How to Facilitate Learning and Critical Thinking

Helping Students Succeed in the Classroom

Teacher and Students

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Teachers can facilitate learning by making the educational process easier for students. This does not mean watering down the curriculum or lowering standards. Rather, facilitating learning involves teaching students to think critically and understand how the learning process works. Students need to learn how to go beyond the basic facts (who, what, where, when) and question the world around them.

Methods of Instruction

A number of instructional methods can help a teacher move away from standard lesson delivery and toward facilitating a true learning experience. Teachers, for example, can vary methods to respond to different learning styles. Lessons can be designed around tactile learners one day and visual learners the next. Teachers can also give students a chance to work both independently and in groups to meet the many needs of the children in their class. Some students prefer to work alone, while others excel when working cooperatively, also known as peer-to-peer learning.

If you want students to take a greater interest in the topics being taught, give them different choices to access classroom lessons. Some children may seize the chance to write creatively about a story they read in class, while others may want to debate the story's themes with their classmates. Increasing the amount of talk in the classroom can appeal to verbal and aural learners.

It's also important to make your lessons relevant to the real world. If students have just learned about a scientific concept, ask them if they've witnessed it play out in nature or tell them when they're likely to observe the scientific principle unfold, be it condensation or a certain phase of the moon.

Make thematic connections, so students don't learn information in isolation. If you're going over vocabulary words, give students examples of when that word is likely to be used in real life. Review a literary passage or listen to an audio clip in which the new vocabulary is used in context. This increases the likelihood that students will absorb the information.

Varying Instruction During the Educational Process

Varying instruction means using different methods to deliver lessons to students. Each way of facilitating learning has its merits and helps immerse students in the learning process by tapping into their interests and abilities.

Lecturing might seem boring, as it's the most traditional way that teachers disseminate information to students. But for some students this method has benefits. It can tap into students' linguistic intelligence.

You can lecture for a bit and then open up the conversation to the whole class or have students break up into groups. Getting students to interact with each other helps them access their interpersonal intelligence, a social skill that will be important well beyond the classroom.

For kinesthetic learners, roleplaying might be the key to help them connect with the lesson. Some students enjoy acting out important events in history, for instance. But children can also roleplay characters in a novel or short story to help them better grasp the material. Students who don't feel comfortable playacting in front of their peers can alternatively write from the perspective of a historical figure or book character.

Simulations are another engaging way to help students better understand lessons. Consider permitting them to participate in immersive experiences, like creating a model legislature or classroom government. And for your visual learners, consider multimedia presentations which can tap into their spatial intelligence.

For students who just don't understand why a particular subject applies to the real world, outside speakers can help. Bring in a mathematician who can explain the importance of algebra or a journalist to discuss how writing well is a key life skill. It's always a great idea to expose students to role models who can give them different perspectives on various issues.

Providing Students With Choice

When students feel empowered in their learning, they are more likely to accept ownership of it. If a teacher simply delivers the material to the students through lecture, they may feel no attachment to it. You can provide students with the ability to make choices by giving them multiple writing prompts. Similarly, let students complete research on a topic of their choosing and then report back to the class.

You might also consider providing them with a selection of books for book reports and reading assignments. In some cases, you might allow students to choose their own partners for a class project.

Even class-wide assignments can leave room for student choice. Have the class work on a historical newspaper and allow the children to pick which section of the paper they'll cover.

Facilitating Critical Thinking

Teaching students to think critically takes practice. Rather than focusing on facts and figures, students should be able to make observations in all disciplines. After those observations, they need to be able to analyze materials and evaluate information. In practicing critical thinking, students recognize different contexts and points of view. Finally, they interpret information, draw conclusions, and then develop an explanation. 

Teachers can offer students problems to solve and chances to make decisions to practice their critical thinking skills. Once students offer solutions and make decisions, they should have a chance to reflect on what made them successful or not. Establishing a regular routine of observation, analysis, interpretation, conclusion, and reflection in each academic discipline improves students' critical thinking skills, which they will need in the real world.

Real-World and Thematic Connections

Making learning relevant to the real world helps students form important connections. For example, if you are teaching about supply and demand from a textbook, students may learn the information for the moment. However, if you provide them with examples that relate to purchases they make all of the time, the information becomes applicable to their own lives.

Similarly, thematic connections help students see that learning does not happen in isolation. For example, an American history teacher and a chemistry instructor might collaborate on a lesson about the development of the atomic bombs that the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II. This lesson could be extended into English by including a creative writing assignment on the topic and also into environmental science to look at the effects on the two cities after the bombs were dropped.