Create a culture of thinking in classrooms

What can students do to foster critical thinking in the classroom?

July 02, 2022 01:17 pm | Updated 05:35 pm IST

Be an active agent of your own learning. 

Be an active agent of your own learning.  | Photo Credit: Freepik

That students may blossom into creative and critical thinkers is one of the main tenets of education. Yet, teaching in classrooms continues to follow an old-fashioned delivery model, where teachers spew out content that students need to master. Further, we continue to emphasise an assessment framework where teachers ask questions that typically have a ‘right’ answer. While this structure works well for passing tests and exams, it doesn’t necessarily involve active learning and deep engagement from students. As a result, a lot of learning tends to be superficial and forgotten a few weeks or even days after a test in a subject.

Engage actively

As a college student, what can you do to foster a culture of thinking in the classroom? First, be an active agent of your own learning. Though the professor decides key aspects of the course including its curriculum, readings, assessment pattern and even how classes are conducted, you, as a student, can still take charge of how you imbibe and process what is taught. Today, more professors are weaving in discussions into their classes. But even if your professor relies primarily on the old-fashioned chalk-and-talk method, it doesn’t mean you can’t engage with the material more actively.

As you listen, don’t just copy down what the professor says verbatim. Try to distill the key points while taking notes. Further, try to connect new concepts to what you already know. Don’t feel shy to ask questions if something flummoxes you or doesn’t entirely make sense. When a student asks a question, often, the whole class stands to gain from the ensuing exchange.

Use a critical filter

More importantly, don’t lap up everything that is stated in a textbook, an academic journal, a website or podcast as gospel. You need to read or hear all information with a critical filter. While some sources have more credibility than others, in this age of disinformation and misinformation, it is best that you keep your critical radar on at all times. Likewise, you don’t have to accept everything your professor says at face value either. If you feel your teachers are making assertions that are not backed by evidence, you may politely ask them to explain how they reached a particular conclusion.

Another crucial thinking skill is being able to take on the perspective of others. While you may already be considering a story from the viewpoint of different characters, you may extend this type of thinking to other disciplines. How will a chapter on the First Carnatic War differ if written from the perspective of a French official? Likewise, how would the views of the Nizam’s squabbling son and grandson differ? This type of thinking can be used to enliven many disciplines. If you were Mount Everest, how would you experience the impact of climate change first hand?

Over time, as you continue to engage in discussions and debates with your professor and classmates, you will find that certain thinking skills come more readily to you. Before making an assertion, you will try to find supporting evidence to back it up as your peers or teacher may ask for it. Further, when making an argument, you also think of questions that people with a different perspective might raise.

As you continue to be an active learner, it is possible that some of your peers will also grow more engaged by participating in discussions and asking questions. Gradually, a culture of thinking may evolve in the classroom. In Making Thinking Visible, educationists, Ron Ritchhart, Mark Church and Karin Morrison assert that a “culture of thinking” takes place when an individual’s and a “group’s collective” thinking are “valued, visible, and actively promoted.” It doesn’t have to be limited to the classroom. You may have meaningful and stimulating conversations in the canteen and driveway of your college as well.

Group discussions have umpteen benefits for individuals. When your arguments are challenged by others, you learn to state your ideas more cogently. You benefit from hearing multiple perspectives. When it comes to brainstorming, problem-solving and collective wisdom, groups usually outperform individuals. By participating in group discussions, you will learn the art of collaborating which involves the skills of listening, negotiating, compromising and persuading.

Your college years are a wonderful opportunity for growth. Instead of merely focusing on bookish knowledge, enhance your thinking skills by harnessing the young. energetic and diverse body of students around you.

The writer is the author of Zero Limits: Things Every 20 Something Should Know. She blogs at

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