THINKING SKILLS

Creative Thinking
Be Creative, but...
What, Why, and How
Can we teach creativity?
Research about Creativity

CRITICAL THINKING
What is critical thinking?
Attributes of Critical Thinkers
Why teach critical thinking?
How to teach it effectively?
The Logic of Critical Thinking
The Ethics of Critical Thinking

Problem-Solving Skills
Combining Creative + Critical
Multiple Intelligences & Styles
Thinking Skills in Education
Methods in Design & Science
Problem Solving in Education


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website for Whole-Person Education
(information is at bottom of page) and
our community of science-and-faith.



 
What is Critical Thinking?

      Critical = Evaluative
      To avoid misunderstanding, this page begins by explaining what it isn't:  critical thinking is not necessarily being "critical" and negative.  In fact, a more accurate term would be evaluative thinking.  The result of evaluation can range from positive to negative, from acceptance to rejection or anything in-between.  Yes, critical evaluation can produce a glowing recommendation.  On this page, for example, the quotes and links — which are recommended, but (as with all sources of information) should be used with an attitude of "critical thinking" evaluation — are the result of my own critical thinking.
      Creative-and-Critical Productive Thinking that is useful for problem solving occurs when a creative generation of ideas is combined with critical evaluation of ideas.  Although creativity occurs first in a process of productive thinking, I think it's best to begin with a solid foundation of critical thinking.  Why?  Because wise evaluation, in critical thinking, can prevent "creativity plus enthusiasm" from converting questionable ideas into unwise action.

      Here are two brief definitions of what it is:  Critical thinking is "reasonably and reflectively deciding what to believe or do." ...  Critical thinking means making reasoned judgments.  Basically, it is using criteria to judge the quality of something, from cooking to a conclusion of a research paper.  In essence, critical thinking is a disciplined manner of thought that a person uses to assess the validity of something: a statement, news story, argument, research, etc.  {quotation from Robert Ennis, and paraphrase of Barry Beyer}
      A page that is brief yet rich in ideas, and is worth reading carefully, is Defining Critical Thinking by Michael Scriven & Richard Paul.  You can read Our Concept of Critical Thinking from The Critical Thinking Community which offers a comprehensive Library of Articles for you to explore.
      Barbara Fowler has selected 19 brief definitions of critical thinking from a variety of sources, and Robert Ennis has a brief 11-point outline.

 
Characteristics of Critical Thinkers

      For a quick overview, read Characteristics of Critical Thinking which begins with "What is Critical Thinking?" and continues with: Characteristics of Critical Thinking, Why teach Critical Thinking?, and Teaching Strategies to help promote Critical Thinking Skills.
      Linda Elder and Richard Paul describe Valuable Intellectual Traits (Intellectual Humility, Courage, Empathy, Integrity, Perseverance, Faith In Reason, and Fairmindedness) and Universal Intellectual Standards (Clarity, Accuracy, Precision, Relevance, Depth, Breadth, and Logic). (also on posters)
      For a more comprehensive overview, use 35 Dimensions of Critical Thought as a launching pad to read 35 pages with brief, clear descriptions of Affective Strategies, Cognitive Strategies (Macro-Abilities), and Cognitive Strategies (Micro-Skills).
    An effective thinker must be willing to think and able to think.  These requirements — for disposition (be willing) and skill (be able) — are described in the pages above, and with more detail in a series of papers by Peter Facione, Noreen Facione, Carol Giancarlo, and Joanne Gainen.  I suggest The Motivation to Think in Working and Learning and Professional Judgment and the Disposition Toward Critical Thinking — or you can read the abstracts to see what looks interesting.  { All of these are in the website of InsightAssessment.com, which offers many resources for improving and assessing thinking skills (with links on left side and top bar of their homepage) including the "what & why" paper and "expert consensus" below. }
 


 
Why should we teach Critical Thinking?

      As explained in the pages above, critical thinking is essential for effective functioning in the modern world.
      In an essay that "takes a Socratic approach to defining critical thinking and identifying its value in one's personal, professional, educational, and civic life," Peter Facione (a dean at Santa Clara University) discusses "what and why" in Critical Thinking: What It Is and Why It Counts and concludes with a consensus statement (of experts in the field) about critical thinking and the ideal critical thinker:
      "We understand critical thinking to be purposeful, self-regulatory judgment which results in interpretation, analysis, evaluation, and inference, as well as explanation of the evidential, conceptual, methodological, criteriological, or contextual considerations upon which that judgment is based.  [Since this includes almost all types of logical reasoning,] CT is essential as a tool of inquiry.  As such, CT is a liberating force in education and a powerful resource in one's personal and civic life.  While not synonymous with good thinking, CT is a pervasive and self-rectifying human phenomenon.  The ideal critical thinker is habitually inquisitive, well-informed, trustful of reason, open-minded, flexible, fair-minded in evaluation, honest in facing personal biases, prudent in making judgments, willing to reconsider, clear about issues, orderly in complex matters, diligent in seeking relevant information, reasonable in the selection of criteria, focused in inquiry, and persistent in seeking results which are as precise as the subject and the circumstances of inquiry permit.  Thus, educating good critical thinkers means working toward this ideal.  It combines developing CT skills with nurturing those dispositions which consistently yield useful insights and which are the basis of a rational and democratic society."  {you can read the "Delphi Report" consensus statement, The Executive Summary for Critical Thinking: A Statement of Expert Consensus for Purposes of Educational Assessment and Instruction, excerpts & entire report }

      Education in critical thinking offers an alternative to a drift toward postmodern relativism, by emphasizing that we can "distinguish between facts and opinions or personal feelings, judgments and inferences, inductive and deductive arguments, and the objective and subjective." {MCC General Education Initiatives}  Critical thinking encourages us to recognize that our "rationally justifiable confidence" in a claim can span a wide range, from feelings to fact and everything in between.  Three Categories of Questions explains why, because students don't recognize questions involving "reasoned judgment" (which are neither fact nor opinion), they "fail to see the difference between offering legitimate reasons and evidence in support of a view and simply asserting the view as true."  You can see samples from The Art of Asking Essential Questions.
 


 
Critical Thinking in Education

LEARNING Critical Thinking — Educating Yourself
If you want to learn, you can use online tutorials about The Logic of Critical Thinking offered by Critical Thinking Web plus Mission Critical and Critical Thinking Across the Curriculum, from Hong Kong, San Jose, and Kansas City!

TEACHING Critical Thinking — Activities & Strategies

      Useful ideas about critical thinking and education are in Critical Thinking by Design (Joanne Kurfiss) and Critical Thinking: Basic Questions and Answers (Richard Paul).  For a broad overview, A Brief History of the Idea of Critical Thinking.  And to help those responsible for big-picture decisions, Peter Facione (past president of the American Conference of Academic Deans) wrote 26 Case Studies for Conversation and Reflection for academic deans and department chairs.
      Thinking is encouraged by a creative use of Thinking Activities (*) such as Socratic Teaching (Six Types of Socratic Questions) and other teaching tactics that encourage active learning.   * Eventually there will be "critical thinking activities" (especially for K-12 teachers) in the area for TEACHING ACTIVITIES;  although most principles of critical thinking are useful for teachers & students at all levels, instructional activities should be customized for students with different ages, experiences, and abilities.
      Dany Adams explains how, "because the scientific method is a formalization of critical thinking, it can be used as a simple model that removes critical thinking from the realm of the intuitive and puts it at the center of a straightforward, easily implemented, teaching strategy," in Critical Thinking and Scientific Method.
      ERIC Digests offers excellent introductory summary/overviews for teaching critical thinking in schools at all levels, from K-12 through higher education — How Can We Teach Critical Thinking? & Promoting Critical Thinking in the Classroom & Strategies for Teaching Critical Thinking — plus methods for teaching critical thinking in the contexts of environmental education & literature & television & adult ESL.  { All except "adult ESL" were written between 1989 and 1994, so they're not up-to-date, but most principles for "teaching critical thinking" were discovered/invented before 1989 and are still relevant today. }   And ERIC has a wide range of resources, letting you search for research & other information about thinking skills (critical thinking, evaluative thinking, decision making, ...) and much more.
      The evaluation of thinking skills is a challenge.  Accurate evaluation of a thinking skill — or even defining precisely what the "skill" is, and how we can observe and measure it — is much more difficult than evaluating knowledge.  Some educators have accepted the challenge, and (as one example) Insight Assessment describes options for evaluation of critical thinking.
      Critical Thinking on the Web offers links to many interesting, useful resources about critical thinking in a WIDE variety of areas, for teaching & tutorials and more.  It's run by Tim van Gelder, whose specialty is Argument Mapping — overview & tutorials & links-page.
      The Center for Critical Thinking (led by Richard Paul) offers a links-page for critical thinking education — scroll down their page to "Higher Education Strategies & Samples" and "K-12 Strategies & Samples" and "For Students";  and they describe research about critical thinking in colleges with links to "Effect of a Model for Critical Thinking..." and "The Effect of Richard Paul's Universal Elements..." and the full Executive Summary for a study of 56 universities (public & private) to "Determine Faculty Emphasis on Critical Thinking in Instruction."  Of course, education also occurs outside schools, and most thinking occurs outside the classroom in everyday life and business (a workshop) and other areas of life.
 
 

      The Role of Critical Thinking in Education and Life

      All proponents of thinking skills (critical, creative,...) emphasize the relevance of thinking for many aspects of life, not just those usually associated with "thinking."  For example, the Critical Thinking Community says, "Critical thinking is the art of taking charge of your own mind.  Its value is simple: if we can take charge of our own minds, we can take charge of our lives."
      In another page they describe the centrality of thinking, and a common educational problem:
      "Critical thinking is not an isolated goal unrelated to other important goals in education.  Rather, it is a seminal goal which, done well, simultaneously facilitates a rainbow of other ends.  It is best conceived, therefore, as the hub around which all other educational ends cluster.  For example, as students learn to think more critically, they become more proficient at historical, scientific, and mathematical thinking.  Finally, they develop skills, abilities, and values crucial to success in everyday life. ...
      Recent research suggests that critical thinking is not typically an intrinsic part of instruction at any level.  Students come without training in it, while faculty tend to take it for granted as an automatic by-product of their teaching.  Yet without critical thinking systematically designed into instruction, learning is transitory and superficial."
 

 

 
The Logic of Critical Thinking

      The essence of critical thinking is logic, and logical evaluation — by using reality checks and quality checks — is the essence of Scientific Method and Design Method.  On the other end of the logic spectum, we see a variety of Logical Fallacies that include circular reasoning and strawman arguments.

      This section features three excellent websites that will help you learn the fundamentals of good logic and bad logic.   { These sites were developed for college students and teachers, but with suitable adjustments they are also useful for K-12 because logic is logic, for the young and old.  But in the future, we'll be looking for websites that are specifically designed for younger students, that introduce logical principles in a way that is simple and fun. }

      • Critical Thinking Web offers tutorials about Logic, Fallacy, Argument Analysis, Venn Diagrams, Scientific Reasoning, and much more.  You can begin exploring with their sitemap.  It's run by Joe Lau & Jonathan Chan from the University of Hong Kong & Hong Kong Baptist University.

      • Mission: Critical (from San Jose State University in California's Silicon Valley) has a well organized Main Menu with information and activities in three areas — The Basics, Analysis of Arguments, Fallacies and Non-Rational Persuasion — and you can explore their Home Page.

      • Critical Thinking Across the Curriculum (from Longview Community College in Kansas City) aims for "an application of logical concepts to the analysis of everyday reasoning and problem-solving."
      The main content is in six pages:  Critical Thinking Core Concepts (supplemented by Truth Tables), Informal Fallacies (which are interesting because they make a direct connection with everyday experience);  Facts, Opinions and Reasoned JudgementsStatistical ArgumentsCharts & Graphs and Visual Trickery.
      You can also explore other pages, starting with the Home Page and moving on to the Table of Contents which provides an overview of topics in the six main pages and also has links to other pages about teaching, software, and deduction, plus resources for critical thinking in specific disciplines (psychology, philosophy, law, political science, english, music, math, automotive, office systems, nursing, writing, and reading), and more.
 


 
The Ethics of Critical Thinking

      Peter Facione describes a limitation that occurs with all types of thinking:
      A person can be good at critical thinking, meaning that the person can have the appropriate dispositions and be adept at the cognitive processes, while still not being a good (in the moral sense) critical thinker.  For example, a person can be adept at developing arguments and then, unethically, use this skill to mislead and exploit a gullible person, perpetrate a fraud, or deliberately confuse and confound, and frustrate a project.
      The experts were faced with an interesting problem.  Some, a minority, would prefer to think that critical thinking, by its very nature, is inconsistent with the kinds of unethical and deliberately counterproductive examples given.  They find it hard to imagine a person who was good at critical thinking not also being good in the broader personal and social sense.  In other words, if a person were "really" a "good critical thinker" in the procedural sense and if the person had all the appropriate dispositions, then the person simply would not do those kinds of exploitive and aggravating things.
      The large majority, however, hold the opposite judgment.  They are firm in the view that good critical thinking has nothing to do with... any given set of ethical values or social mores.  The majority of experts maintain that critical thinking conceived of as we have described it above, is, regrettably, not inconsistent with its unethical use.  A tool, an approach to situations, these can go either way, ethically speaking, depending on the character, integrity, and principles of the persons who possess them.  So, in the final analysis the majority of experts maintained that "it is an inappropriate use of the term to deny that someone is engaged in critical thinking on the grounds that one disapproves ethically of what the person is doing.  What critical thinking means, why it is of value, and the ethics of its use are best regarded as three distinct concerns."
  { from Critical Thinking: What It Is and Why It Counts }

      Richard Paul describes two beneficial dispositions that are encouraged (but not guaranteed) by critical thinking education:
      "Fairminded thinkers take into account the interests of everyone affected by the problem and proposed solutions.  They are more committed to finding the best solution than to getting their way."  And a critical thinker "has confidence that, in the long run, one's own higher interests and those of humankind at large will be best served by giving the freest play to reason,... despite the deep-seated obstacles in the native character of the human mind and in society as we know it."

      Yes, reason is useful, it is noble and desirable, it should be highly valued and carefully developed.  But we should keep things in perspective, regarding what reason can accomplish.  Probably most of us will agree with Paul (about the value of critical thinking) but also with the majority of experts, who conclude that becoming skilled at critical thinking does not guarantee that this powerful tool will always be used for the benefit of others.    { What are the relationships between Critical Thinking and Worldviews? }
 




 
A DISCLAIMER:  The internet offers an abundance of resources, so our main challenge is selectivity, and we have tried to find high-quality pages for you to read.  But the pages above don't necessarily represent views of the American Scientific Affiliation.  As always, we encourage you to use your critical thinking skills to evaluate everything you read.

 
The area of THINKING SKILLS has sub-areas for
Thinking Skills in Education and Life: Effective Problem-Solving Methods
Critical Thinking in Education and Life    Creative Thinking in Education and Life

This links-page for Critical Thinking in Education and Life, produced by Craig Rusbult, is
http://www.asa3.org/ASA/education/think/critical.htm
 copyright © 2001 by Craig Rusbult, all rights reserved 

All links were checked and fixed on December 9, 2008.

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