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Mfeann.Exe Process Information In Critical Thinking

by Dr. Linda Elder and Dr. Richard Paul

Learning the Art of Critical Thinking

There is nothing more practical than sound thinking. No matter what your circumstance or goals, no matter where you are, or what problems you face, you are better off if your thinking is skilled. As a manager, leader, employee, citizen, lover, friend, parent — in every realm and situation of your life — good thinking pays off. Poor thinking, in turn, inevitably causes problems, wastes time and energy, engenders frustration and pain.

Critical thinking is the disciplined art of ensuring that you use the best thinking you are capable of in any set of circumstances. The general goal of thinking is to “figure out the lay of the land” in any situation we are in. We all have multiple choices to make. We need the best information to make the best choices.

What is really going on in this or that situation? Are they trying to take advantage of me? Does so-and-so really care about me? Am I deceiving myself when I believe that . . .? What are the likely consequences of failing to . . .? If I want to do . . . , what is the best way to prepare for it? How can I be more successful in doing . . .? Is this my biggest problem, or do I need to focus my attention on something else?

Successfully responding to such questions is the daily work of thinking. However, to maximize the quality of your thinking, you must learn how to become an effective "critic" of your thinking. And to become an effective critic of your thinking, you have to make learning about thinking a priority.

Ask yourself these — rather unusual — questions: What have you learned about how you think? Did you ever study your thinking? What do you know about how the mind processes information? What do you really know about how to analyze, evaluate, or reconstruct your thinking? Where does your thinking come from? How much of it is of “good” quality? How much of it is of “poor” quality? How much of your thinking is vague, muddled, inconsistent, inaccurate, illogical, or superficial? Are you, in any real sense, in control of your thinking? Do you know how to test it? Do you have any conscious standards for determining when you are thinking well and when you are thinking poorly? Have you ever discovered a significant problem in your thinking and then changed it by a conscious act of will? If anyone asked you to teach them what you have learned, thus far in your life, about thinking, would you really have any idea what that was or how you learned it?

If you are like most, the only honest answers to these questions run along the lines of, “Well, I suppose I really don’t know much about my thinking or about thinking in general. I suppose in my life I have more or less taken my thinking for granted. I don’t really know how it works. I have never really studied it. I don’t know how I test it, or even if I do test it. It just happens in my mind automatically.“

It is important to realize that serious study of thinking, serious thinking about thinking, is rare. It is not a subject in most colleges. It is seldom found in the thinking of our culture. But if you focus your attention for a moment on the role that thinking is playing in your life, you may come to recognize that, in fact, everything you do, or want, or feel is influenced by your thinking. And if you become persuaded of that, you will be surprised that humans show so little interest in thinking.

To make significant gains in the quality of your thinking you will have to engage in a kind of work that most humans find unpleasant, if not painful — intellectual work. Yet once this thinking is done and we move our thinking to a higher level of quality, it is not hard to keep it at that level. Still, there is the price you have to pay to step up to the next level. One doesn’t become a skillful critic of thinking over night, any more than one becomes a skillful basketball player or musician over night. To become better at thinking, you must be willing to put the work into thinking that skilled improvement always requires.

This means you must be willing to practice special “acts” of thinking that are initially at least uncomfortable, and sometimes challenging and difficult. You have to learn to do with your mind “moves” analogous to what accomplished athletes learn to do (through practice and feedback) with their bodies. Improvement in thinking, in other words, is similar to improvement in other domains of performance where progress is a product of sound theory, commitment, hard work, and practice.

Consider the following key ideas, which, when applied, result in a mind practicing skilled thinking. These ideas represent just a few of the many ways in which disciplined thinkers actively apply theory of mind to the mind by the mind in order to think better. In these examples, we focus on the significance of thinking clearly, sticking to the point (thinking with relevance), questioning deeply, and striving to be more reasonable. For each example, we provide a brief overview of the idea and its importance in thinking, along with strategies for applying it in life. Realize that the following ideas are immersed in a cluster of ideas within critical thinking. Though we chose these particular ideas, many others could have instead been chosen. There is no magic in these specific ideas. In short, it is important that you understand these as a sampling of all the possible ways in which the mind can work to discipline itself, to think at a higher level of quality, to function better in the world.
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1. Clarify Your Thinking
Be on the look-out for vague, fuzzy, formless, blurred thinking. Try to figure out the real meaning of what people are saying. Look on the surface. Look beneath the surface. Try to figure out the real meaning of important news stories. Explain your understanding of an issue to someone else to help clarify it in your own mind. Practice summarizing in your own words what others say. Then ask them if you understood them correctly. You should neither agree nor disagree with what anyone says until you (clearly) understand them.

Our own thinking usually seems clear to us, even when it is not. But vague, ambiguous, muddled, deceptive, or misleading thinking are significant problems in human life. If we are to develop as thinkers, we must learn the art of clarifying thinking, of pinning it down, spelling it out, and giving it a specific meaning. Here’s what you can do to begin. When people explain things to you, summarize in your own words what you think they said. When you cannot do this to their satisfaction, you don’t really understand what they said. When they cannot summarize what you have said to your satisfaction, they don’t really understand what you said. Try it. See what happens.

Strategies for Clarifying Your Thinking

  • State one point at a time.
  • Elaborate on what you mean 
  • Give examples that connect your thoughts to life experiences 
  • Use analogies and metaphors to help people connect your ideas to a variety of things they already understand (for example, critical thinking is like an onion. There are many layers to it. Just when you think you have it basically figured out, you realize there is another layer, and then another, and another and another and on and on)

Here is One Format You Can Use

  • I think . . . (state your main point) 
  • In other words . . . (elaborate your main point) 
  • For example . . . (give an example of your main point) 
  • To give you an analogy . . . (give an illustration of your main point)

To Clarify Other People’s Thinking, Consider Asking the Following

  • Can you restate your point in other words? I didn’t understand you.
  • Can you give an example?
  • Let me tell you what I understand you to be saying. Did I understand you correctly?

2. Stick to the Point
Be on the lookout for fragmented thinking, thinking that leaps about with no logical connections. Start noticing when you or others fail to stay focused on what is relevant. Focus on finding what will aid you in truly solving a problem. When someone brings up a point (however true) that doesn’t seem pertinent to the issue at hand, ask, “How is what you are saying relevant to the issue?” When you are working through a problem, make sure you stay focused on what sheds light on and, thus, helps address the problem. Don’t allow your mind to wander to unrelated matters. Don’t allow others to stray from the main issue. Frequently ask: “What is the central question? Is this or that relevant to it? How?”

When thinking is relevant, it is focused on the main task at hand. It selects what is germane, pertinent, and related. It is on the alert for everything that connects to the issue. It sets aside what is immaterial, inappropriate, extraneous, and beside the point. What is relevant directly bears upon (helps solve) the problem you are trying to solve. When thinking drifts away from what is relevant, it needs to be brought back to what truly makes a difference. Undisciplined thinking is often guided by associations (this reminds me of that, that reminds me of this other thing) rather than what is logically connected (“If a and b are true, then c must also be true”). Disciplined thinking intervenes when thoughts wander from what is pertinent and germane concentrating the mind on only those things that help it figure out what it needs to figure out.

Ask These Questions to Make Sure Thinking is Focused on What is Relevant

  • Am I focused on the main problem or task?
  • How is this connected? How is that?
  • Does my information directly relate to the problem or task?
  • Where do I need to focus my attention? 
  • Are we being diverted to unrelated matters?
  • Am I failing to consider relevant viewpoints?
  • How is your point relevant to the issue we are addressing?
  • What facts are actually going to help us answer the question? What considerations should be set aside?
  • Does this truly bear on the question? How does it connect?

3. Question Questions
Be on the lookout for questions. The ones we ask. The ones we fail to ask. Look on the surface. Look beneath the surface. Listen to how people question, when they question, when they fail to question. Look closely at the questions asked. What questions do you ask, should you ask? Examine the extent to which you are a questioner, or simply one who accepts the definitions of situations given by others.

Most people are not skilled questioners. Most accept the world as it is presented to them. And when they do question, their questions are often superficial or “loaded.” Their questions do not help them solve their problems or make better decisions. Good thinkers routinely ask questions in order to understand and effectively deal with the world around them. They question the status quo. They know that things are often different from the way they are presented. Their questions penetrate images, masks, fronts, and propaganda. Their questions make real problems explicit and discipline their thinking through those problems. If you become a student of questions, you can learn to ask powerful questions that lead to a deeper and more fulfilling life. Your questions become more basic, essential, and deep.

Strategies for Formulating More Powerful Questions

  • Whenever you don’t understand something, ask a question of clarification.
  • Whenever you are dealing with a complex problem, formulate the question you are trying to answer in several different ways (being as precise as you can) until you hit upon the way that best addresses the problem at hand.
  • Whenever you plan to discuss an important issue or problem, write out in advance the most significant questions you think need to be addressed in the discussion. Be ready to change the main question, but once made clear, help those in the discussion stick to the question, making sure the dialogue builds toward an answer that makes sense.

Questions You Can Ask to Discipline Your Thinking

  • What precise question are we trying to answer?                  

  • Is that the best question to ask in this situation? 

  • Is there a more important question we should be addressing? 

  • Does this question capture the real issue we are facing? 

  • Is there a question we should answer before we attempt to answer this question? 

  • What information do we need to answer the question? 

  • What conclusions seem justified in light of the facts? 

  • What is our point of view? Do we need to consider another? 

  • Is there another way to look at the question? 

  • What are some related questions we need to consider? 

  • What type of question is this: an economic question, a political question, a legal question, etc.?

4. Be Reasonable
Be on the lookout for reasonable and unreasonable behaviors — yours and others. Look on the surface. Look beneath the surface. Listen to what people say. Look closely at what they do. Notice when you are unwilling to listen to the views of others, when you simply see yourself as right and others as wrong. Ask yourself at those moments whether their views might have any merit. See if you can break through your defensiveness to hear what they are saying. Notice unreasonableness in others. Identify times when people use language that makes them appear reasonable, though their behavior proves them to be otherwise. Try to figure out why you, or others, are being unreasonable. Might you have a vested interested in not being open-minded? Might they?

One of the hallmarks of a critical thinker is the disposition to change one’s mind when given good reason to change. Good thinkers want to change their thinking when they discover better thinking. They can be moved by reason. Yet, comparatively few people are reasonable. Few are willing to change their minds once set. Few are willing to suspend their beliefs to fully hear the views of those with which they disagree. How would you rate yourself?

Strategies for Becoming More Reasonable

Say aloud, “I’m not perfect. I make mistakes. I’m often wrong.” See if you have the courage to admit this during a disagreement: “Of course, I may be wrong. You may be right.”

Practice saying in your own mind, “I may be wrong. I often am. I’m willing to change my mind when given good reasons.” Then look for opportunities to make changes in your thinking.

Ask yourself, “When was the last time I changed my mind because someone gave me better reasons for his (her) views than I had for mine?” (To what extent are you open to new ways of looking at things? To what extent can you objectively judge information that refutes what you already think?)

Realize That You are Being Close-Minded If You

     a. are unwilling to listen to someone’s reasons
     b. are irritated by the reasons people give you
     c. become defensive during a discussion

After you catch yourself being close-minded, analyze what was going on in your mind by completing these statements:

     a. I realize I was being close-minded in this situation because . . .
     b. The thinking I was trying to hold onto is . . .
     c. Thinking that is potentially better is . . .
     d. This thinking is better because . . .

In closing, let me remind you that the ideas in this article are a very few of the many ways in which critical thinkers bring intellectual discipline to bear upon their thinking. The best thinkers are those who understand the development of thinking as a process occurring throughout many years of practice in thinking. They recognize the importance of learning about the mind, about thoughts, feelings and desires and how these functions of the mind interrelate. They are adept at taking thinking apart, and then assessing the parts when analyzed. In short, they study the mind, and they apply what they learn about the mind to their own thinking in their own lives.

The extent to which any of us develops as a thinker is directly determined by the amount of time we dedicate to our development, the quality of the intellectual practice we engage in, and the depth, or lack thereof, of our commitment to becoming more reasonable, rational, successful persons.

Elder, L. and Paul, R. (2004). Adapted from The Thinker’s Guide to the Art of Strategic Thinking: 25 Weeks to Better Thinking and Better Living.

Thinking Gets Us Into Trouble Because We Often:
  
  • jump to conclusions
  • fail to think-through implications
  • lose track of their goal
  • are unrealistic
  • focus on the trivial
  • fail to notice contradictions
  • accept inaccurate information
  • ask vague questions
  • give vague answers
  • ask loaded questions
  • ask irrelevant questions
  • confuse questions of different types
  • answer questions we are not competent to answer
  • come to conclusions based on inaccurate or irrelevant information
  • ignore information that does not support our view
  • make inferences not justified by our experience
  • distort data and state it inaccurately
  • fail to notice the inferences we make
  • come to unreasonable conclusions
  • fail to notice our assumptions
  • often make unjustified assumptions
  • miss key ideas
  • use irrelevant ideas
  • form confused ideas
  • form superficial concepts
  • misuse words
  • ignore relevant viewpoints
  • cannot see issues from points of view other than our own
  • confuse issues of different types
  • are unaware of our prejudices
  • think narrowly
  • think imprecisely
  • think illogically
  • think one-sidedly
  • think simplistically
  • think hypocritically
  • think superficially
  • think ethnocentrically
  • think egocentrically
  • think irrationally
  • do poor problem solving
  • make poor decisions
  • are poor communicators
  • have little insight into our own ignorance

A How-To List for Dysfunctional Living

Most people have no notion of what it means to take charge of their lives. They don’t realize that the quality of their lives depends on the quality of their thinking. We all engage in numerous dysfunctional practices to avoid facing problems in our thinking. Consider the following and ask yourself how many of these dysfunctional ways of thinking you engage in:

  1. Surround yourself with people who think like you. Then no one will criticize you.
     
  2. Don’t question your relationships. You then can avoid dealing with problems within them.

  3. If critiqued by a friend or lover, look sad and dejected and say, “I thought you were my friend!” or “I thought you loved me!”
     
  4. When you do something unreasonable, always be ready with an excuse. Then you won’t have to take responsibility. If you can’t think of an excuse, look sorry and say, “I can’t help how I am!”
     
  5. Focus on the negative side of life. Then you can make yourself miserable and blame it on others.

  6. Blame others for your mistakes. Then you won’t have to feel responsible for your mistakes. Nor will you have to do anything about them.
     
  7. Verbally attack those who criticize you. Then you don’t have to bother listening to what they say.
     
  8. Go along with the groups you are in. Then you won’t have to figure out anything for yourself.
     
  9. Act out when you don’t get what you want. If questioned, look indignant and say, “I’m just an emotional person. At least I don’t keep my feelings bottled up!”
     
  10. Focus on getting what you want. If questioned, say, “If I don’t look out for number one, who will?”

As you see, the list is almost laughable. And so it would be if these irrational ways of thinking didn’t lead to problems in life. But they do. And often. Only when we are faced with the absurdity of dysfunctional thinking, and can see it at work in our lives, do we have a chance to alter it. The strategies outlined in this guide presuppose your willingness to do so.

This article was adapted from the book, Critical Thinking: Tools for Taking Charge of Your Learning and Your Life, by Richard Paul and Linda Elder.

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Introduction

The question at issue in this paper is: What is the current state of critical thinking in higher education?

Sadly, studies of higher education demonstrate three disturbing, but hardly novel, facts:

These three facts, taken together, represent serious obstacles to essential, long-term institutional change, for only when administrative and faculty leaders grasp the nature, implications, and power of a robust concept of critical thinking — as well as gain insight into the negative implications of its absence — are they able to orchestrate effective professional development. When faculty have a vague notion of critical thinking, or reduce it to a single-discipline model (as in teaching critical thinking through a “logic” or a “study skills” paradigm), it impedes their ability to identify ineffective, or develop more effective, teaching practices. It prevents them from making the essential connections (both within subjects and across them), connections that give order and substance to teaching and learning.

This paper highlights the depth of the problem and its solution — a comprehensive, substantive concept of critical thinking fostered across the curriculum. As long as we rest content with a fuzzy concept of critical thinking or an overly narrow one, we will not be able to effectively teach for it. Consequently, students will continue to leave our colleges without the intellectual skills necessary for reasoning through complex issues.

Part One:
An Initial Look at the Difference Between a Substantive and Non-Substantive Concept of Critical Thinking

Faculty Lack a Substantive Concept of Critical Thinking

Studies demonstrate that most college faculty lack a substantive concept of critical thinking. Consequently they do not (and cannot) use it as a central organizer in the design of instruction. It does not inform their conception of the student’s role as learner. It does not affect how they conceptualize their own role as instructors. They do not link it to the essential thinking that defines the content they teach. They, therefore, usually teach content separate from the thinking students need to engage in if they are to take ownership of that content. They teach history but not historical thinking. They teach biology, but not biological thinking. They teach math, but not mathematical thinking. They expect students to do analysis, but have no clear idea of how to teach students the elements of that analysis. They want students to use intellectual standards in their thinking, but have no clear conception of what intellectual standards they want their students to use or how to articulate them. They are unable to describe the intellectual traits (dispositions) presupposed for intellectual discipline. They have no clear idea of the relation between critical thinking and creativity, problem-solving, decision-making, or communication. They do not understand the role that thinking plays in understanding content. They are often unaware that didactic teaching is ineffective. They don’t see why students fail to make the basic concepts of the discipline their own. They lack classroom teaching strategies that would enable students to master content and become skilled learners.

Most faculty have these problems, yet with little awareness that they do. The majority of college faculty consider their teaching strategies just fine, no matter what the data reveal. Whatever problems exist in their instruction they see as the fault of students or beyond their control.

Studies Reveal That Critical Thinking Is Rare in the College Classroom

Research demonstrates that, contrary to popular faculty belief, critical thinking is not fostered in the typical college classroom. In a meta-analysis of the literature on teaching effectiveness in higher education, Lion Gardiner, in conjunction with ERIC Clearinghouse on Higher Education (1995) documented the following disturbing patterns: “Faculty aspire to develop students’ thinking skills, but research consistently shows that in practice we tend to aim at facts and concepts in the disciplines, at the lowest cognitive levels, rather than development of intellect or values."

Numerous studies of college classrooms reveal that, rather than actively involving our students in learning, we lecture, even though lectures are not nearly as effective as other means for developing cognitive skills. In addition, students may be attending to lectures only about one-half of their time in class, and retention from lectures is low.

Studies suggest our methods often fail to dislodge students’ misconceptions and ensure learning of complex, abstract concepts. Capacity for problem solving is limited by our use of inappropriately simple practice exercises.

Classroom tests often set the standard for students’ learning. As with instruction, however, we tend to emphasize recall of memorized factual information rather than intellectual challenge. Taken together with our preference for lecturing, our tests may be reinforcing our students’ commonly fact-oriented memory learning, of limited value to either them or society.

Faculty agree almost universally that the development of students’ higher-order intellectual or cognitive abilities is the most important educational task of colleges and universities. These abilities underpin our students’ perceptions of the world and the consequent decisions they make. Specifically, critical thinking – the capacity to evaluate skillfully and fairly the quality of evidence and detect error, hypocrisy, manipulation, dissembling, and bias – is central to both personal success and national needs.

A 1972 study of 40,000 faculty members by the American Council on Education found that 97 percent of the respondents indicated the most important goal of undergraduate education is to foster students’ ability to think critically.

Process-oriented instructional orientations “have long been more successful than conventional instruction in fostering effective movement from concrete to formal reasoning. Such programs emphasize students’ active involvement in learning and cooperative work with other students and de-emphasize lectures . . .”

Gardiner’s summary of the research coincides with the results of a large study (Paul, et. al. 1997) of 38 public colleges and universities and 28 private ones focused on the question: To what extent are faculty teaching for critical thinking?

The study included randomly selected faculty from colleges and universities across California, and encompassed prestigious universities such as Stanford, Cal Tech, USC, UCLA, UC Berkeley, and the California State University System. Faculty answered both closed and open-ended questions in a 40-50 minute interview.

By direct statement or by implication, most faculty claimed that they permeated their instruction with an emphasis on critical thinking and that the students internalized the concepts in their courses as a result. Yet only the rare interviewee mentioned the importance of students thinking clearly, accurately, precisely, relevantly, or logically, etc... Very few mentioned any of the basic skills of thought such as the ability to clarify questions; gather relevant data; reason to logical or valid conclusions; identify key assumptions; trace significant implications, or enter without distortion into alternative points of view. Intellectual traits of mind, such as intellectual humility, intellectual perseverance, intellectual responsibility, etc . . . were rarely mentioned by the interviewees. Consider the following key results from the study:

  1. Though the overwhelming majority of faculty claimed critical thinking to be a primary objective of their instruction (89%), only a small minority could give a clear explanation of what critical thinking is (19%). Furthermore, according to their answers, only 9% of the respondents were clearly teaching for critical thinking on a typical day in class.

  2. Though the overwhelming majority (78%) claimed that their students lacked appropriate intellectual standards (to use in assessing their thinking), and 73% considered that students learning to assess their own work was of primary importance, only a very small minority (8%) could enumerate any intellectual criteria or standards they required of students or could give an intelligible explanation of those criteria and standards.

  3. While 50% of those interviewed said that they explicitly distinguish critical thinking skills from traits, only 8% were able to provide a clear conception of the critical thinking skills they thought were most important for their students to develop. Furthermore, the overwhelming majority (75%) provided either minimal or vague allusion (33%) or no illusion at all (42%) to intellectual traits of mind.

  4. Although the majority (67%) said that their concept of critical thinking is largely explicit in their thinking, only 19% could elaborate on their concept of thinking.

  5. Although the vast majority (89%) stated that critical thinking was of primary importance to their instruction, 77% of the respondents had little, limited or no conception of how to reconcile content coverage with the fostering of critical thinking.

  6. Although the overwhelming majority (81%) felt that their department’s graduates develop a good or high level of critical thinking ability while in their program, only 20% said that their departments had a shared approach to critical thinking, and only 9% were able to clearly articulate how they would assess the extent to which a faculty member was or was not fostering critical thinking. The remaining respondents had a limited conception or no conception at all of how to do this.

A Substantive Conception of Critical Thinking

If we understand critical thinking substantively, we not only explain the idea explicitly to our students, but we use it to give order and meaning to virtually everything we do as teachers and learners. We use it to organize the design of instruction. It informs how we conceptualize our students as learners. It determines how we conceptualize our role as instructors. It enables us to understand and explain the thinking that defines the content we teach.

When we understand critical thinking at a deep level, we realize that we must teach content through thinking, not content, and then thinking. We model the thinking that students need to formulate if they are to take ownership of the content. We teach history as historical thinking. We teach biology as biological thinking. We teach math as mathematical thinking. We expect students to analyze the thinking that is the content, and then to assess the thinking using intellectual standards. We foster the intellectual traits (dispositions) essential to critical thinking. We teach students to use critical thinking concepts as tools in entering into any system of thought, into any subject or discipline. We teach students to construct in their own minds the concepts that define the discipline. We acquire an array of classroom strategies that enable students to master content using their thinking and to become skilled learners.

The concept of critical thinking, rightly understood, ties together much of what we need to understand as teachers and learners. Properly understood, it leads to a framework for institutional change. For a deeper understanding of critical thinking see The Thinker’s Guide Series, the book, Critical Thinking: Tools for Taking Charge of Your Learning and Your Life, and the Foundation For Critical Thinking Library.

To exemplify my point, The Thinker’s Guide Series consists in a diverse set of contextualizations of one and the same substantive concept of critical thinking. If we truly understand critical thinking, for example, we should be able to explain its implications:

  • for analyzing and assessing reasoning
  • for identifying strengths and weaknesses in thinking
  • for identifying obstacles to rational thought
  • for dealing with egocentrism and sociocentrism
  • for developing strategies that enable one to apply critical thinking to everyday life
  • for understanding the stages of one’s development as a thinker
  • for understanding the foundations of ethical reasoning
  • for detecting bias and propaganda in the national and international news
  • for conceptualizing the human mind as an instrument of intellectual work
  • for active and cooperative learning
  • for the art of asking essential questions
  • for scientific thinking
  • for close reading and substantive writing
  • for grasping the logic of a discipline.

Each contextualization in this list is developed in one or more of the guides in the series. Together they suggest the robustness of a substantive concept of critical thinking.

What is Critical Thinking (Stripped to its Essentials)?

The idea of critical thinking, stripped to its essentials, can be expressed in a number of ways. Here’s one:

Critical thinking is the art of thinking about thinking with a view to improving it. Critical thinkers seek to improve thinking, in three interrelated phases. They analyze thinking. They assess thinking. And they up-grade thinking (as a result). Creative thinking is the work of the third phase, that of replacing weak thinking with strong thinking, or strong thinking with stronger thinking. Creative thinking is a natural by-product of critical thinking, precisely because analyzing and assessing thinking enables one to raise it to a higher level. New and better thinking is the by-product of healthy critical thought.

A person is a critical thinker to the extent that he or she regularly improves thinking by studying and “critiquing” it. Critical thinkers carefully study the way humans ground, develop, and apply thought — to see how thinking can be improved.

The basic idea is simple: “Study thinking for strengths and weaknesses. Then make improvements by building on its strengths and targeting its weaknesses.”

    A critical thinker does not say:

“My thinking is just fine. If everyone thought like me, this would be a pretty good world.”

    A critical thinker says:

“My thinking, as that of everyone else, can always be improved. Self-deception and folly exist at every level of human life. It is foolish ever to take thinking for granted. To think well, we must regularly analyze, assess, and reconstruct thinking — ever mindful as to how we can improve it.”

{"id":"283","title":"","author":"","content":"<p><span style=\"color: #990000; font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif;\"><span style=\"font-size: medium;\"><strong>Part One:</strong></span><br /></span><span style=\"color: #990000; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif;\">An Initial Look at the Difference Between a Substantive and Non-Substantive Concept of Critical Thinking</span></p>\r\n<p><strong><span style=\"color: #000099;\">Faculty Lack a Substantive Concept of Critical Thinking</span></strong></p>\r\n<p>Studies demonstrate that most college faculty lack a substantive concept of critical thinking. Consequently they do not (and cannot) use it as a central organizer in the design of instruction. It does not inform their conception of the student&rsquo;s role as learner. It does not affect how they conceptualize their own role as instructors. They do not link it to the essential thinking that defines the content they teach. They, therefore, usually teach content separate from the thinking students need to engage in if they are to take ownership of that content. They teach history but not historical thinking. They teach biology, but not biological thinking. They teach math, but not mathematical thinking. They expect students to do analysis, but have no clear idea of how to teach students the elements of that analysis. They want students to use intellectual standards in their thinking, but have no clear conception of what intellectual standards they want their students to use or how to articulate them. They are unable to describe the intellectual traits (dispositions) presupposed for intellectual discipline. They have no clear idea of the relation between critical thinking and creativity, problem-solving, decision-making, or communication. They do not understand the role that thinking plays in understanding content. They are often unaware that didactic teaching is ineffective. They don&rsquo;t see why students fail to make the basic concepts of the discipline their own. They lack classroom teaching strategies that would enable students to master content and become skilled learners.</p>\r\n<p><span style=\"font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif;\">Most faculty have these problems, yet with little awareness that they do. The majority of college faculty consider their teaching strategies just fine, no matter what the data reveal. Whatever problems exist in their instruction they see as the fault of students or beyond their control. </span></p>\r\n<p><strong><span style=\"color: #000099;\"><span style=\"color: #000099;\">Studies Reveal That Critical Thinking Is Rare in the College Classroom</span><br /> </span></strong><span style=\"font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif;\"><br /> Research demonstrates that, contrary to popular faculty belief, critical thinking is not fostered in the typical college classroom. In a meta-analysis of the literature on teaching effectiveness in higher education, Lion Gardiner, in conjunction with ERIC Clearinghouse on Higher Education (1995) documented the following disturbing patterns: &ldquo;Faculty aspire to develop students&rsquo; thinking skills, but research consistently shows that in practice we tend to aim at facts and concepts in the disciplines, at the lowest cognitive levels, rather than development of intellect or values.\"</span></p>\r\n<p><span style=\"font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif;\">Numerous studies of college classrooms reveal that, rather than actively involving our students in learning, we lecture, even though lectures are not nearly as effective as other means for developing cognitive skills. In addition, students may be attending to lectures only about one-half of their time in class, and retention from lectures is low.</span></p>\r\n<p><span style=\"font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif;\">Studies suggest our methods often fail to dislodge students&rsquo; misconceptions and ensure learning of complex, abstract concepts. Capacity for problem solving is limited by our use of inappropriately simple practice exercises.</span></p>\r\n<p><span style=\"font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif;\">Classroom tests often set the standard for students&rsquo; learning. As with instruction, however, we tend to emphasize recall of memorized factual information rather than intellectual challenge. Taken together with our preference for lecturing, our tests may be reinforcing our students&rsquo; commonly fact-oriented memory learning, of limited value to either them or society.</span></p>\r\n<p><span style=\"font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif;\">Faculty agree almost universally that the development of students&rsquo; higher-order intellectual or cognitive abilities is the most important educational task of colleges and universities. These abilities underpin our students&rsquo; perceptions of the world and the consequent decisions they make. Specifically, critical thinking &ndash; the capacity to evaluate skillfully and fairly the quality of evidence and detect error, hypocrisy, manipulation, dissembling, and bias &ndash; is central to both personal success and national needs.</span></p>\r\n<p><span style=\"font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif;\">A 1972 study of 40,000 faculty members by the American Council on Education found that 97 percent of the respondents indicated the most important goal of undergraduate education is to foster students&rsquo; ability to think critically.</span></p>\r\n<p><span style=\"font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif;\">Process-oriented instructional orientations &ldquo;have long been more successful than conventional instruction in fostering effective movement from concrete to formal reasoning. Such programs emphasize students&rsquo; active involvement in learning and cooperative work with other students and de-emphasize lectures . . .&rdquo;</span></p>\r\n<p><span style=\"font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif;\">Gardiner&rsquo;s summary of the research coincides with the results of a large study (Paul, et. al. 1997) of 38 public colleges and universities and 28 private ones focused on the question: To what extent are faculty teaching for critical thinking?</span></p>\r\n<p><span style=\"font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif;\">The study included randomly selected faculty from colleges and universities across California, and encompassed prestigious universities such as Stanford, Cal Tech, USC, UCLA, UC Berkeley, and the California State University System. Faculty answered both closed and open-ended questions in a 40-50 minute interview. </span></p>\r\n<p><span style=\"font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif;\">By direct statement or by implication, most faculty claimed that they permeated their instruction with an emphasis on critical thinking and that the students internalized the concepts in their courses as a result. Yet only the rare interviewee mentioned the importance of students thinking clearly, accurately, precisely, relevantly, or logically, etc... Very few mentioned any of the basic skills of thought such as the ability to clarify questions; gather relevant data; reason to logical or valid conclusions; identify key assumptions; trace significant implications, or enter without distortion into alternative points of view. Intellectual traits of mind, such as intellectual humility, intellectual perseverance, intellectual responsibility, etc . . . were rarely mentioned by the interviewees. Consider the following key results from the study:</span></p>\r\n<ol>\r\n<li><span style=\"font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif;\">Though the overwhelming majority of faculty claimed critical thinking to be a primary objective of their instruction (89%), only a small minority could give a clear explanation of what critical thinking is (19%). Furthermore, according to their answers, only 9% of the respondents were clearly teaching for critical thinking on a typical day in class.</span> <br /> <br /> </li>\r\n<li><span style=\"font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif;\">Though the overwhelming majority (78%) claimed that their students lacked appropriate intellectual standards (to use in assessing their thinking), and 73% considered that students learning to assess their own work was of primary importance, only a very small minority (8%) could enumerate any intellectual criteria or standards they required of students or could give an intelligible explanation of those criteria and standards.</span> <br /> <br /> </li>\r\n<li><span style=\"font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif;\">While 50% of those interviewed said that they explicitly distinguish critical thinking skills from traits, only 8% were able to provide a clear conception of the critical thinking skills they thought were most important for their students to develop. Furthermore, the overwhelming majority (75%) provided either minimal or vague allusion (33%) or no illusion at all (42%) to intellectual traits of mind.</span> <br /> <br /> </li>\r\n<li><span style=\"font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif;\">Although the majority (67%) said that their concept of critical thinking is largely explicit in their thinking, only 19% could elaborate on their concept of thinking. <br /> <br /> </span></li>\r\n<li><span style=\"font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif;\">Although the vast majority (89%) stated that critical thinking was of primary importance to their instruction, 77% of the respondents had little, limited or no conception of how to reconcile content coverage with the fostering of critical thinking. <br /> <br /> </span></li>\r\n<li><span style=\"font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif;\">Although the overwhelming majority (81%) felt that their department&rsquo;s graduates develop a good or high level of critical thinking ability while in their program, only 20% said that their departments had a shared approach to critical thinking, and only 9% were able to clearly articulate how they would assess the extent to which a faculty member was or was not fostering critical thinking. The remaining respondents had a limited conception or no conception at all of how to do this.</span></li>\r\n</ol>\r\n<p><span style=\"color: #000099;\"><strong> <span>A Substantive Conception of Critical Thinking</span></strong></span></p>\r\n<p><span style=\"font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif;\">If we understand critical thinking substantively, we not only explain the idea explicitly to our students, but we use it to give order and meaning to virtually everything we do as teachers and learners. We use it to organize the design of instruction. It informs how we conceptualize our students as learners. It determines how we conceptualize our role as instructors. It enables us to understand and explain the thinking that defines the content we teach. </span></p>\r\n<p><span style=\"font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif;\">When we understand critical thinking at a deep level, we realize that we must teach content through thinking, not content, and then thinking. We model the thinking that students need to formulate if they are to take ownership of the content. We teach history as historical thinking. We teach biology as biological thinking. We teach math as mathematical thinking. We expect students to analyze the thinking that is the content, and then to assess the thinking using intellectual standards. We foster the intellectual traits (dispositions) essential to critical thinking. We teach students to use critical thinking concepts as tools in entering into any system of thought, into any subject or discipline. We teach students to construct in their own minds the concepts that define the discipline. We acquire an array of classroom strategies that enable students to master content using their thinking and to become skilled learners.</span></p>\r\n<p><span style=\"font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif;\">The concept of critical thinking, rightly understood, ties together much of what we need to understand as teachers and learners. Properly understood, it leads to a framework for institutional change. For a deeper understanding of critical thinking see <a href=\"http://www.criticalthinking.org/store/catalogs/thinkers-guides/224\">The Thinker&rsquo;s Guide Series</a>, the book, <a href=\"http://www.criticalthinking.org/store/products/critical-thinking-tools-for-taking-charge-of-your-learning-amp-your-life-2nd-edition/143\"><em>Critical Thinking: Tools for Taking Charge of Your Learning and Your Life</em></a>, and the Foundation For Critical Thinking Library. </span></p>\r\n<p><span style=\"font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif;\">To exemplify my point, The Thinker&rsquo;s Guide Series consists in a diverse set of contextualizations of one and the same substantive concept of critical thinking. If we truly understand critical thinking, for example, we should be able to explain its implications: </span></p>\r\n<ul>\r\n<li><span style=\"font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif;\">for analyzing and assessing reasoning<br /> </span></li>\r\n<li><span style=\"font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif;\">for identifying strengths and weaknesses in thinking<br /> </span></li>\r\n<li><span style=\"font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif;\">for identifying obstacles to rational thought<br /> </span></li>\r\n<li><span style=\"font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif;\">for dealing with egocentrism and sociocentrism<br /> </span></li>\r\n<li><span style=\"font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif;\">for developing strategies that enable one to apply critical thinking to everyday life<br /> </span></li>\r\n<li><span style=\"font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif;\">for understanding the stages of one&rsquo;s development as a thinker<br /> </span></li>\r\n<li><span style=\"font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif;\">for understanding the foundations of ethical reasoning<br /> </span></li>\r\n<li><span style=\"font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif;\">for detecting bias and propaganda in the national and international news<br /> </span></li>\r\n<li><span style=\"font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif;\">for conceptualizing the human mind as an instrument of intellectual work<br /> </span></li>\r\n<li><span style=\"font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif;\">for active and cooperative learning<br /> </span></li>\r\n<li><span style=\"font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif;\">for the art of asking essential questions<br /> </span></li>\r\n<li><span style=\"font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif;\">for scientific thinking<br /> </span></li>\r\n<li><span style=\"font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif;\">for close reading and substantive writing<br /> </span></li>\r\n<li><span style=\"font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif;\"><span>for grasping the logic of a discipline.</span> </span></li>\r\n</ul>\r\n<p><span style=\"font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif;\">Each contextualization in this list is developed in one or more of the guides in the series. Together they suggest the robustness of a substantive concept of critical thinking. </span><span style=\"color: #0044aa; font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif;\"><br /> <br /> </span><span style=\"color: #000099;\"><strong>What is Critical Thinking (Stripped to its Essentials)?</strong></span></p>\r\n<p><span style=\"font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif;\">The idea of critical thinking, stripped to its essentials, can be expressed in a number of ways. Here&rsquo;s one: </span></p>\r\n<p><span style=\"font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif;\">Critical thinking is the art of thinking about thinking with a view to improving it. Critical thinkers seek to improve thinking, in three interrelated phases. They analyze thinking. They assess thinking. And they up-grade thinking (as a result). Creative thinking is the work of the third phase, that of replacing weak thinking with strong thinking, or strong thinking with stronger thinking. Creative thinking is a natural by-product of critical thinking, precisely because analyzing and assessing thinking enables one to raise it to a higher level. New and better thinking is the by-product of healthy critical thought.</span></p>\r\n<p><span style=\"font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif;\">A person is a critical thinker to the extent that he or she regularly improves thinking by studying and &ldquo;critiquing&rdquo; it. Critical thinkers carefully study the way humans ground, develop, and apply thought&nbsp;&mdash; to see how thinking can be improved. </span></p>\r\n<p><span style=\"font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif;\">The basic idea is simple: &ldquo;Study thinking for strengths and weaknesses. Then make improvements by building on its strengths and targeting its weaknesses.&rdquo; </span></p>\r\n<p><span style=\"font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif;\"><span><em><span style=\"color: #666666;\"><strong><span>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; A critical thinker does not say:</span></strong> </span></em></span></span></p>\r\n<blockquote style=\"margin-right: 0px;\" dir=\"ltr\">\r\n<p><span style=\"font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif;\">&ldquo;My thinking is just fine. If everyone thought like me, this would be a pretty good world.&rdquo; </span></p>\r\n</blockquote>\r\n<p><span style=\"font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif;\"><strong><span style=\"color: #666666;\"><em>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; A critical thinker says:</em></span></strong> </span></p>\r\n<blockquote style=\"margin-right: 0px;\" dir=\"ltr\">\r\n<p><span style=\"font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif;\">&ldquo;My thinking, as that of everyone else, can always be improved. Self-deception and folly exist at every level of human life. It is foolish ever to take thinking for granted. To think well, we must regularly analyze, assess, and reconstruct thinking&nbsp;&mdash; ever mindful as to how we can improve it.&rdquo;</span></p>\r\n</blockquote>\r\n<p><br style=\"clear: both;\" /></p>","public_access":"1","public_downloads":"1","sku":"","files":[],"images":[]}

Part Two:
A Substantive Concept of Critical Thinking Reveals Common Denominators in all Academic Work

Substantive Critical Thinking Can be Cultivated in Every Academic Setting

By focusing on the rational capacities of students’ minds, by designing instruction so students explicitly grasp the sense, the logicalness, of what they learn, we can make all learning easier for them. Substantive learning multiplies comprehension and insight; lower order rote memorization multiplies misunderstanding and confusion. Though very little present instruction deliberately aims at lower order learning, most results in it. “Good” students have developed techniques for short term rote memorization; “poor” students have none. But few know what it is to think analytically through the content of a subject; few use critical thinking as a tool for acquiring knowledge.(see Nosich)

We often talk of knowledge as though it could be divorced from thinking, as though it could be gathered up by one person and given to another in the form of a collection of sentences to remember. When we talk in this way we forget that knowledge, by its very nature, depends on thought. Knowledge is produced by thought, analyzed by thought, comprehended by thought, organized, evaluated, maintained, and transformed by thought. Knowledge exists, properly speaking, only in minds that have comprehended it and constructed it through thought. And when we say thought we mean critical thought. Knowledge must be distinguished from the memorization of true statements. Students can easily blindly memorize what they do not understand. A book contains knowledge only in a derivative sense, only because minds can thoughtfully read it and, through this analytic process, gain knowledge. We forget this when we design instruction as though recall were equivalent to knowledge.

Every discipline — mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, geography, sociology, anthropology, history, philosophy, and so on — is a mode of thinking. Every discipline can be understood only through thinking. We know mathematics, not when we can recite mathematical formulas, but when we can think mathematically. We know science, not when we can recall sentences from our science textbooks, but when we can think scientifically. We understand sociology only when we can think sociologically, history only when we can think historically, and philosophy only when we can think philosophically. When we teach so that students are not thinking their way through subjects and disciplines, students leave our courses with no more knowledge than they had when they entered them. When we sacrifice thought to gain coverage, we sacrifice knowledge at the same time.

In the typical history class, for example, students are often asked to remember facts about the past. They therefore come to think of history class as a place where you hear names and dates and places; where you try to memorize and state them on tests. They think that when they can successfully do this, they then “know history.”

Alternatively, consider history taught as a mode of thought. Viewed from the paradigm of a critical education, blindly memorized content ceases to be the focal point. Learning to think historically becomes the order of the day. Students learn historical content by thinking historically about historical questions and problems. They learn through their own thinking and classroom discussion that history is not a simple recounting of past events, but also an interpretation of events selected by and written from someone’s point of view. In recognizing that each historian writes from a point of view, students begin to identify and assess points of view leading to various historical interpretations. They recognize, for example, what it is to interpret the American Revolution from a British as well as a colonial perspective. They role-play different historical perspectives and master content through in-depth historical thought. They relate the present to the past. They discuss how their own stored-up interpretations of their own lives’ events shaped their responses to the present and their plans for the future. They come to understand the daily news as a form of historical thought shaped by the profit-making motivations of news collecting agencies. They learn that historical accounts may be distorted, biased, narrow, misleading.

Every Area or Domain of Thought Must Be Thought-Through to Be Learned

The mind that thinks critically is a mind prepared to take ownership of new ideas and modes of thinking. Critical thinking is a system-opening system. It works its way into a system of thought by thinking-through:

  • the purpose or goal of the system
  • the kinds of questions it answers (or problems it solves)
  • the manner in which it collects data and information
  • the kinds of inferences it enables
  • the key concepts it generates
  • the underlying assumptions it rests upon
  • the implications embedded in it
  • the point of view or way of seeing things it makes possible.

It assesses the system for clarity, accuracy, precision, relevance, depth, breadth, logic, significance, and (where applicable) fairness. There is no system no subject it cannot open.

INSERT FIGURE 2: THE STANDARDS

There is a Necessary Connection Between Critical Thinking and Learning

The skills in up-grading thinking are the same skills as those required in up-grading learning. The art of thinking well illuminates the art of learning well. The art of learning well illuminates the art of thinking well. Both require intellectually skilled metacognition. For example, to be a skilled thinker in the learning process requires that we regularly note the elements of our thinking/learning:

  • What is my purpose?
  • What question am I trying to answer?
  • What data or information do I need?
  • What conclusions or inferences can I make (based on this information)?
  • If I come to these conclusions, what will the implications and consequences be?
  • What is the key concept (theory, principle, axiom) I am working with?
  • What assumptions am I making?
  • What is my point of view?

There is a Necessary Connection Between Critical Thinking and Skilled Reading and Writing

The reflective mind improves its thinking by reflectively thinking about it. Likewise, it improves its reading by reflectively thinking about how it is reading. It improves its writing by analyzing and assessing each draft it creates. It moves back and forth between thinking and thinking about thinking. It moves forward a bit, then loops back upon itself to check its own operations. It checks its inferences. It makes good its ground. It rises above itself and exercises oversight on itself.

One of the most important abilities that a thinker can have is the ability to monitor and assess his or her own thinking while processing the thinking of others. In reading, the reflective mind monitors how it is reading while it is reading. The foundation for this ability is knowledge of how the mind functions when reading well. For example, if I know that what I am reading is difficult for me to understand, I intentionally slow down. I put the meaning of each passage that I read into my own words. Knowing that one can understand ideas best when they are exemplified, then, when writing, I give my readers examples of what I am saying. As a reader, I look for examples to better understand what a text is saying. Learning how to read closely and write substantively are complex critical thinking abilities. When I can read closely, I can take ownership of important ideas in a text. When I can write substantively, I am able to say something worth saying about something worth saying something about. Many students today cannot.

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