Think about the last time you had a fight – with a friend, with a significant other, with a family member.  In that moment was the thinking of the person you were fighting with totally illogical?  Was his or her thinking egocentric?

Yes…Okay now here’s the tough question – was yours?

The answer for most of us is probably…at least a little.


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Left undisciplined most of our thinking is often unclear, contradictory, illogical, and egocentric.  That goes for all of us – adults, students…heck even education bloggers.

So how do we train our brains to move beyond this type of thinking? How do we help students move beyond this type of thinking?

As we mentioned yesterday the first step is:

Choose a comprehensive and specific construct of what it means to improve thinking.

We recommend the framework from the Critical Thinking Foundation.  Dr. Richard Paul and Dr. Linda Elder have developed a structure for systematically improving thinking that includes three major components that work in all disciplines and grade levels (check out these different lesson plans that show the system in use for K-3, 4-6, 6-9, 10-12).

The goal of this system is for students to improve their thinking by learning to analyze and evaluate it automatically.  What does that look like? Picture this:

A student in your class makes a comment, pauses and says “wait that wasn’t very clear let me restate that” or when a student in a writing conference turns to a peer and says “this evidence is very precise, but it’s not relevant to your thesis.”

It is possible and this system can help us get there!

So you are probably asking yourself “What are the three elements of the Critical Thinking Foundation’s system for improving thinking?”   Your answer is below!

                                                                                       1)  Analysis


image credit: The Critical Thinking Foundation

In order to improve thinking, students need to break their thinking down into its component parts.  The tool for doing this is the logic wheel.  The logic wheel is made up of the 8 elements of thought that are buried in all of our thinking.  By breaking down our thinking, we can uncover these elements and gain a clearer picture of our thoughts.

In analysis students would ask questions based on the logic wheel such as:

  • What is my purpose?
  • What assumptions am I making?
  • What are the implications of my argument?

Image credit: Critical Thinking Foundation

2) Evaluation

After we break down our thinking into its component parts, we need to assess it.  In order to evaluate thinking, it is necessary to have a universal set of criteria that students can apply in any situation.  These criteria are the intellectual standards.  These standards are goals we should always be striving towards as we work to improve our thinking.  Students can use these standards to assess the quality of their thinking and make a plan for improving it.  In evaluation students should ask themselves questions like these:

  • Is my thinking clear?
  • How relevant is my evidence?
  • Does my thinking all make sense together? Is it logical?
  • How can I make my thinking more precise?

3) Cultivation

In addition to developing the habit of analyzing and evaluating their own thinking on a regular basis to move from a naïve thinker to a fairminded thinker, students need to develop intellectual habits that will help them both improve their own thinking and push others to do the same.  The Critical Thinking Foundation calls these intellectual traits (see all of them listed here with explanation).  To develop these traits, students could reflect on questions like:

  • Did I acknowledge the limits of my own knowledge in that conversation (intellectual humility)?
  • Did I stay true to my own thinking during that debate or was I easily persuaded by shoddy thinking (intellectual integrity)?
  • Did I face and fairly address that new idea even though it conflicted with my beliefs or was uncomfortable for me (intellectual courage)?

ImageWoo..that was a lot.  So now you have a picture of the full system in your mind.  Maybe it looks something like this:


Time to remember the plan from yesterday for improving student thinking.  Focus on improving one or two aspects of thinking at a time.

So choose one or two elements of thought or one or two intellectual standards and ask students to evaluate and improve the quality of their own work according to the criteria.  Don’t go crazy and try to implement the full system tomorrow.  Slowly build with students so they have time to practice with each part of the system.

One easy way to get started is to use a simple reflection like this.  Try it out with your students and let us know what you think!