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Misconceptions About Teaching Critical Thinking

posted Feb 26, 2016, 11:27 PM by HSD Principal

            In this article in School Administrator, Rebecca Stobaugh (Western Kentucky University) and Sandra Love (Mentoring Minds), both former principals, tackle five common conceptual errors about critical thinking:

            • Misconception #1: Critical thinking is only for high-achieving and gifted students. “All students are capable of higher-level thinking,” say Stobaugh and Love. “Critical thinking should not be limited to one group or one age level of students.” They suggest that principals check lesson plans to make sure there are challenging questions for all students.

            • Misconception #2: It’s okay to have students review for a test by using the same critical-thinking questions that will appear on the test. With this approach, the test will assess only students’ ability to remember answers, not their ability to think through unfamiliar questions. Teachers need to integrate a variety of thinking questions throughout the curriculum (analyze scenarios, interpret graphics, evaluate quotes) and make sure students are seeing test questions for the first time.

            • Misconception #3: Using higher-level verbs in assignments ensures that students will think critically. Unfortunately for novice teachers relying on commonly used critical thinking verb charts, things aren’t that simple. For example, in this task – Synthesize the passage and identify the main character – even though a higher-level verb is used, students won’t be doing any critical thinking. Another example of how explain can be used in a lower-level and higher-level task: (a)Explain who is the main character; (b) Explain what the main character fears the most and how he or she is resilient.

            • Misconception #4: Higher-level thinking is best assessed through oral questioning. “Students need time to process high-level questions,” say Stobaugh and Love. If students can produce a quick verbal answer when a question is fired at them in class, it’s probably a lower-level question. Better to let students ponder good questions and discuss them with a classmate before being asked to respond.

            • Misconception #5: Any teacher can facilitate critical thinking. Not true, say the authors. Many teachers need PD on framing good critical thinking questions, modeling high-level thinking themselves, and revising their lesson tasks and assessments so they spur critical thinking. One of the best ways for teachers to improve their skills in this area is working with colleagues to create curriculum unit plans, assess student work, and focus on effective practices.


“Misunderstanding Critical Thinking” by Rebecca Stobaugh and Sandra Love in School Administrator, February 2016 (Vol. 73, #2, p. 14-15), no e-link available. Stobaugh can be reached at rebecca.stobaugh@wku.edu.

Excerpt taken from Marshall Memo 625, February 23, 2016