Critical Thinking 202: Setting Criteria

Criteria is important.  It sets the rules for how we accomplish everything.  And if we operate under different sets of criteria, we wind up with the following situation:

They are using different criteria for how you add, multiply and divide!  Of course one of them is obviously wrong….but they don’t think so!

This is why it’s so important in critical thinking that everyone is on the same page when it comes to criteria setting.

Stage One in critical thinking is setting the question.  Let’s use an example from my post:  Critical Thinking 101:  Setting the Question

Did Romeo and Juliette experience true love?

In critical thinking, it’s not the answer to this question that you assess, it’s how the question is supported.  In order for you to be able to assess a studen’t thinking, you must be clear about setting the criteria for true love first.

Setting criteria can be done in two ways:  You can tell the students what the criteria is or you can set the criteria WITH your students.  I find the latter is far more powerful because when the students are part of the conversation themselves, it deepens their personal understanding of the topic and they are far more invested in proving their answer.

So you have a conversation and ask the question, how do you judge true love?  Let’s come up with 3 or 4 key criteria points we all agree will be the standard we judge “true love” to be.

When I did this with my students they agreed to the following (Remember, this is very subjective.  The key is that it’s agreed upon as the values the students will hold to be true.)

Criteria for TRUE LOVE:

1.  It is a feeling felt by both parties at the same time.

2.  It develops slowly over time.

3.  It is long lasting and stands the test of time.

4.  It holds the couple together through adversity.

Now it took an entire class to set the criteria for this topic.  They fought over “love at first sight” vs. infatuation vs. “puppy love” to the point where I could have left the room and they wouldn’t have noticed, they were so entrenched in the debate.  I told them to save it for the assignment and we finally established the criteria.

Based on the criteria they set, most kids finally turned in an answer that said Romeo and Juliette did not experience true love.  Their love was felt on both sides and it could be argued that it held them together through adversity (I mean, seriously….he killed a member of her family and she still wanted to marry him!) but most of them agreed that it fell short on the “developed slowly” and “it withstood the test of time”.

Setting the criteria with your students is the fun part!  Especially if they get really involved and the topic becomes personal to them.  It requires some compromising in some cases because you could argue certain points forever.

Who was the more influential Renaissance character:  Leonardo da Vinci or Michelangelo?

Possible criteria for influential? 

Contributions changed the lives of the people at the time?  Remembered long throughout history to the present?  Gained the support of the people/monarchy?  Was held in popular opinion?  Did the most to radically change thinking historically?

Which historical disease had the most devastating impact on humanity?

Possible criteria for devastating impact?

Killed the most people?  Was the most wide spread?  Caused changes within the medical community?  Altered the societal structure of the era?  Caused the most revolution?

Which location provides the best economic choice?

Possible criteria for best economic?

The final cost of the product itself?  The cost in gas to drive to the location?  The time it takes to get to the location?  How busy a particular location might be (time in line)?  Best warranty policy?

To sum it up:

Criteria setting could be long and lengthy and if you are too specific then it rules out some of the individual thought that goes into the assignment.  And you can also make it vastly complicated.  My recommendation is to keep your criteria to 3 main points (possibly 4, but no more).

Set your criteria with the students whenever possible.

Make sure the students understand that their answers have to always come back to the criteria they set.  It will be difficult at first because there are some kids that will want to argue based on their personal feelings.  That’s fine, but you have to make sure you can justify your answer with each point on the criteria list.

Incidentally, I did have a student make a justification for true love between Romeo and Juliette and it was very clever.  She convientally left out the ages (not part of the set criteria anyways) and ranked the criteria elements in such a way that “development over time” came in last.  She justified her answer by saying that the strength of the first three criteria outweighed the need for the last.  She also said that events and misunderstanding did not allow for the “test of time” to be truly played out so that criteria became irrelevant.  It was a carefully thought out response that impressed the heck out of me.  And this was from a 13 year old, Grade 8 student.  Wow, would I have loved to have had this conversation with her again in Grade 12……

Coming Soon….. Critical Thinking 303:  Producing the Final Product and Critical Thinking 404:  Assessing the Final Product

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About Cherra-Lynne Olthof

I've been a middle school teacher for my entire career (which began in 2001). Like my students, I too am a life long learner. My goals include helping my students to achieve their goals, support them in their learning, and to encourage them to think "beyond the grade".
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3 Responses to Critical Thinking 202: Setting Criteria

  1. Jeremiah says:

    It realy sharpens our mind on love issue

  2. Eleanore says:

    Excellent article! We are linking to this particularly great post on our website.
    Keep up the good writing.

  3. Pingback: Why Inquiry Based Learning is Not Discovery Learning | Teaching on Purpose

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