Critical Thinking …

… what College Students Lack the Most

… at least that is what many of the experts say.  At the end of the post, I have included some advice out of one of the books I recommend.  However, as I mention on my The Blog page, “What most adjuncts need is, in the words of Dragnet’s Joe Friday, “just the facts.”

My Top 10 Ways to Promote Critical Thinking

  1. Read my post entitled Bloom’s Taxonomy for College Instructors. It will give you some background on higher ordering learning skills.
  2. Continuously ask your class Who, What, Why, When and Where questions?  Here are some examples of what I mean:
  • [After describing someone’s accomplishments] Who do you think this was?
  • What advice do you think General Sherman might have given George Custer before the Battle of the Little Big Horn?
  • Why did this chemical reaction occur?
  • When might have been a better time to bring this product to market?
  • So the car lacks acceleration.  Where do you look first?
  1. If students don’t immediately volunteer answers to questions you ask in class, wait.  Give them time to think.
  2. If students still don’t answer or don’t provide the correct response, ask Socratic Questions to guide them to the correct response.
  3. If a student gives the correct answer, ask her why she said that or how she knew that.
  4. When a student responds to a question, ask other students why they think he said that.
  5. Have a student explain the steps she took to solve a problem.  Then ask her why she did so.  Propose an alternate approach and ask the class if they would have considered that approach.
  6. When giving a written assignment, ask students to compare and contrast.  For example, rather than write a paper on the Middle Ages, have students compare and contrast the Early Middle Ages to the Late Middle Ages.
  7. Divide the class in two, and have them debate two sides an issue.  (I love this one.  It can get a bit out of hand if your students get as competitive as some of mine have.  You best set some specific ground rules.)
  8. Make it real.  Ask students how the topic at hand impacts them.  Ask if anyone has had experience in the area.  Ask if anyone has advice to share.

More Advice

David Royse (p. 46) (see my References page) lists a number of classroom strategies for helping students develop critical thinking skills.  Here they are:

  • Have students develop flowcharts, models, concept maps, or decision trees.
  • Schedule mock trials or debates.
  • After a presentation or reading, have students write a critique, rebuttal, or rejoinder.
  • Implement minute papers, reflection logs, student learning journals, or learning portfolilos.  Be creative:  Ask for a 100-word analysis of the last class.
  • Ask students to prepare abstracts of articles, reviews of books, or outlines with commentary presentations.
  • When there is a great deal of supplemental reading, requires that students develop a taxonomy or categorization of the articles.  Ask that they conceptualize three different ways the articles could be categorized.
  • Practice brainstorming on some problem issues.
  • Involve the class in a nominal group decision-making process.
  • Present a case that demonstrates a particular point.  Ask students to analyze the case for factual errors, erroneous assumptions, or interpretations.  Alternatively, ask them to write another case with the same basic information but to change it so that a different solution can be found.
  • Around one central point, have students identify two different analogies to support the example and the two that contradict it.

© 2010 Paul A. Hummel, Ed.D.

Posted March 19, 2010


About Dr. Paul A. Hummel, Ed.D.

My name is Paul Hummel, and I often introduce myself to others as a recovering engineer. If you are familiar with the Dilbert cartoons, let me simply say that I lived all of that. I started my college saga at Illinois Institute of Technology. Eventually, I earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering and a Master’s Degree in Engineering Management. I worked for many years in industry, and during this time I did some college adjunct teaching. During my career I held several managerial positions in industry, the last as Director of Technology of a division of a Fortune 500 corporation. Then, in 1996, with minimal planning or forethought, I found myself working as a manufacturing consultant on behalf of Elgin Community College (ECC).

My career in higher education began to take shape. I fell in love with ECC and with the mission of community colleges in general. I worked fulltime and occasionally taught college courses for my institution and two other colleges. After a couple years I set a goal to move over to the “credit side of the college” and eventually become a college administrator. In 2006, having earned my doctorate in education, I achieved that goal. I was hired by Waubonsee Community College as Dean for Technology, Mathematics and Physical Sciences.

I have had the great fortune of working at two excellent colleges. The insights I want to share are drawn from the various college positions I have held. At ECC, in addition to my consulting role, I coordinated non-credit professional development training programs for three years and spent four years advising students in the TRiO Student Support Services program. That position helped me understand college education from the perspective of today’s college students.

After seven years at Waubonsee, I retired April 30, 2013. I now devote my knowledge and skills to upgrading and expanding the websites I created beginning with Adjunct Assistance. I have three other websites: College Teaching Tips, Keys for College Success and Lighthouse for Learning. A lot of work lies ahead for me in terms of upgrading and expanding each of these websites, but I could not be more excited about fulfilling the vision I have for helping college instructors and their students succeed.


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