Critical & Reflective Thinking

Critical and Reflective Thinking encompasses a set of abilities that students use to examine their own thinking and that of others. This involves making judgments based on reasoning, where students consider options, analyze options using specific criteria, and draw conclusions.

People who think critically and reflectively are analytical and investigative, willing to question and challenge their own thoughts, ideas, and assumptions and challenge those of others. They reflect on the information they receive through observation, experience, and other forms of communication to solve problems, design products, understand events, and address issues. A critical thinker uses their ideas, experiences, and reflections to set goals, make judgments, and refine their thinking.

Analyzing and critiquing

Students learn to analyze and make judgments about a work, a position, a process, a performance, or another product or act. They reflect to consider purpose and perspectives, pinpoint evidence, use explicit or implicit criteria, make defensible judgments or assessments, and draw conclusions. Students have opportunities for analysis and critique through engagement in formal tasks, informal tasks, and ongoing activities.

Questioning and investigating

Students learn to engage in inquiry when they identify and investigate questions, challenges, key issues, or problematic situations in their studies, lives, and communities and in the media. They develop and refine questions; create and carry out plans; gather, interpret, and synthesize information and evidence; and reflect to draw reasoned conclusions. Critical thinking activities may focus on one part of the process, such as questioning, and reach a simple conclusion, while others may involve more complex inquiry requiring extensive thought and reflection.

Designing and developing

Students think critically to develop ideas. Their ideas may lead to the designing of products or methods or the development of performances and representations in response to problems, events, issues, and needs. They work with clear purpose and consider the potential uses or audiences of their work. They explore possibilities, develop and reflect on processes, monitor progress, and adjust procedures in light of criteria and feedback.

Reflecting and assessing

Students apply critical, metacognitive, and reflective thinking in given situations, and relate this thinking to other experiences, using this process to identify ways to improve or adapt their approach to learning. They reflect on and assess their experiences, thinking, learning processes, work, and progress in relation to their purposes. Students give, receive, and act on feedback and set goals individually and collaboratively. They determine the extent to which they have met their goals and can set new ones.



I can explore.

I can explore materials and actions. I can show whether I like something or not.


I can use evidence to make simple judgments.

I can ask questions, make predictions, and use my senses to gather information. I can explore with a purpose in mind and use what I learn. I can tell or show others something about my thinking. I can contribute to and use simple criteria. I can find some evidence and make judgments. I can reflect on my work and experiences and tell others about something I learned.


I can ask questions and consider options. I can use my observations, experience, and imagination to draw conclusions and make judgments.

I can ask open-ended questions, explore, and gather information. I experiment purposefully to develop options. I can contribute to and use criteria. I use observation, experience, and imagination to draw conclusions, make judgments, and ask new questions. I can describe my thinking and how it is changing. I can establish goals individually and with others. I can connect my learning with my experiences, efforts, and goals. I give and receive constructive feedback. 


I can gather and combine new evidence with what I already know to develop reasoned conclusions, judgments, or plans.

I can use what I know and observe to identify problems and ask questions. I explore and engage with materials and sources. I can develop or adapt criteria, check information, assess my thinking, and develop reasoned conclusions, judgments, or plans. I consider more than one way to proceed and make choices based on my reasoning and what I am trying to do. I can assess my own efforts and experiences and identify new goals. I give, receive, and act on constructive feedback. 


I can evaluate and use well-chosen evidence to develop interpretations; identify alternatives, perspectives, and implications; and make judgments. I can examine and adjust my thinking.

I can ask questions and offer judgments, conclusions, and interpretations supported by evidence I or others have gathered. I am flexible and open-minded; I can explain more than one perspective and consider implications. I can gather, select, evaluate, and synthesize information. I consider alternative approaches and make strategic choices. I take risks and recognize that I may not be immediately successful. I examine my thinking, seek feedback, reassess my work, and adjust. I represent my learning and my goals and connect these with my previous experiences. I accept constructive feedback and use it to move forward.


I can examine evidence from various perspectives to analyze and make well-supported judgments about and interpretations of complex issues.

I can determine my own framework and criteria for tasks that involve critical thinking. I can compile evidence and draw reasoned conclusions. I consider perspectives that do not fit with my understandings. I am open-minded and patient, taking the time to explore, discover, and understand. I make choices that will help me create my intended impact on an audience or situation. I can place my work and that of others in a broader context. I can connect the results of my inquiries and analyses with action. I can articulate a keen awareness of my strengths, my aspirations and how my experiences and contexts affect my frameworks and criteria. I can offer detailed analysis, using specific terminology, of my progress, work, and goals. 


The Core Competencies relate to each other and with every aspect of learning.

Connections among Core Competencies

The Core Competencies are interrelated and interdependent. Taken together, the competencies are foundational to every aspect of learning. Critical and Reflective Thinking is intertwined with all the other Core Competencies.


Critical and Reflective Thinking is one of the Thinking Core Competency’s two interrelated sub-competencies, Creative Thinking and Critical and Reflective Thinking.

Critical and Reflective Thinking and Creative Thinking overlap. For example:

  • Students use creative thinking to generate new ideas when solving problems and addressing constraints that arise as they question and investigate, and design and develop.
  • Students use critical thinking to analyze and reflect on creative ideas to determine whether they have value and should be developed, engaging in ongoing reflection as they develop their creative ideas.


Critical and Reflective Thinking is closely related to the two Communication sub-competencies: Communicating and Collaborating. For example:

  • Students apply critical thinking to acquire and interpret information, and to make choices about how to communicate their ideas.
  • Students often collaborate as they work in groups to analyze and critique, and design and develop.

Personal and Social

Critical and Reflective Thinking is closely related to the three Personal and Social sub-competencies, Personal Awareness and Responsibility, Social Awareness and Responsibility, and Positive Personal and Cultural Identity. For example:

  • Students think critically to determine their personal and social responsibilities.
  • Students apply their personal awareness as they reflect on their efforts and goals.


Connections with areas of learning

Critical and Reflective Thinking is embedded within the curricular competencies of the concept-based, competency-driven curriculum. Curricular competencies are focused on the “doing” within the area of learning and include skills, processes, and habits of mind required by the discipline. For example, the Critical and Reflective Thinking sub-competency can be seen in the sample inquiry questions that elaborate on the following Big Ideas in Science:

  • Light and sound can be produced and their properties can be changed: How can you explore the properties of light and sound? What discoveries did you make? (Science 1)
  • Matter has mass, takes up space, and can change phase: How can you explore the phases of matter? How does matter change phases? How does heating and cooling affect phase changes? (Science 4)
  • Elements consist of one type of atom, and compounds consist of atoms of different elements chemically combined: What are the similarities and differences elements and compounds? How can you investigate the properties of elements and compounds? (Science 7)
  • The formation of the universe can be explained by the big bang theory: How could you model the formation of the universe? (Science 10)


A student explains how he learned to be persistent and why that trait is important to him.


Magnetic Wand

A student explores magnetic properties using a magnetic wand.


Narrative Essay

A student writes an essay in response to the prompt “How We Know Who We Are”.


Mars Mission

Students present their application for the Mars One project, explaining how they would be suited to the project and how they would deal with issues they would likely face.



A student reflects on the personal experiences that have changed his goals and aspirations.


Portfolio Review and Reflection

During a portfolio review, students reflect on their writing, set goals, and create a plan for moving forward.


Asking for Math Help

A student approaches a teacher with her concerns about her progress in math.


"Just" Jeans

Students explore issues related to the manufacturing of jeans in sweatshops.


Making Submersibles

After creating submersibles, students reflected on their creation process and the challenges they encountered.


Mind Map

Students create a mind map to assess and reflect on their learning.


Dinosaur Battle

A student shares his reasoning about which group of dinosaurs would win a battle.


The Lost Thing

A student creates a one-page representation of the story “The Lost Thing”.


Stacking and Building

Students generate and develop a variety of ideas when challenged to see how high they can stack provided materials.


Sharing Cookies

Students work together to solve an open-ended problem about sharing cookies.


Roller Coaster

As part of an engineering study, students work collaboratively to build, test, and adapt roller coasters.


Osmosis Experiment with Gummy Bears

Students work in small groups to design an experiment that explores the effects of different salt solutions on gummy bears.


Martin Luther on Trial

Students enact a mock trial where Martin Luther, the founder of the Protestant Reformation, was put on trial for heresy.


Essay on the Movie "Gattaca"

A student applies what he knows about genetics to critique the movie "Gattaca".


Finding the Area Under a Curve

A student develops, evaluates, and revises a process for calculating the area under a curve.


Exploring Objects

A student uses her senses to explore a toy bear and rocks.


Clean Energy - Site C

Students create documentaries that explore the pros and cons of the Site C dam while considering the various stakeholders.


Pinhole Camera Critique

Students reflect on the process they used to make pinhole cameras and the variables that affected its effectiveness.


Artistic Representation of Hotels

During an architecture project, a student uses found materials to represent that hotels simultaneously act as public space and private refuge.


Pull-Tab Snake

A student designs a snake made of pull-tabs in response to a class challenge.


"Not a Stick" Sticks

A student extends a classroom assignment by designing a fire starter for campers.


Santa Vending Machine

A student works with classmates to build a cardboard vending machine to deliver secret Santa presents.


Political Cartoon

A student creates a political cartoon to encourage community members to support a ban of shark fin products.


Designing Your Own Robot

After doing a report on robots and assembling a robot from a kit, a student designs his own robot.


Duct Tape Wallets

A student makes duct tape wallets as a hobby.


Constructing a Working Crane

A group of students engage in a multi-stage design process to make a working model of a construction crane.


Mousetrap Car

Students build mousetrap cars made from household materials and participated in a Mousetrap Car Competition.


Retelling the Three Billy Goats Gruff

A student retells the story of the “Three Billy Goats Gruff” from the perspective of the troll while adding in a few twists.


Save Fred: Collaborative Problem-solving

Students work in groups on a problem-solving challenge called “Save Fred”.


Making a Hockey Rink

Students make a hockey rink with whiteboards.


Reflecting on a Musical Performance

A student reflects on her performance singing a duet.


Artistic Explorations of Identity

Over time, a student develops a body of creative work exploring the theme of identity.


Inquiry: How Do Artists Best Express How They Think or Feel?

A student inquired into how artists express themselves, and produced an authentic piece of her own.


What is a Family?

Students investigated the question, “What is a family”, and reflected on their own families.


Interviewing an Older Adult

Students were asked to interview an “older adult from the community” and this student chose to interview a long-time neighbour.


Phobia versus Fear

Students research phobias to distinguish between phobias as fear and then discuss and reflect on reactions to SOGI.


Debate on Gun Control in United States

Students participate in a Model UN debate on gun control in the United States by taking the perspectives of various states.


Exploration of Future Careers

A student explores possible future careers.


Exploring Factors that Effect Motion

Students collaboratively create ramps to explore the forces that effect motion.


Designing Animal Habitats

Students use classroom materials to design models of animal habitats that provide animals with what they need to survive.


Final Exam Video Reflection

A student completes a comprehensive reflection of their learning experiences as a final exam in a STEM program.


Volunteering at an Urban Mission

A student is moved to spontaneously reflect on his views on homelessness and poverty after volunteering at an urban mission.


Number Talk

A student participates in a number talk and then reflects on her ability to communicate her thinking during these talks.


Recording Observations with Loose Parts

A student uses “loose parts” to record his observations of seasonal changes in the local environment.


Happy, Healthy Fish

A student builds a model of an aquarium that would keep fish happy and healthy.


Organizing an Orange Shirt Day

A student, inspired by a novel about a girl’s residential school experience, gathers further information and, four years later, organizes an Orange Shirt Day at her school.


Hold High the Torch

After meeting veterans at a Remembrance Day event, a student forms a group dedicated to intergenerational connections between students and veterans.