ANALYTICAL THINKING / CRITICAL THINKING
What is analytical or critical thinking? Some people tend to call critical thinking “analytical thinking”, but analysis is just one part of it. Critical thinking is the ability to objectively analyze and evaluate an issue in order to form a judgment. It is analytical, it is creative, it is open minded and it’s problem solving. Analytical thinking is the ability to break down complex problems or ideas into smaller and more easily manageable components.
It is not an easy come natural skill, but one that needs to be developed and honed, and encouraged! We don’t want parrots! Teach our children how to think! I often say that I don’t care if my children can recite all states and capitals, or the presidents (or Prime Ministers) in order, but I do care that they know how to research, compare and contrast, make inferences and know how to form their own opinion. Then to be able to clearly present what they have learned without bias. This is critical thinking.
When teaching I often had children just parrot what they heard their parents say. I would often dare them with “but what do you think?” and I would get a blank stare. Thus would begin Mrs Best’s challenge to think for yourself, to know what you believe, and to be able to see that there are other opinions – and yours might not be the only or right one. We would learn how to research and form opinions based on reading both sides of the argument. They would learn to ask questions of themselves – is this what I really think? Am I just saying something I heard someone else say? Is what I am saying true? Is what I am saying fair? Could I learn more about this? Have I researched both sides of the argument?
I have encouraged this for a while with my girls, even though they are not yet 5 years old. Two very different personalities that express their critical thinking skills in different ways. Sometimes with not the greatest results. For example: What do you do when you want to get the dress that is hanging up in the cupboard but you can’t reach it? Mummy has told you to try and think through the possibilities of getting that dress before asking for help. Could you get a chair? That might be a good idea. How about the step stool from the bathroom? Another great idea. Or what if you tip a toy box over (that wobbles when on its side as it is more trapezoidal), put the dirty clothes basket on top of that (one of those collapsible ones) and then place a lazy susan on top of that.
And now you are falling……and crack your front tooth in the process. Oh dear. On one hand I was rather impressed that she tried something on her own and was using independent thinking. She was also using analytical thinking in that she looked at the problem as a whole and broke it down into smaller, more manageable pieces. On the other hand I was now dealing with dental issues. Amidst the tears (and blood) she was sobbing “I tried to think how I do it. I didn’t think I fall.”
My other child is the questioner. A million questions a day. But she doesn’t always listen to the answer, or doesn’t want to reason it out, but will just simply say “I don’t know. You tell me.” We encourage her to stop and think before asking again, and see if she can work out the answer, work out the steps needed to do something, or remember what she has been told prior.
These are important skills, whether you are 4 or 44. I am encouraging my girls, like any children I teach, to be an independent thinker.
BENEFITS OF CRITICAL THINKING
What are the benefits of critical thinking?
- Creativity – In order to do well both in and after school, we need to be creative. It seems that no longer can we go with the status quo but find innovative ways to compete and be heard.
- Curiosity – When we are curious about what is around us, it forces us to ask questions and seek answers. This leads to lifelong learning (hooray!). And it also helps to not take everything at face value.
- Comprehension – Being able to critical think helps with our comprehension. Are we truly understanding what we are seeing, hearing or learning? Comprehension is also discerning hidden or underlying messages in text. Are things straight up or implied?
- Communication – How we express ourselves is important. Critical thinking enhances our language and presentation skills. If we can think clearly and think through issues, etc., we can improve how we express ourselves.
- Life skill – Once we leave school we never stop learning – or at least we shouldn’t! The critical thinking skills will serve us well as we navigate jobs, relationships and other opportunities that come our way.
- Independence – Isn’t it great when our children can think for themselves and make decisions? It is a little freeing – ok, a lot freeing! And isn’t this what we want – that our children don’t need us to be holding their hands the rest of their lives, expecting us to step in and make decisions for them. Critical thinking helps us to self-reflect and ask ourselves questions to help make better decisions, organize better and be productive members of society.
CHARACTERISTICS OF A CRITICAL THINKER
When it comes to characteristics of a critical thinker, we can put together a list and understand that many, but not all of those characteristics, will be apparent in everyone. I know that if I had to rattle off a list about myself, I would have on that list curious, creative and looking for solutions at the top of my list. Something else would be “a fact checker” – how I love to fact check people’s Facebook posts. I have learned not to take things at face value, but to look at what is being presented and is there another side? I try not to let bias lead me, but look at both sides of the argument and form my own opinion. That might not always work, but I can guarantee that I do learn a lot and have learned to weed out misinformation.
Here are 10 possible characteristics (yes, there are more):
- Strong observation skills
- Strong analytical thinking
- Can identify bias
- Can infer many possible outcomes
- Have an open mind
- Listen well
- Willing to question why and look for solutions
- Creative thinking
CHARACTERISTICS OF ANALYTICAL THINKING
Here are some characteristics of an analytical thinker, because we do find the analytical thinking skill set a lot in critical thinking:
- Can easily over analyze
- Dwelling on negatives and being pessimistic
- Can over communicate and be a little highfalutin
- Overly thinking and organizing thoughts
- Tendency to rationalize
CRITICAL THINKING EXAMPLES
What are some examples of critical thinking and problem solving? Well, yes, my daughter’s ill-thought through dress retrieval is one. But there are other great examples:
- Upon arrival at the scene of an accident, emergency services must assess safety, priority, and timeliness.
- Weighing up whether or not putting their child in a private school is a financial possibility for a family.
- A parent trying to mediate an argument between children with fairness and without favoritism.
- A child presenting why they should have a later curfew or additional allowance/pocket money.
- A teen hearing something they don’t feel is factual and going to research both sides of the argument so they can present it to their friends, without it all being hearsay, and having facts to back up their thinking.
- A teen trying to work out where they want to go to college/university.
- A child working out why they didn’t get a good grade and what they can do to improve it.
CRITICAL AND CREATIVE THINKING
There are actually differences between critical and creative thinking, but creative thinking is a process, or part of, critical thinking. Creative thinking is usually to look at something from a fresh perspective or to come up with a new way of doing something.
I like this chart on the differences between critical and creative thinking. I did not come up with it – thank you thepeakperformancecenter.com (it is also found on Pinterest. And if you would like to know more about creative vs. critical thinking you want to check out the page/link above. They do a great job explaining it all in a way that is easy to understand.) This does not mean that critical and creative thinking operate individually – they are both processes that all people can do, and often intertwine them when working things out. In conjunction, they are powerful tools.
CRITICAL THINKING EXERCISES
As a teacher, I have always loved to challenge students on what they think or things they have always believed to be true. That is a fun exercise. Google something like “things you thought were true but aren’t”. Watch the videos, or read the lists, and then research to see if it really is the case that you have thought in error for a number of years. It is a great way to teach children how to analyze information, look at reputable sources, and discuss why we might believe something that isn’t in fact true. Another fun way to practice critical thinking is through games, especially board games that involve strategy. Check out my video on learning outside the classroom, as it talks about family game night as a great tool.
So, do we need to teach critical thinking? Absolutely! Is it vital? I believe so. In that should we also focus on analytical thinking? Yes. It is never too late to start learning these skills and have fun with it. I would love to hear your thoughts on critical thinking, and what are some of the things you believed were true but actually weren’t? For me, one thing was that chameleons do not change color based on their surroundings but to communicate mood. Of course, now I am going to investigate where this misinformation came from 🙂