How to Facilitate Learning and Critical Thinking

Helping Students Succeed

Teacher and Students
By using different methods of instruction, students will be more engaged. Getty Images

Teachers need to facilitate learning by making the educational process easier for students. This does not mean watering down 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 and when, and to be able to question the world around them.

Methods of instruction

There are a number of instructional methods that can help a teacher  move away from standard lesson delivery and toward facilitating a true learning experience by:

  • Varying instructional methods to try and meet different learning styles
  • Providing students with choices to build a greater interest in the topics being taught
  • Discussing real-world connections to make learning more meaningful
  • Making thematic connections so that students see that information is not learned in isolation
  • Increasing the amount of talk in the classroom in order to
  • Increase opportunities for peer-to-peer learning

Using various instructional methods helps immerse students in the learning process by tapping into their interests and abilities. Each of the different methods of facilitating learning has its merits.

Varying instruction

Varying instruction means using different methods to deliver lessons to students, including:

  • Lecture: Though this is the standard instructional delivery method, lecturing does tap into students' linguistic intelligence.
  • Whole- or small-group discussion: Getting students to interact with each other helps them tap into their interpersonal intelligence. This social skill will be important for students well beyond the classroom.
  • Roleplay: For example, role-playing an aspect of 1960s protest movements in an American history class would help kinesthetic learners make connections with the lesson.
  • Simulations: Allowing students to participate in more immersive experiences might include creating a model legislature or a classroom government.
  • Debates: This method forces students to research, create arguments and defend their positions -- all excellent examples of critical-thinking skills.
  • Multimedia presentations: Some students are better at learning visually; multimedia presentations tap into their spatial intelligence.
  • Outside speakers: It's always a great idea to expose students to other 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:

    • Allowing students to choose from a number of topics for writing assignments
    • Providing a selection of books for book reports and reading assignments
    • Allowing students to complete research on a topic of their choosing within the area you are currently teaching that they will then report back to the class
    • Providing students with opportunities to choose who they might want to work with on a project

    One example of providing choice could be creating a class-wide assignment such as a historical newspaper and allowing students to pick the section and topic on which they wish to work.

    Critical thinking

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

    Teachers can offer students problems to solve and chances to make decisions as part of practicing 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, the skills each student will need in the real world.

    Real-world and thematic connections

    Connecting learning to real-world experiences and information 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 important and applicable to their own lives.

    Similarly, thematic connections help students see that learning does not happen in isolation. For example, an American history and a chemistry teacher 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.

    By using different methods of instruction, students will be more engaged. Students think critically when they are engaged in observing, analyzing, interpreting, concluding, and ultimately reflecting as they learn.