Developing critical thinking skills is one of the main goals of today’s education system. Students that can think critically can solve problems from different angles, learn deeply, and are generally more successful after graduation. As a 21st-century skill, critical thinking doesn’t fit neatly inside the box of any single curriculum or education program. Instead, it is something that needs to be incorporated into every classroom throughout the school year.
However, critical thinking can be difficult to encourage in students and even more challenging to assess accurately using traditional teaching and assessment methods. For educators to assess critical thinking it is helpful to think outside of the box and to have digital assessment tools that can provide flexible options for students in how they access and demonstrate learning.
Critical Thinking: A 21st-century Skill
For students to be successful after school they will need skills that go beyond the traditional model of learning where facts and figures are simply memorized and recited from a textbook. In today’s economy, there is much more value placed on students that can use their resources and apply what they have learned to new and unique situations. These are skills that transcend the content in any given class and are applicable across content areas.
In addition to helping students after high school, critical thinking skills are also being embedded into the curriculum standards as a skill that must be measured and proven. Measuring critical thinking skills is difficult to do using traditional assessment methods because educators must create assessments that allow for freedom of thought rather than memorization. This means thinking ahead and developing rubrics that can assess students based on their performance and skills rather than how many questions they answer correctly on a test.
How is Critical Thinking Taught and Assessed?
Critical thinking skills are the skill that allows students to take in information, analyze it, do research if necessary, and develop new conclusions based on what they discover through their studies. These skills also require students to take information that they have learned and apply it in the real world. In general, critical thinking skills embody the following:
- Effective reasoning
- Decision making
- Schema development
- Creativity and innovation
All of these elements taken as a whole can help students to become critical thinkers, however, few students learn these all on their own. This is why educators must build opportunities for learning these skills explicitly. Students can then take the skills they learned individually and begin to apply them in new ways and different contexts.
3 Ways to Develop Students’ Critical Thinking
In terms of assessing critical thinking, educators need to give students real-world, relevant assessments that enable students to take what they have learned and solve a novel problem. To assess this, educators need to develop rubrics with a framework for different student responses and outcomes. This is because, with assessments that require critical thinking, there are a wide array of possible ways that students could tackle the issue.
1. Make Assessment Performance-based
- Debates – students think in real-time as they argue for their side of an issue using evidence to support their thinking.
- Short stories – students can write short stories to demonstrate learning for almost any literary device or technique.
- Experiments – when students design an experiment to answer scientific or sociological questions they must engage in critical thinking and use knowledge in new ways.
- Portfolios – for the arts, portfolios can be a great way of demonstrating learning and growth over time.
- Demonstrations – students can be asked to demonstrate or teach a concept to others, requiring a deep level of understanding of a topic or process.
Regardless of the assessment type, performance-based assessments have a few things in common. They must involve complex thinking rather than rote memorization. All performance-based assessments should exist in the real world rather than simply exist in theory. Additionally, performance-based assessments are open-ended, there may not be a correct answer at all, or there may be more than one way to arrive at the desired outcome. By assessing in this way, educators can foster deep critical thinking skills within their students, no matter the skill level.
2. Leverage Portable Custom Interactions
One way for educators to address performance-based assessment digitally is through the use of Portable Custom Interactions, or PCIs, embedded within an online assessment. PCIs allow educators to give students multiple pathways within a single assessment. Developing real-world performance-based assessments can be resource and time-intensive, however, PCIs allow this all to happen digitally and, when desired, in a game-like simulation.
The data captured from PCI question types in computer-based testing also gives educators the power to better understand how students solve problems and engage in critical thinking. Using this information, they can then identify areas for growth and where further instruction may be needed. And they can do it all within a single online platform rather than needing to sort through papers or documents manually.
3. Integrate Collaborative Assessment Tools
A large component of critical thinking is taking the opinions and ideas of others into account when solving problems or performing learning tasks. Learners working on their own are limited in their thoughts and interpretations of learning. However, when students engage in collaboration, they can get new ideas and see things from different perspectives which enhances learning and understanding.
By utilizing collaborative assessments such as cloud-based learning platforms students can engage with work and complete assessments at a pace that is in line with their needs. It also means that educators can have students work asynchronized when needed, with students working across classes or in some cases, across time zones.
Critical thinking is at the forefront of student learning today. With many new technologies available to educators, learning and assessing using critical thinking techniques is easier than it used to be. Through advanced technologies, like those available through Open Assessment Technologies, educators can more effectively plan and implement lessons that allow students to think critically and solve large-scale problems.
If you are interested in learning more about how technology can enhance and foster critical thinking through digital assessments click here.