Critical Thinking

Peter Gray once said: “ To think critically, people must feel motivated and free to voice their own ideas and raise their own questions. But in school students learn that their own ideas and questions don’t count. What counts are the abilities to provide the “correct” answers to questions that they did not ask and that do not interest them. And “correct” means the answers that the teachers or the test producers are looking for, not necessarily answers that the students really understands or cares about, or really believes are correct, or finds useful in daily life.”

What it means to me

During my elementary-school days, I never remember hearing the term, critical thinking and at the time, I couldn’t say for sure if I was a critical thinker or not. I do know, I was always thinking: thinking about how to make school fun; thinking about how to make someone laugh; thinking about what games I could create for my brothers and I to play. But I’m not sure if it was critical thinking.

In high school, it was the same thing, but I was thinking about how I could get through the day without embarrassing myself, and how I could make someone laugh (probably because I didn’t know the material and I wanted no part of being asked a school question). In college, I was just trying to graduate. I would find any shortcut possible to find the “correct” answer — just to get good grades, and hopefully graduate. During this time, I knew I wasn’t thinking in a critical manner, I was just trying to get out of school as fast as I possibly could.

It wasn’t until I began my second year of teaching that I stumbled upon the term, critical thinking, and I did so, because I was researching ways to help young readers comprehend a text. That’s when I realized, I had been a critical thinker, but only when the topic motivated me or sparked an interest in me. Additionally, it only seemed to occur when there was no fear involved: alone and in thought, with my siblings, or with close friends. Those were the times I could sit with an idea or problem or game, and critical think until I came to an answer I — or siblings or friends — thought was best.

To me, this quote means schools, and the way they operate, have a tendency to take critical thinking away from students. Meanwhile, teachers are trying everything they can to get their students to answer higher-level questions, without even realizing they may be part of the problem by pushing the “right answer” into their brains.

Why I chose this quote

This quote is important to me, because I want my current students — and future students — to think critically. This world seems to be changing at a faster rate each day, and it’s challenging to keep up. But critical thinking seems to be a core value for many jobs in our society, and I want my students to have the ability to analyze and evaluate, instead of just thinking of the one answer to a question.

Like I said before, I did not understand critical thinking until my second year of teaching. The school district I work in is doing very well with mathematics. However, reading is low across every grade-level. The topic has come up constantly: in data meetings, faculty meetings, grade-level meetings—it even comes up in casual conversations. It was getting tiresome. That’s when I began looking for solutions, and that’s when I found critical thinking.

After reading about critical thinking, I began to wonder if it was the missing puzzle piece when it came to comprehension. I mean, let’s face it, the passages students read can be boring and repetitive, and the tasks they have to complete can be even worse: Read this; answer that. No, do it again, but take your time. Well, one can take all the time in the world and still not care about what they’re reading. Yet, at the same time, if students are interested in the reading, they are much more likely to critical think, at least that’s what I’ve observed.

It has been one year of attempts to bring critical thinking into the classroom (specifically for reading), while at the same time, abiding by the curriculum rules at the school. And so far, what I found in my small experiments and observations, seems to relate to a lot of what Gray talks about in this quote. Students who seem to be motivated tend to show more critical thinking; students who are not pressured tend to show more critical thinking; students who feel valued and appreciated tend to show more critical thinking. If this is true, then how do we promote critical thinking in schools, without veering too far away from the curriculum and guidelines set by the school that employed you?

I am continuing to try different strategies to do just that. And this quote (from the book “Free to Learn”) has given me some more ideas to try. Critical thinking is an important tool to have, and my goal is to teach the value of critical thinking to my students.

42 thoughts on “Critical Thinking

  1. I’d say you are a very good teacher, the kind parents would prefer to be teaching their children. When you chose teaching you chose a difficult path which is not rewarded as it should be. I cringe every time I see an ad for the sitcom “Teachers.” It is disgusting. Our teachers hold our future in their hands. Thank you for caring for the minds of our future.

    Liked by 4 people

      1. I know you are. My son loved children. He died at the very young age of 31, but at his funeral the pee wee football team he coached were all clad in their uniforms. He and his best friend were both coaches for the team in Mesquite, TX. His best friend in his eulogy to Scott said, “Scott was the one who dried their tears and cheered them up when they were down or when they lost.” He was the kind of individual who made a lasting impression on many because he cared so much about others. I see that passion in your writing and the fact that you say, “I just hope I’m making a difference in someone’s life” tells me you are making that difference.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. That must have been so heart warming to see. Your son is an inspiration, by the sounds of it.
        And, I would never wish for this, and I am so sorry for your loss, but if I were to pass, it would be such a great thing knowing I made a difference like your son did.

        Thank you so much for your thoughtful and generous words, Phyllis. I’m so glad you took the time to say this.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. The hard part of emphasizing Critical Thinking is finding a way to evaluate (and reward…for the student as well as the District). Tends to be time-consuming/burn out for the teacher.
    But ifyou can manage that, the rewards are many, in the classroom and for society at large (IMHO).

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Yes, I agree with you on that. And I think that’s a main reason school still focus on grades and data (it’s simple to measure).
      Right now, I’ve been modeling and discussing critical thinking, in hopes it carries with them.
      Thank you so much for your insight, Liz!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Yeah, critical thinking is one of those concepts that are hard to measure though. I consider myself a critical thinker but I’m sure people who disagree with me on some topics would say that I’m a “sheep.”

    Everybody thinks they’re smart.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you so much for reading, and providing feedback! I would love to find out how to measure it; although, the task seems daunting.

      In my opinion, though not always, the ones who think they’re smart–aren’t.
      I think an intelligent person knows their limitations, and seeks further information before speaking out.

      The thing is, I see signs of critical thinking in some of my students, but like you said: how can you measure It?

      Any ideas?

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Very good question. If I’m understanding you right, you’re asking is it critical thinking to criticise one’s work?
      If that is so, you have to look at the difference between the two.

      In my opinion, being critical comes from an emotional place, and is usually used to undermine someone’s work or opinion. Whereas, critical thinking, is taking a more reasoned approach to something: you almost take a step back and analyze with more reason behind it.
      So in my opinion, I think you can be critical while criticising what you read.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Your last sentence sounds like critical thinking to me: thinking within your head, and noticing disadvantages.
        The first sentence sounds like more of an opinion. And my opinion, would be no one needs to take anything as a model. But I personally love the classics. I read them with an open mind, take what I like, and toss what I don’t.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Classical: Gone with the Wind (Scarlett O’Hara), Singing in the thorns, Jane Eyre.
        From the modern: Harry Potter, the books of Sergei Lukyanenko (a Russian science fiction writer) and “A very gifted person”, but I do not know if there is a translation into English.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I appreciate your post. As a homeschooling mom, critical thinking is something I endeavor to cultivate in my children as well. It’s refreshing to hear someone on the same page 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, RD. I really appreciate your kind words. And it is so refreshing! Believe it or not, but I often feel like an outcast as a teacher. Although, I like to think I’m ahead of the curve lol.

      How is homeschooling? I’ve often thought of that if I were to have a child. It’s strange to say, but I’m not too encouraged with the way education is going, and I want my future child to have the best education.


      1. I think you’re ahead of the curve too. I’m sure the parents of your students are grateful to have you. 😊

        We love homeschooling. My favorite part is that we are afforded the opportunity to pursue what the kids like. They are much more engaged and have a love of learning because of it. I think that each person and child is different. What works for us, may not work. for others. I respect the right of each parent to choose what is the best educational course for them and their family. 😊

        Liked by 2 people

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