textbooks. We also have subjects called “personal and social education” which help develop critical thinking, by teaching students about how to be a good citizen, and what young people think is good behaviour. Class projects is also a way to develop critical thinking. Students can choose a topic, such as the environment, and so they pick the information they think is the most important for the other students to know about, they have to talk about the problems with the environment, and create possible solutions. Activities like these help to develop critical thinking skills. To develop critical thinking, schools must use a variety of ways, and change them, to make education more interesting, and to encourage students to get involved, and to enjoy learning. The main way to develop critical thinking is by encouraging students to participate in class, to voice their ideas, and to help them to learn how to explain them well.

By Hannah E.J

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