Be Creative-and-Critical
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Creativity for Living
Creativity in Education
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What is critical thinking?
Why teach critical thinking?
How to teach it effectively?
The Ethics of Critical Thinking
Combining Creative + Critical
Multiple Intelligences & Styles
Thinking Skills in Education
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Critical Thinking Skills
       in Education and Life

The sections in this page are:


What is Critical Thinking?


Why teach Critical Thinking?


Critical Thinking in Schools


The Ethics of Critical Thinking


What is Critical Thinking?


Critical = Evaluative

To avoid misunderstanding, we need to understand 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.

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:  of a statement, news story, argument, research, etc.   {quoting Robert Ennis, and paraphrasing Barry Beyer}


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, 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.


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).  {classroom posters}

For a more comprehensive overview, use their 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.

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 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."  {"Delphi Report" consensus statement, The Executive Summary for Critical Thinking: A Statement of Expert Consensus for Purposes of Educational Assessment and Instruction, Executive Summary & Expert Consensus with links for MORE }

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 Schools


LEARNING Critical Thinking (outside school)  —  Educating Yourself

You can use online tutorials of Critical Thinking Web (sitemap) about Logic, Fallacy, Argument Analysis, Venn Diagrams, Scientific Reasoning, and much more.     { This website was developed – by Joe Lau & Jonathan Chan – for college students and teachers, but with suitable adjustments it's also useful for K-12 because logic is logic, for the young and old.   Basic Principles of Critical Thinking from Scheffer & Rubenfeld.

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

I.O.U. - In the future, I will search for other websites, including some designed for younger students with logical principles taught in ways that make learning simple and fun.


TEACHING Critical Thinking (in school)  —  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.

Teachers can find a wide variety of goal-directed activities for thinking-and-learning.

Thinking is encouraged by a creative use of Thinking Activities, such as Aesop's Activities or Socratic Teaching (Six Types of Socratic Questions) and other teaching tactics that encourage active learning.     {* I.O.U. - Eventually there will be more about "thinking 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 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 & Reflective Thought and Critical Thinking — plus methods for teaching critical thinking in the contexts of teacher education & community colleges & social studies & english studies & literature & environmental education & 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.

Assessment:  It's difficult to evaluate thinking skills.  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 ideas-knowledge.  Some educators have accepted the challenge:  for example, for Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards and by and by (FAQ & sitemap & resources for teaching, measuring, research) with ways to evaluate critical thinking for college students.

Critical Thinking on the Web offers links to many interesting, useful resources about critical thinking in a WIDE variety of areas, for teaching more.


The Center for Critical Thinking (sitemap) — led by Richard Paul & Linda Elder & others — offers link-pages for critical thinking education in K-12 and higher education.   {research about critical thinking}   Of course, education also occurs outside schools, and most thinking occurs outside the classroom in everyday life and business and other areas of life: "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."  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 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
 copyright © 2001 by Craig Rusbult, all rights reserved 
All links were checked and fixed on January 10, 2017.
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