Summary of #eltchat 8th Feb: Critical Thinking in Teacher Development

by Damian Williams  


First and foremost, I should ‘fess up’ about my motives in participating in #eltchat this morning (my time, anyway). have just submitted my proposal for a talk at the 13th Braz-TESOL national convention in my home town of Rio de Janeiro this summer on this very topic, I was eager to pilfer ideas and possible avenues of investigation. I can only say that I was somewhat overwhelmed with the quality of discussion today, and so this has proved a very worthwhile experience. By way of returning the compliment, I therefore agreed to write this summary!

So what is Critical Thinking (CT) in Teacher Development (TD)?

The starting point was obviously to try and get to grips with what exactly we were going to be talking about, by way of what the terms mean to us as ELT professionals.

@cybraryman1 kicked things off with a pertinent quote, ‘The aim of education should be to teach us rather how to think, than what to think’, and a link to his page on CT.

@Shaunwilden expressed what I think was confusion for some with I know what CT is and I know what TD is but can sb tell me what this topic is about 🙂

@TailormadeEng outlined 3 areas in which he considered CT important in TD: 1 encouraging Ts to use their experience to support/refute what they’ve read on formal training course e.g. Delta, 2 critically analysing teaching material when selecting for class – in terms of how it will benefit Ss rather than ‘it looks fun’ and 3 analysing Ss’ perceived needs using our linguistic knowledge.

@Shaunwilden then suggested that it might involve critically assessing one’s own TD paths, too, to which @Marisa_C added another term we tend to use in t-ed is ‘reflective practice’

@CeciELT then added that we should add workshops and presentations that you attend to it, too.

@AlexandraKouk added On the T side: questioning, examining critically, reflecting on choices of mats, activities, aims

@jankenb2 added CT enables a teacher to ask the right questions eg ?’s that scaffold Ss thinking to think deeper. and CT = ways of thinking. depth,completeness significance, logical-ness, fairness, relevance, precision, accuracy, clarity (Halpern)

@crystalannie added: CT helps to accumulate experiences and achievement. which can attract like minded professionals.

@MrChrisJWilson added: I think there are 2 parts of CT within td, reflecting on lessons [RP] and reflecting on frameworks/mentalities

Issues & questions raised

Note: apologies for not name-tagging everyone here, it would take me the rest of this week!

How important is CT in TD?

The general consensus was that it’s very important, and not just for teachers. All jobs need it, but especially teachers as they have a social responsibility and it’s part of our wider participation in the world, a refusal to take any public narrative at face value.

Should critical thinking be two-fold: should both T and Ss engage in it? Do teachers who employ CT lead to CT in Ss?

Most agreed that CT in teachers and encouraging it in class will help install CT in Ss.

Is a teacher’s aptitude to think critically dependent on context?

Clarification on what was meant by context was sought here, but a few commented that institutions where CT was active helped encourage CT skills in teachers.

Do all parts of the modular CambridgeESOL Delta encourage critical thinking?

Some disagreement here, especially over whether this was encouraged in Module 1. Generally agreed that Module 2 and (even more so) Module 3 helps encourage CT.

Is critical thinking in TD the same as reflective practice?

A couple equated it to CT, but most agreed that it was a part of CT, not the whole.

How does it work in practice?

No real suggestions offered here, apart from suggesting that teachers use their experience to equate what they hear/read to their context by asking e.g. Would this work with my learners? This is a massive (and very useful) area though, so perhaps a possible topic for a future #eltchat?

Is CT in TD harder when attending/reading presentations/texts by big names in the field?

Yes, but just as important.

How relevant are the other 3 of the ‘4Cs’ (collaboration, cooperation, creativity and critical thinking)?

Only really discussed by a couple of participants, who disagreed: ether could be a stand-alone skill, or dependent on others e.g. creativity, depending on who you (critically – : )) believe.

Is it possible to think critically at the start of teaching, or does it come with experience?

Generally agreed that it’s easier with experience, but that CT can help accumulate useful experience. @CeciELT commented that it’s not essential, but that many people think in that way.

How can we relate Bloom’s educational objectives to CT in TD?

There was a question as to how Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives can relate to teacher development, and @Marisa_C posted these useful links

Can CT be taught directly?

Most agreed that it can certainly be encouraged, but not always taught directly.

What are aspects that make CT in TD harder for you?

@TailormadeEng said that when you observe a teacher who’s created a great activity/technique which you want to copy. It’s hard to be critical about that. @AlexandraKouk responded: 4 me the big one is beliefs masquerading as “facts”. This was a very popular response, which many RTed!

Is CT harder to foster in a TD prgram when all teachers want is a few tried and tested recipes?

Most agreed that yes, it’s harder, but should still be encouraged nonetheless, perhaps by encouraging a framework for action research or by CTing the recipes themselves. @reasons4 gave the helpful tip: in TD ‘recipe’ sessions I always say to Ts I hope there’s 1 thing you’ll never use cos it won’t work with for you.

Does social media help to encourage CT? Does Twitter brevity impede CT?

Opinion was divided on this – some argued that social media/Twitter has the opposite effect, while others argued it helps.

Does awareness of different approaches and methods help develop CT?  

General agreement on this, as long as they’re critically evaluated and don’t go to extremes.

Does CT help lower affective filters?

Not many responses to this, but those that did agreed that CT helps build confidence.

Do cultures that don’t encourage CT need ‘baby steps’?

Yes – on this all agreed.

Do school leaders want teachers who are critical thinkers?

Quite a few tweeters thought that they didn’t with bright exceptions – some said “Yes, but perhaps not when it comes to pay and conditions”. A similar analogy was drawn towards political leaders.


At the end of the session, most agreed that this was useful and rather a ‘hot’ topic for discussion. Another #eltchat on the same topic was even floated…yes please!

Damian Williams
is a teacher trainer based in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil a partner of In his own words “These days I balance my work between teacher-training, writing for Pearson Longman, working on The Distance Delta (IH London), DELTA/CPE examining, CELTA assessing, translating and, of course, teaching.” He tweets as @TailormadeEng