Close the Critical Thinking Gap: Author Q&A With Colin Seale
Close the Critical Thinking Gap: Author Q&A With Colin Seale
PUBLISHED: Thursday, April 30, 2020 by Andilynn Feddeler

Critical thinking is the essential tool for ensuring that students fulfill their promise.Thinking Like a Lawyer: A Framework for Teaching Critical Thinking to All Students introduces a powerful but practical framework to close the critical thinking gap and helps students adopt the skills, habits, and mindsets of lawyers. The book provides teachers the tools and knowledge they need to teach critical thinking, empowering their students to tackle 21st-century problems. Learn more about the book and closing the critical thinking gap in this interview with the author, Colin Seale.

Q: You are clearly obsessed with critical thinking. Why do you think educators and parents should be, too?

A: So often, we look at young people, particularly our gifted and advanced learners, and measure their success by their grades, what colleges they attend, and getting “good” jobs. But with the rise of automation, nanotechnology, and artificial intelligence, it is more important than ever to ensure we are not just teaching children what to think, but how to think. This is not some cryptic, “the future is coming” warning. Look no further than the response to this global pandemic, during which health professionals, educators, public officials, and essential workers have had to rapidly respond without a step-by-step manual. Educators and parents have an urgent call to help our students shift from asking “what” and “how to” to asking “why” and “what if.”

Q: To close the critical thinking gap, your book introduces a “Thinking Like a Lawyer” framework. Why?

A: There’s a reason why every law school and every business school uses the case study method of instruction. It’s the same reason Socratic-style questioning has been making a steady comeback in K–12 education—which happens to be the same reason 35 of our founding fathers, 25 past presidents, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, and countless civic and business leaders have been attorneys. Analyzing problems and solutions from different angles, asking questions until you get the information you need, and making claims and supporting those claims with valid and relevant evidence are staples of legal reasoning. As a math teacher who went to law school at night and practiced law for 3 years, the ability to apply these critical thinking strategies across multiple contexts made a big difference in the courtroom. But it also made a huge difference in the classroom. This book outlines several practical, but powerful strategies to help educators unleash their students’ critical thinking potential by tapping into their inherent sense of fairness and justice.

Q: What motivated you to write this book?

A: I grew up attending gifted and talented education programs, but consistently struggled with issues of underachievement. The experience of getting identified as gifted at 7 years old and getting diagnosed with ADHD at 37 heightens my motivation to create a space where labels matter less than setting the stage of excellence for all children. After launching thinkLaw 5 years ago and taking our curriculum based on real-life legal cases, fairy tales, and nursery rhymes across schools in 30 states and counting, keynoting conferences across the nation, and writing as a contributor for Forbes, The 74, Education Post, and Edutopia, I realized broad proclamations to “reimagine” education fell short. My nitty-gritty focus on real instructional strategies real teachers can use with real students motivated me to produce a “how-to” guide for teachers to close the critical thinking gap. I firmly believe that when teachers have sustainable, easy-to-implement tools that seamlessly integrate into their existing instructional frameworks, the critical thinking gap can be a thing of the past.

Q: This book includes sections on parenting, test prep, and even classroom management. Why are you including these topics in a book about teaching critical thinking?

A: Critical thinking does not happen in isolation. Teachers telling students, “Okay, now it’s critical thinking time,” is the way to guarantee it won’t happen. This is why Part I of the book goes over the ins and outs of the critical thinking gap and why it matters, Part II discusses all of the practical Thinking Like a Lawyer critical thinking strategies (Analysis from Multiple Perspectives, Investigations and Discovery, Settlement and Negotiation, etc.) and practical applications in the classroom, and Part III discusses how to remove barriers to implementation. Having issues with school culture? Use critical thinking as your strategy to increase empathy. Test scores need improvement? Leverage critical thinking as a strategy for hacking test prep. We have a whole chapter on parenting tips for critical thinking because families have so much power to model and support critical thinking at home. 

Colin Seale is an educator, attorney, and critical thinking expert. He founded thinkLaw, an award-winning organization, to help educators leverage inquiry-based instructional strategies that can close the critical thinking gap and ensure they teach and reach all students.