While there are numerous definitions of critical thinking as a learning outcome, they all have in common the basic idea that critical thinking is about ‘higher-order thinking’, i.e. it is about how to think, rather than what to think. To think critically, one needs to take an intentional stance towards thinking (Ellerton, 2015). This means that metacognition plays a crucial role in critical thinking – to think critically, one needs to think about one’s own as well as thinking processes of others. Such a way of thinking does not come naturally; instead, it is the skill to be consciously developed since it is indispensable not only for doing academic research but also for living a life based on making informed decisions.
The metacognitive foundations of critical thinking make it challenging to find an appropriate pedagogical approach to teaching it. Indeed, research shows that teachers tend to relate critical thinking to the subject of their teaching while leaving aside thinking processes. In other words, they mostly focus on the substantive content of their courses, while failing to teach their students how to think like experts in these disciplines. For instance, Olsen and Statham (2005) show that students of political science, especially at an undergraduate level, rarely get to do what political scientists do.
In this paper, I show how teaching critical thinking in social sciences and humanities can be more reflective, and hence more effective by describing the design of the pedagogical course for doctoral students on how to teach critical thinking. The course revolves around the idea of modelling: to teach critical thinking, teachers need to engage students at the metacognitive level, and to do so, they need to make thinking processes visible by modelling them. To teach students how to think critically, teachers not only need to think critically themselves, but they need to make such thinking visible to their students. To make this less abstract, Brookfield claims that students learn critical thinking the most when teachers ‘unearth’ their assumptions, that is, explicitly state assumptions they have and invite students to challenge these (Brookfield, 2012:59; also, Bean, 1996). In short, if we want students to think critically, we need to show them how we do it ourselves. By doing so, we teach students disciplinary ways of thinking that Shulman illustratively called ‘habits of mind’ (2005:56). The paper includes a pedagogical tool kit for making thinking visible in reading, arguing and writing in social sciences and humanities.