Build Critical Thinking Skills With Believing and Doubting Games
A key difference between old benchmark standards and Common Core is that Common Core standards explicitly require classroom instruction on critical thinking and informational literacy. While rote memorization can help students learn facts and figures, teaching critical thinking leads to high-level reasoning and supports long-term educational success. It is also an incredibility difficult skill to teach.
Hindrances to critical thinking include confirmation bias, selective thinking, personal biases and prejudices, shoehorning, and wishful thinking. These are barriers to higher-level reasoning. One excellent way to help students stretch their critical thinking muscles – regarding specific texts or general topics – is to introduce them to the believing game and the doubting game.
Turning classroom debate into an exercise in empathy
Classroom debates often produce strong disagreement, sometimes even red faces and loud voices, but they rarely develop deeper critical thinking. However, by using methodological doubt and methodological belief, students are encouraged to either believe or doubt an idea or text systematically, with discipline and conscious effort. The believing game and the doubting game allow students to think rigorously without the heat and ire so common in classroom disagreements.
How the believing and doubting games work
This process of believing and doubting requires students to engage empathetically with an oppositional audience. In his book “Writing Arguments,” John Ramage encourages playing the believing and doubting game in a simple format. Students make lists or idea maps headed “Believe” and “Doubt” and create a set of reasons for each side. They must consider not only why a person might embrace an idea, but also what values might drive believers or doubters to hold their beliefs.
This allows students to identify value overlaps between each group. Seeing that two groups with vastly differing opinions on a topic can be driven by similar values definitely deepens student thinking. The act of believing encourages students to develop nuance in their viewpoints, sometimes even expanding their knowledge and support, and doubting gets them to anticipate arguments and values that conflict with their ideas.
Believing and doubting games emphasize fair-mindedness and learning through inquiry
Believing and doubting games highlight the importance of learning through inquiry as students struggle with identifying the beliefs that drive each side of a debate. Additionally, fully embracing or rejecting preconceived notions on a topic can force students to identify their own biases or knowledge gaps, encouraging future learning.
Teachers who use the believing game and doubting game emphasize inquisitiveness, fair-mindedness and flexibility, which are all components of high-level reasoning. While it may seem like a simple game, this exercise can reduce conflict in classroom debates and discussion.
One additional benefit is that students are not necessarily forced to identify themselves on one side or another, which allows students with conflicting viewpoints more opportunity to articulate their positions in ways that are focused on a shared goal – critical thinking.
Monica Fuglei is a graduate of the University of Nebraska in Omaha and a current adjunct faculty member of Arapahoe Community College in Colorado, where she teaches composition and creative writing.