Teaching students to state and update their thinking

By Joseph E. Sweeney. Ed.D.


At the heart of good decision-making, integral to it, is judgment. Judgment is the capacity and process to make sense of the world and discern what is true, how the world works, and what to believe about it. Judgment is how we form opinions and update them based on what we think, perceive, and believe.

Teachers and parents often wonder what they can do to help the next generation. One answer is to help them develop their judgment.

The following can be done without much work, but with impactful results in helping build a child’s ability to and confidence in making sound judgements.

Here are four steps:

Steps for Developing Judgment Example
1. Teach students to state their opinions explicitly—in clear, concise, and simple language. “I believe that washing my hands with soap and water is more effective than hand sanitizer.”
2. Have students say why they think an opinion is true. “I heard it from a credible source this morning . . . “
3. Ask students to assign a specific amount of confidence – or a percentage – to something they are considering. What is the chance they think it is true? “I have 60% confidence that this is true.”
4. Require students to think about and state what would have them change their minds about something. “If a reputable medical doctor supported this, I might increase my confidence by 35%.”

By teaching young people to state their propositions or beliefs about the world in this way, we are teaching them to acknowledge and manage uncertainty. We are teaching them to engage in truth-seeking and active open-mindedness. And we are teaching them to value intellectual humility more than they value protecting being seen as correct.

As we help children navigate the complexity around them, we have an opportunity to lower anxiety and improve their well-being by focusing on good judgment.

The path to good judgment starts with learning how to think critically about forming and updating opinions, beliefs, and propositions about the world. Today’s personal and global challenges remind us that this is not only practical but imperative to teach students.

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