The British Council ran the Connecting Classrooms programme between 2015 and 2018 with the aim of engaging 45,000 teachers in 30 countries. The programme’s focus was on improving the teaching of six ‘core skills’ regarded by the British Council as important for the future.
The GA was appointed to provide professional learning services to train teachers in England in ‘critical thinking and problem solving’ and was built on a ‘plan, do review’ model, delivered both through centrally-provided training and through school networks and network leaders.
Defining critical thinking within the scope of the project
Critical thinking usually means better thinking. In the classroom it is closely linked with geographical enquiry and developing pupils’ ability to think like geographers; as it develops geographical understanding, critical thinking helps raise achievement.
Critical thinking can involve:
- making better sense of information, knowledge and ideas, such as by examining evidence, considering alternative solutions and learning to distinguish fact from opinion. Critical thinking helps build geographical understanding and the ability to reach informed conclusions through practicing the three Rs: Rigor, Rationality and Reasoning
- becoming a more open thinker, such as by challenging assumptions through debate and considering the ethical issues underpinning geographical change. Critical thinking helps pupils become more autonomous learners, so helping to avoid telling pupils what to think or do.
Some include a third aspect in critical thinking:
- becoming better at thinking, for example by reflecting not just on what has been learned, but also on how well: this is sometimes called metacognition, and is emphasised in Thinking Skills (see professional development links)
Critical thinking needs some care in curriculum planning and pedagogy. For example, when investigating fair trade or development in geography.
Globalisation and interdependence: fair trade
- without critical thinking: lessons that focus on the merits of fair trade, leading pupils to the conclusion that buying fair trade goods is the right thing to do
- with critical thinking: lessons that investigate fair trade in the context of different kinds of trade, building understanding of the processes and connections involved so that pupils can examine each on merit, consider different views and perhaps decide whether to buy fair trade goods or not. Pupils might go further, for example comparing how evidence is presented by proponents of fair trade and free trade, considering the ethical issues involved in making such decisions or who has the power to influence them.
Development: classifying countries
- without critical thinking: lessons that teach pupils a singular view of developing countries, such as that countries can be classified in certain ways, for example rich/poor, North/South, MEDC/LEDC, and that countries in each group have particular characteristics
- with critical thinking: lessons that investigate a range of evidence about development in different parts of the world, consider different ways to view and classify countries and debate the best way to do so. Planning takes into account the scale of study and how this can distort the way in which a place is perceived, for example, by making comparisons within as well as between countries: see Hans Rosling’s talk ‘The Joy of Stats’. Pupils might go further, for example asking questions about how the evidence they examined was produced and selected, and by whom.
The GA considers that critical thinking is best applied to gain and deploy deeper geographical understanding, rather than practiced as a skill in its own right. Critical thinking is particularly valuable because of geography’s complexity and dynamism, and is relevant to pupils of all ages, supporting their current learning, future employment and lives as knowledgeable and active citizens.
Exemplification of critical thinking
Support for critical thinking
Questions for critical thinking: you could use this question bank to improve pupils’ use of questions in geography investigations
Critical thinking and global learning: a key article from Margaret Roberts on critical thinking, critical pedagogy and how to apply them in the classroom
Ofsted’s view of enquiry and critical thinking: the role of enquiry and critical thinking in promoting achievement in geography
Professional development: articles and books
From the GA journals
Hot Shot GIS: developing higher order thinking with GIS (Primary Geography)
Critical thinking in the context of global learning (Primary Geography)
Mind friendly learning in geography: learning and applying a range of thinking skills (Teaching Geography)
Developing holistic thinking: mind-mapping (Teaching Geography)
Are year 13s too old to think? a problem-solving approach (Teaching Geography)
The silent debate: a strategy for critical thinking about complex issues (Teaching Geography)
From the GA website
Thinking geographically (coming soon)
GTIP Think Piece – Global Warming: teaching global warming as a controversial issue
From the GA shop
Geography through Enquiry: Margaret Roberts’ seminal book includes extensive support for critical thinking in overview and in practice
Other links and resources
Owens, P. (2012) ‘Geography and sustainability’ in Scoffham, S. (ed) Teaching Geography Creatively. London: Routledge, pp. 154–67.