Overall, both the literature and the findings of this study indicate a need for clearer definitions of what it means to be a critical thinker (Kuhn, 1999). Definitions of critical thinking vary widely; however, there is agreement that metacognition and reflection are essential components in order for students to internalize and replicate higher order thinking skills outside of the classroom (Kuhn, 1999). There is also consensus about the need for a coalition or network when developing outcomes related to skills such as critical thinking. Moreover, studies have found that authentic assessment tools for critical thinking are challenging for educators to design that are developed must be carefully vetted, monitored, and revised in order to remain effective at measuring critical thinking.
With the increased interest in project-based learning (PBL) as a means of developing skills such as collaboration, critical thinking and problem solving, educators need both tools and support in order to plan and implement PBL effectively and measure student content and 4 Cs learning within that context (Thomas, 2003). Particularly, studies on PBL have found that teachers struggle when trying to design assessments that “require students to demonstrate their understanding” of skills such as critical thinking (Thomas, 2000). Despite these challenges, both the research and the conclusions of this study indicate that “problems… can be effectively facilitated by a supportive school environment that allows teachers to reflect on their practices and to attempt changes in these practices through enactment linked with collaboration and feedback” (Thomas, 2000, p. 25).
Given these findings, it is critical for the Napa Valley Unified School District 4 Cs Rollout Team and other instructional teams looking to integrate and assess critical thinking into the curriculum to collaborate with district-level, site-level and classroom-level stakeholders to 1) develop a consensus around a clear definition of critical thinking, 2) develop clearly written student learning outcomes and performance indicators that are both teacher- and student-friendly.