Critical thinking skills
К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №2 - 2008
Автор: Сергеева О. С.
Why we need critical thinking as a part of educational
The ability to think critically is
essential if individuals are to live, work, and function effectively in our
current and changing society. Harvey Siegel regards that critical thinking aims
at producing a self-sufficient person, who is a liberate person, “free from the
unwarranted and undesirable control of unjustified beliefs” (Seigel, 1988, 58).
has been specifically identified by colleges and universities, as well as by
many employers, as a measure of how well an individual will perform at school
and on the job. In fact, if you are applying to college or graduate school, or
for a job, chances are your critical thinking skills will be tested.
Standardized exams, such as the SAT and ACT, have sections on critical
thinking. Employers such as federal and state governments, and many Fortune 500
companies, routinely test job applicants with exams such as the California
Critical Thinking Test or the Cornell Critical Thinking Test.
If our students knew and used critical
thinking skills, the whole process of studying would become easier and more
effective. Students clearly feel the need for these skills when carrying out
their own researches which are an essential part of their being a university
student. According to Stella Cottrell, critical thinking as a student means:
- finding out where the best evidence lies
for the subject you are discussing;
- evaluating the strength of the evidence
to support different arguments;
- coming to an interim conclusion about
where the available evidence appears to lead;
- constructing line of reasoning to guide
your audience through the evidence and lead them towards your conclusion;
- selecting the best examples;
- providing evidence to illustrate your
argument (Stella Cottrell, Critical Thinking Skill, 2005).
So if these skills are that much important,
then they should be taught. And where can one learn something if not at school
and further at university? While critical thinking has been successfully
implemented in educational process in the USA and all world-wide known
universities for years now, the importance of structured teaching these skills
has been underestimated in our county. Although they are included in the
educational standards, there are no clear directions of how to teach and
evaluate them. I must say, though, that KAFU students of American track have a
chance of shortly studying critical thinking as a part of their English class
(the class is held in English).
What is critical thinking?
Critical thinking is not an easy concept to
define. Let us take a look at how different scientists understand it.
John Dewey defined the nature of reflective thought as
"active, persistent, and careful consideration of any belief or supposed
form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it and the further
conclusion to which it tends" (Richard R. Day, Teaching Critical Thinking
Beyer puts his definition of critical
thinking in these terms: "Critical thinking . . . means making reasoned
judgments". Thus a critical thinker uses criteria to judge the quality of
something - anything, whether it be cooking or the conclusion of a research
According to Richard R. Day, “critical
thinking is a disciplined manner of thought with which we assess the validity
of things such as statements, news stories, arguments, research, etc.,
including the evaluation of the worth, accuracy, or authenticity of various
statements or propositions; this evaluation then leads to a supportable
decision or direction for action” (Richard R. Day, Teaching Critical Thinking
The NCTE Committee on Critical Thinking and the
Language Arts defines critical thinking as "a process which stresses an
attitude of suspended judgment, incorporates logical inquiry and problem
solving, and leads to an evaluative decision or action." (Kathryn S. Carr,
How Can We Teach Critical Thinking?)
Ennis (1987) suggests that "critical
thinking is reasonable, reflective thinking that is focused on deciding what to
believe or do." (Tama, M. Carrol, Critical Thinking: Promoting It in the
Kathryn Carr says, that “however defined,
critical thinking refers to a way of reasoning that demands adequate support
for one's beliefs and an unwillingness to be persuaded unless the support is
Lauren Starkey in
“Critical thinking skills success in 20 minutes a day” says that “a critical
thinker approaches problems and complicated situations aware of his or her
thoughts, beliefs, and viewpoints. Then, he or she can direct those thoughts,
beliefs, and viewpoints to be more rational and accurate. A critical thinker is
willing to explore, question, and search out answers and solutions. These
skills not only mean greater success at school and at work, but they are the
basis of better decisions and problem solving at home, too”.
Although there are plenty of definitions,
generally speaking, to think critically about an issue is to consider that
issue from various perspectives, to look at and challenge any possible
assumptions that may underlie the issue and to explore its possible
Now the question
is: what are critical thinking skills exactly? Evidently, there is not a unique
classification, and different scientists give different gradations. In this
work we will stick to Stella Cottrell’s arrangement. According to her book
“Critical thinking skills success in 20 minutes a day”, these skills include
the ability to:
- be curious,
asking relevant questions and finding the resources you need
- challenge and
examine beliefs, assumptions, and opinions against facts
- recognize and
- assess the
validity of statements and arguments
- make wise
decisions and find valid solutions
- understand logic
and logical argument
there are barriers to successful critical thinking. Stella Cottrell in her
another similar book “Critical thinking skills – developing effective analysis
and argument” names the following:
Misunderstanding of what is meant by criticism – many people think it means
finding negative and unsatisfactory points of things, forgetting that positive
sides are equally important.
your own reasoning abilities – it might sound strange, but if you look closer
you will see that humans like to think of themselves as rational beings; that
beliefs that we hold are the best. However this is not always the case and our
reasoning sometimes fails us.
3) Lack of
methods, strategies or practice – although we sometimes are aware of the need
to improve our critical thinking skills we do not know exactly what to do to
improve them, what strategies to apply. Fortunately, critical thinking skills
can be developed with practice.
4) Reluctance to
critique experts – here writing a critique of an article/book/work is meant.
Naturally enough, many students feel uneasy when they are asked to critique
woks of famous and acknowledged authors, because they realize their knowledge
is less profound than knowledge of those people they need to analyze. But this
is how teaching in most English-speaking universities goes – students are
expected to challenge and question even published works.
reasons - to be able to critique means being able to acknowledge that there is
more than one way of looking at an issue. In academic contexts, the
implications of a theory can challenge deeply held beliefs and long-held
assumptions. This can be difficult to accept, irrespective of how intelligent a
student might be.
information for understanding - however, students can misunderstand the purpose
of those teaching methods that suggest activities aimed at developing expertise
in methods used within the discipline, preferring facts and answers rather than
learning the skills that help them to make well-founded judgments for
focus and attention to detail - poor criticism can result from making judgments
based on too general an overview of the subject matter.
Where and how to
put in the curricula?
Now, there is not
a single opinion about how to teach critical thinking – as a separate
discipline or as a part of other subjects. Let us shortly examine both points
Numerous researchers and teachers believe
that thinking skills can and should be the focus of separate exercises, texts,
and programs. They speak of the need to isolate specific cognitive skills and
to design material appropriate for each skill. They say that like reading and
writing, critical thinking is an enabling discipline and deserves separate
attention. They argue that an independent course would prevent students from
confining critical thinking to a specific subject matter, thereby inhibiting
its development would avoid repetition of introductory principles in each
subject; and would encourage the application of cognitive skills to other
disciplines. Learning cognitive skills separately, however, may not necessarily
facilitate their application to content-area studies or real-life situations.
Research suggests the effectiveness of such courses depends on parallel efforts
across the curriculum, including training all teachers in cognitive skills
(Critical Thinking Skills and Teacher Education. ERIC Digest).
The opponents of this approach claim that
ideally, training in thinking processes would be woven into subject area study.
Two decades ago, much attention was given to Bruner's idea that the concepts
central to each discipline can be taught through the discovery method. In
recent years, specialists in mathematics, visual arts, music, and other
subjects have claimed that unique aspects of their disciplines involve
distinctive mental skills, requiring specially tailored strategies for learning
(Charles Suhor, Thinking Skills in English--And across the Curriculum).
Consideration of the advantages and disadvantages of each leads one to conclude
the solution is not exclusively in either method, but in combination. Such a
unified approach to critical thinking would provide a framework for instruction
in any field (Critical Thinking Skills and Teacher Education, ERIC Digest).
Some other difficulties we need to know about
However, if we consider teaching critical
thinking as a part of educational process, some other problems emerge. Let us
see what Muhammad Kamarul Kabilan says about it.
In his opinion, the very important element
that needs to be address is the change of teachers' attitudes towards of
students (1), pedagogy (2), and themselves as teachers (3).
(1) There are teachers who regard learners
as empty vessels, which need to be filled with knowledge. They thus ignore,
whether they want to or not, the individuality of students. As a result their
lessons are boring and unimaginative because of the minimal participation and
involvement of learners. The learners feel left out and assume their opinions
and beliefs as not relevant or important enough to be heard in the classroom.
Eventually, this would be a cause to the detriment of creative and critical
thinking. To avoid this, teachers should develop a mutual relationship with
their learners, they need to consider learners as individuals who are equals in
a situation of genuine two-way communication. More importantly, the learners
learn from the teacher, and the teacher learns from the learners.
(2) The current situation is that teachers
widely practice the pedagogy of answers, whereby teachers provide the answers
and solutions to learners.
By giving answers, teachers deny the learners the
opportunities and the right to question, to doubt and to reject. In addition,
the learners will not be exposed to challenges and stimulation of thoughts.
Freire added that teachers tend to adopt the pedagogy of answers because they
are sometimes afraid of questions to which they are unsure of the answers, and
also because maybe the questions do not correspond to the answers they already
have. Thus, it is extremely vital that teachers have positive beliefs and
attitudes towards questions. The right way to behave in this situation is to
adopt the pedagogy of questions, which requires posing questions to
learners and listening to learners' questions. This is a practice which forces
and challenges the learners to think creatively and critically, and to adopt a
critical attitude towards the world.
(3) Teachers need to believe that their
major roles are to think, guide, initiate, facilitate and encourage the
learners. This will put them in a right frame of mind and lead the learners
into becoming a community of collaborative inquirers. Teachers are not
providers but thinkers who constantly think of what could be done to encourage
creative and critical thinking in their learners.
To add to the last point, Andy Halvorsen
says that despite the fact virtually every language course book contains some
form of "discussion questions" designed to give students some
opportunity to practice language use, far too often they are “used simply as a
tool, or even worse, as a kind of hurdle one needs to get over before moving on
to the next grammar lecture or reading passage. It is true that these questions
are often written in such a way as to almost discourage critical thought but
teachers need to remember that they always have the ability to modify or adapt
lessons to their own circumstances. Even the most overworked and underpaid of
instructors, who claims to have no time for lesson planning, can make a
It also must be said that students
themselves have hard times adjusting to the fact new component is added to
their learning. Thereto, when a teacher implements critical thinking oriented
tasks, it is often associated with delays in the progress of a lesson, with
lower success and completion rates (especially in the beginning). As a result
some students even openly express their discontent with the tasks they are
given. This reaction is understandable. They have made a career of passive
learning. When met by instructional situations in which they may have to use
some mental energies, some students resist that intellectual effort. What
emerges is what Sizer calls "conspiracy for the least," an agreement
by the teacher and students to do just enough to get by. But despite the
difficulties, many teachers are now promoting critical thinking in the
classroom. They are nurturing this change from ordinary thinking to good
thinking (Tama, M. Carrol, Critical Thinking: Promoting It in the Classroom).
The National Research Center on Student Learning
The USA educational society has been long
concerned with the critical thinking issue and decided to create a special
organization that would research the field and work out necessary recommendations.
Thus The National Research Center on Student Learning appeared. This center
conducts interdisciplinary research that informs and supports thinking-oriented
education in the United States. Modern cognitive research has shown that
instruction must do more, even at elementary levels, than directly convey
factual information. CSL studies how instruction can encourage students to ask
questions about what they learn, to invent new ways of solving problems, to
connect new knowledge to information they already have, and to apply their
knowledge and reasoning skills in new situations.
Although CSL research projects share a
theoretical base and many methods and implications for practice, they are
organized into three broad programs. Each of the following programs encompasses
- Strategies for Thinking investigates the
nature of potentially teachable thinking and reasoning strategies. Projects
focus on strategies that apply broadly to learning, with special attention to
how students monitor and manage their own learning from texts and to processes
of dialectical reasoning and argumentation.
- Knowledge Foundations for Thinking
focuses on several school disciplines, revealing their core knowledge
structures. Projects examine students' prior knowledge and seek to identify
powerful forms of instruction that take this knowledge into account.
- Thinking in the Classroom studies
learning in various classroom settings. Projects analyze exemplary teaching,
the structure of classroom activity and discourse, and learning outcomes.
Projects also examine instruction from elementary grades through high school in
science, history, and mathematics (Robert Glaser, Lauren Resnick, 1991).
The need for teaching critical thinking
skills exists. And although we still do not have handbooks or instructional
materials to use in our classrooms, there is a lot we can do as teachers. We
should challenge our students, make them consider alternative opinions, require
the reasons for their own opinions and decisions. Keep in mind that there is a
strong relationship between an open, supportive, and structured classroom
climate, where opinions on issues may be explored and expressed in a free and
disciplined manner, and development of critical thinking and attitudes
supportive of it. Providing situations that simulate real-life situations
increases the probability that skills will be used. Providing modeling of the
skills, ample opportunities for practice, and feedback on the effectiveness of
the student's thinking are also important considerations.
1. Richard R. Day Teaching
Critical Thinking and Discussion The Language Teacher, July 2003
2. Carr, Kathryn S. How
Can We Teach Critical Thinking? ERIC Digest (selected) (073) http://ericae.net/edo/ed326304.htm.
3. Critical Thinking
Skills and Teacher Education.
ERIC Digest 3-88, 1988 http://ericae.net/edo/ed297003.htm
4. Suhor, Charles Thinking
Skills in English--And across the Curriculum ERIC Digest, 1984 http://ericae.net/edo/ed250693.htm
5. Muhammad Kamarul Kabilan Creative and Critical Thinking in Language Classrooms The Internet TESL
Journal, Vol. VI, No. 6, June 2000 http://iteslj.org/
6. Andy Halvorsen Incorporating
Critical Thinking Skills Development into ESL/EFL Courses The Internet TESL
Journal, Vol. XI, No. 3, March 2005 http://iteslj.org/Techniques/Halvorsen-CriticalThinking.html
7. Glaser, Robert; Resnick,
Lauren National Research Center on Student Learning ERIC/TM Digest,
8. Stella Cottrell Critical
Thinking Skills Palgrave Mamillan Ltd, 2005
9. Lauren Starkey Critical
Thinking Skills Success in 20 Minutes a Day LearningExpress, LLC., 2004
К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №2 - 2008