All The Right Moves

Would the world be a better place if more people played chess? The philosopher in Dr. Lance Grigg loves that question, but the educator in him loves it even more. 

Grigg is an education professor at the University of Lethbridge who came to the profession by way of an undergraduate degree in philosophy. An avid chess player himself, Grigg has also taught countless other people how to play the game. Why? Because he believes fostering critical thinking is key to creating a more functional society, and the correlation between chess playing and the development of critical thinking is too powerful to ignore.

“Liberal education broadens viewpoints and simultaneously respects individual perspectives. It is the very foundation of critical thinking.” - Dr. Lance Grigg (Photo by Rod Leland)

Critical thinking has been defined as reflective thinking that is focused on what to believe or do. It’s about effective problem-solving; coming to a sensible course of action based on gathered information and sound reasoning. Grigg uses chess as one method of teaching others how to think critically – the effects of which extend well beyond the game board. 

“In chess there is a lot of room for creativity within a set of firm rules,” says Grigg. “You have a number of options with every move, and you have to make a decision based on a specific context. Research has shown that chess helps people to think strategically and creatively in other aspects of their lives. It helps them identify relevant information and patterns, and develop a sense of autonomy within a team setting. That’s what critical thinking is all about, and ultimately, that’s what being a responsible citizen is about, too.”

Grigg has been an educator for more than 25 years. He began at the U of L in 1996, and focuses on critical thinking in his teaching as well as in his research. In the classroom Grigg’s students are encouraged to use critical thinking not only to complete the course work, but as a way to share authority and steer the learning.

“I engage my students in a variety of questioning strategies to get them involved in the material in a critical way, and develop intellectual risk tolerance that will hopefully spill over into their daily lives,” he says. 

“As an educator it’s my job to foster intellectual courage. I share power in the classroom, and always leave the door open for students to ask critical questions with regard to the material. A good critical thinker is open to all points of view and is continually self-correcting. You have to model critical thinking to teach it, and as students become teachers they will hopefully in turn model it, too.”

Grigg recently began a new research project working with Grade 12 social studies teachers, gathering their perceptions of students’ critical-thinking skills as they graduate from high school. The research will also include professors teaching 1000-level classes at the U of L in order to gather their perceptions of the critical-thinking skills of first-year university students. Grigg will work with both groups over a two-year period, investigating differences and mentoring instructors on how to foster critical thinking. Beyond the interesting findings the study is certain to uncover, Grigg says the research will further his personal mission to raise the level of critical thinking and the quality of critical thinkers on a broad scale. 

“Do we need a citizenry that is responsible? Reasonable? Ethical? That strives for the common good? I’d say we do. The relationship between sustaining a fair and just society and growing a population of burgeoning critical thinkers is strong.”

Grigg says the U of L’s liberal-education foundation is an ideal platform for promoting critical thinking, and that the Faculty of Education is in a unique position to help advance critical thinking from the ground up in schools. 

“The very notion of liberal education is freedom of thought,” says Grigg. “Liberal arts students deepen their understanding in many areas, which ultimately shapes how they view society and what it means to be a responsible citizen. Liberal education broadens viewpoints and simultaneously respects individual perspectives. It is the very foundation of critical thinking.”