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10 May 2022

5 reasons why critical thinking is THE most important skill for students

Katherine Woollett

Campaigns Marketing Manager, Digital Theatre+

Blue model brain on jigsaw pieces

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Critical thinking just keeps cropping up. It’s definitely a buzzword in schools at the moment, and despite this skill ageing back to the days of Greek philosophers, it has never felt more topical than now. But is it just buzz? We think not.

Before we delve into why critical thinking is so vital for students, first, we must understand what we truly mean by critical thinking. With so many definitions flying around, it can be easy to assume that critical thinking is simply the ability to analyse in order to make a decision. While that is true, there is so much more to it. Students need to see both sides of an issue and welcome new evidence that challenges their ideas, insist that claims be backed by facts, draw conclusions from the evidence, and solve problems. 

Dr Richard Paul perhaps said it best: “Critical thinking is the art of thinking about thinking in an intellectually disciplined manner…they analyse thinking, they assess thinking, and they improve thinking” (Paul, 2005). Effective critical thinkers will first analyse why someone thinks the way they do, evaluate quality and reliability and use that evidence to inform their own judgment. 

This type of thinking is, of course, imperative for English and Drama classrooms. Students can use critical thinking to explore characters, themes and language, understand what the writer is trying to tell them, and then make a decision using this information. However, this skill transcends beyond getting good grades at school.

So, why is critical thinking so important for your students after they leave school? 

1. Because higher education and jobs require it

The fundamental truth is that critical thinking is vital for graduating students to achieve a successful academic and/or working career. It’s not just doctors, lawyers, and detectives; no matter what career students aim toward, having good critical thinking skills will help them stand out against their peers. Critical thinkers can problem solve, so when the hiring manager asks, “how would you solve this issue?” they are directly asking candidates to prove they can think critically. 

It’s also what makes us human. A computer can recite facts, analyse data and draw conclusions, whereas a human can do this while also considering circumstances and emotions. In a world where technology poses a threat to some job roles, critical thinking is the tool to ensure that students stand out against both peers and computers. 

Graduating students

2. Because it is needed to process the news

We are all faced with fake news, biased information, and propaganda more and more. The rise of social media is playing a massive role in how we all consume our news, which means we all have to ensure that we are thinking critically about everything we read. 

The ability to debate source reliability is necessary to help us understand what is fact and what is an opinion. After we have discovered and analysed that, we can then draw our own conclusion on the information we are being told. So whether it is choosing whom to vote for, deciding whether to see a film with a fantastic review or digesting a major international incident, we simply would not be able to do this without critical thinking skills. 

3. Because it supports students to make better decisions about their life

One of the main roles of a teacher is to help prepare students for their futures. Critical thinking and the inevitable outcome of mastering that skill means we can trust that our students have everything they need to make informed decisions. 

This means that when students face challenging situations and adversity, they are equipped with the tools needed to overcome them.

4. Because it helps students feel happier

If we think back to Dr Richard Paul’s definition of critical thinking, he said that critical thinkers can really comprehend their thoughts. Knowing how others think and how we personally think can lead to understanding ourselves better. We learn what our motivations are and how we prefer to reach these goals. 

English students in a classroom

This means that we can change parts of our lives to ensure that we are content. We can analyse parts of our lives that do not give us joy and adjust them to help ensure that we have overall happiness.

5. Because…everything else

The truth is that the list of why students need critical thinking skills is never-ending. In addition to the above, this crucial skill helps with communication, improves relationships, allows for creativity, supports mental well-being, and so on. Critical thinking skills are vital for just about every aspect of a student's life.

So yeah, maybe critical thinking is a buzzword in schools at the moment, but the reason why is very, very important. And as vital as the skills are after students leave school, the fundamental learning of the skill must begin in the classroom. 



Need a little inspiration to add critical thinking skills to your lesson plans?

Check out our next Professional Development Experience: Let's Get Critical: Using Performance to Teach Critical Thinking in Your Classroom.

We bring you three videos to support the teaching of critical thinking using performance. With live teaching demonstrations and hints and tips from an expert panel, we have everything you need in one place available on-demand so you can watch at any time! Register now here.