Teaching Current Students to Think Critically

by Kathryn Magura

As a more “seasoned” student affairs professional, I have had a lot of time over the course of my career to witness changing trends in student demographics. While I discourage anyone from categorizing everyone within a generation of students as having the same traits, I will say that I have seen trends develop over time that apply to a high percentage of traditionally-aged students at that time. Finding ways to understand the students with whom we work and serve will help us understand their needs better. Also, when we employ them for various positions throughout the university, we can assist with their learning by providing development opportunities along the way.

One characteristic I have noticed with the traditionally-aged students I currently serve is that they generally lack critical thinking skills. I have experienced this as a hiring manager when I hire students who seem to be incapable of thinking through various scenarios to find a solution to a problem. Often times they will call me, and by asking a few guiding questions, I am able to help them figure out a solution.

To address the lack of critical thinking skills, I am working on creating a brief scenario to have students work through during my interview process. While I am not expecting them to come up with a perfect solution (especially when they don’t know our procedures or policies very well), I want to see how they approach thinking through a solution. If the answer is simply “ask my supervisor”, that will be a clear indication that they don’t have strong critical thinking skills.

Another way I have seen the lack of critical thinking skills is when students seem to have no understanding that their actions have consequences. I’ve witnessed this a lot when students use social media to say horrible things about their roommate or hall staff. Do they really think that even if they may not be friends with the person about whom they are saying things, the words won’t come back to the person they’re about? Furthermore, students seem to genuinely be surprised when they get in trouble for saying these things. Why is that? Where is the disconnect?

One answer that sort of came to me this summer was that most of our traditionally-aged students have never actually suffered a true consequence for their actions. While there may be many reasons why this is the case, I think a lot of it has to do with parents protecting them from consequences. I was thinking about this question last week during our Fall Student Affairs Division Meeting, and tweeted it out to the #sachat community to see what thoughts others had about the matter. Below is the conversation that followed:

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/Kmagura/status/258237162091335680″%5D

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/Hannah_Pynn/status/258249057850511361″%5D

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/ClareCady/status/258249385555664898″%5D

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/Kmagura/status/258250628881596418″%5D

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/Hannah_Pynn/status/258251587376513024″%5D

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/Kmagura/status/258252099501035520″%5D

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/ClareCady/status/258252420080078849″%5D

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/Kmagura/status/258252691434795008″%5D

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/ammamarfo/status/258255047492775938″%5D

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/ammamarfo/status/258255179290386433″%5D

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/ClareCady/status/258255414163042304″%5D

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/ammamarfo/status/258255674616733697″%5D


So what are your thoughts on the matter? How do we teach students to think critically?

Teaching Current Students to Think Critically

One thought on “Teaching Current Students to Think Critically

  1. Ana says:

    I’m a big fan of Stephen Brookfield’s book “Teaching for Critical Thinking”. His approach can be applied to different disciplines because it emphasizes identifying and questioning our assumptions and how contextually appropriate they are when we apply them. It also includes scenarios and practical exercises that can be used with students; they’re simple but quite interesting when you hear what assumptions students are operating under.


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