How to Develop Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving Skills in Schools

Overwhelming research has revealed that up to 45% of students in college don’t have critical thinking skills. This is certainly a problem that should be addressed at a much earlier level, to create a pattern that eventually builds into intrinsic habit. Similarly, not many students have appropriate problem-solving skills which is also another important matter that requires attention. It’s time to change that and it all starts by nurturing skill development in schools in the following ways. 

Evoke curiosity to get students thinking 

Critical thinking skills require regular practice to grow and maintain. Otherwise, like a muscle, they will diminish and atrophy. Therefore, we encourage teachers as well as parents to take opportunities to stir curiosity in students. 

One way to do that is by asking questions, and open-ended ones that don’t really have a “yes”/“no” or “A, B, C, D” answer but rather require the respondent to think, dig deep and offer up an opinion. 

Some questions that can encourage critical thinking: 

  • Why do you agree/disagree with this point? 
  • Can you explain your answer with an example? 
  • What would you do differently to solve this issue? 
  • Why do you believe that this is the correct answer and not that one? 

And so on. It’s important to get students thinking about why things happen instead of just accepting things for what they are. It is by questioning the ordinary that we stumble upon the extraordinary.   

Demonstrate a multi-faceted approach to challenges

The great thing about most problems in life is that there are multiple ways to remedy them. As the adage goes, there are many ways to kill a rat. If a student constantly just explores one way of doing things, this stifles their problem solving abilities and constricts their vision. 

Therefore, we encourage critical thinking skill development in schools by advising teachers and parents to encourage students to consider multiple perspectives on a problem. That also means that we need to start prioritizing challenges or problems with multiple answers. 

If a student suggests one way to handle a matter, prompt them to suggest another equally viable solution. Doing so teaches kids to consider multiple angles and perspectives, which is the foundation of excellent critical thinking and problem solving skills. 

Allow students to make mistakes 

Have you ever heard of the derring effect? It is a scientifically backed phenomenon that states that when learners deliberately make mistakes, they learn best by correcting them. To learn better, you simply have to err. Failure is the true fire that molds success, and from its flames, students learn to think analytically rather than make rash decisions that land them into trouble in the first place. 

Deliberate errors and corrective feedback can steer students to a better grasp of critical thinking and problem-solving abilities. Encouraging students to intentionally incorporate errors in their work and then allowing other students to spot the mistake is a great way to nurture these skills. You can practice this concept with various types of learning material or situations such as: 

  • Group studies
  • Homework 
  • Project assignments
  • Class discussions or lessons and so on

As a teacher, you could intentionally try providing a wrong answer to a question and see how your students react. 

Provide tasks that require creativity 

Many schools slam the door on creativity by restricting assignments to a formula where answers are generic. One student can simply copy and paste answers from their fellow students and they’d still pass the task.

To truly grow critical thinking skills, schools need to provide challenges that go beyond the text. Assignments that have varying answers, according to the situation around a particular student.

For example, you could instruct students to write about their family, and what makes everyone in their household unique. Or, give out a 500-word essay that requires each student to define what creativity means to them individually. 

The point is to provide tasks that don’t have uniform or blanket fit solutions but instead ensure everyone flexes their creative muscles to come up with an original response.

Provide plenty of opportunities for public speaking

I hear you. “How public speaking improves critical thinking?” Well, if you’ve ever stood in front of an audience to deliver an impromptu speech, you know that you have to filter racing thoughts and harness reflection/analysis to curate your words before you say them out loud. 

Constant speech adaptation and having to construct arguments on the fly such as during debates can lay the ground for higher-order thinking skills. We advise scheduling moments for debate at the end of every lesson or even dedicating one lesson a week for students to converse and brainstorm over a topic. Out-of-the-blue discussions without prior preparation are typically best for teaching students to think on their feet. 

Critical thinking skills are critical 

If we are to avoid a new generation of ordinary work stiffs taught to just color within the lines, so to speak, and instead grow students who think outside the box and have an eye for innovation, then cultivating critical thinking and problem-solving skills is essential. These can help to turn job seekers into job creators ensuring benefits that far surpass what a single individual stands to gain. Schools must therefore begin to prioritize these types of skills right now.