Multiple perspectives building critical thinking skills


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Tom Chatfield and I participated in a dialogue about critical thinking at t he recent Academy of Management conference. I asked him to continue the conversation in writing, with a focus on critical thinking and research. Use the comment area if you would like to join in the discussion! In a sense, thinking critically is one of the foundations of research, as it entails making good arguments and seeking good explanations: asking what follows from those things we know, and how things came to be a certain way in the first place.

Equally importantly, critical thinking is concerned with clarifying the limits of our knowledge — and with recognising the limitations built into our cognition and assumptions. This focus on getting to know our limitations, and looking to the limitations of current knowledge, is where I think an explicit focus on critical thinking is most exciting in the context of research — because it helps us to rigorously interrogate assumptions that others may not have thought to identify or dismantle — and to open up new possibilities for others to build upon.

I define critical thinking as in terms of cognitive and affective processes that juxtapose analytic and creative dimensions. New questions emerge from of our understanding of limitations, sparking curiosity and driving new inquiries. From your perch, what is the state or perhaps the absence of critical thinking in academe?

A fundamental point, for me, is that thinking critically demands not only expertise, but also a degree of time and freedom. The discipline of critical reflection requires a practitioner to step back, pause, and think twice or more about their field and its assumptions. This kind of pausing and reframing can be as much a creative act as a scientific one, and it is likely to entail a degree of serendipity — a cognitive leap or connection that offers a fresh way of thinking about established ideas.

For a lot of academics, I feel that this kind of time and space is becoming rarer.

Current Teaching Practices and Knowledge of Critical Thinking

We worry, rightly, about the effect upon students of pressures such as information overload, high expectations and economic insecurity. But the same is true of many academics, too. Tom hit an important point about the need for reflective time, and the freedom to dig deeply. His points hit home for faculty members as well as for students. Certainly, some faculty are still in the kinds of academic positions that permit sabbaticals and summer breaks, but the majority are not.

The daily grind of making a living as an academic can take a toll, so time and intellectual freedom are luxuries many cannot afford. We live in an era filled with noise and stimulation, and content with information overload and distractions. It takes a conscious effort to step away, to be alone with our thoughts. See the MethodSpace post on the Muse and the Mundane. Why and how are critical and creative thinking important for research and for researchers?

Bringing multiple perspectives to bear upon a question is a prerequisite for seeing the potential limitations of any particular perspective. The better we are at explaining ourselves to others, and at trying to focus on the fundamentals of arguments and evidence, the more likely we are to forge new knowledge through finding connections — or to update old understandings in the light of new things we cannot explain. Critical thinking is inherent to the research process. Critical thinking starts with a curious and open mind, and a willingness to look deeper and wider than those who explored this topic before.

We look deeply at sources, and the questions at the heart of those sources. We look widely to cross established boundaries of field, discipline, and culture. As researchers we need to balance breadth and depth, and find connections between what is known or missing in our areas of interest. We analyze problems, evaluate evidence, and generate answers, solutions, or new understandings.

When we include the creative side, that is, the ability to synthesize and innovate, the research can make a worthwhile contribution. Profile B 10 Professor B thinks of critical thinking as of primary importance in her instructional objectives. She says her concept of critical thinking is explicit and a product of her own thinking. She does not distinguish critical thinking skills, traits, and values. According to her, students come to class with well-developed intellectual standards and graduate with a good level of critical thinking ability and a high level of ability to foster critical thinking in their future students.

Her responses to the open-ended questions, however, are quite vague in general and suggest that she hasn't clarified the difference between "constructing beliefs" and "constructing knowledge. Nowhere does she mention that students actively construct prejudice as well as knowledge, poor thinking as well as sound thinking. Nowhere does she mention the importance of students thinking clearly, accurately, precisely, relevantly, logically, etc When asked to explain her concept of critical thinking, she says: "Critical thinking consists in the active construction of knowledge and valuing social justice, a continuing examining of things as they are and might be To think critically is to be a competent observer of events and to have a disposition to ask questions about them, to classify and find patterns Note that a person can have the disposition to ask superficial or loaded questions and that all persons, poor reasoners as well as good reasoners, classify and find patterns--merely in virtue of being language users.

When asked how she would assess the extent to which another faculty member was or was not fostering critical thinking in their classes, she equates critical thinking with active learning, saying: "Critical thinking is built into an active learning model. How are we supporting students in becoming active, autonomous learners. Active participation, reflection, a personal experience and the ability to make connection between their own views and others.

Lively dialogue. There is no finite set of standards to achieve but the learner engages in active dialogue with self and others with increasingly insightful learning He identifies his concept of critical thinking as explicit and a product of one or more theories of critical thinking to which he explicitly subscribes.

He claims to distinguish critical thinking skills, traits, and values. According to him, his students do not come to class with well-developed intellectual standards, but graduate with a good level of critical thinking ability and good ability to foster critical thinking in their future students. His responses to the open-ended questions, however, are quite vague in general and suggest that he assumes that critical thinking is an automatic by-product of the use of discipline-based procedures. It is evident, however, that he has not thought through what the differences are between, say, the "scientific method" and "Bloom's taxonomy.

His explanation of critical thinking is: "Critical thinking is investigative inquiry, to observe, interpret, and predict. Have them do a self-assessment after they did an inquiry unit. To some extent, he appears to equate intellectual standards with intellectual autonomy forgetting that I can think for myself and yet do a poor job of it. For example, when asked for his personal conception of intellectual standards, he says: "All thoughts should be tentative. Are we using the processes and holding thoughts tentatively.

In all cases, we should let the students develop their own level of understanding. When asked to explain the difference between an assumption and an inference, and says, "Assumptions don't have data behind them. Inferences do. Nowhere in the interview does Professor C mention any of the basic skills of thought such as clarifying the question; gathering relevant data, reasoning to logical or valid conclusions; identifying key assumptions; tracing significant implications, or entering without distortion into alternative points of view, neither does he mention important intellectual traits of mind, such as intellectual humility, intellectual perseverance, intellectual responsibility, etc Profile D 15 Professor D illustrates a person who seems torn between negating critical thinking and its importance while simultaneously claiming to permeate her teaching with it as something vitally important.

On the one hand, she says that critical thinking is of primary importance in her instructional objectives, but on the other hand, says that "it is not so much critical thinking that students need but information. Profile E Professor E 16 illustrates a person who seems torn between a view in which critical thinking is based on objective standards and skills, on the one hand, and a subjective view, on the other in which whatever satisfies the individual as an autonomous thinker is the only ultimate basis for critical thought.

This tension is suggested in Professor E's explanation of his concept of critical thinking: "Information must be processed.

Constructing critical thinking in health professional education

To analyze and synthesize a viewpoint that is your own is critical thinking. Values come into it. We should have the capacity to look at things objectively. He says that " What is the truth at that moment? But be available to find that one is not accurate and that the truth is not comfortable," At the same time Professor E is one of the rare individuals who ranks program graduates as low both in critical thinking abilities and in knowledge of how to teach for critical thinking.


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Profile F 19 Professor F thinks of critical thinking as of primary importance in her instructional objectives. She says her concept of critical thinking is explicit and a product of one or more theories to which she explicitly subscribes though unable to cite any theory when asked. She says she does distinguish critical thinking skills, traits, and values. According to her, students come to class without well-developed intellectual standards but graduate with a good level of critical thinking ability and in fostering critical thinking in their future students.

Her responses to the open-ended questions, however, are peppered with a diversity of responses and it is not quite clear whether they add up to a coherent notion or represent confusion of thought. When asked to explain her concept of critical thinking, she says: "Everyone has a different view of critical thinking.

I think of it as thinking skills. I think of words like analytical, evaluative, judgmental and I think of my field and activities I would do with my students. Logic and patterns. For example, classifying skills. Looking at a set of buttons--which one is different. I'm thinking of open-endedness, unifying ideas, and problem-solving.

Profile G 76 Professor G is a good example of one who equates critical thinking with thinking for oneself and, beyond that, applies no discernible intellectual standards. She says critical thinking is of primary importance in her instructional objectives, that her concept of critical thinking is explicit and a product of her own thinking. On the other hand, she says that knowledge, truth, and sound judgment are not fundamentally a matter of one's personal preference or subjective taste. She says that it is of primary importance for students to acquire sound intellectual criteria or standards and to learn how to assess their own work.

According to her, students come to class without well-developed intellectual standards but graduate with a good level of critical thinking ability and a high level of ability to foster critical thinking in their future students. When asked to explain her concept of critical thinking she says: "Critical thinking is being able to look at a situation and analyze what is going on and ask questions that enable you to get at alternatives. To be able to make up your mind by getting beyond the rhetoric.

Nowhere does she mention that students can actively construct prejudice as well as knowledge, poor thinking as well as sound thinking. When asked to describe a typical day in class that fosters critical thinking she says: "I use a holistic, constructivist basis. Students construct their own meaning, working together, dynamic, in living and breathing class discussions and debates. She says, "Being able to assess validity, to look at and assess their own work, what the next step ought to be, to be able to choose issues that are important.

Look for originality. Going beyond the task. I don't know that I would apply general standards. Profile H Professor H 79 is representative of the many faculty members who equate the fact of students actively "processing" information with their thinking critically about it. Most of those who think this way tend to think in terms of Bloom's taxonomy. Hence, critical thinking then is viewed as going beyond "knowledge" acquisition. Knowledge acquisition is viewed essentially as lower order memorization and recall, while "processing" is viewed as going beyond recall to "internalization".

Professor H thinks of critical thinking as of primary importance in his instructional objectives. He identifies his concept of critical thinking as explicit and a product of his own thinking as well as theory. He says he distinguishes critical thinking skills, traits, and values though his subsequent answers do not support this claim. According to him, his students do not come to class with well-developed intellectual standards, but that it is "of primary importance" that they acquire such standards and learn thereby to assess their own work.

He claims that students in the program graduate with a good level of critical thinking ability as well as a good level of ability to foster critical thinking in their future students. His responses to the open-ended questions, however, are vague and suggest that he hasn't in fact thought much about critical thinking. He explains his concept of critical thinking as follows: "Critical thinking is analyzing an event before a decision is made.

Students analyze and draw their own conclusions. Are they considering multiple viewpoints?

Teaching Critical Thinking | Graduate Connections | Nebraska

He explains the difference between an assumption and an inference as follows: "An assumption is something that takes place automatically. In an inference you are going in some direction. An implication is sounder judgments, something that would follow a chain of events. Profile J 26 Professor J thinks of critical thinking as of primary importance in his instructional objectives. He identifies his concept of critical thinking as a product of one or more theories of critical thinking to which he explicitly subscribes.

According to him, his students graduate with a good level of critical thinking ability and a good level of ability to foster critical thinking in their future students.

His responses to the open-ended questions, however, are relatively clear and elaborated. He cites Paulo Friere and John Dewey as fundamental influences in his thinking about critical thinking. He says his main goal is the "empowerment" of students. He says he strives to model critical thinking with his students in a variety of ways, including evaluating various aspects of the course with the students e.

He is especially concerned with the intellectual and linguistic development of students and in encouraging students to begin to take charge of their minds and their lives.

Teaching Tips from AE - Building Critical Thinking Skills

He develops special strategies to use in helping students to read critically and he challenges the students continually to examine their own presuppositions, as well as the presuppositions of the status quo, of society, of schooling--not excepting his own instructional design. Rather than focus on covering information, professor J helps students to learn skills of finding and assessing information. He concentrates his effort on key concepts which help students assimilate new information.

He wants students to discover different modes of thinking that enable them to question dominant sources of information. He wants students to develop a critical understanding of the social context of education and often has students discuss the ultimate purpose of education. Gaining perspective, learning new frames of reference, questioning assumptions, evaluating information for its relevance to their values, involving students in more "authentic" modes of assessment--these are central goals and emphases. Professor J has a well-elaborated conception of intellectual standards.

He emphasizes students clarifying their views, evaluating relevance, identifying implications, accurately recognizing presuppositions, determining the coherence of views presented, adhering to the rigors of the scientific method with its goals of accuracy and precision, evaluating reasoning for its validity, and striving for soundness in judgment. Profile K 25 Professor K thinks of critical thinking as of primary importance in her instructional objectives.

She says her concept of critical thinking is explicit and a product of one of more theories of critical thinking to which she explicitly subscribes. She cites Matthew Lipman as a fundamental source of theory. She does distinguish critical thinking skills, traits, and values.

According to her, students do not come to class with well-developed intellectual standards but he thinks they do graduate with a good level of critical thinking ability and a high good of ability to foster critical thinking in their future students. Her responses to the open-ended questions are relatively clear and well-elaborated. She defines critical thinking as effective problem solving. She fosters it by systematically confronting students, contradicting them to get them to think. She models alternative views, plays devil's advocate, and holds students responsible for their thinking.

Hence, though she is a "constructivist" she does not assume that students will automatically construct knowledge simply because they are actively engaged. She believes they must experience careful cultivation within an environment in which they are systematically challenged. She believes in "whole-hearted responsibility. She designs her classes so that students must evaluate each other's work. She uses a case study approach, but one in which students critique other students on their cases studies.

She uses lecture to present theory, but then students are forced to critique their own understanding of the theories and apply them to their cases. She designs ways to hold students responsible to do their assigned reading so that they are prepared for the in-class work. She argues that students must continually go back and forth between experience and theory, and between thinking and reflecting on where that thinking is coming from. She argues that students must become conscious of their own theories and what they are based on.

Theories must be considered with their objections. Professor K's conception of intellectual standards is framed in the context of the above remarks. Students must express and defend their views, hear objections and answer the objections, hear other views and learn from those views. They must consider alternatives and check their reasoning to make sure it is logical. They must also check their information sources. Professor L 18 Professor L is important as a rare example of a professor whose answers regarding critical thinking reflect intellectual humility.

She explicitly admits that her knowledge of critical thinking is limited. She tries to make critical thinking primary in her classes, but she freely admits that she has only her only critical thinking intuitions to go on. In her view critical thinking is the ability to define a problem and develop a solution to it.

It includes recognizing strategies that are effective, using criteria for "correct" performance, and then assessing their own performance. Concerning reconciling content coverage with fostering critical thinking, she says that if you give students the material so fast that they are not able to learn it, then coverage makes no sense.

She gives a good example from volleyball.


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She says it would do you no good to hear lectures on volleyball if you are not able to use them effectively in performance of the game. Concerning the component skills of critical thinking, she freely admits that she has never studied critical thinking intellectually, and so "I'm not sure how to explain it. This is a professor who is clearly ready to learn. Professor M 92 Professor M thinks of critical thinking as of primary importance to his instructional objectives.

He thinks of knowledge, truth and sound judgment as not fundamentally a matter of his own personal preference or subjective taste. He does not distinguish between critical thinking skills and traits. He was one of the few faculty members in the study to state that the students in his department develop only a low level ability to think critically. Professor M's responses to the open ended questions were relatively clear and elaborated.

He sees critical thinking as "being able to reach the sensible conclusions on the basic of logic and evidence, the ability to perceive contradictions Furthermore he says that they must be able to evaluate positions of their own and others, "to go beyond superficial understandings of reality. He goes on to say that he wants to students to "approach teaching as an intellectual task as opposed to a technical one.

One of his primary objectives is to help students develop their ability to gather relevant points of view when dealing with broad, complex issues. Furthermore, he expresses the view that teachers should not present students with "finished answers. In focusing on the philosophy of education, he presents the key concept as "a logically consistent interrelated set of principles about the nature of knowledge, learning, and teaching that generates practical solutions for the everyday problems of teaching.

Some questions he uses to guide their thinking are:. Before students write answers to these questions, Prof. M leads a discussion which explores all points of view relevant to the issues embedded in them. In these discussions, he tries to persuade them of each of the varying points of view. Then after exposure to these differing views, they write their philosophy of teaching, pointing out principles they believe are important in good teaching, and supporting their positions through reasoned judgment. Professor N Professor N thinks of critical thinking as of primary importance to his instructional objectives.

He says that his concept of critical thinking is largely explicit in his thinking. Furthermore, in his concept of critical thinking he explicitly distinguishes critical thinking skills from traits. His responses to the open ended questions are relatively well elaborated. He describes his concept of critical thinking as gathering evidence, evaluating evidence, evaluating the sources of evidence, defining and dissecting the argument or thesis of any given piece of writing for its logic, identifying the points of view and question at issue, evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of an argument.

Professor N says that critical thinking involves being aware of one's value judgments and having the willingness to evaluate the evidence before coming to a conclusion. Professor N argues that "content without critical thinking is empty content. In his world history class, he encourages students to think critically about evidence, and what evidence reveals.

In this class he uses multiple "primary sources" of information, dating from the time under investigation e. Epic literature, pyramid tombs, Plato's Republic. He provides students with questions they should think through as they read and investigate the information, questions such as "What was the purpose of the author, or what was the purpose of a particular practice? What can this fragment from the past reveal about the culture under investigation?

What pieces of information are relevant and why? For his exams, students are asked to develop and then compare arguments on both sides of an issue. They are to determine why certain arguments are more persuasive than others. He says that through his exams, students must demonstrate their ability to consider all points of view which are relevant to an issue, and to document their positions through reasoning.

Professor O 45 Professor O considers critical thinking as having primary importance to her instructional objectives. She says that critical thinking is explicit in her thinking, and that it is largely a product of one or more theories of critical thinking. She distinguishes critical thinking skills and traits in her concept of critical thinking. Her responses to the open ended questions, and to follow-up interview questions, were clear and relatively well-elaborated.

She understands critical thinking as learning how to think at an in-depth level, to be able to identify and think about problems, situations, and resolutions in a precise and focused manner. She also says that critical thinking means carefully assessing alternatives, figuring out the pros and cons of each. She adds to her definition that critical thinking involves applying reasoning and logic to problems and circumstances in a critical, disciplined and thorough manner.

To develop the critical thinking abilities of her students, she has them select a topic to analyze related to a complex problem in education. She then has them critically analyze the different sides to the issue, think through the implications of the possible solutions to the problem, and then come up with recommendations. They are then to turn in the final product paper as well as make a presentation to the class which focuses on the process they went through in reaching their final conclusions or recommendations.

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Furthermore, she says that she tries to combine informal lecture with group discussions, where there is "a lot of give and take. Who is to be educated? Is everyone to be educated? Or are only a privileged few to be educated? She asks students to answer these questions, providing their reasoning for each answer. She asks them to consider alternative ways of answering the question. In preparation for writing their philosophies of education, Professor O asks students to take on roles with respect to particular complex questions related to education, and then debate the issues with one another.

She often asks them to take a point of view which differs from their own and to debate from that position. In her classes, professor O requires students to routinely critique each other's work. She does this by having them exchange papers and review one another's papers. She provides guidelines for the standards they are to focus on. Students are to use standards such as: What are the key questions in the paper?

How well organized is the paper? How specific are the details? How in-depth are the ideas explored?


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To what extent are the ideas well thought through? How understandable are the ideas? Critical thinking is clearly an honorific phrase in the minds of most teacher educators such that they feel obliged to claim both familiarity with it and commitment to it in their teaching, despite the fact that few have had any in-depth exposure to the research on the concept and most have only a vague understanding of what it is and what is involved in bringing it successfully into instruction.

Critical thinking is commonly confused with active involvement in learning forgetting that active involvement alone is quite compatible with active "mis-learning". A vague appeal to words from Bloom's Taxonomy analysis, synthesis, evaluation is often taken to be demonstrative of knowledge of critical thinking.

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