Critical thinking is a very broad term and to think about the different types of thinking strategies that fall under the critical thinking umbrella, can help to increase one’s ability to use all facets of their higher-order cognition. Reflection, analysis, extension, tangential even, all are critical takes on a subject, but they are quite different and some areas may be stronger than others.
Reflection may be the most often used form of critical thinking; renewing memories and using past experiences or knowledge as touchstones to understanding or more knowledge, is at the heart of learning. Most common curriculum use prior knowledge, and necessarily the ability to reflect on it, within the structure and design of the curriculum. Reflection can be accessed by asking questions like – how do I know this? Why do I think this? Where do these ideas come from? Based on experience, how might this impact other things?
Extending one’s thought on a topic brings the topic into the future. When we teach our children to think about consequences, the type of critical thinking that is being instilled, is one of extending their thoughts to what might happen. This is obviously extraordinarily useful and important for teaching children, and likewise critical in making major life decisions. For older children, to maintain their habits in extending critical thoughts, discussions about what they will want for their future is key to generating that type of thinking.
Analysis is multi-faceted; it incorporates some reflection and some extension, and perhaps a relevant tangent can lead to a fascinating analytic insight. Asking a child about connections can help develop analytic thinking; getting them to ask why things are connected and what it means or implies can help raise strong analytic skills. Analysis also brings together more than one idea to synthesize concepts or points into an even stronger insight.
Tangential thinking is interesting; everyone has seen it, when a person spins out a tangent that is really interesting and yet originates from what would seem an unrelated idea. Engaging teachers do this, friends do this while talking, individuals do this when their mind veers off into daydreaming. Tangential thinking can spur creativity and innovation, and should be fostered as such.
The mind works in many directions and understanding the potential of each way of thinking can deepen and improve the thought process and its outcomes. It can mean better decisions and choices, stronger learning abilities through increased insight, and help with general self-awareness.
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