Understanding the Brain

Critical thinking

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Critical thinking, in general, refers to higher-order thinking that questions assumptions. It is a way of deciding whether a claim is true, false, or sometimes true and sometimes false, or partly true and partly false. The concept is somewhat contested within the field of education due to the multiple possible meanings.[1] The origins of critical thinking can be traced in Western thought to the Socratic method of Ancient Greece and in the East, to the Buddhist Abhidharma. Critical thinking is an important component of most professions. It is a part of the education process and is increasingly significant as students progress through university to graduate education.

Definitions

Critical thinking has been described as “reasonable reflective thinking focused on deciding what to believe or do.”[2] It has also been described as "thinking about thinking."[3] It has been described in more detail as "the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action"[4] More recently, critical thinking has been described as "the process of purposeful, self-regulatory judgment, which uses reasoned consideration to evidence, context, conceptualizations, methods, and criteria."[5] Within the critical social theory philosophical frame, critical thinking is commonly understood to involve commitment to the social and political practice of participatory democracy, willingness to imagine or remain open to considering alternative perspectives, willingness to integrate new or revised perspectives into our ways of thinking and acting, and willingness to foster criticality in others.[6]

History and etymology

The critical thinking philosophical frame traces its roots in analytic philosophy and pragmatist constructivism, as well as the Buddhist Teaching -- kalamasutta and abhidhamma, and the Greek Socratic tradition that dates back over 2,500 years in which probing questions were used to determine whether claims to knowledge based on authority could be rationally justified with clarity and logical consistency. The one sense of the term critical means crucial or related to core criteria and derives from the ancient Greek kriterion, which means standards; a second sense derives from kriticos, which means discerning judgment.[7] The movement represented a pragmatic response to expectations and demands for the kind of thinking required of the modern workforce.”[8] The critical-theory philosophical frame has its roots to the Frankfurt School of Critical Social Theory that attempted to amend Marxist theory for applicability in 20th-century Germany. Critical thinking within this philosophical frame was introduced by Jurgen Habermas in the 1970

Meaning

Critical thinking clarifies goals, examines assumptions, discerns hidden values, evaluates evidence, accomplishes actions, and assesses conclusions.

"Critical" as used in the expression "critical thinking" connotes the importance or centrality of the thinking to an issue, question or problem of concern. "Critical" in this context does not mean "disapproval" or "negative." There are many positive and useful uses of critical thinking, for example formulating a workable solution to a complex personal problem, deliberating as a group about what course of action to take, or analyzing the assumptions and the quality of the methods used in scientifically arriving at a reasonable level of confidence about a given hypothesis. Using strong critical thinking we might evaluate an argument, for example, as worthy of acceptance because it is valid and based on true premises. Upon reflection, a speaker may be evaluated as a credible source of knowledge on a given topic.

Critical thinking can occur whenever one judges, decides, or solves a problem; in general, whenever one must figure out what to believe or what to do, and do so in a reasonable and reflective way. Reading, writing, speaking, and listening can all be done critically or uncritically. Critical thinking is crucial to becoming a close reader and a substantive writer. Expressed in most general terms, critical thinking is "a way of taking up the problems of life."[9]

"Fluid Intelligence" directly correlates with critical thinking skills. You are able to determine patterns, make connections and solve new problems.

Skills

The list of core critical thinking skills includes observation, interpretation, analysis, inference, evaluation, explanation, and meta-cognition. There is a reasonable level of consensus among experts that an individual or group engaged in strong critical thinking gives due consideration to:

  • Evidence through observation
  • Context
  • Relevant criteria for making the judgment well
  • Applicable methods or techniques for forming the judgment
  • Applicable theoretical constructs for understanding the problem and the question at hand

In addition to possessing strong critical-thinking skills, one must be disposed to engage problems and decisions using those skills. Critical thinking employs not only logic but broad intellectual criteria such as clarity, credibility, accuracy, precision, relevance, depth, breadth, significance, and fairness.[10]

Creativity

In many curriculum documents, a distinction is made between 'critical' and 'creative' thinking. Thus, teachers are encouraged or required to develop their students' 'critical and creative thinking' as if these are two separate outcomes. However, this distinction fails to acknowledge the central skill of critical thinking which is to consider the significance of claims (historical claims, statistical claims, evidential claims, predictions, recommendations, principles, and so on). In doing this, we need to consider questions such as 'what explanations are there for this?', 'what else do we need to know?' and 'what assumptions do we need to make in order to draw inferences?'. Such questions involve significant creative thinking.

Procedure

Critical thinking calls for the ability to:

  • Recognize problems, to find workable means for meeting those problems
  • Understand the importance of prioritization and order of precedence in problem solving
  • Gather and marshal pertinent (relevant) information
  • Recognize unstated assumptions and values
  • Comprehend and use language with accuracy, clarity, and discernment
  • Interpret data, to appraise evidence and evaluate arguments
  • Recognize the existence (or non-existence) of logical relationships between propositions
  • Draw warranted conclusions and generalizations
  • Put to test the conclusions and generalizations at which one arrives
  • Reconstruct one's patterns of beliefs on the basis of wider experience
  • Render accurate judgments about specific things and qualities in everyday life

In sum:

"A persistent effort to examine any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the evidence that supports it and the further conclusions to which it tends."[11]

"FiLCHeRS"

In an article for Skeptical Inquirer, anthropologist James Lett listed six rules, or tests, that a critical thinker may utilize:

He suggested that these rules can be easily remembered with the mnemonic "FiLCHeRS".[12]

Example thinker

Irrespective of the sphere of thought, "a well-cultivated critical thinker":

  • raises important questions and problems, formulating them clearly and precisely
  • gathers and assesses relevant information, using abstract ideas to interpret it effectively
  • comes to well-reasoned conclusions and solutions, testing them against relevant criteria and standards
  • thinks open-mindedly within alternative systems of thought, recognizing and assessing, as need be, their assumptions, implications, and practical consequences
  • communicates effectively with others in figuring out solutions to complex problems, without being unduly influenced by others' thinking on the topic.

Principles and dispositions

Willingness to criticize oneself

Critical thinking is about being both willing and able to evaluate one's thinking. Thinking might be criticized because one does not have all the relevant information – indeed, important information may remain undiscovered, or the information may not even be knowable – or because one makes unjustified inferences, uses inappropriate concepts, or fails to notice important implications. One's thinking may be unclear, inaccurate, imprecise, irrelevant, narrow, shallow, illogical, or trivial, due to ignorance or misapplication of the appropriate learned skills of thinking.

On the other hand, one's thinking might be criticized as being the result of a sub-optimal disposition. The dispositional dimension of critical thinking is characterological. Its focus is in learning and developing the habitual intention to be truth-seeking, open-minded, systematic, analytical, inquisitive, confident in reasoning, and prudent in making judgments. Those who are ambivalent on one or more of these aspects of the disposition toward critical thinking or who have an opposite disposition (intellectually arrogant, biased, intolerant, emotional, disorganized, lazy, heedless of consequences, indifferent toward new information, mistrustful of reasoning, or imprudent) are more likely to encounter problems in using their critical-thinking skills. Failure to recognize the importance of correct dispositions can lead to various forms of self-deception and closed-mindedness, both individually and collectively.[13]

Reflective thought

In reflective problem solving and thoughtful decision making using critical thinking, one considers evidence (like investigating evidence), the context of judgment, the relevant criteria for making the judgment well, the applicable methods or techniques for forming the judgment, and the applicable theoretical constructs for understanding the problem and the question at hand.

The deliberation characteristic of strong critical thinking associates critical thinking with the reflective aspect of human reasoning. Those who would seek to improve our individual and collective capacity to engage problems using strong critical thinking skills are, therefore, recommending that we bring greater reflection and deliberation to decision making.

Critical thinking is based on self-corrective concepts and principles, not on hard and fast, or step-by-step, procedures.[14]

Competence

Critical thinking employs not only logic (either formal or, much more often, informal) but also broad intellectual criteria such as clarity, credibility, accuracy, precision, relevance, depth, breadth, significance and fairness.

Habits or traits of mind

The positive habits of mind that characterize a person strongly disposed toward critical thinking include a courageous desire to follow reason and evidence wherever they may lead, open-mindedness, foresight attention to the possible consequences of choices, a systematic approach to problem solving, inquisitiveness, fair-mindedness and maturity of judgment, and confidence in reasoning.[15]

When individuals possess intellectual skills alone, without the intellectual traits of mind, weak sense critical thinking results. Fair-minded or strong sense critical thinking requires intellectual humility, empathy, integrity, perseverance, courage, autonomy, confidence in reason, and other intellectual traits. Thus, critical thinking without essential intellectual traits often results in clever, but manipulative and often unethical or subjective thought.

Importance

Critical thinking is an important element of all professional fields and academic disciplines (by referencing their respective sets of permissible questions, evidence sources, criteria, etc.). Within the framework of scientific skepticism, the process of critical thinking involves the careful acquisition and interpretation of information and use of it to reach a well-justified conclusion. The concepts and principles of critical thinking can be applied to any context or case but only by reflecting upon the nature of that application. Critical thinking forms, therefore, a system of related, and overlapping, modes of thought such as anthropological thinking, sociological thinking, historical thinking, political thinking, psychological thinking, philosophical thinking, mathematical thinking, chemical thinking, biological thinking, ecological thinking, legal thinking, ethical thinking, musical thinking, thinking like a painter, sculptor, engineer, business person, etc. In other words, though critical thinking principles are universal, their application to disciplines requires a process of reflective contextualization.

Critical thinking is considered important in the academic fields because it enables one to analyze, evaluate, explain, and restructure their thinking, thereby decreasing the risk of adopting, acting on, or thinking with, a false belief. However, even with knowledge of the methods of logical inquiry and reasoning, mistakes can happen due to a thinker's inability to apply the methods or because of character traits such as egocentrism. Critical thinking includes identification of prejudice, bias, propaganda, self-deception, distortion, misinformation, etc. Given research in cognitive psychology, some educators believe that schools should focus on teaching their students critical thinking skills and cultivation of intellectual traits.

Research

Edward Glaser proposed that the ability to think critically involves three elements:[11]

  1. An attitude of being disposed to consider in a thoughtful way the problems and subjects that come within the range of one's experiences
  2. Knowledge of the methods of logical inquiry and reasoning
  3. Some skill in applying those methods.

Educational programs aimed at developing critical thinking in children and adult learners, individually or in group problem solving and decision making contexts, continue to address these same three central elements.

Contemporary cognitive psychology regards human reasoning as a complex process that is both reactive and reflective.[16]

The relationship between critical thinking skills and critical thinking dispositions is an empirical question. Some people have both in abundance, some have skills but not the disposition to use them, some are disposed but lack strong skills, and some have neither. Two measures of critical thinking dispositions are the California Critical Thinking Disposition Inventory[17] and the California Measure of Mental Motivation.[18]

In schooling

John Dewey is just one of many educational leaders who recognized that a curriculum aimed at building thinking skills would be a benefit not only to the individual learner, but to the community and to the entire democracy.

The key to seeing the significance of critical thinking in academics is in understanding the significance of critical thinking in learning. There are two meanings to the learning of this content. The first occurs when learners (for the first time) construct in their minds the basic ideas, principles, and theories that are inherent in content. This is a process of internalization. The second occurs when learners effectively use those ideas, principles, and theories as they become relevant in learners' lives. This is a process of application. Good teachers cultivate critical thinking (intellectually engaged thinking) at every stage of learning, including initial learning. This process of intellectual engagement is at the heart of the Oxford, Durham, Cambridge and London School of Economics tutorials. The tutor questions the students, often in a Socratic manner (see Socratic questioning). The key is that the teacher who fosters critical thinking fosters reflectiveness in students by asking questions that stimulate thinking essential to the construction of knowledge.

As emphasized above, each discipline adapts its use of critical thinking concepts and principles (principles like in school). The core concepts are always there, but they are embedded in subject-specific content. For students to learn content, intellectual engagement is crucial. All students must do their own thinking, their own construction of knowledge. Good teachers recognize this and therefore focus on the questions, readings, activities that stimulate the mind to take ownership of key concepts and principles underlying the subject.

In the UK school system, Critical Thinking is offered as a subject that 16- to 18-year-olds can take as an A-Level. Under the OCR exam board, students can sit two exam papers for the AS: "Credibility of Evidence" and "Assessing and Developing Argument". The full Advanced GCE is now available: in addition to the two AS units, candidates sit the two papers "Resolution of Dilemmas" and "Critical Reasoning". The A-level tests candidates on their ability to think critically about, and analyze, arguments on their deductive or inductive validity, as well as producing their own arguments. It also tests their ability to analyze certain related topics such as credibility and ethical decision-making. However, due to its comparative lack of subject content, many universities do not accept it as a main A-level for admissions.[19] Nevertheless, the AS is often useful in developing reasoning skills, and the full advanced GCE is useful for degree courses in politics, philosophy, history or theology, providing the skills required for critical analysis that are useful, for example, in biblical study.

There used to also be an Advanced Extension Award offered in Critical Thinking in the UK, open to any A-level student regardless of whether they have the Critical Thinking A-level. Cambridge International Examinations have an A-level in Thinking Skills.[20]

From 2008, Assessment and Qualifications Alliance has also been offering an A-level Critical Thinking specification;[21]

OCR exam board have also modified theirs for 2008. Many examinations for university entrance set by universities, on top of A-level examinations, also include a critical thinking component, such as the LNAT, the UKCAT, the BioMedical Admissions Test and the Thinking Skills Assessment.

Research in efficiency of critical thinking instruction

A meta-analysis of the literature on teaching effectiveness in higher education has been undertaken.[22] The study noted concerns from higher education, politicians and business people that higher education was failing to meet society's requirements for well-educated citizens. The study concluded that although faculty may aspire to develop students' thinking skills, in practice they tend to aim at facts and concepts in the disciplines, at the lowest cognitive levels, rather than development of intellect or values.

See also

References

  1. Brookfield, S.D. "Contesting criticality: Epistemological and practical contradictions in critical reflection" in Proceedings of the 41st Annual Adult Education Research Conference (2000)
  2. Ennis, R.H., "Critical Thinking Assessment" in Fasko, Critical Thinking and Reasoning: Current Research, Theory, and Practice (2003). ISBN 978-1572734609
  3. Raiskums, B.W., An Analysis of the Concept Criticality in Adult Education (2008)
  4. Scriven, M., and Paul, R.W., Critical Thinking as Defined by the National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking (1987)
  5. Facione, Peter A. Critical Thinking: What It is and Why It Counts, Insightassessment.com
  6. Raiskums, B.W., An Analysis of the Concept Criticality in Adult Education (2008)
  7. Paul, R.W., and Elder, L. Defining Critical Thinking (2007) www.criticalthinking.org/aboutCT/define_critical_thinking.cfm
  8. Ruggerio, V.R., "Neglected Issues in the Field of Critical Thinking" in Fasko, D. Critical Thinking and Reasoning: Current Research, Theory, and Practice(2003). ISBN 9781572734609
  9. Sumner, William (1906). Folkways: A Study of the Sociological Importance of Usages, Manners, Customs, Mores, and Morals. New York: Ginn and Co.. p. 633. 
  10. See NCES 95-001,[vague] page 14-15.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Edward M. Glaser (1941). An Experiment in the Development of Critical Thinking. New York, Bureau of Publications, Teachers College, Columbia University. ISBN 0404558437. 
  12. Lett, James (1990). "A Field Guide to Critical Thinking". Skeptical Enquirer 14 (4). http://www.csicop.org/si/show/field_guide_to_critical_thinking/. Retrieved September 24, 2011. 
  13. Hindery, Roderick. Indoctrination and Self-Deception or Free and Critical Thought? Lewiston, N.Y.: E. Mellen Press, 2001. ISBN 978-0773474079
  14. Paul, Richard; and Elder, Linda. The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts and Tools. Dillon Beach: Foundation for Critical Thinking Press, 2008, p. 4. ISBN 978-0944583104
  15. The National Assessment of College Student Learning: Identification of the Skills to be Taught, Learned, and Assessed, NCES 94-286, US Dept of Education, Addison Greenwod (Ed), Sal Carrallo (PI). See also, Critical thinking: A statement of expert consensus for purposes of educational assessment and instruction. ERIC Document No. ED 315-423
  16. Solomon, S.A. (2002) "Two Systems of Reasoning," in Heuristics and Biases: The Psychology of Intuitive Judgment, Govitch, Griffin, Kahneman (Eds), Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521796798; Thinking and Reasoning in Human Decision Making: The Method of Argument and Heuristic Analysis, Facione and Facione, 2007, California Academic Press. ISBN 9781891557583
  17. About The California Critical Thinking Disposition Inventory by Thomas F. Nelson Laird, Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research
  18. Research on Sociocultural Influences on Motivation and Learning, p. 46
  19. Critical Thinking FAQs from Oxford Cambridge and RSA Examinations
  20. "Thinking Skills", University of Cambridge Local Examinations
  21. "New GCEs for 2008", Assessment and Qualifications Alliance
  22. Lion Gardiner, Redesigning Higher Education: Producing Dramatic Gains in Student Learning, in conjunction with: ERIC Clearinghouse on Higher Education, 1995

Further reading

External links