Reprinted from Assessing Critical Thinking Skills, 26.3 (2012): 4.
Furthermore, we believe that we can best teach students these skills through hands-on interdisciplinary project-based learning. As EL Education schools, our projects are defined as expeditions lasting 10 to 12 weeks in which students tackle messy, real world problems that don’t have easy paths to solutions nor do they have one clear right answer. Through intentional design of these projects, teachers address the core content and basic skills defined by literacy and content standards; the social skills of collaboration and communication; the intrapersonal skills defined by character; and the broadly applicable cognitive skills of critical thinking and problem solving.
In the life of our schools, we have seen the powerful way that our students through project-based learning have embraced deeper learning outcomes, and exhibited the habits of effective critical thinking, collaboration, and personal character. However, our evidence that this is working is only found in anecdotes and in the quality of student work. We have been unable to demonstrate neither the degree to which students are developing these skills within projects nor their ability to transfer the skills beyond the context of the current project.
Focusing just on the dimensions of critical thinking and problem solving, our teachers expressed frustration at not knowing in concrete terms what those cognitive skills looked like when students exhibited them. Building on our understanding of the essential role that assessment for learning plays in the learning process and the very practical consideration of how we help teachers and students define and work towards developing these skills, we have embarked on a multi-year project to define and assess critical thinking and problem solving.
Critical thinking and problem solving, as we define it, are the set of non-discipline specific cognitive skills people use to analyze vast amounts of information and creatively solve problems. We have broken those skills down into these five core components:
Planning & Assessing Critical Thinking
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,S. (1997).Assessing critical thinking. , 17-29. :Jossey Bass.
Ennis, Theresa. "Assessing and Enhancing Critical Thinking Skills: Enhanced Peer Review (EPR) with the CAT Instrument", 09/01/2006-08/31/2007,  2007, "Ennis, Theresa,(2007). Critical Thinking Skills: Enhanced Peer Review (EPR) with the CAT Instrument. A Dissertation at Tennessee Technological University.".
Critical Thinking Testing and Assessment
Cecil, Misty J.. "The Relationship Between Student Responses on the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) and Performance on the Critical-thinking Assessment Test (CAT)", 09/01/2006-08/31/2007,  2006, "Cecil, Misty (2006).The Relationship Between Student Responses on the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) and Performance on the Critical-thinking Assessment Test (CAT).".
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