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Background Literature

How does facilitation of critical thinking support learning?

Learners develop critical thinking skills through argument.

In the process of constructing and evaluating evidence-based arguments, learners develop both cognitive skills (e.g., examining ideas, questioning evidence, proposing alternatives, drawing conclusions) and habits of mind (e.g., persistence, orderliness, precision) [1]. These qualities are repeatedly cited by employers, educators and the general public as important for individuals to possess in modern society [2].

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Critical thinking prepares young people for 21st century careers and citizenry.

Critical thinking entails practical decision-making, problem-solving, complex communication, and consuming information with a perceptive and critical eye [4].

In addition to these practical benefits, studies have shown that engaging in critical thinking practices is associated with improved academic performance. When learners think critically, they integrate facts, concepts, procedures, strategies, beliefs, and dispositions [5]. In turn, they demonstrate a range of positive learning outcomes [6,7,8] including:

Instructional strategies can foster student engagement in critical thinking.

Recognizing critical thinking as an important instructional goal, current education reform efforts, including the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics and English Language Arts [9] and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) [10] call on educators to foster deeper learning through an emphasis on argumentation, reasoning, and use of evidence.

Strategies that involve classroom dialogue and are carried out in the context of situated problems or examples are particularly promising [1]. These strategies are not new in education. The educational philosophies underlying critical thinking instruction (e.g., constructivism, problem-based learning) have been present across decades of education reform initiatives.