Using Critical Thinking to Prepare Students for Success

The Age of Misinformation

The average Google search takes less than 30 seconds to produce millions of responses, putting gigabytes of information—some true, some not—at users’ fingertips in an instant. And oftentimes, those users are high school students.

“My kids are online a lot,” says Eileen Murphy, the CEO and Founder of ThinkCERCA. “I’ve seen firsthand that the amount of misinformation out there is striking.”

“There are no rules anymore,” Eileen adds.

“Bad information passes as fact,” Eileen says. “Entire communities are built online to validate points of view without reasoning or evidence.”

Eileen founded ThinkCERCA to teach students the critical thinking skills they need to thrive in the 21st century—including overcoming this influx of misinformation.

Leveraging Technology in the Classroom

Eileen saw the impact technology could have in the classroom as a tool for reshaping education.

During her tenure as the Director of Curriculum and Instruction for more than 100 schools in Chicago, she realized that in classrooms where students spanned multiple reading levels, teachers had few options to cater to the individual needs of students.

“Creating a curriculum that retools an entire workforce is not easy to scale,” Eileen says. “That’s where the power of technology comes into focus.”

In 2012, Eileen founded ThinkCERCA, a personalized online literacy platform that provides teachers with lessons in English, social studies, science and math. The lessons are provided at ten different reading levels so teachers can customize the learning experience for students based on their individual needs.

Building Knowledge with Others

To get students more involved in the learning experience, ThinkCERCA lessons walk students through the process of developing well-reasoned, evidence-based arguments to debatable questions through a process called “argumentative writing.”

“When we started thinking about creating a literacy platform, everyone agreed that an argument-based approach made sense,” Eileen says.

Argumentative writing prompts students to actively participate in the critical thinking process. Lessons are tied together by an essential question, sparking classroom debates and collaboration with peers.

Ultimately, students evaluate and synthesize what they’ve learned to build their own arguments.

“Learning to think critically is important in every academic subject and profession,” Eileen says.

“It’s a skill that sets students up for success.”

Working with Teachers

Eileen emphasizes that despite technology’s boundless potential, it will never replace teachers.

“Critical thinking skills aren’t developed in front of a computer screen, on our own,” Eileen says. “They are developed in collaborative learning environments with teachers.”

Teachers can tailor lessons to their existing curriculums and take advantage of ThinkCERCA’s library of texts, tasks, and tools. They can even track their students’ reading and writing progress.

“We make it easy for teachers to assign valuable lessons to students and get real-time insights online, while preserving that personal connection,” Eileen says.

“The whole reason schools exist is the relationship between teacher and student.”

An Amazing Impact

Eileen saw firsthand how ThinkCERCA’s argumentative writing approach to learning transformed a school in one of Chicago’s poorest, most distressed neighborhoods.

“Before the school began using our platform, 37% of students were not meeting performance standards,” Eileen says.

“Four years later, 100% of the students are meeting those standards. That’s the power of scale.”

As ThinkCERCA continues to grow, Eileen remains committed to meeting the challenge of preparing students for life after school.

“There is an urgency to equip students with critical thinking skills,” Eileen says.

“We’re living in an unprecedented time of innovation and human potential that can only be tapped through expressing ourselves clearly.”


Eileen and ThinkCERCA are alumni of Project Literacy Lab, the world’s first accelerator innovating for new solutions to tackle the global illiteracy crisis. The Lab is a joint partnership between Pearson and Unreasonable Group as part of the broader Project Literacy social impact campaign.