How to encourage critical thinking


Critical thinking constitutes one of the basic competences of the social educator, something fundamental for their good work and good being. It is a learned skill. Therefore, it requires time and dedication for it to form an inherent and habitual part of the repertoire of behaviors of the social educator. Because its function is to propose possibilities to society.

The social educator must be able to scrutinize what is presented to him and consider its suitability for what society needs, rather than for what it thinks it needs. Knowing how to differentiate what is important from what is insignificant, depending on one’s own needs and the demands of society, is an important competence. Especially in a context where appearances carry so much weight. It is a competence that every person, and especially those who have the professional task of dedicating themselves to the other for positive change, must develop.

In the field of social education, we could define critical thinking as the ability to realize that some situation, fact, information, thought, feeling, decision, circumscribed to the personal or social sphere, does not fit what it is. “What is” is understood as the good of the person in society and their fundamental rights and duties. The social educator must be able to mobilize the personal dispositions necessary to argue and propose alternatives, and promote social awareness and conscience through its legitimate ways.

There is no doubt that critical thinking is normally part of the curricular ideas of universities as a transversal competence that students must show at the end of their training. However, it must be taken into account that there are teachers who are not clear about it, not so much their suitability but their possibility; In this sense, the area of ​​study, the maturity of the students in question, the ideology of the university, the approach from which critical thinking is started and understood are determining elements.

A concrete investigation

Given this reality, we wanted to do an investigation about the beliefs and opinions of 72 students in the penultimate year of the Bachelor of Social Education at the University of Huelva (Spain), about different issues directly related to critical thinking.

The results show that critical thinking – its conceptualization, analysis, development and application – constitutes a fundamental element in the training of future professionals. This importance, recognized by those currently in training and by those who train them, is not always accompanied by real practical actions. Although the respondents agree on the need to acquire these skills, the truth is that the work of these students is dominated by doing the things that have always been done, reproducing what was taught without question.

The objects of our study are very aware of what critical competence means and implies. They even give it a fundamental role in the initial training and professional performance of their work. But they are not clear about what it means. And their motivation is decreasing due to the effort involved in sustaining it over time.

A problem of habits

The research shows that, although it is true that students have a very good disposition towards critical thinking, valuing very positively having this competence, reality collides with their scarce habits. The reasons for these habits are as follows:

  1. The infobesity of our society, in which knowledge has become a consumer good not always accompanied by personal or social enrichment;
  2. A reproductive and unproductive and creative training;
  3. The importance given to the here and now before analyzing whether what happens here and now is convenient.

Faced with this reality, teachers have a fundamental role in training for the change of future professionals. Specific, programmed and explicit training actions must be developed in this competence.

Educational strategies

There are strategies and ways of teaching that favor the critical thinking of students beyond the reproduction of content and, above all, its necessary mastery. What is clear is that the education of critical people involves working in a real and programmatic way the skills of critical thinking (argumentation, analytical and reflective capacity, putting oneself in the place of the other, knowledge, etc.), in within the classroom, illuminating its development and connecting teaching and learning with experience, controversy, and the research community.

Some of the educational strategies that can be used to learn critical thinking are those that promote creativity, questioning and discovery:

  1. The use of role-playing games, critical reading, case studies, project development, problem-based learning, carrying out activities in small groups, Socratic maieutics.
  2. The use of concept maps.
  3. Encourage questioning of one’s own thinking and the effort to understand different points of view.
  4. Meaningful dialogue and problem solving.
  5. Give value to the task and reinforce the feeling of competence as components of motivation.
  6. Involve students in their learning.
  7. Teaching and learning methods based on conducting research work.

In short, those skills that favor the ability to analyze, question, argue, synthesize, discriminate what is important from what is not, and the willingness to want to do it and put it into practice within the repertoire of behaviors of the person

Author Bio: Francisco José García Moro is Associate Professor Doctor in the Area of ​​Evolutionary and Educational Psychology at the University of Huelva