In their book McKeachie’s Teaching Tips, Fourteenth Edition, Marilla Svinicki and Wilbert J. McKeachie write, “As college instructors, our task is to provide edible fish (content knowledge), but our task is also to teach our students how to fish (learning how to become strategic, self-regulated learners in our field)” (304). But how can an instructor do this in the most optimal manner?
If you’re hoping to inspire your students to improve the quality of their thinking and reach deeper levels of learning, consider the fifteen suggestions that Svinicki and McKeachie put forth in their book. We’ve summarized them below:
1. Make sure your students understand that helping them improve their thinking is your priority. Put it in your syllabus (for example, you can note that the class will help them begin to learn how to think like a professional in your discipline). Also take the time to define “successful thinking,” so that they know what you mean by “lower” and “higher” levels of thinking as they relate to your course materials and your discipline as a whole.
2. Does a particular pedagogical framework, such as Bloom’s Taxonomy, shape your instructional design? If so, describe and explain the model to your students. If they understand your approach to the course material, they can better grasp your expectations and your overall goals for the course, especially as you seek to develop their higher-order thinking skills.
3. Don’t just talk about critical thinking; give students the opportunity to apply it during class. Be sure to show interest, appreciation, and even enthusiasm when you recognize that their responses and questions are demonstrating more effective thinking strategies.
4. Remember that one student’s question can provide an opportunity for all students to apply and demonstrate their thinking skills. Instead of answering every student question yourself, turn some of those questions into opportunities for students to process and respond together.
5. If a student demonstrates good thinking, acknowledge it. This can help other students come to understand what you mean by “good thinking.” On the other hand, if a student response is less thoughtful or considered than you would hope for, invite the class to continue discussing and thinking through the point until you can see that they’ve reached a deeper understanding together.
6. Encourage (or require) students to evaluate the strength of their work. By learning to recognize their own strengths and weaknesses, students can gain the confidence they need in order to become deeper, more independent thinkers.
7. When you create activities and assignments, keep the varying learning preferences of students in mind. Using a variety of strategies can prompt greater levels of student engagement across the board.
8. Be careful not to teach solely to the segment of students whose approach to learning mirrors your own. Be ready to adapt your approach so that greater numbers of students engage in the course and “catch on” to what you are doing, saying, and teaching.
9. When choosing what to cover in class, focus more keenly on the material that helps you achieve the “thinking goals” you have for the course. What you may sacrifice in breadth of coverage, your students can gain in deeper and longer-lasting development of the knowledge and skills associated with your course and discipline.
10. Remember that it’s quite normal for people to resist a challenge, especially in areas where they aren’t used to being challenged. Thus, your students may initially seem content to move forward into deeper and more complex patterns of thinking. If that’s the case, consider how you can make the challenge to think deeply and more critically a rewarding, rather than unappealing, one.
11. If students seem intellectually lazy, don’t take it personally. This causes you undue stress and doesn’t spur on their efforts, either. As in the previous point, try to find ways to help them see the value in pushing themselves on to deeper levels of thinking and learning.
12. Elect to spend great portions of your class time on the concepts that can deepen and transform students’ understanding not only of your course material, but on your discipline as a whole. If you deem a particular topic less likely to deepen students’ thinking in this manner, eliminate coverage of that topic from your course or reduce the amount of time you spend on it.
13. Challenge students to put their level of commitment to the course in writing. This acknowledgement can help you recognize which students are committed to deeper levels of learning, and may also help students reflect on why they’ve chosen to commit as much (or as little) as they have.
14. Be open about the fact that some emotions (such as speech or test anxiety) may have an effect on their ability to learn (and apply what they’re learning). In a positive, encouraging, and public manner, acknowledge students’ efforts to overcome these emotions.
15. Ask your students what they think and why they believe that to be so. These questions, which work in any discipline, prompt students to develop their ability to think about their own habits and ways of thinking. (Svinicki and McKeachie, 316-317)
What are your strategies for fostering critical thinking and deep learning among your students? Share your ideas below!
Reference: Svinicki, Marilla and Wilbert J. McKeachie. 2014. McKeachie’s Teaching Tips, 14th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.