Defining Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
Critical thinking and problem solving is the broadly applicable set of cognitive skills people use in constructing knowledge, identifying patterns, formulating arguments, and solving problems. We identify three constructs of critical thinking and problem solving that all of our students develop: effective reasoning, decision making, and problem solving. Each of these constructs is defined in a way to be applicable across disciplines, but tied to a cognitive routine that gives structure to thinking processes. By defining these skills in this way, we allow students to develop habits of mind for thinking that they can transfer to a wide variety of settings.
What are critical thinking and problem-solving rubrics?
We identify three constructs of critical thinking and problem solving that all of our students develop: effective reasoning, decision making, and problem solving. Each of these constructs is defined in a way to be applicable across disciplines, but tied to a cognitive routine that gives structure to thinking processes. By defining these skills in this way, we allow students to develop habits of mind for thinking that they can transfer to a wide variety of settings.
Rubrics are guides with the criteria used to evaluate how well a task has been completed. Specifically, our rubrics define the constructs of critical thinking and problem-solving that we want to teach and assess. They break up the skills into discrete components that align with a thinking routine. Each component on the rubric is mutually exclusive, narrows to a single dimension of the routine, and defines a continuum of growth from novice to expert.
How do you use critical thinking and problem-solving rubrics?
We utilize these rubrics in two core ways: to define the constructs and as a tool for formative assessment.
The rubrics define the constructs of effective reasoning, problem-solving, and decision making for teachers, students, and families. Talking about critical thinking and problem solving can feel like an amorphous thing, so we have found that it is important to provide language that describes the specific steps and types of thinking we want students to accomplish. Rubrics provide that language.
Beyond just defining the construct, the rubric gives a finer grained detail of where a student is in their development of the cognitive skills that we are targeting. By breaking down specific descriptors of where a student is on a continuum of growth in each component of their cognitive skills, teachers can direct instruction to best meet a student where they are and push them to improve their thinking.
Specifically with assessment, we have created performance tasks that function as independent assignments where students can apply their thinking to a novel situation. The rubrics are essential tools in scoring work these assessments. They provide the framework for identifying specifically what a student is or isn’t able to do.
How did you create these rubrics?
To create the critical thinking and problem-solving rubrics, we completed a review of the relevant literature around 21st Century Skills and Deeper Learning. As a community, we identified the three areas of critical thinking and problem-solving on which we would focus our efforts: effective reasoning, problem-solving, and decision making.
With those three constructs identified, we reviewed rubrics and research from the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, the Buck Institute for Education, Next Generation Learning Challenges: MyWays Reports, Catalina Foothills School District’s Resources for Deep Learning, Laura Greenstein’s work in Assessing 21st Century Skills, and many others. Building on that work, we crafted our own rubrics aligned with each of our constructs. We then tried them out in classrooms with teachers giving assignments that aligned to the rubrics. We refined the rubrics based on teacher feedback. Finally in partnership with the Stanford Center on Assessment, Learning, and Equity (SCALE), we further refined the rubrics to best define the constructs.