How to Enhance Reflective & Critical Thinking Skills

Journal writing is a great way to examine your thinking process.
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Today's students likely will average between 10 and 14 jobs by the age of 38, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, and the 10 jobs with the highest demand in 2010 did not exist in 2004 when students would have been trained for them. This means educators need to teach students to be flexible and reflective critical thinkers.

1 Journals

Critical thinkers need to understand the thought processes that led them to come to a conclusion. This is an essential skill when faced with a new work environment, and you can encourage students to be reflective by having them write journal entries about their thoughts and decisions. Have them go back later to comment on previous entries. This way, they learn to stop and reflect on their thought processes.

2 Dialogues

Dialogues offer a different type of reflection because they help students learn that other people's perspectives are important parts of a decision-making process. You can teach this to students by having them break into groups of three. Have one student state what he feels about something or chronicle a recent decision-making process. Then have the second student serve as devil's advocate, questioning the first's reasoning. The third student serves as a moderator and can offer opinions that support either side, thereby offering a broader perspective, one that takes both sides of an issue into account. The group is then asked to reach a consensus on what it discussed.

3 Role Playing

Role playing is a more specific type of dialogue that allows students to portray another's persona or character. Some students may feel more comfortable with this than with expressing their own views. Like with the dialogue exercise, have students work in groups of three, assigning each a role. For example, they could be father, daughter and family friend or supervisor, employee and mediator. As with dialogues, one student begins and the others respond, but with the use of characters the dynamic changes; students get to learn how it feels to see the world from someone else's perspective.

4 Outcomes

The desired outcome of these reflective thinking exercises is to get students to question their own thought processes so they can work past assumptions, personal agendas and biases they may not be aware they have. Once they start thinking about their own thinking they should become better decision makers and better at recognizing faulty logic, misconceptions and stilted preconceptions. These are important skills to develop since academic and workplace environments are becoming more diverse and emphasize collaborative work rather than solo efforts. As students become more reflective, they will learn the strengths and weaknesses of their thinking patterns as well as related learning patterns, and this skill will be essential in a fluctuating job market, where flexibility and the ability to retrain are the norm.

Anthony Fonseca is the library director at Elms College in Massachusetts. He has a doctorate in English and has taught various writing courses and literature survey courses. His books include readers' advisory guides, pop culture encyclopedias and academic librarianship studies.