How to prove & improve your Critical Thinking through question asking

In our previous blog posts, we discussed why soft skills matter to our academic and professional development and how to choose the ones that matter the most. Critical thinking, problem solving, and creativity are the most valuable soft skills to invest in.

In this blog post, we dive into critical thinking, to:

  • Define and explain for it from a learning point of view (the what)
  • Identify the value it brings in our everyday endeavors (the why)
  • Explore the ways it can be cultivated in the context of inquiry-based learning (the how) with real-life examples from the 100mentors app!

WHAT is Critical Thinking?

You can find as many definitions of critical thinking as the sources you read. And yet, although researchers and practitioners don’t see eye to eye on what it means, we can all agree that it’s one of the most-wanted soft skills for learners, professionals, spouses, parents… you name it.

If we focus on a learning perspective, critical thinking is thinking intended to overcome cognitive biases (Butler et al., 2017, p. 39). But what does that mean in practice?

In a given framework – studies, work, personal life – we come with certain knowledge (mostly reflecting our “hard skills”), but how easy is it to critically think about it? Critical thinking challenges us to realize what we know and find the power to question it. In other words, we understand and analyze, but, most importantly, we criticize (Erikson & Erikson, 2019) pieces of knowledge or beliefs that sometimes can be very dear to us and, deep down, we don’t want to change them.

WHY Critical Thinking matters?

Even though applying critical thinking might sound challenging, we all do it. In each context, it brings out different elements but with a common thread: barrier-breaking thinking.

Educational frameworks: Critical thinking affects all typical learning outcomes in the various subject matters (Erikson & Erikson, 2019). A learner maturing into a critical thinker can apply their skill in all vital contexts and not just in the one they major in.

Everyday life: When it comes to real-life events, our critical thinking score says more than our IQ score. A critical thinker can better assess everyday social and personal challenges than a person who is intelligent, yet not thinking critically (Butler et al., 2017).

In the workplace: Critical thinking is essential for seeing the “big picture” without losing sight of the separate units of a project or a team, or for questioning well-established practices and creating a new vision (Chartrand et al., 2013).

HOW to develop & evaluate Critical Thinking?

With critical thinking being so important in all contexts, our need to develop it and measure it is clear; how we meet this need is less obvious.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has stepped in the personalized-learning area, attempting to stimulate our soft skills (Spector & Ma, 2019). However, it feels contradictory to yield assessment to AI for something as human as critical thinking. On the other end, following the traditional assessment approach, with predetermined tests that “fit all,” can also misrepresent a person’s critical thinking disposition (Possin, 2020).

How can we effectively practice and evaluate our critical thinking “with one stone”? 

At 100mentors, we utilize the strong connection between questioning and soft skills to enable learners to practice their critical thinking and provide a way to evaluate their level. Here is how technology and human capital combine to achieve that:

When mentors evaluate learners’ questions in terms of critical thinking and share respective feedback on their answers, they push the learners’ cognitive barriers and train them to thrive in all fields: studies, work, and personal life.

Plus, they actively participate in the learners’ endeavor to claim the 100mentors’ Learner Certificate on Soft Skills Training!

How does it work?

To evaluate the learner’s critical thinking, we integrated an established system for assessment (Fuller & Dawson, 2017). For the critical thinking context, we share below our interpretation of each level. To make this truly simple, we suggest examining the question for two main critical thinking components: 

  • Understanding of the Topic
  • Attempting to question the limits of the Topic 

You can use the table below to reflect on your question as a learner or offer advice on how to improve a question if you are a mentor!

Let’s try out these guidelines in practice with two questions from the 100mentors app. For each question, we make iterations to share tangible examples of related questions that match the rest of the critical thinking levels.

Question 1: “How easy is it to succeed as an entrepreneur?”

Topic: Be An Entrepreneur

Education Level: Lifelong Learning/Adult learning


Question 2: “What is Astrophysics?”

Topic: Astrophysics

Education Level: Formal Education – High School

We may not agree –  and we probably won’t – on the exact level a question belongs to, and that’s the beauty of exploiting Human Intelligence for assessing soft skills! The learner can see the mentors’ different perspectives and they can share more detailed feedback through their answers, encouraging a dialogue that keeps sharpening critical thinking like no AI-driven model would. Because, after all, the best way to develop our human skills is to interact with humans.


Did you enjoy our approach to critical thinking? Subscribe to our blog so you can be among the first to find out about the what, why, and how for the next two key soft skills: problem solving and creativity!



Sources

Butler, H. A., Pentoney, C., & Bong, M. P. (2017). Predicting real-world outcomes: Critical thinking ability is a better predictor of life decisions than intelligence. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 25, 38–46.

Chartrand, B. J., Ishikawa, H., & Flander, S. (2013). Critical Thinking Means Business: Learn to Apply and Develop the new №1 Workplase Skill.

Erikson, M. G., & Erikson, M. (2019). Learning outcomes and critical thinking–good intentions in conflict. Studies in Higher Education, 44(12), 2293–2303.

Fuller, J. S., & Dawson, K. M. (2017). Student Response Systems for Formative Assessment: Literature-based Strategies and Findings from a Middle School Implementation. CONTEMPORARY EDUCATIONAL TECHNOLOGY, 8(4), 370–389.

Possin, K. (2020). CAT scan: A critical review of the critical-thinking assessment test. Informal Logic, 40(3), 489–508.

Spector, J. M., & Ma, S. (2019). Inquiry and critical thinking skills for the next generation: from artificial intelligence back to human intelligence. Smart Learning Environments, 6(1), 1–11.

Pepy is a University and IB Diploma Programme Physics teacher, with an MA and Ph.D. in Science Education. She is currently a Postdoctoral Researcher in teachers' STEM education. As the Head of Research at 100mentors, she empowers educators to turn theory into practice with educational technology solutions.

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