As educators, we often hear about the importance of teaching critical thinking skills to our students. What we hear about less, however, are the most effective techniques for teaching those skills and how teachers can implement them in the classroom—especially now that schools are forced to provide virtual instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic.

At Laurel Springs School, an online K-12 education provider, we have mastered the art of teaching in an online classroom. With a competency-based model and asynchronous instruction, students at Laurel Springs must be able to think critically about their lessons and assignments, and the demonstration of concept and skill mastery is crucial to their success at our school.

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In an online academic environment, the focus on critical thinking skills is amplified. Our learning model fosters independence and self-advocacy with applications in all areas of a student’s life. The earlier students develop these skills, the more well-equipped they are to grow as learners, expanding their knowledge base and making connections both across core content areas and in the world around them.

Additionally, students with sharp critical thinking skills can become adept problem solvers. As they venture into adult life, their capacity for assessing situations and responding thoughtfully will mature with them.

Ideally, these students will also recognize the importance of self-advocacy: they will appreciate their individual voices and hone their ability to use those voices in all settings—both academic, personal, and professional.

In order to teach critical thinking skills in an online classroom, teachers must cultivate an environment of collaboration—both synchronously and asynchronously—that focuses on higher-order questioning and thinking.

By ensuring that lessons and assignments are formative in nature, teachers can encourage students to look beyond the surface of the content presented to them.

To supplement lessons and assignments, teachers can allow unstructured, synchronous lab time during which students are free to discuss specific content areas and ask questions. Additional resources that are exemplars of critical thinking skills may be provided to help students understand academic expectations.

Guided writing and thinking prompts also emphasize the importance of metacognition for students, and teachers should provide feedback that models these skills. These assessments should incorporate higher-order thinking and evaluate work based on analysis, application, and creation rather than rote memorization of facts.

Teaching critical thinking skills in the online classroom

Teachers should assure students that there is not always a single correct answer and their reasoning is valid while demonstrating how to craft sound reasoning within their assignments.

If a student fails to show mastery of a concept or skill, teachers can provide a fair, unpenalized opportunity to try again that includes deliberate reflection, prompting students to consider the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of their approach in addition to the ‘what.’

While teaching critical thinking in an online environment is a new challenge for many educators who have never worked outside a physical classroom, the guiding principles are much the same: demonstrate the skills you wish to teach, provide opportunities for higher-order thinking and analysis, and encourage students to ask questions.

About the Author:

Megan O’Reilly Palevich, M.Ed., is Head of School at Laurel Springs School. Megan O’Reilly Palevich has been a teacher and administrator in the public and private sectors for 26 years. Her rich and varied experience in PreK-12 education includes curriculum design, signature innovative program development, technology integration, and personalized professional development for educators. Mrs. Palevich has won awards for innovation in science education from CESI and in social studies education from Facing History and Ourselves. She earned her B.A. from Rosemont College in Elementary Education and Psychology, and her M.Ed. from Cabrini University in Educational Leadership with completion of the K-12 Principal Certification Program.


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