Critical and creative thinking are important skills that can be used in just about any profession, including education, but they can be tricky to understand and teach.
The root of the word “education” means to “draw out”. This definition is the key to effective education, although we rarely think about it. But, rather than “drawing out” ideas and information from students, we can inadvertently design lessons that “pump in”.
Students brains either subdue to silence or get so bored that they begin to cause chaos in the classroom.
The brain is a muscle, and, like any muscle, it needs to exercise regularly. When we only focus on “pumping in” information, the brain becomes mechanical, no longer needing to think creatively or critically.
Teaching critical and creative thinking skills enable students to “flex” those muscles, so let’s dive in and explore the two principal thinking skills students need.
Why teach critical thinking?
Critical thinking is the process our minds go through when we actively compare ideas, evaluate and analyse information and come up with sound conclusions or judgements based on the thought process we’ve completed.
Teaching critical thinking skills is important for children of all ages to continue to develop. It allows them to express their thoughts and beliefs and be more likely to have a higher quality of life as adults.
In fact, according to the World Economic Forum, critical thinking is one of the two (right behind complex problem solving) top sought after skills by employers during the fourth industrial revolution (we’re in it!). In 2015, it was the fourth most important skill.
Critical thinking fosters the creativity and innovation required in 2022 and beyond. It is an important skill to have when working on projects or jobs—helping students organise their thoughts and make them more productive. It’s also an essential part of learning because it allows us to think about new ideas and concepts from different perspectives.
Critical thinking allows us to learn better than before when we just took everything at face value or believed what we were told without any questioning (which isn’t always a bad thing, but it does have its limitations).
A fun Youtube to share with your High School students: Five strategies to boost your critical thinking skills by BBC ideas.
When we ask students to identify similarities and differences between two ideas, this critical thinking is not enough. Students need to engage the creative thinker to invent a new opinion or idea.
Education demands both critical and creative thinking. Teaching should create intelligence, but the information we as teachers give students is not intelligence in and of itself. Information is not intelligence; intelligence knows how to choose what information you need and apply it.
Students need to learn to use any information to solve problems, develop arguments, or use evidence to support their case. Critical thinking empowers students to analyse and question to produce well-thought-out conclusions.
As teachers, this is what we are responsible for teaching in the classroom.
There are practical ways teachers can more actively engage critical thinking for students with much less effort, so they can be set up to succeed.
As a teacher, the thought that so many young minds are in your hands can be daunting. However, staying positive, optimistic, and always providing a safe place for students to speak their thoughts is an excellent first step.
Why teach creative thinking?
Creative thinking enables students to generate and apply new ideas. They can identify alternative explanations and make new links that facilitate the production of complex creative ideas and unique products. Students gain the ability to step outside the box, take a risk and put their imagination to work. Problem-based learning is one effective way to allow students to do just that.
Creative thinking is not just about art, music, drama, or some arty ‘creative’ thing. When we think creatively, we seek to explore ideas, develop new theories, or create something unique.
By brainstorming, allowing students to daydream, make observations and encourage collaborative discussions, we can help spark innovative ideas and increase the development of creative thinking.
Therefore, creativity is what we can do with what we’re presented with. It’s the ability to think differently and see things from an entirely new perspective.
Changing students’ perspectives is the first step to increasing their creative thinking.
- We need our students to imagine a variety of possibilities in order for them to be inspired. They should not consider only one approach.
- As we’ve done for years, brainstorm on the blackboard and whiteboard to let their thinking diverge.
- We should also encourage our students to think about the aesthetic nature of things, i.e. looking at a painting in different ways.
In Sir Ken Robinson’s (2010) TED Talk ‘Do schools kill creativity’, he states that, “creativity is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status”. What do you think?
Critical and creative thinking work in tandem. Even though critical thinking enables students to analyse information, they need to develop creative thinking. The future needs people who can invent new unique ideas and are not necessarily dependent on past or present inventions.
Sir Ken Robinson states that “creativity draws from many powers that we all have by being human. Creativity is possible in all areas of life, And like many human capacities, our creative powers can be cultivated and refined” Robinson, 2015, in ‘Creative Schools’.
By employing creative thinking, we encourage discussion and the pursuit of knowledge freely. Much like Socrates and Aristotle, the world’s greatest thinkers.
Creative thinking enables students to see problems from a different perspective, and as a result, the solutions they come up with may seem a little crazy. However, training young minds to think creatively allows them to solve problems and communicate in new ways.
Students need both critical and creative thinking skills for the future
Critical thinking skills are highly strategic — you evaluate the soundness of your ideas, while creative thinking is more based on instinct, imagination, and emotion.
Both critical and creative thinking are crucial skills for success in any field — including teaching itself!
When we don’t encourage students to think creatively and critically, it’s easy for students to become bored or disengaged from the material they’re being taught. It makes it harder for them to retain information long-term, which means they won’t be able to pass tests or ace quizzes later on down the road.
Critical thinking helps students analyse information from multiple sources, evaluate evidence, and draw conclusions based on what they know instead of what they guess. These make sure students learn to validate or check that their creative, unique ideas are valid and practical.
So, how do we develop creative and critical thinking?
Group work is one of the most excellent ways to let collaboration happen. Each student brings a variety of ways of looking at the problem, combining both critical and creative thinking in numerous ways.
Students might not be comfortable with group work to start with. However, teaching collaboration alongside critical and creative thinking skills is needed if our students are to succeed in an ever-changing global economy.