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Critical Thinking Exercises
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Critical thinking is a skill that students develop gradually as they progress in school. While the skill becomes more important in higher grades, some students find it difficult to understand the concept of critical thinking .
The reason critical thinking can be difficult to grasp is because it requires students to set aside assumptions and beliefs to learn to think without bias or judgment.
Critical thinking involves suspending your beliefs to explore and question topics from a "blank page" point of view. It also involves the ability to distinguish fact from opinion when exploring a topic.
These exercises are designed to help develop critical thinking skills.
Critical Thinking Exercise 1: Tour Guide for an Alien
This exercise provides an opportunity to think outside your normal way of thinking.
Pretend that you have been assigned the task of conducting a tour for aliens who are visiting the earth and observing human life. You're riding along in a blimp, viewing the landscape below, and you float over a professional baseball stadium. One of the aliens looks down and is very confused by what he sees. You explain that there is a game going on and he asks several important questions.
- What is a game?
- Why are there no female players?
- Why do people get so excited about watching other people play games?
- What is a team?
- Why can't the people in the seats go down on the field and join in?
If you try to answer these questions fully, it will quickly become apparent that we carry around certain assumptions and values. We support a certain team, for instance, because it makes us feel like we're a part of a community. This sense of community is a value that matters to some people more than others.
Furthermore, when trying to explain team sports to an alien, you have to explain the value we place on winning and losing.
When you think like an alien tour guide, you are forced to take a deeper look at the things we do and things we value. Sometimes they don't sound logical from the outside looking in.
Critical Thinking Exercise 2: Fact or Opinion
Do you think you know the difference between fact and opinion? It's not always easy to discern. When you visit websites, do you believe everything you read? The abundance of available information makes it more important than ever for students to develop critical thinking skills. Additionally, it's an important reminder that you must use trustworthy sources in your school work.
If you don't learn the difference between fact and opinion, you may end up reading and watching things that continue to reinforce beliefs and assumptions you already own.
For this exercise, read each statement and try to determine whether it sounds like a fact or an opinion. This can be completed alone or with a study partner .
- My mom is the best mom on earth.
- My dad is taller than your dad.
- My telephone number is difficult to memorize.
- The deepest part of the ocean is 35,813 feet deep.
- Dogs make better pets than turtles.
- Smoking is bad for your health.
- Eighty-five percent of all cases of lung cancer in the U.S. are caused by smoking.
- If you flatten and stretch out a Slinky toy it will be 87 feet long.
- Slinky toys are fun.
- One out of every one hundred American citizens is color blind.
- Two out of ten American citizens are boring.
You will probably find some of the statements easy to judge but other statements difficult. If you can effectively debate the truthfulness of a statement with your partner, then it's most likely an opinion.
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Become a better critical thinker with these 7 critical thinking exercises
Critical thinking is a skill you can use in any situation. Whether you're a student, entrepreneur, or business executive, critical thinking can help you make better decisions and solve problems.
But learning critical thinking skills isn't always an easy task. Many tools, techniques, and strategies are available, and choosing the right one can be challenging. Vague suggestions on the internet like "read more" aren't very helpful, and elaborate business examples don’t apply to many of us.
As average problem-solvers, we need actionable thinking exercises to improve our critical thinking skills and enhance our thinking processes. Regularly performing exercises that specifically stretch our decision-making and reasoning skills is the most effective method of improving our thinking abilities.
This article will explore several exercises that will help you develop critical thinking skills. Whether you are preparing for an exam, making an influential decision for your business, or going about your daily life, these fun activities can build your reasoning skills and creative problem-solving abilities.
Boost your logical thinking skills and start practicing a critical mindset with these 10 critical thinking exercises.
A Quick Look at Critical Thinking
As a thoughtful learner, you likely already understand the basics of critical thinking, but here's a quick refresher.
Critical thinking involves analyzing problems or issues objectively and rationally. Critical thinkers are able to understand their own biases and assumptions, as well as those of others. They’re also able to see the world from a different point of view and understand how their experiences impact their thinking.
Developing critical thinking skills is essential because it allows us to see things from multiple perspectives, identify biases and errors in reasoning, and be open to possible solutions. Making informed decisions is easier when we have a better understanding of the world around us.
Why We Need to Practice Critical Thinking
We aren't born with critical thinking skills, and they don’t naturally develop beyond survival-level thinking. To master critical thinking, we must practice it and develop it over time.
However, learning to think critically isn't as easy as learning to ride a bicycle. There aren't any step-by-step procedures to follow or supportive guides to fall back on, and it is not taught in public schools consistently or reliably. To ensure students' success, teachers must know higher-order thinking skills (HOTS) and how to teach them, research says.
Unfortunately, although teachers understand the importance of HOTS and attempt to teach it, studies show that their capacity to measure students' HOTS is low. Educator and author Dr. Kulvarn Atwal says, "It seems that we are becoming successful at producing students who are able to jump through hoops and pass tests."
As critical thinking skills become more important in higher grades, some students find it challenging to understand the concept of critical thinking. To develop necessary thinking skills, we must set aside our assumptions and beliefs. This allows us to explore and question topics from a "blank page" point of view and distinguish fact from opinion.
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7 Critical Thinking Exercises To Improve Your Critical Thinking Skills
The good news is that by assessing, analyzing, and evaluating our thought processes, we can improve our skills. Critical thinking exercises are key to this improvement. Our critical thinking builds and improves with regular practice, just like a muscle that gets stronger with use.
If you want to become a better critical thinker , here are some critical thinking exercises to try:
Exercise #1: The Ladder of Inference
You can exercise your critical thinking skills by using the Ladder of Inference model . This thinking model was developed by renowned organizational psychologist Chris Argyris. Each rung on the ladder of inference represents a step you take to arrive at your conclusions.
The decision-making process starts when we are faced with a problem or situation. As soon as we observe something problematic or important, we presume what is causing it, and then we use that assumption to draw conclusions. Based on those conclusions, we take action.
For example, say you're at a party and see a friend across the room. You catch their eye and wave, but they turn and walk away. Using the ladder, you might climb the rungs as follows:
- Observe that your friend walked away.
- Select a few details of the situation, including your wave and your assumption that they saw you.
- Meaning is attached based on the environment, making you think your friend must have other people to talk to at the party.
- Assumptions are made based on that meaning, assuming that means your friend doesn’t like you as much as them.
- Conclusions are drawn from the assumption, and you determine that your friend must be mad at you or doesn't want you to be at the party.
- Beliefs are formed, making you think you're not welcome.
- Action is taken, and you leave the party.
In this example, you started with a situation (someone walking away at a crowded party) and made a series of inferences to arrive at a conclusion (that the person is mad at you and doesn't want you there).
The Ladder of Inference can be a helpful tool to frame your thinking because it encourages you to examine each step of your thought process and avoid jumping to conclusions. It's easy to make assumptions without realizing it, as in this scene. Perhaps your friend never even saw you wave from across the crowded room.
Exercise #2: The Five Whys
The "Five Whys" technique is an analytical skill that can help you uncover the source of a problem. The activity was created by Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of Toyota, and consists of repeatedly asking “why?” when a problem is encountered to determine its root cause.
This exercise can be difficult because knowing if you've discovered the source of your problem is challenging. The "five" in "Five Whys" is just a guideline — you may need to ask more. When you can't ask anything else, and your response is related to the original issue, you've probably arrived at the end.
Even if you need several rounds of questioning, just keep going. The important part that helps you practice critical thinking is the process of asking "why?" and uncovering the deeper issues affecting the situation.
For instance, say you're trying to figure out why your computer keeps crashing.
- You ask " why ," and the answer is that there's a software problem.
- Why? Because the computer keeps running out of memory.
- Why? Because too many programs are running at the same time.
- Why? Because too many browser tabs are open .
- Why? Because multitasking is fragmenting your focus, you're doing too many things at once.
In this example, working through the "why's" revealed the underlying cause. As a result, you can find the best solution, which is concentrating on just one thing at a time.
Exercise #3: Inversion
Inversion is another critical thinking exercise that you can use in any situation. Inversion is sort of like taking on the role of the devil's advocate. In this exercise, adopt the opposite view of whatever issue you're exploring and consider the potential arguments for that side. This will help broaden your critical thinking skills and enable you to see other perspectives on a situation or topic more clearly.
For example, let's say you're thinking about starting your own business. Using inversion, you would explore all of the potential arguments for why starting your own business is bad. This might include concerns like:
- You could end up in debt.
- The business might fail.
- It's a lot of work.
- You might not have time for anything else.
By exploring these potentially adverse outcomes, you can identify the potential risks involved in starting your own business and make a more sound decision. You might realize that now is not the right time for you to become an entrepreneur. And if you do start the company, you'll be better prepared to deal with the issues you identified when they occur.
Exercise #4: Argument Mapping
Argument mapping can be a beneficial exercise for enhancing critical thinking skills. Like mind mapping, argument mapping is a method of visually representing an argument's structure. It helps analyze and evaluate ideas as well as develop new ones.
In critical thinking textbooks, argument diagramming is often presented to introduce students to argument constructions. It can be an effective way to build mental templates or schema for argument structures, which researchers think may make critical evaluation easier .
Argument maps typically include the following:
- Conclusion: What is being argued for or against
- Premises: The reasons given to support the conclusion
- Inferences: The connections made between the premises and conclusion
The argument map should be as clear and concise as possible, with a single word or phrase representing each element. This will help you make connections more easily. After the map is completed, you can use it to identify any weak points in the argument. If any areas aren't well-supported, additional premises can be added.
Argument mapping can be applied to any situation that requires critical thinking skills. The more time you take to map out an argument, the better you'll understand how the pieces fit together. Ultimately, this will help you think more creatively and critically, and make more informed decisions.
Exercise #5: Opinion vs. Fact
Critical thinking activities that focus on opinions and facts are particularly valuable and relevant new learning opportunities. Our constantly-connected world makes it easy to confuse opinions and facts , especially with sensationalist news articles and click-bait headlines.
How can you tell a fact from an opinion? Facts are generally objective and established, whereas opinions are subjective and unproven. For example, "the cloud is in the air" is a fact. "That dress looks good on you" is an opinion.
Practice your critical thinking skills by reading or listening to the news. See if you can identify when someone is stating an opinion rather than a fact. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Who is saying what? What reasons might be behind their statements?
- Does the claim make sense? Who would disagree with it and why?
- How can you tell if the data is reliable? Can it be fact-checked? Has it been shared by other credible publishers?
- How do you know whether or not the presenter is biased? What kind of language is being used?
This powerful exercise can train your mind to start asking questions whenever presented with a new claim. This will help you think critically about the information you're taking in and question what you're hearing before accepting it as truth.
Exercise #6: Autonomy of an Object
In her book " The Critical Thinking Tool Kit ," Dr. Marlene Caroselli describes a critical thinking exercise called "Living Problems, Lively Solutions." This exercise uses the autonomy of an object as a problem-solving tool to find a possible solution.
To do this, you'll personify your problem and place it in another context — a different time or place. This allows you to uncover unique solutions to the problem that might be tied to your mental associations with that setting.
For example, if your problem is poor time management , you might personify the issue as a thief of your time. The idea of a thief could make you think of jail, which might prompt thoughts of locking up specific distractions in your life. The idea of jail could also make you think of guards and lead you to the possible solution of checking in with an accountability buddy who can make sure you're sticking to your schedule.
The autonomy-of-object technique works because it stimulates thoughts you wouldn’t have considered without the particular context in which you place the problem.
Exercise #7: The Six Thinking Hats
Designed by Edward de Bono, the Six Thinking Hats is a critical thinking exercise that was created as a tool for groups to use when exploring different perspectives on an issue. When people use other thinking processes, meetings can become challenging rather than beneficial.
To help teams work more productively and mindfully, de Bono suggests dividing up different styles of thinking into six categories, represented as hats:
- The white hat is objective and focuses on facts and logic
- The red hat is intuitive, focusing on emotion and instinct
- The black hat is cautious and predicts negative outcomes
- The yellow hat is optimistic and encourages positive outcomes
- The green hat is creative, with numerous ideas and little criticism
- The blue hat is the control hat used for management and organization
With each team member wearing a different hat, a group can examine an issue or problem from many different angles, preventing one viewpoint (or individual) from dominating the meeting or discussion. This means that decisions and solutions reached using the Six Thinking Hats approach will likely be more robust and effective, and everyone’s creative thinking skills will benefit.
Train Your Brain With Critical Thinking Exercises
Using critical thinking regularly in various situations can improve our ability to evaluate and analyze information. These seven critical thinking exercises train your brain for better critical thinking skills . With daily practice, they can become habits that will help you think more critically each day.
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Applying Critical and Creative Thinking Skills in College and Everyday Life
Sue Carson, former director of TH!NK and professor of plant and microbial biology, discusses the importance of critical and creative thinking skills in college and everyday life.
By Alison Krowiak, DASA Assessment
This article is part of a series on NC State’s Pack Proficiencies, which include the five skills NC State faculty think all NC State undergraduates should develop before they graduate: written communication, oral communication, quantitative literacy, critical thinking, and creative thinking.
At NC State, critical and creative thinking are a key part of how we Think and Do the Extraordinary. Critical thinking is the active, persistent and careful consideration of a belief or form of knowledge. Every time students use evidence to form judgements, analyze the ideas or conditions that support conclusions, and evaluate their own thinking, they engage their critical thinking skills.
Creative thinking is just as important and involves the generation of new ideas within or across disciplines. It can draw upon or break the rules in an effort to bring together existing ideas into a new configuration. The ability to think of creative solutions is utilized in every major program at NC State and in every field our students enter upon graduation.
Like all the Pack Proficiencies, these essential skills are taught in General Education classes and reinforced throughout each major program. Sue Carson, professor of plant and microbial biology and former director of the TH!NK program, describes the value for every NC State student in developing their critical and creative thinking competencies. Interview excerpts are edited for brevity and clarity.
How are critical and creative thinking competencies defined?
When I think about critical and creative thinking, I think of them as very intertwined. It often starts with raising a new question or formulating a new problem, gathering and assessing information, coming up with multiple alternative ideas for how to approach the question or how to approach the problem. It involves considering alternatives of the problem, reaching conclusions and effectively communicating about them. Other important aspects of critical and creative thinking include intellectual risk-taking and self-reflection along each stage of the process.
Why should NC States develop proficiencies in critical and creative thinking?
In all of our disciplines, and in all of our careers, to be a leader you need to be a creative thinker. You have to be able to identify problems and questions, and be able to figure out solutions. Even in our everyday lives, critical and creative thinking is so important. Questions like, “Who are you going to vote for in the next election? What daycare are you going to choose for your children? What phone are you going to buy?” all require those skills.
How can students develop their critical and creative thinking skills?
I think that most people understand that critical thinking is a skill that can be developed through practice and feedback. But there’s a misconception that creativity is something that’s innate, and that’s just not true. Creativity is a cognitive process that you can develop through practice and feedback. Creativity is also not confined to the arts. Fields in science, engineering, social sciences, and more need to be creative. We all need to be creative in our lives every day, and it is a skill that we can develop.
How can students develop their critical thinking skills inside and outside the classroom?
When students are selecting their classes, they can choose courses that are more geared toward project-based work. I think that is a good way for students to get feedback on their critical and creative thinking. There are a lot of opportunities outside the class as well. Engaging in undergraduate research is one way. Another way would be service learning projects that allow students to make decisions and have ownership of that project. If the student is able to have ownership and make decisions and identify the questions and problems, it can help develop critical and creative thinking. There is a whole range of opportunities that allow you to do that at NC State.
To learn more about the Pack Proficiencies and how they are assessed, visit go.ncsu.edu/PackProficiencies .
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Critical thinking for college, career, and citizenship
Subscribe to the center for universal education bulletin, diane f. halpern dfh diane f. halpern diane f. halpern is the dean of social sciences, emerita at the minerva schools at kgi and a past president of the american psychological association and the society for teaching of psychology. diane has published hundreds of articles and many books including, thought and knowledge: an introduction to critical thinking (5th ed., 2014); sex differences in cognitive abilities (4th ed.), and women at the top: powerful leaders tell us how to combine work and family (co-authored with fanny cheung). her other recent books include psychological science (5th ed. with michael gazzaniga and todd heatherton) and the edited book, undergraduate education in psychology: a blueprint for the future of the discipline..
May 26, 2016
Editor’s note: In the “ Becoming Brilliant ” blog series, experts explore the six competencies that reflect how children learn and grow as laid out by Kathy Hirsh-Pasek and Roberta Golinkoff in their new book “ Becoming Brilliant .”
Education is about the future—students learn in schools and other places based on two underlying assumptions: (a) What they learn today will be recalled sometime in the future when the knowledge is needed, and (b) today’s learning will transfer across time, place, and space. Teachers are preparing students for higher levels of education, careers that may not even exist today, and the increasingly complex world of citizenship—voting intelligently, recognizing, and supporting good options for societal problems. With the amount of information increasing exponentially and new information often replacing what we formerly believed to be true, the twin abilities of learning well and thinking critically are essential skills for students at every level.
But what does it mean to think critically?
Critical thinking is using the skills or strategies that that are most likely to lead to a desired outcome. It is purposeful, reasoned, and goal-directed. It is the sort of thinking we should be engaging in when deciding what and whom to believe, which of two job offers to accept, or whether vaccinations really do cause autism. It is different from, but often relies upon, simple recall (e.g., what does five plus seven equal?), unsupported opinions (e.g., I like vanilla ice cream), and automated actions (e.g., stopping at a red light).
Critical thinking has two main components: understanding information at a deep, meaningful level, and overcoming fallacies and biases. For example, suppose you are learning about a new theory. You could learn to recite the definition of the theory with little meaning (e.g., photosynthesis is a process used by plants to synthesize foods from carbon dioxide and water using sunlight) or you could process it at a deeper level. There are many learning activities that facilitate deep level processing. For example, you could write out the theory in your own words, explain it to someone who is not familiar with it, and provide evidence for (and possibly against) the theory. What is it explaining? What theory is it replacing (if applicable)? What is its history? How could it be applied to an everyday problem? If you could answer these questions, the theory would become easier to recall, and you could use it to generate new theories or see flaws or strengths in other theories. Argument analysis is another example of deep processing. Critical thinkers learn to identify the conclusion, the evidence, and reasoning used to support the conclusion. They also look for assumptions, counterevidence, and limiting conditions (times when the conclusion may not apply).
Some educators prefer to consider critical thinking as “debiasing” or recognizing and resisting fallacies. Suppose someone asks you if children become brilliant because of their nature or nurture. This is an example of the “either-or” fallacy, and anyone who is trained to recognize it can avoid its pitfalls. Similarly, critical thinkers recognize when correlational data are being used to make causal claims. For example, an article in the Los Angeles Times told readers that if they want their children to get good grades they should make sure that their kids’ friends get good grades. But after reading the article, it was apparent that children with good grades had friends with good grades, and children with poor grades had friends with poor grades. But nowhere did it show that kids with poor grades would improve by friending kids with good grades. The data were correlational, which any critical thinker should recognize.
If you are thinking critically, and I hope you are, you may be wondering: Can we teach students to be better thinkers? The answer is a resounding “yes.” There is a large amount of research literature (reviewed in my book, “Thought and Knowledge: An Introduction to Critical Thinking”). In one project that I conducted with a doctoral student, who is now Dr. Lisa Marin, we went into very low-performing high schools in California. There were several studies, some that involved parents and some in which classes were assigned at random with different critical thinking instruction. We found that when critical thinking skills were deliberately taught (not as an ancillary to other content), students improved in their abilities to think critically. There are many studies showing substantial gains in critical thinking in college students, the military, and other populations as well. Critical thinking can be taught at any grade, as long as it is taught in a way that is developmentally appropriate.
Finally, critical thinking has a self-reflective component. Good thinkers consider the steps of problem solving, how they are mentally approaching a problem, and the quality of their conclusion or solution.
Those who care about the future for today’s children understand that the jobs of the future will require the ability to think critically. So let’s be sure that our students are ready for college, careers, and citizenship by including deliberate instruction in critical thinking. It is probably the most difficult topic to teach and learn, but it is also the most important.
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Critical thinking is a widely accepted educational goal. Its definition is contested, but the competing definitions can be understood as differing conceptions of the same basic concept: careful thinking directed to a goal. Conceptions differ with respect to the scope of such thinking, the type of goal, the criteria and norms for thinking carefully, and the thinking components on which they focus. Its adoption as an educational goal has been recommended on the basis of respect for students’ autonomy and preparing students for success in life and for democratic citizenship. “Critical thinkers” have the dispositions and abilities that lead them to think critically when appropriate. The abilities can be identified directly; the dispositions indirectly, by considering what factors contribute to or impede exercise of the abilities. Standardized tests have been developed to assess the degree to which a person possesses such dispositions and abilities. Educational intervention has been shown experimentally to improve them, particularly when it includes dialogue, anchored instruction, and mentoring. Controversies have arisen over the generalizability of critical thinking across domains, over alleged bias in critical thinking theories and instruction, and over the relationship of critical thinking to other types of thinking.
2.1 Dewey’s Three Main Examples
2.2 dewey’s other examples, 2.3 further examples, 2.4 non-examples, 3. the definition of critical thinking, 4. its value, 5. the process of thinking critically, 6. components of the process, 7. contributory dispositions and abilities, 8.1 initiating dispositions, 8.2 internal dispositions, 9. critical thinking abilities, 10. required knowledge, 11. educational methods, 12.1 the generalizability of critical thinking, 12.2 bias in critical thinking theory and pedagogy, 12.3 relationship of critical thinking to other types of thinking, other internet resources, related entries.
Use of the term ‘critical thinking’ to describe an educational goal goes back to the American philosopher John Dewey (1910), who more commonly called it ‘reflective thinking’. He defined it 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 conclusions to which it tends. (Dewey 1910: 6; 1933: 9)
and identified a habit of such consideration with a scientific attitude of mind. His lengthy quotations of Francis Bacon, John Locke, and John Stuart Mill indicate that he was not the first person to propose development of a scientific attitude of mind as an educational goal.
In the 1930s, many of the schools that participated in the Eight-Year Study of the Progressive Education Association (Aikin 1942) adopted critical thinking as an educational goal, for whose achievement the study’s Evaluation Staff developed tests (Smith, Tyler, & Evaluation Staff 1942). Glaser (1941) showed experimentally that it was possible to improve the critical thinking of high school students. Bloom’s influential taxonomy of cognitive educational objectives (Bloom et al. 1956) incorporated critical thinking abilities. Ennis (1962) proposed 12 aspects of critical thinking as a basis for research on the teaching and evaluation of critical thinking ability.
Since 1980, an annual international conference in California on critical thinking and educational reform has attracted tens of thousands of educators from all levels of education and from many parts of the world. Also since 1980, the state university system in California has required all undergraduate students to take a critical thinking course. Since 1983, the Association for Informal Logic and Critical Thinking has sponsored sessions in conjunction with the divisional meetings of the American Philosophical Association (APA). In 1987, the APA’s Committee on Pre-College Philosophy commissioned a consensus statement on critical thinking for purposes of educational assessment and instruction (Facione 1990a). Researchers have developed standardized tests of critical thinking abilities and dispositions; for details, see the Supplement on Assessment . Educational jurisdictions around the world now include critical thinking in guidelines for curriculum and assessment.
For details on this history, see the Supplement on History .
2. Examples and Non-Examples
Before considering the definition of critical thinking, it will be helpful to have in mind some examples of critical thinking, as well as some examples of kinds of thinking that would apparently not count as critical thinking.
Dewey (1910: 68–71; 1933: 91–94) takes as paradigms of reflective thinking three class papers of students in which they describe their thinking. The examples range from the everyday to the scientific.
Transit : “The other day, when I was down town on 16th Street, a clock caught my eye. I saw that the hands pointed to 12:20. This suggested that I had an engagement at 124th Street, at one o’clock. I reasoned that as it had taken me an hour to come down on a surface car, I should probably be twenty minutes late if I returned the same way. I might save twenty minutes by a subway express. But was there a station near? If not, I might lose more than twenty minutes in looking for one. Then I thought of the elevated, and I saw there was such a line within two blocks. But where was the station? If it were several blocks above or below the street I was on, I should lose time instead of gaining it. My mind went back to the subway express as quicker than the elevated; furthermore, I remembered that it went nearer than the elevated to the part of 124th Street I wished to reach, so that time would be saved at the end of the journey. I concluded in favor of the subway, and reached my destination by one o’clock.” (Dewey 1910: 68–69; 1933: 91–92)
Ferryboat : “Projecting nearly horizontally from the upper deck of the ferryboat on which I daily cross the river is a long white pole, having a gilded ball at its tip. It suggested a flagpole when I first saw it; its color, shape, and gilded ball agreed with this idea, and these reasons seemed to justify me in this belief. But soon difficulties presented themselves. The pole was nearly horizontal, an unusual position for a flagpole; in the next place, there was no pulley, ring, or cord by which to attach a flag; finally, there were elsewhere on the boat two vertical staffs from which flags were occasionally flown. It seemed probable that the pole was not there for flag-flying.
“I then tried to imagine all possible purposes of the pole, and to consider for which of these it was best suited: (a) Possibly it was an ornament. But as all the ferryboats and even the tugboats carried poles, this hypothesis was rejected. (b) Possibly it was the terminal of a wireless telegraph. But the same considerations made this improbable. Besides, the more natural place for such a terminal would be the highest part of the boat, on top of the pilot house. (c) Its purpose might be to point out the direction in which the boat is moving.
“In support of this conclusion, I discovered that the pole was lower than the pilot house, so that the steersman could easily see it. Moreover, the tip was enough higher than the base, so that, from the pilot’s position, it must appear to project far out in front of the boat. Moreover, the pilot being near the front of the boat, he would need some such guide as to its direction. Tugboats would also need poles for such a purpose. This hypothesis was so much more probable than the others that I accepted it. I formed the conclusion that the pole was set up for the purpose of showing the pilot the direction in which the boat pointed, to enable him to steer correctly.” (Dewey 1910: 69–70; 1933: 92–93)
Bubbles : “In washing tumblers in hot soapsuds and placing them mouth downward on a plate, bubbles appeared on the outside of the mouth of the tumblers and then went inside. Why? The presence of bubbles suggests air, which I note must come from inside the tumbler. I see that the soapy water on the plate prevents escape of the air save as it may be caught in bubbles. But why should air leave the tumbler? There was no substance entering to force it out. It must have expanded. It expands by increase of heat, or by decrease of pressure, or both. Could the air have become heated after the tumbler was taken from the hot suds? Clearly not the air that was already entangled in the water. If heated air was the cause, cold air must have entered in transferring the tumblers from the suds to the plate. I test to see if this supposition is true by taking several more tumblers out. Some I shake so as to make sure of entrapping cold air in them. Some I take out holding mouth downward in order to prevent cold air from entering. Bubbles appear on the outside of every one of the former and on none of the latter. I must be right in my inference. Air from the outside must have been expanded by the heat of the tumbler, which explains the appearance of the bubbles on the outside. But why do they then go inside? Cold contracts. The tumbler cooled and also the air inside it. Tension was removed, and hence bubbles appeared inside. To be sure of this, I test by placing a cup of ice on the tumbler while the bubbles are still forming outside. They soon reverse” (Dewey 1910: 70–71; 1933: 93–94).
Dewey (1910, 1933) sprinkles his book with other examples of critical thinking. We will refer to the following.
Weather : A man on a walk notices that it has suddenly become cool, thinks that it is probably going to rain, looks up and sees a dark cloud obscuring the sun, and quickens his steps (1910: 6–10; 1933: 9–13).
Disorder : A man finds his rooms on his return to them in disorder with his belongings thrown about, thinks at first of burglary as an explanation, then thinks of mischievous children as being an alternative explanation, then looks to see whether valuables are missing, and discovers that they are (1910: 82–83; 1933: 166–168).
Typhoid : A physician diagnosing a patient whose conspicuous symptoms suggest typhoid avoids drawing a conclusion until more data are gathered by questioning the patient and by making tests (1910: 85–86; 1933: 170).
Blur : A moving blur catches our eye in the distance, we ask ourselves whether it is a cloud of whirling dust or a tree moving its branches or a man signaling to us, we think of other traits that should be found on each of those possibilities, and we look and see if those traits are found (1910: 102, 108; 1933: 121, 133).
Suction pump : In thinking about the suction pump, the scientist first notes that it will draw water only to a maximum height of 33 feet at sea level and to a lesser maximum height at higher elevations, selects for attention the differing atmospheric pressure at these elevations, sets up experiments in which the air is removed from a vessel containing water (when suction no longer works) and in which the weight of air at various levels is calculated, compares the results of reasoning about the height to which a given weight of air will allow a suction pump to raise water with the observed maximum height at different elevations, and finally assimilates the suction pump to such apparently different phenomena as the siphon and the rising of a balloon (1910: 150–153; 1933: 195–198).
Diamond : A passenger in a car driving in a diamond lane reserved for vehicles with at least one passenger notices that the diamond marks on the pavement are far apart in some places and close together in others. Why? The driver suggests that the reason may be that the diamond marks are not needed where there is a solid double line separating the diamond lane from the adjoining lane, but are needed when there is a dotted single line permitting crossing into the diamond lane. Further observation confirms that the diamonds are close together when a dotted line separates the diamond lane from its neighbour, but otherwise far apart.
Rash : A woman suddenly develops a very itchy red rash on her throat and upper chest. She recently noticed a mark on the back of her right hand, but was not sure whether the mark was a rash or a scrape. She lies down in bed and thinks about what might be causing the rash and what to do about it. About two weeks before, she began taking blood pressure medication that contained a sulfa drug, and the pharmacist had warned her, in view of a previous allergic reaction to a medication containing a sulfa drug, to be on the alert for an allergic reaction; however, she had been taking the medication for two weeks with no such effect. The day before, she began using a new cream on her neck and upper chest; against the new cream as the cause was mark on the back of her hand, which had not been exposed to the cream. She began taking probiotics about a month before. She also recently started new eye drops, but she supposed that manufacturers of eye drops would be careful not to include allergy-causing components in the medication. The rash might be a heat rash, since she recently was sweating profusely from her upper body. Since she is about to go away on a short vacation, where she would not have access to her usual physician, she decides to keep taking the probiotics and using the new eye drops but to discontinue the blood pressure medication and to switch back to the old cream for her neck and upper chest. She forms a plan to consult her regular physician on her return about the blood pressure medication.
Candidate : Although Dewey included no examples of thinking directed at appraising the arguments of others, such thinking has come to be considered a kind of critical thinking. We find an example of such thinking in the performance task on the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA+), which its sponsoring organization describes as
a performance-based assessment that provides a measure of an institution’s contribution to the development of critical-thinking and written communication skills of its students. (Council for Aid to Education 2017)
A sample task posted on its website requires the test-taker to write a report for public distribution evaluating a fictional candidate’s policy proposals and their supporting arguments, using supplied background documents, with a recommendation on whether to endorse the candidate.
Immediate acceptance of an idea that suggests itself as a solution to a problem (e.g., a possible explanation of an event or phenomenon, an action that seems likely to produce a desired result) is “uncritical thinking, the minimum of reflection” (Dewey 1910: 13). On-going suspension of judgment in the light of doubt about a possible solution is not critical thinking (Dewey 1910: 108). Critique driven by a dogmatically held political or religious ideology is not critical thinking; thus Paulo Freire (1968 ) is using the term (e.g., at 1970: 71, 81, 100, 146) in a more politically freighted sense that includes not only reflection but also revolutionary action against oppression. Derivation of a conclusion from given data using an algorithm is not critical thinking.
What is critical thinking? There are many definitions. Ennis (2016) lists 14 philosophically oriented scholarly definitions and three dictionary definitions. Following Rawls (1971), who distinguished his conception of justice from a utilitarian conception but regarded them as rival conceptions of the same concept, Ennis maintains that the 17 definitions are different conceptions of the same concept. Rawls articulated the shared concept of justice as
a characteristic set of principles for assigning basic rights and duties and for determining… the proper distribution of the benefits and burdens of social cooperation. (Rawls 1971: 5)
Bailin et al. (1999b) claim that, if one considers what sorts of thinking an educator would take not to be critical thinking and what sorts to be critical thinking, one can conclude that educators typically understand critical thinking to have at least three features.
- It is done for the purpose of making up one’s mind about what to believe or do.
- The person engaging in the thinking is trying to fulfill standards of adequacy and accuracy appropriate to the thinking.
- The thinking fulfills the relevant standards to some threshold level.
One could sum up the core concept that involves these three features by saying that critical thinking is careful goal-directed thinking. This core concept seems to apply to all the examples of critical thinking described in the previous section. As for the non-examples, their exclusion depends on construing careful thinking as excluding jumping immediately to conclusions, suspending judgment no matter how strong the evidence, reasoning from an unquestioned ideological or religious perspective, and routinely using an algorithm to answer a question.
If the core of critical thinking is careful goal-directed thinking, conceptions of it can vary according to its presumed scope, its presumed goal, one’s criteria and threshold for being careful, and the thinking component on which one focuses. As to its scope, some conceptions (e.g., Dewey 1910, 1933) restrict it to constructive thinking on the basis of one’s own observations and experiments, others (e.g., Ennis 1962; Fisher & Scriven 1997; Johnson 1992) to appraisal of the products of such thinking. Ennis (1991) and Bailin et al. (1999b) take it to cover both construction and appraisal. As to its goal, some conceptions restrict it to forming a judgment (Dewey 1910, 1933; Lipman 1987; Facione 1990a). Others allow for actions as well as beliefs as the end point of a process of critical thinking (Ennis 1991; Bailin et al. 1999b). As to the criteria and threshold for being careful, definitions vary in the term used to indicate that critical thinking satisfies certain norms: “intellectually disciplined” (Scriven & Paul 1987), “reasonable” (Ennis 1991), “skillful” (Lipman 1987), “skilled” (Fisher & Scriven 1997), “careful” (Bailin & Battersby 2009). Some definitions specify these norms, referring variously to “consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it and the further conclusions to which it tends” (Dewey 1910, 1933); “the methods of logical inquiry and reasoning” (Glaser 1941); “conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication” (Scriven & Paul 1987); the requirement that “it is sensitive to context, relies on criteria, and is self-correcting” (Lipman 1987); “evidential, conceptual, methodological, criteriological, or contextual considerations” (Facione 1990a); and “plus-minus considerations of the product in terms of appropriate standards (or criteria)” (Johnson 1992). Stanovich and Stanovich (2010) propose to ground the concept of critical thinking in the concept of rationality, which they understand as combining epistemic rationality (fitting one’s beliefs to the world) and instrumental rationality (optimizing goal fulfillment); a critical thinker, in their view, is someone with “a propensity to override suboptimal responses from the autonomous mind” (2010: 227). These variant specifications of norms for critical thinking are not necessarily incompatible with one another, and in any case presuppose the core notion of thinking carefully. As to the thinking component singled out, some definitions focus on suspension of judgment during the thinking (Dewey 1910; McPeck 1981), others on inquiry while judgment is suspended (Bailin & Battersby 2009, 2021), others on the resulting judgment (Facione 1990a), and still others on responsiveness to reasons (Siegel 1988). Kuhn (2019) takes critical thinking to be more a dialogic practice of advancing and responding to arguments than an individual ability.
In educational contexts, a definition of critical thinking is a “programmatic definition” (Scheffler 1960: 19). It expresses a practical program for achieving an educational goal. For this purpose, a one-sentence formulaic definition is much less useful than articulation of a critical thinking process, with criteria and standards for the kinds of thinking that the process may involve. The real educational goal is recognition, adoption and implementation by students of those criteria and standards. That adoption and implementation in turn consists in acquiring the knowledge, abilities and dispositions of a critical thinker.
Conceptions of critical thinking generally do not include moral integrity as part of the concept. Dewey, for example, took critical thinking to be the ultimate intellectual goal of education, but distinguished it from the development of social cooperation among school children, which he took to be the central moral goal. Ennis (1996, 2011) added to his previous list of critical thinking dispositions a group of dispositions to care about the dignity and worth of every person, which he described as a “correlative” (1996) disposition without which critical thinking would be less valuable and perhaps harmful. An educational program that aimed at developing critical thinking but not the correlative disposition to care about the dignity and worth of every person, he asserted, “would be deficient and perhaps dangerous” (Ennis 1996: 172).
Dewey thought that education for reflective thinking would be of value to both the individual and society; recognition in educational practice of the kinship to the scientific attitude of children’s native curiosity, fertile imagination and love of experimental inquiry “would make for individual happiness and the reduction of social waste” (Dewey 1910: iii). Schools participating in the Eight-Year Study took development of the habit of reflective thinking and skill in solving problems as a means to leading young people to understand, appreciate and live the democratic way of life characteristic of the United States (Aikin 1942: 17–18, 81). Harvey Siegel (1988: 55–61) has offered four considerations in support of adopting critical thinking as an educational ideal. (1) Respect for persons requires that schools and teachers honour students’ demands for reasons and explanations, deal with students honestly, and recognize the need to confront students’ independent judgment; these requirements concern the manner in which teachers treat students. (2) Education has the task of preparing children to be successful adults, a task that requires development of their self-sufficiency. (3) Education should initiate children into the rational traditions in such fields as history, science and mathematics. (4) Education should prepare children to become democratic citizens, which requires reasoned procedures and critical talents and attitudes. To supplement these considerations, Siegel (1988: 62–90) responds to two objections: the ideology objection that adoption of any educational ideal requires a prior ideological commitment and the indoctrination objection that cultivation of critical thinking cannot escape being a form of indoctrination.
Despite the diversity of our 11 examples, one can recognize a common pattern. Dewey analyzed it as consisting of five phases:
- suggestions , in which the mind leaps forward to a possible solution;
- an intellectualization of the difficulty or perplexity into a problem to be solved, a question for which the answer must be sought;
- the use of one suggestion after another as a leading idea, or hypothesis , to initiate and guide observation and other operations in collection of factual material;
- the mental elaboration of the idea or supposition as an idea or supposition ( reasoning , in the sense on which reasoning is a part, not the whole, of inference); and
- testing the hypothesis by overt or imaginative action. (Dewey 1933: 106–107; italics in original)
The process of reflective thinking consisting of these phases would be preceded by a perplexed, troubled or confused situation and followed by a cleared-up, unified, resolved situation (Dewey 1933: 106). The term ‘phases’ replaced the term ‘steps’ (Dewey 1910: 72), thus removing the earlier suggestion of an invariant sequence. Variants of the above analysis appeared in (Dewey 1916: 177) and (Dewey 1938: 101–119).
The variant formulations indicate the difficulty of giving a single logical analysis of such a varied process. The process of critical thinking may have a spiral pattern, with the problem being redefined in the light of obstacles to solving it as originally formulated. For example, the person in Transit might have concluded that getting to the appointment at the scheduled time was impossible and have reformulated the problem as that of rescheduling the appointment for a mutually convenient time. Further, defining a problem does not always follow after or lead immediately to an idea of a suggested solution. Nor should it do so, as Dewey himself recognized in describing the physician in Typhoid as avoiding any strong preference for this or that conclusion before getting further information (Dewey 1910: 85; 1933: 170). People with a hypothesis in mind, even one to which they have a very weak commitment, have a so-called “confirmation bias” (Nickerson 1998): they are likely to pay attention to evidence that confirms the hypothesis and to ignore evidence that counts against it or for some competing hypothesis. Detectives, intelligence agencies, and investigators of airplane accidents are well advised to gather relevant evidence systematically and to postpone even tentative adoption of an explanatory hypothesis until the collected evidence rules out with the appropriate degree of certainty all but one explanation. Dewey’s analysis of the critical thinking process can be faulted as well for requiring acceptance or rejection of a possible solution to a defined problem, with no allowance for deciding in the light of the available evidence to suspend judgment. Further, given the great variety of kinds of problems for which reflection is appropriate, there is likely to be variation in its component events. Perhaps the best way to conceptualize the critical thinking process is as a checklist whose component events can occur in a variety of orders, selectively, and more than once. These component events might include (1) noticing a difficulty, (2) defining the problem, (3) dividing the problem into manageable sub-problems, (4) formulating a variety of possible solutions to the problem or sub-problem, (5) determining what evidence is relevant to deciding among possible solutions to the problem or sub-problem, (6) devising a plan of systematic observation or experiment that will uncover the relevant evidence, (7) carrying out the plan of systematic observation or experimentation, (8) noting the results of the systematic observation or experiment, (9) gathering relevant testimony and information from others, (10) judging the credibility of testimony and information gathered from others, (11) drawing conclusions from gathered evidence and accepted testimony, and (12) accepting a solution that the evidence adequately supports (cf. Hitchcock 2017: 485).
Checklist conceptions of the process of critical thinking are open to the objection that they are too mechanical and procedural to fit the multi-dimensional and emotionally charged issues for which critical thinking is urgently needed (Paul 1984). For such issues, a more dialectical process is advocated, in which competing relevant world views are identified, their implications explored, and some sort of creative synthesis attempted.
If one considers the critical thinking process illustrated by the 11 examples, one can identify distinct kinds of mental acts and mental states that form part of it. To distinguish, label and briefly characterize these components is a useful preliminary to identifying abilities, skills, dispositions, attitudes, habits and the like that contribute causally to thinking critically. Identifying such abilities and habits is in turn a useful preliminary to setting educational goals. Setting the goals is in its turn a useful preliminary to designing strategies for helping learners to achieve the goals and to designing ways of measuring the extent to which learners have done so. Such measures provide both feedback to learners on their achievement and a basis for experimental research on the effectiveness of various strategies for educating people to think critically. Let us begin, then, by distinguishing the kinds of mental acts and mental events that can occur in a critical thinking process.
- Observing : One notices something in one’s immediate environment (sudden cooling of temperature in Weather , bubbles forming outside a glass and then going inside in Bubbles , a moving blur in the distance in Blur , a rash in Rash ). Or one notes the results of an experiment or systematic observation (valuables missing in Disorder , no suction without air pressure in Suction pump )
- Feeling : One feels puzzled or uncertain about something (how to get to an appointment on time in Transit , why the diamonds vary in spacing in Diamond ). One wants to resolve this perplexity. One feels satisfaction once one has worked out an answer (to take the subway express in Transit , diamonds closer when needed as a warning in Diamond ).
- Wondering : One formulates a question to be addressed (why bubbles form outside a tumbler taken from hot water in Bubbles , how suction pumps work in Suction pump , what caused the rash in Rash ).
- Imagining : One thinks of possible answers (bus or subway or elevated in Transit , flagpole or ornament or wireless communication aid or direction indicator in Ferryboat , allergic reaction or heat rash in Rash ).
- Inferring : One works out what would be the case if a possible answer were assumed (valuables missing if there has been a burglary in Disorder , earlier start to the rash if it is an allergic reaction to a sulfa drug in Rash ). Or one draws a conclusion once sufficient relevant evidence is gathered (take the subway in Transit , burglary in Disorder , discontinue blood pressure medication and new cream in Rash ).
- Knowledge : One uses stored knowledge of the subject-matter to generate possible answers or to infer what would be expected on the assumption of a particular answer (knowledge of a city’s public transit system in Transit , of the requirements for a flagpole in Ferryboat , of Boyle’s law in Bubbles , of allergic reactions in Rash ).
- Experimenting : One designs and carries out an experiment or a systematic observation to find out whether the results deduced from a possible answer will occur (looking at the location of the flagpole in relation to the pilot’s position in Ferryboat , putting an ice cube on top of a tumbler taken from hot water in Bubbles , measuring the height to which a suction pump will draw water at different elevations in Suction pump , noticing the spacing of diamonds when movement to or from a diamond lane is allowed in Diamond ).
- Consulting : One finds a source of information, gets the information from the source, and makes a judgment on whether to accept it. None of our 11 examples include searching for sources of information. In this respect they are unrepresentative, since most people nowadays have almost instant access to information relevant to answering any question, including many of those illustrated by the examples. However, Candidate includes the activities of extracting information from sources and evaluating its credibility.
- Identifying and analyzing arguments : One notices an argument and works out its structure and content as a preliminary to evaluating its strength. This activity is central to Candidate . It is an important part of a critical thinking process in which one surveys arguments for various positions on an issue.
- Judging : One makes a judgment on the basis of accumulated evidence and reasoning, such as the judgment in Ferryboat that the purpose of the pole is to provide direction to the pilot.
- Deciding : One makes a decision on what to do or on what policy to adopt, as in the decision in Transit to take the subway.
By definition, a person who does something voluntarily is both willing and able to do that thing at that time. Both the willingness and the ability contribute causally to the person’s action, in the sense that the voluntary action would not occur if either (or both) of these were lacking. For example, suppose that one is standing with one’s arms at one’s sides and one voluntarily lifts one’s right arm to an extended horizontal position. One would not do so if one were unable to lift one’s arm, if for example one’s right side was paralyzed as the result of a stroke. Nor would one do so if one were unwilling to lift one’s arm, if for example one were participating in a street demonstration at which a white supremacist was urging the crowd to lift their right arm in a Nazi salute and one were unwilling to express support in this way for the racist Nazi ideology. The same analysis applies to a voluntary mental process of thinking critically. It requires both willingness and ability to think critically, including willingness and ability to perform each of the mental acts that compose the process and to coordinate those acts in a sequence that is directed at resolving the initiating perplexity.
Consider willingness first. We can identify causal contributors to willingness to think critically by considering factors that would cause a person who was able to think critically about an issue nevertheless not to do so (Hamby 2014). For each factor, the opposite condition thus contributes causally to willingness to think critically on a particular occasion. For example, people who habitually jump to conclusions without considering alternatives will not think critically about issues that arise, even if they have the required abilities. The contrary condition of willingness to suspend judgment is thus a causal contributor to thinking critically.
Now consider ability. In contrast to the ability to move one’s arm, which can be completely absent because a stroke has left the arm paralyzed, the ability to think critically is a developed ability, whose absence is not a complete absence of ability to think but absence of ability to think well. We can identify the ability to think well directly, in terms of the norms and standards for good thinking. In general, to be able do well the thinking activities that can be components of a critical thinking process, one needs to know the concepts and principles that characterize their good performance, to recognize in particular cases that the concepts and principles apply, and to apply them. The knowledge, recognition and application may be procedural rather than declarative. It may be domain-specific rather than widely applicable, and in either case may need subject-matter knowledge, sometimes of a deep kind.
Reflections of the sort illustrated by the previous two paragraphs have led scholars to identify the knowledge, abilities and dispositions of a “critical thinker”, i.e., someone who thinks critically whenever it is appropriate to do so. We turn now to these three types of causal contributors to thinking critically. We start with dispositions, since arguably these are the most powerful contributors to being a critical thinker, can be fostered at an early stage of a child’s development, and are susceptible to general improvement (Glaser 1941: 175)
8. Critical Thinking Dispositions
Educational researchers use the term ‘dispositions’ broadly for the habits of mind and attitudes that contribute causally to being a critical thinker. Some writers (e.g., Paul & Elder 2006; Hamby 2014; Bailin & Battersby 2016a) propose to use the term ‘virtues’ for this dimension of a critical thinker. The virtues in question, although they are virtues of character, concern the person’s ways of thinking rather than the person’s ways of behaving towards others. They are not moral virtues but intellectual virtues, of the sort articulated by Zagzebski (1996) and discussed by Turri, Alfano, and Greco (2017).
On a realistic conception, thinking dispositions or intellectual virtues are real properties of thinkers. They are general tendencies, propensities, or inclinations to think in particular ways in particular circumstances, and can be genuinely explanatory (Siegel 1999). Sceptics argue that there is no evidence for a specific mental basis for the habits of mind that contribute to thinking critically, and that it is pedagogically misleading to posit such a basis (Bailin et al. 1999a). Whatever their status, critical thinking dispositions need motivation for their initial formation in a child—motivation that may be external or internal. As children develop, the force of habit will gradually become important in sustaining the disposition (Nieto & Valenzuela 2012). Mere force of habit, however, is unlikely to sustain critical thinking dispositions. Critical thinkers must value and enjoy using their knowledge and abilities to think things through for themselves. They must be committed to, and lovers of, inquiry.
A person may have a critical thinking disposition with respect to only some kinds of issues. For example, one could be open-minded about scientific issues but not about religious issues. Similarly, one could be confident in one’s ability to reason about the theological implications of the existence of evil in the world but not in one’s ability to reason about the best design for a guided ballistic missile.
Facione (1990a: 25) divides “affective dispositions” of critical thinking into approaches to life and living in general and approaches to specific issues, questions or problems. Adapting this distinction, one can usefully divide critical thinking dispositions into initiating dispositions (those that contribute causally to starting to think critically about an issue) and internal dispositions (those that contribute causally to doing a good job of thinking critically once one has started). The two categories are not mutually exclusive. For example, open-mindedness, in the sense of willingness to consider alternative points of view to one’s own, is both an initiating and an internal disposition.
Using the strategy of considering factors that would block people with the ability to think critically from doing so, we can identify as initiating dispositions for thinking critically attentiveness, a habit of inquiry, self-confidence, courage, open-mindedness, willingness to suspend judgment, trust in reason, wanting evidence for one’s beliefs, and seeking the truth. We consider briefly what each of these dispositions amounts to, in each case citing sources that acknowledge them.
- Attentiveness : One will not think critically if one fails to recognize an issue that needs to be thought through. For example, the pedestrian in Weather would not have looked up if he had not noticed that the air was suddenly cooler. To be a critical thinker, then, one needs to be habitually attentive to one’s surroundings, noticing not only what one senses but also sources of perplexity in messages received and in one’s own beliefs and attitudes (Facione 1990a: 25; Facione, Facione, & Giancarlo 2001).
- Habit of inquiry : Inquiry is effortful, and one needs an internal push to engage in it. For example, the student in Bubbles could easily have stopped at idle wondering about the cause of the bubbles rather than reasoning to a hypothesis, then designing and executing an experiment to test it. Thus willingness to think critically needs mental energy and initiative. What can supply that energy? Love of inquiry, or perhaps just a habit of inquiry. Hamby (2015) has argued that willingness to inquire is the central critical thinking virtue, one that encompasses all the others. It is recognized as a critical thinking disposition by Dewey (1910: 29; 1933: 35), Glaser (1941: 5), Ennis (1987: 12; 1991: 8), Facione (1990a: 25), Bailin et al. (1999b: 294), Halpern (1998: 452), and Facione, Facione, & Giancarlo (2001).
- Self-confidence : Lack of confidence in one’s abilities can block critical thinking. For example, if the woman in Rash lacked confidence in her ability to figure things out for herself, she might just have assumed that the rash on her chest was the allergic reaction to her medication against which the pharmacist had warned her. Thus willingness to think critically requires confidence in one’s ability to inquire (Facione 1990a: 25; Facione, Facione, & Giancarlo 2001).
- Courage : Fear of thinking for oneself can stop one from doing it. Thus willingness to think critically requires intellectual courage (Paul & Elder 2006: 16).
- Open-mindedness : A dogmatic attitude will impede thinking critically. For example, a person who adheres rigidly to a “pro-choice” position on the issue of the legal status of induced abortion is likely to be unwilling to consider seriously the issue of when in its development an unborn child acquires a moral right to life. Thus willingness to think critically requires open-mindedness, in the sense of a willingness to examine questions to which one already accepts an answer but which further evidence or reasoning might cause one to answer differently (Dewey 1933; Facione 1990a; Ennis 1991; Bailin et al. 1999b; Halpern 1998, Facione, Facione, & Giancarlo 2001). Paul (1981) emphasizes open-mindedness about alternative world-views, and recommends a dialectical approach to integrating such views as central to what he calls “strong sense” critical thinking. In three studies, Haran, Ritov, & Mellers (2013) found that actively open-minded thinking, including “the tendency to weigh new evidence against a favored belief, to spend sufficient time on a problem before giving up, and to consider carefully the opinions of others in forming one’s own”, led study participants to acquire information and thus to make accurate estimations.
- Willingness to suspend judgment : Premature closure on an initial solution will block critical thinking. Thus willingness to think critically requires a willingness to suspend judgment while alternatives are explored (Facione 1990a; Ennis 1991; Halpern 1998).
- Trust in reason : Since distrust in the processes of reasoned inquiry will dissuade one from engaging in it, trust in them is an initiating critical thinking disposition (Facione 1990a, 25; Bailin et al. 1999b: 294; Facione, Facione, & Giancarlo 2001; Paul & Elder 2006). In reaction to an allegedly exclusive emphasis on reason in critical thinking theory and pedagogy, Thayer-Bacon (2000) argues that intuition, imagination, and emotion have important roles to play in an adequate conception of critical thinking that she calls “constructive thinking”. From her point of view, critical thinking requires trust not only in reason but also in intuition, imagination, and emotion.
- Seeking the truth : If one does not care about the truth but is content to stick with one’s initial bias on an issue, then one will not think critically about it. Seeking the truth is thus an initiating critical thinking disposition (Bailin et al. 1999b: 294; Facione, Facione, & Giancarlo 2001). A disposition to seek the truth is implicit in more specific critical thinking dispositions, such as trying to be well-informed, considering seriously points of view other than one’s own, looking for alternatives, suspending judgment when the evidence is insufficient, and adopting a position when the evidence supporting it is sufficient.
Some of the initiating dispositions, such as open-mindedness and willingness to suspend judgment, are also internal critical thinking dispositions, in the sense of mental habits or attitudes that contribute causally to doing a good job of critical thinking once one starts the process. But there are many other internal critical thinking dispositions. Some of them are parasitic on one’s conception of good thinking. For example, it is constitutive of good thinking about an issue to formulate the issue clearly and to maintain focus on it. For this purpose, one needs not only the corresponding ability but also the corresponding disposition. Ennis (1991: 8) describes it as the disposition “to determine and maintain focus on the conclusion or question”, Facione (1990a: 25) as “clarity in stating the question or concern”. Other internal dispositions are motivators to continue or adjust the critical thinking process, such as willingness to persist in a complex task and willingness to abandon nonproductive strategies in an attempt to self-correct (Halpern 1998: 452). For a list of identified internal critical thinking dispositions, see the Supplement on Internal Critical Thinking Dispositions .
Some theorists postulate skills, i.e., acquired abilities, as operative in critical thinking. It is not obvious, however, that a good mental act is the exercise of a generic acquired skill. Inferring an expected time of arrival, as in Transit , has some generic components but also uses non-generic subject-matter knowledge. Bailin et al. (1999a) argue against viewing critical thinking skills as generic and discrete, on the ground that skilled performance at a critical thinking task cannot be separated from knowledge of concepts and from domain-specific principles of good thinking. Talk of skills, they concede, is unproblematic if it means merely that a person with critical thinking skills is capable of intelligent performance.
Despite such scepticism, theorists of critical thinking have listed as general contributors to critical thinking what they variously call abilities (Glaser 1941; Ennis 1962, 1991), skills (Facione 1990a; Halpern 1998) or competencies (Fisher & Scriven 1997). Amalgamating these lists would produce a confusing and chaotic cornucopia of more than 50 possible educational objectives, with only partial overlap among them. It makes sense instead to try to understand the reasons for the multiplicity and diversity, and to make a selection according to one’s own reasons for singling out abilities to be developed in a critical thinking curriculum. Two reasons for diversity among lists of critical thinking abilities are the underlying conception of critical thinking and the envisaged educational level. Appraisal-only conceptions, for example, involve a different suite of abilities than constructive-only conceptions. Some lists, such as those in (Glaser 1941), are put forward as educational objectives for secondary school students, whereas others are proposed as objectives for college students (e.g., Facione 1990a).
The abilities described in the remaining paragraphs of this section emerge from reflection on the general abilities needed to do well the thinking activities identified in section 6 as components of the critical thinking process described in section 5 . The derivation of each collection of abilities is accompanied by citation of sources that list such abilities and of standardized tests that claim to test them.
Observational abilities : Careful and accurate observation sometimes requires specialist expertise and practice, as in the case of observing birds and observing accident scenes. However, there are general abilities of noticing what one’s senses are picking up from one’s environment and of being able to articulate clearly and accurately to oneself and others what one has observed. It helps in exercising them to be able to recognize and take into account factors that make one’s observation less trustworthy, such as prior framing of the situation, inadequate time, deficient senses, poor observation conditions, and the like. It helps as well to be skilled at taking steps to make one’s observation more trustworthy, such as moving closer to get a better look, measuring something three times and taking the average, and checking what one thinks one is observing with someone else who is in a good position to observe it. It also helps to be skilled at recognizing respects in which one’s report of one’s observation involves inference rather than direct observation, so that one can then consider whether the inference is justified. These abilities come into play as well when one thinks about whether and with what degree of confidence to accept an observation report, for example in the study of history or in a criminal investigation or in assessing news reports. Observational abilities show up in some lists of critical thinking abilities (Ennis 1962: 90; Facione 1990a: 16; Ennis 1991: 9). There are items testing a person’s ability to judge the credibility of observation reports in the Cornell Critical Thinking Tests, Levels X and Z (Ennis & Millman 1971; Ennis, Millman, & Tomko 1985, 2005). Norris and King (1983, 1985, 1990a, 1990b) is a test of ability to appraise observation reports.
Emotional abilities : The emotions that drive a critical thinking process are perplexity or puzzlement, a wish to resolve it, and satisfaction at achieving the desired resolution. Children experience these emotions at an early age, without being trained to do so. Education that takes critical thinking as a goal needs only to channel these emotions and to make sure not to stifle them. Collaborative critical thinking benefits from ability to recognize one’s own and others’ emotional commitments and reactions.
Questioning abilities : A critical thinking process needs transformation of an inchoate sense of perplexity into a clear question. Formulating a question well requires not building in questionable assumptions, not prejudging the issue, and using language that in context is unambiguous and precise enough (Ennis 1962: 97; 1991: 9).
Imaginative abilities : Thinking directed at finding the correct causal explanation of a general phenomenon or particular event requires an ability to imagine possible explanations. Thinking about what policy or plan of action to adopt requires generation of options and consideration of possible consequences of each option. Domain knowledge is required for such creative activity, but a general ability to imagine alternatives is helpful and can be nurtured so as to become easier, quicker, more extensive, and deeper (Dewey 1910: 34–39; 1933: 40–47). Facione (1990a) and Halpern (1998) include the ability to imagine alternatives as a critical thinking ability.
Inferential abilities : The ability to draw conclusions from given information, and to recognize with what degree of certainty one’s own or others’ conclusions follow, is universally recognized as a general critical thinking ability. All 11 examples in section 2 of this article include inferences, some from hypotheses or options (as in Transit , Ferryboat and Disorder ), others from something observed (as in Weather and Rash ). None of these inferences is formally valid. Rather, they are licensed by general, sometimes qualified substantive rules of inference (Toulmin 1958) that rest on domain knowledge—that a bus trip takes about the same time in each direction, that the terminal of a wireless telegraph would be located on the highest possible place, that sudden cooling is often followed by rain, that an allergic reaction to a sulfa drug generally shows up soon after one starts taking it. It is a matter of controversy to what extent the specialized ability to deduce conclusions from premisses using formal rules of inference is needed for critical thinking. Dewey (1933) locates logical forms in setting out the products of reflection rather than in the process of reflection. Ennis (1981a), on the other hand, maintains that a liberally-educated person should have the following abilities: to translate natural-language statements into statements using the standard logical operators, to use appropriately the language of necessary and sufficient conditions, to deal with argument forms and arguments containing symbols, to determine whether in virtue of an argument’s form its conclusion follows necessarily from its premisses, to reason with logically complex propositions, and to apply the rules and procedures of deductive logic. Inferential abilities are recognized as critical thinking abilities by Glaser (1941: 6), Facione (1990a: 9), Ennis (1991: 9), Fisher & Scriven (1997: 99, 111), and Halpern (1998: 452). Items testing inferential abilities constitute two of the five subtests of the Watson Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal (Watson & Glaser 1980a, 1980b, 1994), two of the four sections in the Cornell Critical Thinking Test Level X (Ennis & Millman 1971; Ennis, Millman, & Tomko 1985, 2005), three of the seven sections in the Cornell Critical Thinking Test Level Z (Ennis & Millman 1971; Ennis, Millman, & Tomko 1985, 2005), 11 of the 34 items on Forms A and B of the California Critical Thinking Skills Test (Facione 1990b, 1992), and a high but variable proportion of the 25 selected-response questions in the Collegiate Learning Assessment (Council for Aid to Education 2017).
Experimenting abilities : Knowing how to design and execute an experiment is important not just in scientific research but also in everyday life, as in Rash . Dewey devoted a whole chapter of his How We Think (1910: 145–156; 1933: 190–202) to the superiority of experimentation over observation in advancing knowledge. Experimenting abilities come into play at one remove in appraising reports of scientific studies. Skill in designing and executing experiments includes the acknowledged abilities to appraise evidence (Glaser 1941: 6), to carry out experiments and to apply appropriate statistical inference techniques (Facione 1990a: 9), to judge inductions to an explanatory hypothesis (Ennis 1991: 9), and to recognize the need for an adequately large sample size (Halpern 1998). The Cornell Critical Thinking Test Level Z (Ennis & Millman 1971; Ennis, Millman, & Tomko 1985, 2005) includes four items (out of 52) on experimental design. The Collegiate Learning Assessment (Council for Aid to Education 2017) makes room for appraisal of study design in both its performance task and its selected-response questions.
Consulting abilities : Skill at consulting sources of information comes into play when one seeks information to help resolve a problem, as in Candidate . Ability to find and appraise information includes ability to gather and marshal pertinent information (Glaser 1941: 6), to judge whether a statement made by an alleged authority is acceptable (Ennis 1962: 84), to plan a search for desired information (Facione 1990a: 9), and to judge the credibility of a source (Ennis 1991: 9). Ability to judge the credibility of statements is tested by 24 items (out of 76) in the Cornell Critical Thinking Test Level X (Ennis & Millman 1971; Ennis, Millman, & Tomko 1985, 2005) and by four items (out of 52) in the Cornell Critical Thinking Test Level Z (Ennis & Millman 1971; Ennis, Millman, & Tomko 1985, 2005). The College Learning Assessment’s performance task requires evaluation of whether information in documents is credible or unreliable (Council for Aid to Education 2017).
Argument analysis abilities : The ability to identify and analyze arguments contributes to the process of surveying arguments on an issue in order to form one’s own reasoned judgment, as in Candidate . The ability to detect and analyze arguments is recognized as a critical thinking skill by Facione (1990a: 7–8), Ennis (1991: 9) and Halpern (1998). Five items (out of 34) on the California Critical Thinking Skills Test (Facione 1990b, 1992) test skill at argument analysis. The College Learning Assessment (Council for Aid to Education 2017) incorporates argument analysis in its selected-response tests of critical reading and evaluation and of critiquing an argument.
Judging skills and deciding skills : Skill at judging and deciding is skill at recognizing what judgment or decision the available evidence and argument supports, and with what degree of confidence. It is thus a component of the inferential skills already discussed.
Lists and tests of critical thinking abilities often include two more abilities: identifying assumptions and constructing and evaluating definitions.
In addition to dispositions and abilities, critical thinking needs knowledge: of critical thinking concepts, of critical thinking principles, and of the subject-matter of the thinking.
We can derive a short list of concepts whose understanding contributes to critical thinking from the critical thinking abilities described in the preceding section. Observational abilities require an understanding of the difference between observation and inference. Questioning abilities require an understanding of the concepts of ambiguity and vagueness. Inferential abilities require an understanding of the difference between conclusive and defeasible inference (traditionally, between deduction and induction), as well as of the difference between necessary and sufficient conditions. Experimenting abilities require an understanding of the concepts of hypothesis, null hypothesis, assumption and prediction, as well as of the concept of statistical significance and of its difference from importance. They also require an understanding of the difference between an experiment and an observational study, and in particular of the difference between a randomized controlled trial, a prospective correlational study and a retrospective (case-control) study. Argument analysis abilities require an understanding of the concepts of argument, premiss, assumption, conclusion and counter-consideration. Additional critical thinking concepts are proposed by Bailin et al. (1999b: 293), Fisher & Scriven (1997: 105–106), Black (2012), and Blair (2021).
According to Glaser (1941: 25), ability to think critically requires knowledge of the methods of logical inquiry and reasoning. If we review the list of abilities in the preceding section, however, we can see that some of them can be acquired and exercised merely through practice, possibly guided in an educational setting, followed by feedback. Searching intelligently for a causal explanation of some phenomenon or event requires that one consider a full range of possible causal contributors, but it seems more important that one implements this principle in one’s practice than that one is able to articulate it. What is important is “operational knowledge” of the standards and principles of good thinking (Bailin et al. 1999b: 291–293). But the development of such critical thinking abilities as designing an experiment or constructing an operational definition can benefit from learning their underlying theory. Further, explicit knowledge of quirks of human thinking seems useful as a cautionary guide. Human memory is not just fallible about details, as people learn from their own experiences of misremembering, but is so malleable that a detailed, clear and vivid recollection of an event can be a total fabrication (Loftus 2017). People seek or interpret evidence in ways that are partial to their existing beliefs and expectations, often unconscious of their “confirmation bias” (Nickerson 1998). Not only are people subject to this and other cognitive biases (Kahneman 2011), of which they are typically unaware, but it may be counter-productive for one to make oneself aware of them and try consciously to counteract them or to counteract social biases such as racial or sexual stereotypes (Kenyon & Beaulac 2014). It is helpful to be aware of these facts and of the superior effectiveness of blocking the operation of biases—for example, by making an immediate record of one’s observations, refraining from forming a preliminary explanatory hypothesis, blind refereeing, double-blind randomized trials, and blind grading of students’ work. It is also helpful to be aware of the prevalence of “noise” (unwanted unsystematic variability of judgments), of how to detect noise (through a noise audit), and of how to reduce noise: make accuracy the goal, think statistically, break a process of arriving at a judgment into independent tasks, resist premature intuitions, in a group get independent judgments first, favour comparative judgments and scales (Kahneman, Sibony, & Sunstein 2021). It is helpful as well to be aware of the concept of “bounded rationality” in decision-making and of the related distinction between “satisficing” and optimizing (Simon 1956; Gigerenzer 2001).
Critical thinking about an issue requires substantive knowledge of the domain to which the issue belongs. Critical thinking abilities are not a magic elixir that can be applied to any issue whatever by somebody who has no knowledge of the facts relevant to exploring that issue. For example, the student in Bubbles needed to know that gases do not penetrate solid objects like a glass, that air expands when heated, that the volume of an enclosed gas varies directly with its temperature and inversely with its pressure, and that hot objects will spontaneously cool down to the ambient temperature of their surroundings unless kept hot by insulation or a source of heat. Critical thinkers thus need a rich fund of subject-matter knowledge relevant to the variety of situations they encounter. This fact is recognized in the inclusion among critical thinking dispositions of a concern to become and remain generally well informed.
Experimental educational interventions, with control groups, have shown that education can improve critical thinking skills and dispositions, as measured by standardized tests. For information about these tests, see the Supplement on Assessment .
What educational methods are most effective at developing the dispositions, abilities and knowledge of a critical thinker? In a comprehensive meta-analysis of experimental and quasi-experimental studies of strategies for teaching students to think critically, Abrami et al. (2015) found that dialogue, anchored instruction, and mentoring each increased the effectiveness of the educational intervention, and that they were most effective when combined. They also found that in these studies a combination of separate instruction in critical thinking with subject-matter instruction in which students are encouraged to think critically was more effective than either by itself. However, the difference was not statistically significant; that is, it might have arisen by chance.
Most of these studies lack the longitudinal follow-up required to determine whether the observed differential improvements in critical thinking abilities or dispositions continue over time, for example until high school or college graduation. For details on studies of methods of developing critical thinking skills and dispositions, see the Supplement on Educational Methods .
Scholars have denied the generalizability of critical thinking abilities across subject domains, have alleged bias in critical thinking theory and pedagogy, and have investigated the relationship of critical thinking to other kinds of thinking.
McPeck (1981) attacked the thinking skills movement of the 1970s, including the critical thinking movement. He argued that there are no general thinking skills, since thinking is always thinking about some subject-matter. It is futile, he claimed, for schools and colleges to teach thinking as if it were a separate subject. Rather, teachers should lead their pupils to become autonomous thinkers by teaching school subjects in a way that brings out their cognitive structure and that encourages and rewards discussion and argument. As some of his critics (e.g., Paul 1985; Siegel 1985) pointed out, McPeck’s central argument needs elaboration, since it has obvious counter-examples in writing and speaking, for which (up to a certain level of complexity) there are teachable general abilities even though they are always about some subject-matter. To make his argument convincing, McPeck needs to explain how thinking differs from writing and speaking in a way that does not permit useful abstraction of its components from the subject-matters with which it deals. He has not done so. Nevertheless, his position that the dispositions and abilities of a critical thinker are best developed in the context of subject-matter instruction is shared by many theorists of critical thinking, including Dewey (1910, 1933), Glaser (1941), Passmore (1980), Weinstein (1990), Bailin et al. (1999b), and Willingham (2019).
McPeck’s challenge prompted reflection on the extent to which critical thinking is subject-specific. McPeck argued for a strong subject-specificity thesis, according to which it is a conceptual truth that all critical thinking abilities are specific to a subject. (He did not however extend his subject-specificity thesis to critical thinking dispositions. In particular, he took the disposition to suspend judgment in situations of cognitive dissonance to be a general disposition.) Conceptual subject-specificity is subject to obvious counter-examples, such as the general ability to recognize confusion of necessary and sufficient conditions. A more modest thesis, also endorsed by McPeck, is epistemological subject-specificity, according to which the norms of good thinking vary from one field to another. Epistemological subject-specificity clearly holds to a certain extent; for example, the principles in accordance with which one solves a differential equation are quite different from the principles in accordance with which one determines whether a painting is a genuine Picasso. But the thesis suffers, as Ennis (1989) points out, from vagueness of the concept of a field or subject and from the obvious existence of inter-field principles, however broadly the concept of a field is construed. For example, the principles of hypothetico-deductive reasoning hold for all the varied fields in which such reasoning occurs. A third kind of subject-specificity is empirical subject-specificity, according to which as a matter of empirically observable fact a person with the abilities and dispositions of a critical thinker in one area of investigation will not necessarily have them in another area of investigation.
The thesis of empirical subject-specificity raises the general problem of transfer. If critical thinking abilities and dispositions have to be developed independently in each school subject, how are they of any use in dealing with the problems of everyday life and the political and social issues of contemporary society, most of which do not fit into the framework of a traditional school subject? Proponents of empirical subject-specificity tend to argue that transfer is more likely to occur if there is critical thinking instruction in a variety of domains, with explicit attention to dispositions and abilities that cut across domains. But evidence for this claim is scanty. There is a need for well-designed empirical studies that investigate the conditions that make transfer more likely.
It is common ground in debates about the generality or subject-specificity of critical thinking dispositions and abilities that critical thinking about any topic requires background knowledge about the topic. For example, the most sophisticated understanding of the principles of hypothetico-deductive reasoning is of no help unless accompanied by some knowledge of what might be plausible explanations of some phenomenon under investigation.
Critics have objected to bias in the theory, pedagogy and practice of critical thinking. Commentators (e.g., Alston 1995; Ennis 1998) have noted that anyone who takes a position has a bias in the neutral sense of being inclined in one direction rather than others. The critics, however, are objecting to bias in the pejorative sense of an unjustified favoring of certain ways of knowing over others, frequently alleging that the unjustly favoured ways are those of a dominant sex or culture (Bailin 1995). These ways favour:
- reinforcement of egocentric and sociocentric biases over dialectical engagement with opposing world-views (Paul 1981, 1984; Warren 1998)
- distancing from the object of inquiry over closeness to it (Martin 1992; Thayer-Bacon 1992)
- indifference to the situation of others over care for them (Martin 1992)
- orientation to thought over orientation to action (Martin 1992)
- being reasonable over caring to understand people’s ideas (Thayer-Bacon 1993)
- being neutral and objective over being embodied and situated (Thayer-Bacon 1995a)
- doubting over believing (Thayer-Bacon 1995b)
- reason over emotion, imagination and intuition (Thayer-Bacon 2000)
- solitary thinking over collaborative thinking (Thayer-Bacon 2000)
- written and spoken assignments over other forms of expression (Alston 2001)
- attention to written and spoken communications over attention to human problems (Alston 2001)
- winning debates in the public sphere over making and understanding meaning (Alston 2001)
A common thread in this smorgasbord of accusations is dissatisfaction with focusing on the logical analysis and evaluation of reasoning and arguments. While these authors acknowledge that such analysis and evaluation is part of critical thinking and should be part of its conceptualization and pedagogy, they insist that it is only a part. Paul (1981), for example, bemoans the tendency of atomistic teaching of methods of analyzing and evaluating arguments to turn students into more able sophists, adept at finding fault with positions and arguments with which they disagree but even more entrenched in the egocentric and sociocentric biases with which they began. Martin (1992) and Thayer-Bacon (1992) cite with approval the self-reported intimacy with their subject-matter of leading researchers in biology and medicine, an intimacy that conflicts with the distancing allegedly recommended in standard conceptions and pedagogy of critical thinking. Thayer-Bacon (2000) contrasts the embodied and socially embedded learning of her elementary school students in a Montessori school, who used their imagination, intuition and emotions as well as their reason, with conceptions of critical thinking as
thinking that is used to critique arguments, offer justifications, and make judgments about what are the good reasons, or the right answers. (Thayer-Bacon 2000: 127–128)
Alston (2001) reports that her students in a women’s studies class were able to see the flaws in the Cinderella myth that pervades much romantic fiction but in their own romantic relationships still acted as if all failures were the woman’s fault and still accepted the notions of love at first sight and living happily ever after. Students, she writes, should
be able to connect their intellectual critique to a more affective, somatic, and ethical account of making risky choices that have sexist, racist, classist, familial, sexual, or other consequences for themselves and those both near and far… critical thinking that reads arguments, texts, or practices merely on the surface without connections to feeling/desiring/doing or action lacks an ethical depth that should infuse the difference between mere cognitive activity and something we want to call critical thinking. (Alston 2001: 34)
Some critics portray such biases as unfair to women. Thayer-Bacon (1992), for example, has charged modern critical thinking theory with being sexist, on the ground that it separates the self from the object and causes one to lose touch with one’s inner voice, and thus stigmatizes women, who (she asserts) link self to object and listen to their inner voice. Her charge does not imply that women as a group are on average less able than men to analyze and evaluate arguments. Facione (1990c) found no difference by sex in performance on his California Critical Thinking Skills Test. Kuhn (1991: 280–281) found no difference by sex in either the disposition or the competence to engage in argumentative thinking.
The critics propose a variety of remedies for the biases that they allege. In general, they do not propose to eliminate or downplay critical thinking as an educational goal. Rather, they propose to conceptualize critical thinking differently and to change its pedagogy accordingly. Their pedagogical proposals arise logically from their objections. They can be summarized as follows:
- Focus on argument networks with dialectical exchanges reflecting contesting points of view rather than on atomic arguments, so as to develop “strong sense” critical thinking that transcends egocentric and sociocentric biases (Paul 1981, 1984).
- Foster closeness to the subject-matter and feeling connected to others in order to inform a humane democracy (Martin 1992).
- Develop “constructive thinking” as a social activity in a community of physically embodied and socially embedded inquirers with personal voices who value not only reason but also imagination, intuition and emotion (Thayer-Bacon 2000).
- In developing critical thinking in school subjects, treat as important neither skills nor dispositions but opening worlds of meaning (Alston 2001).
- Attend to the development of critical thinking dispositions as well as skills, and adopt the “critical pedagogy” practised and advocated by Freire (1968 ) and hooks (1994) (Dalgleish, Girard, & Davies 2017).
A common thread in these proposals is treatment of critical thinking as a social, interactive, personally engaged activity like that of a quilting bee or a barn-raising (Thayer-Bacon 2000) rather than as an individual, solitary, distanced activity symbolized by Rodin’s The Thinker . One can get a vivid description of education with the former type of goal from the writings of bell hooks (1994, 2010). Critical thinking for her is open-minded dialectical exchange across opposing standpoints and from multiple perspectives, a conception similar to Paul’s “strong sense” critical thinking (Paul 1981). She abandons the structure of domination in the traditional classroom. In an introductory course on black women writers, for example, she assigns students to write an autobiographical paragraph about an early racial memory, then to read it aloud as the others listen, thus affirming the uniqueness and value of each voice and creating a communal awareness of the diversity of the group’s experiences (hooks 1994: 84). Her “engaged pedagogy” is thus similar to the “freedom under guidance” implemented in John Dewey’s Laboratory School of Chicago in the late 1890s and early 1900s. It incorporates the dialogue, anchored instruction, and mentoring that Abrami (2015) found to be most effective in improving critical thinking skills and dispositions.
What is the relationship of critical thinking to problem solving, decision-making, higher-order thinking, creative thinking, and other recognized types of thinking? One’s answer to this question obviously depends on how one defines the terms used in the question. If critical thinking is conceived broadly to cover any careful thinking about any topic for any purpose, then problem solving and decision making will be kinds of critical thinking, if they are done carefully. Historically, ‘critical thinking’ and ‘problem solving’ were two names for the same thing. If critical thinking is conceived more narrowly as consisting solely of appraisal of intellectual products, then it will be disjoint with problem solving and decision making, which are constructive.
Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives used the phrase “intellectual abilities and skills” for what had been labeled “critical thinking” by some, “reflective thinking” by Dewey and others, and “problem solving” by still others (Bloom et al. 1956: 38). Thus, the so-called “higher-order thinking skills” at the taxonomy’s top levels of analysis, synthesis and evaluation are just critical thinking skills, although they do not come with general criteria for their assessment (Ennis 1981b). The revised version of Bloom’s taxonomy (Anderson et al. 2001) likewise treats critical thinking as cutting across those types of cognitive process that involve more than remembering (Anderson et al. 2001: 269–270). For details, see the Supplement on History .
As to creative thinking, it overlaps with critical thinking (Bailin 1987, 1988). Thinking about the explanation of some phenomenon or event, as in Ferryboat , requires creative imagination in constructing plausible explanatory hypotheses. Likewise, thinking about a policy question, as in Candidate , requires creativity in coming up with options. Conversely, creativity in any field needs to be balanced by critical appraisal of the draft painting or novel or mathematical theory.
- Abrami, Philip C., Robert M. Bernard, Eugene Borokhovski, David I. Waddington, C. Anne Wade, and Tonje Person, 2015, “Strategies for Teaching Students to Think Critically: A Meta-analysis”, Review of Educational Research , 85(2): 275–314. doi:10.3102/0034654314551063
- Aikin, Wilford M., 1942, The Story of the Eight-year Study, with Conclusions and Recommendations , Volume I of Adventure in American Education , New York and London: Harper & Brothers. [ Aikin 1942 available online ]
- Alston, Kal, 1995, “Begging the Question: Is Critical Thinking Biased?”, Educational Theory , 45(2): 225–233. doi:10.1111/j.1741-5446.1995.00225.x
- –––, 2001, “Re/Thinking Critical Thinking: The Seductions of Everyday Life”, Studies in Philosophy and Education , 20(1): 27–40. doi:10.1023/A:1005247128053
- American Educational Research Association, 2014, Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing / American Educational Research Association, American Psychological Association, National Council on Measurement in Education , Washington, DC: American Educational Research Association.
- Anderson, Lorin W., David R. Krathwohl, Peter W. Airiasian, Kathleen A. Cruikshank, Richard E. Mayer, Paul R. Pintrich, James Raths, and Merlin C. Wittrock, 2001, A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching and Assessing: A Revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives , New York: Longman, complete edition.
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Getting to Know Your Resources on Campus
UConn Jeopardy (Fall '23) and Answer Sheet
The National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) data have shown the more that students are involved on campus, the more likely they will stay enrolled at the institution and earn better grades (Kuh, Cruce, Shoup, Kinizie, & Gonyea, 2008). An involved student is “one who devotes considerable energy to academics, spends much time on campus, participates actively in student organizations and activities, and interacts often with faculty” (Astin, 1984, p. 292).
FYE Challenge Group assignment
Getting Out There: Friendships & Bucket List
Involvement Fair - Getting Involved assignment
Involvement Fair Scavenger Hunt
UConn Involvement Plan
Research Connections Scavenger Hunt
Mapping Your UConn Journey Lesson Plan
Working with FYE Mentors
Month of Discovery in October
"October will connect you to the opportunities you seek in enrichment, research, innovation, and creativity at events designed to offer the most impactful and informative experiences. If you participate in the Month of Discovery, you will find out how you can enhance your college journey in a research opportunity, passion project, classes, at additional events, through a grant, with a professor, and more" ("Month of Discovery," 2021).
Month of Discovery in October Activity.
Month of Discovery Assignment.
FYE UConn Discovery Assignment.
Research Connections Scavenger Hunt.
Pair and Share Connection.
Month of Discovery Flyer.
Getting Involved Assignment
Ideal Things to Do in Your First Class
- What’s In A Name?
- Four Cards Icebreaker
- Behind the Curtain Icebreaker
Goal Setting, Motivation, and Character
“Goal setting and motivation in the college world depends on our definition of success. How might our definition of success change our goals and motivation?" (Harackiewicz, 1998)
- Setting and Sticking to Goals
- Goal Setting - three part activity
- Goal Setting Exercises
- Goal Setting Index Card Activity
- 47 Goal Setting Exercises & Tools
- Goal Setting Template
- Goal Setting Lesson Plan
- Choose Your Own UConn Adventure (CYOUA)
- Three Things Reflection
Values Clarification Carousel activity
- Values Lesson
- Ikigai Assignment
- Your Future Planned Now
- Holistic Planning
- Creating the Life of Your Dreams
- Getting Out There: Friendships & Bucket List lesson plan
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
How do you define diversity? How do your students define diversity? As your students become members of our University, these types of discussions become important to their experience in our community. It is important that our students join us in promoting and nurturing different perspectives that are enabled through differences in culture, experience, and values. This is a core value of FYP&LC as well as the University of Connecticut as a whole, which is why you are strongly encouraged to incorporate additional cultural competency lessons into your course beyond the required Critical Reflection Assignment.
Ways to Introduce Conversations About Diversity and Privilege
- Activity adaptation: A Step Above
- Activity: How Diverse is Your Universe
- Activity: Diversity and Inclusion BINGO
- Group Icebreakers 1
- Group Icebreakers 2
- Personal Identity Wheel
- Racial Bias Test
- Interview Assignment
- Empowerment Plan
Additional Instructor Resources
- NASPA Inclusion 101 Training Guide
- USC Diversity Toolkit
- SJSU FYE Toolkit for Engaging Campus Diversity
- An Instructor’s Guide to Understanding Privilege
- Dialoguing about Race and Racism
100 Person World
Move Into the Circle
Diversity and Inclusion Lesson - Silent Interviewing
Land Acknowledgement and Sharing History
Sharing Historical Facts
U.S. Culture Lesson Plan Document - for international students
- U.S. Culture Powerpoint Presentation
Understanding White Privilege and Social Identities Lesson Plan
- Social Identities Wheel Activity
- Social Identities Wheel Discussion Questions
- Identity Choices Activity
Collect a Passport Stamp Activity
My Identity Tree Activity
Academic Performance & Enrichment
The class syllabus is a vital tool to supplement students' understanding of course expectations, materials, topics, and scheduling. Ensuring that students both understand the weight syllabi hold and the importance of reading them thoroughly is key to fostering early success in time management and course comprehension. Use this activity to help students learn and retain the information in their own syllabi.
The College Syllabi Assignment
“ ...students think they know more about accessing information and conducting library research than they are able to demonstrate when put to the test” (Maughan, 2001). We can’t make the assumption that students are able to navigate the UConn Libraries and other resources on their own. Let’s lend a helping hand to our students to enrich their academic experience with all of the available resources UConn has to offer.
Information Literacy Scavenger Hunt
Student Enrichment Panel
Strategic Learning is more than textbook reading strategies. Many high school scholars enter their college career as “passive learners who possess rote-level strategies for learning” that may have worked in high school, but make learning and studying much more difficult at the college level " (Simpson, 2000).
Reading Speed Activity with Reading Speed Packet and Reading Rate Handout ( from Jamison Judd)
What Type of Learner Are You assessment
The Five-Day Study Plan
This recommended component involves a partnership with the Writing Center. Students will work on writing creatively and effectively based on one of the eight prompts offered for this assignment. After writing a draft, the student should schedule an appointment with a Writing Center tutor.
- FYE Writing Center Assignment
Health & Wellness
Being a healthy college student is no longer only focused on not gaining the dreaded Freshman-15. Student’s health, wellness and safety focuses on all aspects of the student: from physical to emotional to even mental health.
Catching All the Balls
One Week Wellness Log
Stress Management Lesson Plan with Stress Management PPT
How to Make Stress Your Friend video with related lesson plan ideas on stress
Health and Wellness Presentation
- Assessing Your Life Balance - Wellness Wheel Activity
Balancing Your Realms of Responsibility Presentation
Critical and Creative Thinking
The objective of this component is to help student recognize the ways in which critical and creative thinking, often considered to be daunting elements of academic inquiry, are actually vital life skills. You are encouraged to incorporate critical and creative thinking throughout your course, encouraging students to look at their college experience and the world from many angles, utilizing the best resources at their disposal. Ideally, this practice should be introduced early and assessed through an assignment you choose.
Defining Critical & Creative Thinking
Narratives through Diverse Perspectives
Dialoguing and Community Building
- The Alligator River Story - activity
- Analyzing Behaviors - TRIZ activity
- In the Mind of the Beholder - activity
- My Story activity
- Separating Fact from Inference - activity
- Story Circles activity
- What is in a Name activity
- Wrinkles in the Timeline activity
- Translating Translation activity
- Life History exercise
- We’re Not Really Strangers list of questions
Telling Our Stories of Change - closing out the semester
- Discussing Dialoguing lesson plan , with Discussing Dialoguing - Quotes handout
- Fishbowl Small Talks - lesson plan
- Silent Interview lesson plan
Educated Media Consumption
- Online Fake News quiz
Reading and Resources:
- Article - Sources of Falsehoods Spread by Text, Email, WhatsApp, and TikTok
- Article - 4 Tips for Spotting a Fake News Story
- Article - How to Spot Real and Fake News
- Article - List of Fake News Websites
- Infographic - How to Spot Fake News Infographic
- Research - Evaluating Information: The Cornerstone of Civic Online Reasoning (Stamford History Education Group)
- Resource - False, Misleading, Clickbait-y, and/or Satirical “News” Sources
- TedEd Video - How false news can spread - Noah Tavlin
- TedEd Video - How to choose your news
“Students suffer from a lack of financial literacy that leaves them unable to navigate the complex maze of financial aid applications and loan options, further adding to their money troubles even after they leave school.” Fiscal literacy isn’t just how to pay off student loans when students are out of college. Managing their finances throughout college is just as important and many student need help navigating that path, which will establish a successful financial management foundation for post-graduation.
The Cost of Missing Class
UConn Fee Bill Literacy
Scholarship Search Activity
As students transition into the University setting and begin their college experience, many of them struggle with self-awareness because it is not something they have had to deal with in the past. Self-awareness has been shown to have a huge impact on students learning processes and outcomes. Learning about one’s own personal needs, strengths and weakness is just the start to becoming self-aware. (Steiner, 2014)
True Colors curriculum -
- History of True Colors
- True Colors Facilitation Guide - PDF
- True Colors Facilitation Guide - Doc
- True Colors Activity
- True Colors - Survey Handouts
- True Colors - PowerPoint
Soundtrack of My Life
Envisioning Self Love
W-Curve Handout , Initiation activity , and Project with Rubric by Molly Woods
Conflict Style Assessment
Weekly Check-Ins using Flipgrid
International Lesson Plans
Current Issue in the Field paper
Exploring Major-Based Campus Involvement presentations
LC Innovation Zone - plan a class workshop in the LCIZ, with a focus on skills helpful in your field!
Major Related Event Presentation
Professional Article presentations
Professional Organization paper
Faculty Interview video
Students usually have a long list of beliefs about majors and many of them are wrong. Deciding on a major and planning for a future career can be very stressful for students who feel as if they have to go at it alone and are unsure of how to work with their advisor. More than half of our students will most likely change their major, so we should give them the tools they need to make that decision.
Elevator Pitch Lesson Plan
Toll Booth Worker
Values Card Sort
Your Passion Your Life
Career Modules from the Center for Career Development:
- Informational Interview Module Outline
- Cover Letter Module Outline
- LinkedIn Module
- Interviewing Module Outline
Professional Development and LinkedIn
Time Management Full Lesson Materials
- Semester at a Glance
Group Poster Session assignment
- Preparing Yourself to Poster handout
Create Your Own Assignment
Digital Storytelling Project with Grading Sheet
My College Experience Envisioned
The Power of My Story
Three Things Reflection
1 Second Everyday Semester Project
With larry ferlazzo.
In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to [email protected]. Read more from this blog.
Eight Instructional Strategies for Promoting Critical Thinking
- Share article
(This is the first post in a three-part series.)
The new question-of-the-week is:
What is critical thinking and how can we integrate it into the classroom?
This three-part series will explore what critical thinking is, if it can be specifically taught and, if so, how can teachers do so in their classrooms.
Today’s guests are Dara Laws Savage, Patrick Brown, Meg Riordan, Ph.D., and Dr. PJ Caposey. Dara, Patrick, and Meg were also guests on my 10-minute BAM! Radio Show . You can also find a list of, and links to, previous shows here.
You might also be interested in The Best Resources On Teaching & Learning Critical Thinking In The Classroom .
Dara Laws Savage is an English teacher at the Early College High School at Delaware State University, where she serves as a teacher and instructional coach and lead mentor. Dara has been teaching for 25 years (career preparation, English, photography, yearbook, newspaper, and graphic design) and has presented nationally on project-based learning and technology integration:
There is so much going on right now and there is an overload of information for us to process. Did you ever stop to think how our students are processing current events? They see news feeds, hear news reports, and scan photos and posts, but are they truly thinking about what they are hearing and seeing?
I tell my students that my job is not to give them answers but to teach them how to think about what they read and hear. So what is critical thinking and how can we integrate it into the classroom? There are just as many definitions of critical thinking as there are people trying to define it. However, the Critical Think Consortium focuses on the tools to create a thinking-based classroom rather than a definition: “Shape the climate to support thinking, create opportunities for thinking, build capacity to think, provide guidance to inform thinking.” Using these four criteria and pairing them with current events, teachers easily create learning spaces that thrive on thinking and keep students engaged.
One successful technique I use is the FIRE Write. Students are given a quote, a paragraph, an excerpt, or a photo from the headlines. Students are asked to F ocus and respond to the selection for three minutes. Next, students are asked to I dentify a phrase or section of the photo and write for two minutes. Third, students are asked to R eframe their response around a specific word, phrase, or section within their previous selection. Finally, students E xchange their thoughts with a classmate. Within the exchange, students also talk about how the selection connects to what we are covering in class.
There was a controversial Pepsi ad in 2017 involving Kylie Jenner and a protest with a police presence. The imagery in the photo was strikingly similar to a photo that went viral with a young lady standing opposite a police line. Using that image from a current event engaged my students and gave them the opportunity to critically think about events of the time.
Here are the two photos and a student response:
F - Focus on both photos and respond for three minutes
In the first picture, you see a strong and courageous black female, bravely standing in front of two officers in protest. She is risking her life to do so. Iesha Evans is simply proving to the world she does NOT mean less because she is black … and yet officers are there to stop her. She did not step down. In the picture below, you see Kendall Jenner handing a police officer a Pepsi. Maybe this wouldn’t be a big deal, except this was Pepsi’s weak, pathetic, and outrageous excuse of a commercial that belittles the whole movement of people fighting for their lives.
I - Identify a word or phrase, underline it, then write about it for two minutes
A white, privileged female in place of a fighting black woman was asking for trouble. A struggle we are continuously fighting every day, and they make a mockery of it. “I know what will work! Here Mr. Police Officer! Drink some Pepsi!” As if. Pepsi made a fool of themselves, and now their already dwindling fan base continues to ever shrink smaller.
R - Reframe your thoughts by choosing a different word, then write about that for one minute
You don’t know privilege until it’s gone. You don’t know privilege while it’s there—but you can and will be made accountable and aware. Don’t use it for evil. You are not stupid. Use it to do something. Kendall could’ve NOT done the commercial. Kendall could’ve released another commercial standing behind a black woman. Anything!
Exchange - Remember to discuss how this connects to our school song project and our previous discussions?
This connects two ways - 1) We want to convey a strong message. Be powerful. Show who we are. And Pepsi definitely tried. … Which leads to the second connection. 2) Not mess up and offend anyone, as had the one alma mater had been linked to black minstrels. We want to be amazing, but we have to be smart and careful and make sure we include everyone who goes to our school and everyone who may go to our school.
As a final step, students read and annotate the full article and compare it to their initial response.
Using current events and critical-thinking strategies like FIRE writing helps create a learning space where thinking is the goal rather than a score on a multiple-choice assessment. Critical-thinking skills can cross over to any of students’ other courses and into life outside the classroom. After all, we as teachers want to help the whole student be successful, and critical thinking is an important part of navigating life after they leave our classrooms.
Patrick Brown is the executive director of STEM and CTE for the Fort Zumwalt school district in Missouri and an experienced educator and author :
Planning for critical thinking focuses on teaching the most crucial science concepts, practices, and logical-thinking skills as well as the best use of instructional time. One way to ensure that lessons maintain a focus on critical thinking is to focus on the instructional sequence used to teach.
Explore-before-explain teaching is all about promoting critical thinking for learners to better prepare students for the reality of their world. What having an explore-before-explain mindset means is that in our planning, we prioritize giving students firsthand experiences with data, allow students to construct evidence-based claims that focus on conceptual understanding, and challenge students to discuss and think about the why behind phenomena.
Just think of the critical thinking that has to occur for students to construct a scientific claim. 1) They need the opportunity to collect data, analyze it, and determine how to make sense of what the data may mean. 2) With data in hand, students can begin thinking about the validity and reliability of their experience and information collected. 3) They can consider what differences, if any, they might have if they completed the investigation again. 4) They can scrutinize outlying data points for they may be an artifact of a true difference that merits further exploration of a misstep in the procedure, measuring device, or measurement. All of these intellectual activities help them form more robust understanding and are evidence of their critical thinking.
In explore-before-explain teaching, all of these hard critical-thinking tasks come before teacher explanations of content. Whether we use discovery experiences, problem-based learning, and or inquiry-based activities, strategies that are geared toward helping students construct understanding promote critical thinking because students learn content by doing the practices valued in the field to generate knowledge.
An Issue of Equity
Meg Riordan, Ph.D., is the chief learning officer at The Possible Project, an out-of-school program that collaborates with youth to build entrepreneurial skills and mindsets and provides pathways to careers and long-term economic prosperity. She has been in the field of education for over 25 years as a middle and high school teacher, school coach, college professor, regional director of N.Y.C. Outward Bound Schools, and director of external research with EL Education:
Although critical thinking often defies straightforward definition, most in the education field agree it consists of several components: reasoning, problem-solving, and decisionmaking, plus analysis and evaluation of information, such that multiple sides of an issue can be explored. It also includes dispositions and “the willingness to apply critical-thinking principles, rather than fall back on existing unexamined beliefs, or simply believe what you’re told by authority figures.”
Despite variation in definitions, critical thinking is nonetheless promoted as an essential outcome of students’ learning—we want to see students and adults demonstrate it across all fields, professions, and in their personal lives. Yet there is simultaneously a rationing of opportunities in schools for students of color, students from under-resourced communities, and other historically marginalized groups to deeply learn and practice critical thinking.
For example, many of our most underserved students often spend class time filling out worksheets, promoting high compliance but low engagement, inquiry, critical thinking, or creation of new ideas. At a time in our world when college and careers are critical for participation in society and the global, knowledge-based economy, far too many students struggle within classrooms and schools that reinforce low-expectations and inequity.
If educators aim to prepare all students for an ever-evolving marketplace and develop skills that will be valued no matter what tomorrow’s jobs are, then we must move critical thinking to the forefront of classroom experiences. And educators must design learning to cultivate it.
So, what does that really look like?
Unpack and define critical thinking
To understand critical thinking, educators need to first unpack and define its components. What exactly are we looking for when we speak about reasoning or exploring multiple perspectives on an issue? How does problem-solving show up in English, math, science, art, or other disciplines—and how is it assessed? At Two Rivers, an EL Education school, the faculty identified five constructs of critical thinking, defined each, and created rubrics to generate a shared picture of quality for teachers and students. The rubrics were then adapted across grade levels to indicate students’ learning progressions.
At Avenues World School, critical thinking is one of the Avenues World Elements and is an enduring outcome embedded in students’ early experiences through 12th grade. For instance, a kindergarten student may be expected to “identify cause and effect in familiar contexts,” while an 8th grader should demonstrate the ability to “seek out sufficient evidence before accepting a claim as true,” “identify bias in claims and evidence,” and “reconsider strongly held points of view in light of new evidence.”
When faculty and students embrace a common vision of what critical thinking looks and sounds like and how it is assessed, educators can then explicitly design learning experiences that call for students to employ critical-thinking skills. This kind of work must occur across all schools and programs, especially those serving large numbers of students of color. As Linda Darling-Hammond asserts , “Schools that serve large numbers of students of color are least likely to offer the kind of curriculum needed to ... help students attain the [critical-thinking] skills needed in a knowledge work economy. ”
So, what can it look like to create those kinds of learning experiences?
Designing experiences for critical thinking
After defining a shared understanding of “what” critical thinking is and “how” it shows up across multiple disciplines and grade levels, it is essential to create learning experiences that impel students to cultivate, practice, and apply these skills. There are several levers that offer pathways for teachers to promote critical thinking in lessons:
1.Choose Compelling Topics: Keep it relevant
A key Common Core State Standard asks for students to “write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.” That might not sound exciting or culturally relevant. But a learning experience designed for a 12th grade humanities class engaged learners in a compelling topic— policing in America —to analyze and evaluate multiple texts (including primary sources) and share the reasoning for their perspectives through discussion and writing. Students grappled with ideas and their beliefs and employed deep critical-thinking skills to develop arguments for their claims. Embedding critical-thinking skills in curriculum that students care about and connect with can ignite powerful learning experiences.
2. Make Local Connections: Keep it real
At The Possible Project , an out-of-school-time program designed to promote entrepreneurial skills and mindsets, students in a recent summer online program (modified from in-person due to COVID-19) explored the impact of COVID-19 on their communities and local BIPOC-owned businesses. They learned interviewing skills through a partnership with Everyday Boston , conducted virtual interviews with entrepreneurs, evaluated information from their interviews and local data, and examined their previously held beliefs. They created blog posts and videos to reflect on their learning and consider how their mindsets had changed as a result of the experience. In this way, we can design powerful community-based learning and invite students into productive struggle with multiple perspectives.
3. Create Authentic Projects: Keep it rigorous
At Big Picture Learning schools, students engage in internship-based learning experiences as a central part of their schooling. Their school-based adviser and internship-based mentor support them in developing real-world projects that promote deeper learning and critical-thinking skills. Such authentic experiences teach “young people to be thinkers, to be curious, to get from curiosity to creation … and it helps students design a learning experience that answers their questions, [providing an] opportunity to communicate it to a larger audience—a major indicator of postsecondary success.” Even in a remote environment, we can design projects that ask more of students than rote memorization and that spark critical thinking.
Our call to action is this: As educators, we need to make opportunities for critical thinking available not only to the affluent or those fortunate enough to be placed in advanced courses. The tools are available, let’s use them. Let’s interrogate our current curriculum and design learning experiences that engage all students in real, relevant, and rigorous experiences that require critical thinking and prepare them for promising postsecondary pathways.
Critical Thinking & Student Engagement
Dr. PJ Caposey is an award-winning educator, keynote speaker, consultant, and author of seven books who currently serves as the superintendent of schools for the award-winning Meridian CUSD 223 in northwest Illinois. You can find PJ on most social-media platforms as MCUSDSupe:
When I start my keynote on student engagement, I invite two people up on stage and give them each five paper balls to shoot at a garbage can also conveniently placed on stage. Contestant One shoots their shot, and the audience gives approval. Four out of 5 is a heckuva score. Then just before Contestant Two shoots, I blindfold them and start moving the garbage can back and forth. I usually try to ensure that they can at least make one of their shots. Nobody is successful in this unfair environment.
I thank them and send them back to their seats and then explain that this little activity was akin to student engagement. While we all know we want student engagement, we are shooting at different targets. More importantly, for teachers, it is near impossible for them to hit a target that is moving and that they cannot see.
Within the world of education and particularly as educational leaders, we have failed to simplify what student engagement looks like, and it is impossible to define or articulate what student engagement looks like if we cannot clearly articulate what critical thinking is and looks like in a classroom. Because, simply, without critical thought, there is no engagement.
The good news here is that critical thought has been defined and placed into taxonomies for decades already. This is not something new and not something that needs to be redefined. I am a Bloom’s person, but there is nothing wrong with DOK or some of the other taxonomies, either. To be precise, I am a huge fan of Daggett’s Rigor and Relevance Framework. I have used that as a core element of my practice for years, and it has shaped who I am as an instructional leader.
So, in order to explain critical thought, a teacher or a leader must familiarize themselves with these tried and true taxonomies. Easy, right? Yes, sort of. The issue is not understanding what critical thought is; it is the ability to integrate it into the classrooms. In order to do so, there are a four key steps every educator must take.
- Integrating critical thought/rigor into a lesson does not happen by chance, it happens by design. Planning for critical thought and engagement is much different from planning for a traditional lesson. In order to plan for kids to think critically, you have to provide a base of knowledge and excellent prompts to allow them to explore their own thinking in order to analyze, evaluate, or synthesize information.
- SIDE NOTE – Bloom’s verbs are a great way to start when writing objectives, but true planning will take you deeper than this.
- If the questions and prompts given in a classroom have correct answers or if the teacher ends up answering their own questions, the lesson will lack critical thought and rigor.
- Script five questions forcing higher-order thought prior to every lesson. Experienced teachers may not feel they need this, but it helps to create an effective habit.
- If lessons are rigorous and assessments are not, students will do well on their assessments, and that may not be an accurate representation of the knowledge and skills they have mastered. If lessons are easy and assessments are rigorous, the exact opposite will happen. When deciding to increase critical thought, it must happen in all three phases of the game: planning, instruction, and assessment.
TALK TIME / CONTROL
- To increase rigor, the teacher must DO LESS. This feels counterintuitive but is accurate. Rigorous lessons involving tons of critical thought must allow for students to work on their own, collaborate with peers, and connect their ideas. This cannot happen in a silent room except for the teacher talking. In order to increase rigor, decrease talk time and become comfortable with less control. Asking questions and giving prompts that lead to no true correct answer also means less control. This is a tough ask for some teachers. Explained differently, if you assign one assignment and get 30 very similar products, you have most likely assigned a low-rigor recipe. If you assign one assignment and get multiple varied products, then the students have had a chance to think deeply, and you have successfully integrated critical thought into your classroom.
Thanks to Dara, Patrick, Meg, and PJ for their contributions!
Please feel free to leave a comment with your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post.
Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at [email protected] . When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.
You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo .
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- Feb 7, 2020
11 Activities That Promote Critical Thinking In The Class
Updated: Oct 24
What is Critical Thinking?
Critical thinking is a 21st-century skill that enables a person to think rationally and logically in order to reach a plausible conclusion. A critical thinker assesses facts and figures and data objectively and determines what to believe and what not to believe. Critical thinking skills empower a person to decipher complex problems and make impartial and better decisions based on effective information.
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Critical thinking skills cultivate habits of mind such as strategic thinking, skepticism, discerning fallacy from the facts, asking good questions and probing deep into the issues to find the truth.
Importance of Acquiring Critical Thinking Skills
Acquiring critical thinking skills was never as valuable as it is today because of the prevalence of the modern knowledge economy. Today, information and technology are the driving forces behind the global economy. To keep pace with ever-changing technology and new inventions, one has to be flexible enough to embrace changes swiftly.
Read our article: How to Foster Critical Thinking Skills in Students? Creative Strategies and Real-World Examples
Today critical thinking skills are one of the most sought-after skills by the companies. In fact, critical thinking skills are paramount not only for active learning and academic achievement but also for the professional career of the students. The lack of critical thinking skills catalyzes memorization of the topics without a deeper insight, egocentrism, closed-mindedness, reduced student interest in the classroom and not being able to make timely and better decisions.
Benefits of Critical Thinking Skills in Education
Certain strategies are more eloquent than others in teaching students how to think critically. Encouraging critical thinking in the class is indispensable for the learning and growth of the students. In this way, we can raise a generation of innovators and thinkers rather than followers. Some of the benefits offered by thinking critically in the classroom are given below:
It allows a student to decipher problems and think through the situations in a disciplined and systematic manner
Through a critical thinking ability, a student can comprehend the logical correlation between distinct ideas
The student is able to rethink and re-justify his beliefs and ideas based on facts and figures
Critical thinking skills make the students curious about things around them
A student who is a critical thinker is creative and always strives to come up with out of the box solutions to intricate problems
Critical thinking skills assist in the enhanced student learning experience in the classroom and prepares the students for lifelong learning and success
The critical thinking process is the foundation of new discoveries and inventions in the world of science and technology
The ability to think critically allows the students to think intellectually and enhances their presentation skills, hence they can convey their ideas and thoughts in a logical and convincing manner
Critical thinking skills make students a terrific communicator because they have logical reasons behind their ideas
11 Activities that Promote Critical Thinking in the Class
We have compiled a list of 11 activities that will facilitate you to promote critical thinking abilities in the students.
1. Worst Case Scenario
Divide students into teams and introduce each team with a hypothetical challenging scenario. Allocate minimum resources and time to each team and ask them to reach a viable conclusion using those resources. The scenarios can include situations like stranded on an island or stuck in a forest. Students will come up with creative solutions to come out from the imaginary problematic situation they are encountering. Besides encouraging students to think critically, this activity will enhance teamwork, communication and problem-solving skills of the students.
Read our article: 10 Innovative Strategies for Promoting Critical Thinking in the Classroom
2. If You Build It
It is a very flexible game that allows students to think creatively. To start this activity, divide students into groups. Give each group a limited amount of resources such as pipe cleaners, blocks, and marshmallows etc. Every group is supposed to use these resources and construct a certain item such as building, tower or a bridge in a limited time. You can use a variety of materials in the classroom to challenge the students. This activity is helpful in promoting teamwork and creative skills among the students.
It is also one of the classics which can be used in the classroom to encourage critical thinking. Print pictures of objects, animals or concepts and start by telling a unique story about the printed picture. The next student is supposed to continue the story and pass the picture to the other student and so on.
4. Keeping it Real
In this activity, you can ask students to identify a real-world problem in their schools, community or city. After the problem is recognized, students should work in teams to come up with the best possible outcome of that problem.
5. Save the Egg
Make groups of three or four in the class. Ask them to drop an egg from a certain height and think of creative ideas to save the egg from breaking. Students can come up with diverse ideas to conserve the egg like a soft-landing material or any other device. Remember that this activity can get chaotic, so select the area in the school that can be cleaned easily afterward and where there are no chances of damaging the school property.
6. Start a Debate
In this activity, the teacher can act as a facilitator and spark an interesting conversation in the class on any given topic. Give a small introductory speech on an open-ended topic. The topic can be related to current affairs, technological development or a new discovery in the field of science. Encourage students to participate in the debate by expressing their views and ideas on the topic. Conclude the debate with a viable solution or fresh ideas generated during the activity through brainstorming.
7. Create and Invent
This project-based learning activity is best for teaching in the engineering class. Divide students into groups. Present a problem to the students and ask them to build a model or simulate a product using computer animations or graphics that will solve the problem. After students are done with building models, each group is supposed to explain their proposed product to the rest of the class. The primary objective of this activity is to promote creative thinking and problem-solving skills among the students.
8. Select from Alternatives
This activity can be used in computer science, engineering or any of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) classes. Introduce a variety of alternatives such as different formulas for solving the same problem, different computer codes, product designs or distinct explanations of the same topic.
Form groups in the class and ask them to select the best alternative. Each group will then explain its chosen alternative to the rest of the class with reasonable justification of its preference. During the process, the rest of the class can participate by asking questions from the group. This activity is very helpful in nurturing logical thinking and analytical skills among the students.
9. Reading and Critiquing
Present an article from a journal related to any topic that you are teaching. Ask the students to read the article critically and evaluate strengths and weaknesses in the article. Students can write about what they think about the article, any misleading statement or biases of the author and critique it by using their own judgments.
In this way, students can challenge the fallacies and rationality of judgments in the article. Hence, they can use their own thinking to come up with novel ideas pertaining to the topic.
10. Think Pair Share
In this activity, students will come up with their own questions. Make pairs or groups in the class and ask the students to discuss the questions together. The activity will be useful if the teacher gives students a topic on which the question should be based.
For example, if the teacher is teaching biology, the questions of the students can be based on reverse osmosis, human heart, respiratory system and so on. This activity drives student engagement and supports higher-order thinking skills among students.
11. Big Paper – Silent Conversation
Silence is a great way to slow down thinking and promote deep reflection on any subject. Present a driving question to the students and divide them into groups. The students will discuss the question with their teammates and brainstorm their ideas on a big paper. After reflection and discussion, students can write their findings in silence. This is a great learning activity for students who are introverts and love to ruminate silently rather than thinking aloud.
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Module 5: Thinking and Analysis
Creative thinking in your education, learning objectives.
- Identify the value of creative thinking in education
Think about a time when you visited a museum or a sculpture garden, or you attended an orchestral performance or a concert by a favorite performer. Did you marvel at the skill, the artistry, and the innovation? Did you imagine how wonderful it must feel to have those abilities?
If you’ve ever had thoughts like this, you must know you’re not alone. It’s hard for anyone to behold a great work of art or performance and not imagine standing, even briefly, in the artist’s shoes.
You might be surprised to know that everyone has creative abilities: it’s true of everyone who fully expresses creative abilities as well as those who express them very little or not at all. All humans are innately creative, especially if creativity is understood as a problem-solving skill.
Put another way, creativity is inspired when there is a problem to solve. For example, when a sculptor creates an amazing sculpture, it’s an act of problem-solving: perhaps she must determine which artistic style to use in order to create the likeness of an object, or perhaps she is deciding which tools will most suit her purpose or style, perhaps she is assessing how best to satisfy a customer’s request or earn income from her art—you get the idea. In every case, the problem sparks the sculptor’s creativity and she brings her creativity to bear in finding an artistic solution.
Considered as an act of problem-solving, creativity can be understood as a skill —as opposed to an inborn talent or natural “gift”—that can be taught as well as learned. Problem-solving is something we are called upon to do every day, from performing mundane chores to executing sophisticated projects. The good news is that we can always improve upon our problem-solving and creative-thinking skills—even if we don’t consider ourselves to be artists or “creative.” The following information may surprise and encourage you!
- Creative thinking (a companion to critical thinking) is an invaluable skill for college students . It’s important because it helps you look at problems and situations from a fresh perspective. Creating thinking is a way to develop novel or unorthodox solutions that do not depend wholly on past or current solutions. It’s a way of employing strategies to clear your mind so that your thoughts and ideas can transcend what appear to be the limitations of a problem. Creative thinking is a way of moving beyond barriers. 
- As a creative thinker, you are curious, optimistic, and imaginative. You see problems as interesting opportunities, and you challenge assumptions and suspend judgment. You don’t give up easily. You work hard. 
Is this you? Even if you don’t yet see yourself as a competent creative thinker or problem-solver, you can learn solid skills and techniques to help you become one.
Creative Thinking in Education
Now that you have taken the creative problem-solving self-assessment test, do you have a better sense of which creative thinking skills and attitudes you have, and which ones you might want to improve upon?
College is great ground for enhancing creative thinking skills. The following are some college activities that can stimulate creative thinking. Are any familiar to you?
- Design sample exam questions to test your knowledge as you study for a final.
- Devise a social media strategy for a club on campus.
- Propose an education plan for a major you are designing for yourself.
- Prepare a speech that you will give in a debate in your course.
- Develop a pattern for a costume in a theatrical production.
- Arrange audience seats in your classroom to maximize attention during your presentation.
- Arrange an eye-catching holiday display in your dormitory or apartment building.
- Participate in a brainstorming session with your fellow musicians on how you will collaborate to write a musical composition.
- Draft a script for a video production that will be shown to several college administrators.
- Compose a set of requests and recommendations for a campus office to improve its customer service.
- Develop a marketing pitch for a mock business you are developing.
- Develop a comprehensive energy-reduction plan for your cohousing arrangement.
How to Stimulate Creative Thinking
The following video, How to Stimulate the Creative Process , identifies six strategies to stimulate your creative thinking.
- Sleep on it. Over the years, researchers have found that the REM sleep cycle boosts our creativity and problem-solving abilities, providing us with innovative ideas or answers to vexing dilemmas when we awaken. Keep a pen and paper by the bed so you can write down your nocturnal insights if they wake you up.
- Go for a run or hit the gym. Studies indicate that exercise stimulates creative thinking, and the brainpower boost lasts for a few hours.
- Allow your mind to wander a few times every day. Far from being a waste of time, daydreaming has been found to be an essential part of generating new ideas. If you’re stuck on a problem or creatively blocked, think about something else for a while.
- Keep learning. Studying something far removed from your area of expertise is especially effective in helping you think in new ways.
- Put yourself in nerve-racking situations once in a while to fire up your brain. Fear and frustration can trigger innovative thinking.
- Keep a notebook with you so you always have a way to record fleeting thoughts. They’re sometimes the best ideas of all.
You can view the transcript for “How to Stimulate the Creative Process” here (opens in new window) .
A Brainstorm of Tips for Creative Thinking
The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas. —Linus Pauling, double Nobel Laureate, chemist, biochemist, and peace campaigner
Below are some additional tips to help you tap into original and creative thinking in your college assignments and endeavors:
- Use all your senses—see, taste, smell, touch, hear, think, speak.
- Be a good observer of people, nature, and events around you.
- Engage thinking on the right side of your brain (intuition, open-mindedness, visual perception, rhythm . . .).
- Change your interpretation of an event, situation, behavior, person, or object.
- Allow ideas to incubate.
- Be open to insight as ideas pop into your mind.
- Brainstorm by generating ideas with a group of people.
- Ask, “What would happen if . . .”
- Ask, “In how many different ways . . .”
- Develop ideas and expand their possibilities.
- Envision the future.
Speaking and Writing
- Use your words and your “voice” when conveying your original ideas.
- Avoid using clichés or overly familiar responses to questions or problems.
- Explain how your ideas move beyond the status quo and contribute to a discussion.
- Take notes.
- Use mind-mapping to capture ideas; start with a key concept and write it in the center of your page; use connecting lines, radiating from the central concept, and write down any connected or related ideas that come to you.
- Create pictures or drawings of situations (“rich pictures”) to show them in a different way.
- Find ways to demonstrate your personal investment in projects.
- Gather knowledge and conduct research.
- Have more fun learning!
- Do physical activities to engage the creative areas of your brain and think differently.
- Take breaks.
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- Mumaw, Stefan. "Born This Way: Is Creativity Innate or Learned?" Peachpit . Pearson, 27 Dec 2012. Web. 16 Feb 2016. ↵
- Harris, Robert. "Introduction to Creative Thinking." Virtual Salt . 2 Apr 2012. Web. 16 Feb 2016. ↵
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Original research article, fostering creativity and critical thinking in college: a cross-cultural investigation.
- 1 Department of Psychology, Pace University, New York, NY, United States
- 2 Developmental and Educational Research Center for Children's Creativity, Faculty of Education, Beijing Normal University, Beijing, China
Enhancing creativity and critical thinking have garnered the attention of educators and researchers for decades. They have been highlighted as essential skills for the 21st century. A total of 103 United States students (53 female, 24 male, two non-binary, and 24 non-reporting) and 166 Chinese students (128 female, 30 male, one non-binary, and seven non-reporting) completed an online survey. The survey includes the STEAM-related creative problem solving, Sternberg scientific reasoning tasks, psychological critical thinking (PCT) exam, California critical thinking (CCT) skills test, and college experience survey, as well as a demographic questionnaire. A confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) yields a two-factor model for all creativity and critical thinking measurements. Yet, the two latent factors are strongly associated with each other ( r =0.84). Moreover, Chinese students outperform American students in measures of critical thinking, whereas Americans outperform Chinese students in measures of creativity. Lastly, the results also demonstrate that having some college research experience (such as taking research method courses) could positively influence both United States and Chinese students’ creativity and critical thinking skills. Implications are discussed.
Creativity and critical thinking have been recognized as essential skills in the 21st century ( National Education Association, 2012 ). Many researchers and educators have focused on these two skills, including acquisition, enhancement, and performance. In addition, numerous studies have been devoted to understanding the conceptual complexities involved in creativity and critical thinking. Although similar to each other, creativity and critical thinking are distinctive by definition, each with a different emphasis.
The concept of creativity has evolved over the years. It was almost exclusively conceptualized as divergent thinking when Guilford (1956 , 1986) proposed divergent thinking as a part of intelligence. Earlier measures of creativity took the approach of divergent thinking, measuring creative potential ( Wallach and Kogan, 1965 ; Torrance, 1966 , 1988 ; Runco and Albert, 1986 ; Kim, 2005 ). In 1990s, many creativity scholars challenged the validity of tests of divergent thinking, and suggested that divergent thinking only captures the trivial sense of creativity, and proposed to use the product-oriented method to measure creativity ( Csikszentmihalyi, 1988 ; Amabile, 1996 ; Sternberg and Lubart, 1999 ). A system model of creativity, which recognizes the important roles individual, field, and domain have played, was used as a framework to conceptualize creativity. A widely accepted definition for creativity is a person’s ability to generate an idea or product that is deemed as both novel and appropriate by experts in a field of human activities ( Scott and Bruce, 1994 ; Amabile, 1996 ; Csikszentmihalyi, 1999 ; Sternberg and Lubart, 1999 ; Hunter et al., 2007 ). Corazza and Lubart (2021) recently proposed a dynamic definition of creativity, in which creativity is defined as a context-embedded phenomenon that is tightly related to the cultural and social environment. Based on this new definition, measures of creativity should be context-specific and culturally relevant, especially when it is examined cross-culturally.
Similarly, the conceptualization of critical thinking has also evolved over the years. Earlier definitions emphasized the broad multidimensional aspects of critical thinking, including at least three aspects: attitude, knowledge, and skills ( Glaser, 1941 ). The definition has been evolved to include specific components for each aspect ( Watson and Glaser, 1980 ). For example, critical thinking is recognized as the ability to use cognitive skills or strategies to increase the probability of a desirable outcome ( Halpern, 1999 ). More specifically, cognitive skills such as evaluation, problem-solving, reflective thinking, logical reasoning, and probability thinking are recognized as parts of critical thinking skills in research and assessments ( Ennis, 1987 , Scriven and Paul, 1987 , Halpern, 1999 ). Moving into the 21st century, metacognition and self-regulatory skills have also become essential components for critical thinking in addition to the cognitive skills recognized by earlier scholars ( Korn, 2014 , Paul and Elder, 2019 ).
Similar to the concept of creativity, critical thinking is also viewed as multidimensional and domain specific ( Bensley and Murtagh, 2012 ). For example, critical thinking in psychology, also referred to as psychological critical thinking (PCT), is defined as one’s ability to evaluate claims in a way that explicitly incorporates basic principles of psychological science ( Lawson, 1999 ). As one of the important hub sciences, psychology is often regarded as a foundational course for scientific training in American higher education ( Boyack et al., 2005 ). In psychological discourse, critical thinking is often defined in tandem with scientific thinking, which places significance on hypothesis-testing and problem-solving in order to reduce bias and erroneous beliefs ( Halpern, 1984 ; American Psychological Association, 2016 ; Lamont, 2020 ; Sternberg and Halpern, 2020 ). Based on this definition, measures of critical thinking should assess cognitive skills (i.e., evaluation, logical reasoning) and ability to utilize scientific methods for problem-solving.
In addition to the evolution of the definitions of critical thinking and creativity, research into these two concepts has led to the development of various measurements. For both concepts, there have been numerous measurements that have been studied, utilized, and improved.
The complexities associated with creativity (i.e., context-relevant and domain-specificity) pose a major issue for its measurement. Many different types of creativity measures have been developed in the past. Measures using a divergent thinking approach, such as the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking ( Torrance, 1974 ) and Alternate Uses Test ( Guilford et al., 1960 ), a product-oriented approach, a third person nomination approach, as well as a self-report approach measuring personality ( Gough, 1979 ), creative behavior ( Hocevar and Michael, 1979 ; Rodriguez-Boerwinkle et al., 2021 ), and creative achievement ( Carson et al., 2005 ; Diedrich et al., 2018 ).
Both the divergent thinking and the product-oriented approaches have been widely used in the creativity literature to objectively measure creativity. The tasks of both approaches are generally heuristic, meaning that no correct answer is expected and the process does not need to be rational. When scoring divergent thinking, the number of responses (i.e., fluency) and the rareness of the response (i.e., originality) were used to represent creativity. When scoring products using the product-orientated approach, a group of experts provides their subjective ratings on various dimensions such as originality, appropriateness, and aesthetically appealing to these products using their subjective criteria. When there is a consensus among the experts, average ratings of these expert scores are used to represent the creativity of the products. This approach is also named as Consensual Assessment Technique (CAT; Amabile, 1982 , 1996 ). Some scholars viewed the CAT approach as focusing on the convergent aspect of creativity ( Lubart et al., 2013 ). Recognizing the importance of divergent and convergent thinking in conceptualizing creativity, Lubart et al. (2013) have suggested including divergent thinking and product-oriented approach (i.e., CAT) to objective measures of creativity ( Barbot et al., 2011 ).
Similar to measures of creativity, measurements of critical thinking are also multilevel and multi-approach. In an article reviewing the construction of critical thinking in psychological studies, Lamont (2020) argues that critical thinking became a scientific object when psychologists attempted to measure it. Different from measures of creativity, where the tasks are heuristic in nature, measures of critical thinking require participants to engage in logical thinking. Therefore, the nature of critical thinking tasks is more algorithmic.
The interest in the study of critical thinking is evident in the increased efforts in the past decades to measure such a complex, multidimensional skill. Watson-Glaser Tests for Critical Thinking ( Watson and Glaser, 1938 ) is widely recognized as the first official measure of critical thinking. Since then, numerous measurements of critical thinking have been developed to evaluate both overall and domain-specific critical thinking, such as the PCT Exam ( Lawson, 1999 ; See Mueller et al., 2020 for list of assessments). A few of the most commonly used contemporary measures of critical thinking include the Watson-Glaser Test for Critical Thinking Appraisals ( Watson and Glaser, 1980 ), Cornell Critical Thinking Test ( Ennis et al., 1985 ), and California Critical Thinking (CCT) Skills Test ( Facione and Facione, 1994 ). As the best established and widely used standardized critical thinking measures, these tests have been validated in various studies and have been used as a criterion for meta-analyses ( Niu et al., 2013 ; Ross et al., 2013 ).
There have also been concerns regarding the usage of these standardized measures of critical thinking on its own due to its emphasis on measuring general cognitive abilities of participants, while negating the domain-specific aspect of critical thinking ( Lamont, 2020 ). The issues associated with standardized measures are not unique to standardized critical thinking measures, as same types of criticisms have been raised for standardized college admissions measures such as the Graduate Record Exam (GRE). To develop an assessment that encompasses a broader range of student abilities that is more aligned to scientific disciplines, Sternberg and Sternberg (2017) developed a scientific inquiry and reasoning measure. This measure is aimed to assess participants’ ability to utilize scientific methods and to think scientifically in order to investigate a topic or solve a problem ( Sternberg and Sternberg, 2017 ). The strength of this measure is that it assesses students’ abilities (i.e., ability to think critically) that are domain-specific and relevant to the sciences. Considering the multidimensional aspect of critical thinking, a combination of a standardized critical thinking measure, an assessment measuring cognitive abilities involved in critical thinking; and a measure that assesses domain-specific critical thinking, would provide a comprehensive evaluation of critical thinking.
The Relationship Between Creativity and Critical Thinking
Most of the studies thus far referenced have investigated creativity and critical thinking separately; however, the discussion on the relationship between creativity and critical thinking spans decades of research ( Barron and Harrington, 1981 ; Glassner and Schwartz, 2007 ; Wechsler et al., 2018 ; Akpur, 2020 ). Some earlier studies on the relationship between divergent thinking and critical thinking have observed a moderate correlation ( r =0.23, p <0.05) between the two ( Gibson et al., 1968 ). Using measures of creative personality, Gadzella and Penland (1995) also found a moderate correlation ( r =0.36, p <0.05) between creative personality and critical thinking.
Recent studies have further supported the positive correlation between critical thinking and creativity. For example, using the creative thinking disposition scale to measure creativity, Akpur (2020) found a moderate correlation between the two among college students ( r =0.27, p <0.05). Similarly, using the critical thinking disposition scale to measure critical thinking and scientific creativity scale and creative self-efficacy scale to measure creativity, Qiang et al. (2020) studied the relationship between critical thinking and creativity to a large sample of high school students ( n =1,153). They found that the relationship between the two varied depending on the type of measurement of creativity. More specifically, the correlation between critical thinking disposition and creative self-efficacy was r =0.045 ( p <0.001), whereas the correlation between critical thinking disposition and scientific creativity was r =0.15 ( p <0.01).
Recognizing the moderate relationship between the two, researchers have also aimed to study the independence of creativity and critical thinking. Some studies have found evidence that these constructs are relatively autonomous. The results of Wechsler et al. (2018) study, which aimed to investigate whether creativity and critical thinking are independent or complementary processes, found a relative autonomy of creativity and critical thinking and found that the variables were only moderately correlated. The researchers in this study suggest that a model that differentiated the two latent variables associated with creativity and critical thinking dimensions was the most appropriate method of analysis ( Wechsler et al., 2018 ). Evidence to suggest that creativity and critical thinking are fairly independent processes was also found in study of Ling and Loh (2020) . The results of their research, which examined the relationship of creativity and critical thinking to pattern recognition, revealed that creativity is a weak predictor of pattern recognition. In contrast, critical thinking is a good predictor ( Ling and Loh, 2020 ).
It is worth noting that a possible explanation for the inconsistencies in these studies’ results is the variance in the definition and the measures used to evaluate creativity and critical thinking. Based on the current literature on the relationship between creativity and critical thinking, we believe that more investigation was needed to further clarify the relationship between creativity and critical thinking which became a catalyst for the current study.
Cross-Cultural Differences in Creativity and Critical Thinking Performance
Results from various cross-cultural studies suggest that there are differences in creativity and critical thinking skills among cultures. A common belief is that individuals from Western cultures are believed to be more critical and creative compared to non-Westerners, whereas individuals from non-Western cultures are believed to be better at critical thinking related tasks compared to Westerners ( Ng, 2001 ; Wong and Niu, 2013 ; Lee et al., 2015 ). For example, Wong and Niu (2013) found a persistent cultural stereotype regarding creativity and critical thinking skills that exist cross-culturally. In their study, both Chinese and Americans believed that Chinese perform better in deductive reasoning (a skill comparable to critical thinking) and that Americans perform better on creativity. This stereotype belief was found to be incredibly persistent as participants did not change their opinions even when presented with data that contradicted their beliefs.
Interestingly, research does suggest that such a stereotype might be based on scientific evidence ( Niu et al., 2007 ; Wong and Niu, 2013 ). In the same study, it was revealed that Chinese did in fact perform better than Americans in deductive reasoning, and Americans performed better in creativity tests ( Wong and Niu, 2013 ). Similarly, Lee et al. (2015) found that compared to American students, Korean students believed that they are more prone to use receptive learning abilities (remembering and reproducing what is taught) instead of critical and creative learning abilities.
Cultural Influence on Critical Thinking
Other studies investigating the cultural influence on critical thinking have had more nuanced findings. Manalo et al. (2013) study of university students from New Zealand and Japan found that culture-related factors (self-construal, regulatory mode, and self-efficacy) do influence students’ critical thinking use. Still, the differences in those factors do not necessarily equate to differences in critical thinking. Their results found that students from Western and Asian cultural environments did not have significant differences in their reported use of critical thinking. The researchers in this study suggest that perhaps the skills and values nurtured in the educational environment have a more significant influence on students’ use of critical thinking ( Manalo et al., 2013 ).
Another study found that New Zealand European students performed better on objective measures of critical thinking than Chinese students. Still, such differences could be explained by the student’s English proficiency and not dialectical thinking style. It was also revealed in this study that Chinese students tended to rely more on dialectical thinking to solve critical thinking problems compared to the New Zealand European students ( Lun et al., 2010 ). Other research on the cultural differences in thinking styles revealed that Westerners are more likely to use formal logical rules in reasoning. In contrast, Asians are more likely to use intuitive experience-based sense when solving critical thinking problems ( Nisbett et al., 2001 ).
These studies suggest that culture can be used as a broad taxonomy to explain differences in critical thinking use. Still, one must consider the educational environment and thinking styles when studying the nature of the observed discrepancies. For instance, cultural differences in thinking style, in particular, might explain why Westerners perform better on some critical thinking measures, whereas Easterners perform better on others.
Cultural Influence on Creative Performance
Historically, creativity studies have suggested that individuals from non-Western cultures are not as creative as Westerners ( Torrance, 1974 ; Jellen and Urban, 1989 ; Niu and Sternberg, 2001 ; Tang et al., 2015 ). For example, in one study, Americans generated more aesthetically pleasing artworks (as judged by both American and Chinese judges) than Chinese ( Niu and Sternberg, 2001 ). However, recent creativity research has suggested that cross-cultural differences are primarily attributable to the definition of creativity rather than the level of creativity between cultures. As aforementioned, creativity is defined as an idea or product that is both novel and appropriate. Many cross-cultural studies have found that Westerners have a preference and perform better in the novelty aspect, and Easterners have a preference and perform better in the appropriateness aspect. In cross-cultural studies, Rockstuhl and Ng (2008) found that Israelis tend to generate more original ideas than their Singaporean counterparts. In contrast, Singaporeans tend to produce more appropriate ideas. Bechtoldt et al. (2012) found in their study that Koreans generated more useful ideas, whereas Dutch students developed more original ideas. Liou and Lan (2018) found Taiwanese tend to create and select more useful ideas, whereas Americans tend to generate and choose more novel ideas. The differences in creativity preference and performance found in these studies suggest that cultural influence is a prominent factor in creativity.
In summary, cross-cultural studies have supported the notion that culture influences both creativity and critical thinking. This cultural influence seems relatively unambiguous in creativity as it has been found in multiple studies that cultural background can explain differences in performance and preference to the dual features of creativity. Critical thinking has also been influenced by culture, albeit in an opaquer nature in comparison to creativity. Critical thinking is ubiquitous in all cultures, but the conception of critical thinking and the methods used to think critically (i.e., thinking styles) are influenced by cultural factors.
Influence of College Experience on Creativity and Critical Thinking
Given its significance as a core academic ability, the hypothesis of many colleges and universities emphasize that students will gain critical thinking skills as the result of their education. Fortunately, studies have shown that these efforts have had some promising outcomes. Around 92% of students in multi-institution research reported gains in critical thinking. Only 8.9% of students believed that their critical thinking had not changed or had grown weaker ( Tsui, 1998 ). A more recent meta-analysis by Huber and Kuncel (2016) found that students make substantial gains in critical thinking during college. In addition, the efforts to enhance necessary thinking skills have led to the development of various skill-specific courses. Mill et al. (1994) found that among three groups of undergraduate students, a group that received tutorial sessions and took research methodology and statistics performed significantly better on scientific reasoning and critical thinking abilities tests than control groups. Penningroth et al. (2007) found that students who took a class in which they were required to engage in active learning and critical evaluation of claims by applying scientific concepts, had greater improvement in psychological critical thinking than students in the comparison groups. There have also been studies in which students’ scientific inquiry and critical thinking skills have improved by taking a course designed with specific science thinking and reasoning modules ( Stevens and Witkow, 2014 ; Stevens et al., 2016 ).
Using a Survey of Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE), Lopatto (2004 , 2008) found that research experience can help students gain various learning skills such as ability to integrate theory and practice, ability to analyze data, skill in the interpretation of results, and understanding how scientists work on problem. All of these learning skills correspond to at least one of the dimensions mentioned earlier in the definition of critical thinking (i.e., evaluation, analytical thinking, and problem solving through). Thus, results of SURE provide evidence that critical thinking can be enhanced through research experience ( Lopatto, 2004 , 2008 ).
In comparison to critical thinking, only a few studies have examined the interaction between creativity and college experience. Previous research on STEM provides some evidence to suggest that STEM education can promote the learner’s creativity ( Land, 2013 , Guo and Woulfin, 2016 , Kuo et al., 2018 ). Notably, study of Kuo et al. (2018) suggest that project-based learning in STEM has the merits of improving one’s creativity. They found that the STEM Interdisciplinary Project-Based Learning (IPBL) course is a practical approach to improve college student’s creativity ( Kuo et al., 2018 ). College research experience in particular, has been reported as important or very important by faculty and students for learning how to approach problems creatively ( Zydney et al., 2002 ).
Although specific college courses aimed to enhance creativity have been scarce, some training programs have been developed specifically to improve creativity. Scott et al. (2004) conducted a quantitative review of various creativity training and found that divergent thinking, creative problem solving, and creativity performance can be enhanced through skill-specific training programs. Embodied creativity training programs, consisting of creativity fitness exercises and intensive workshops, have also been effective in enhancing participants’ creative production and improving their creative self-efficacy ( Byrge and Tang, 2015 ).
Both critical thinking and creativity were also found to be important in students’ learning. Using a longitudinal design for one semester to 52 graduate students in biology, Siburian et al. (2019) studied how critical thinking and creative thinking contribute to improving cognitive learning skills. They found that both critical and creative thinking significantly contributes to enhancing cognitive learning skills ( R 2 =0.728). They each contribute separately to the development of cognitive learning skills ( b was 0.123 between critical thinking and cognitive learning and 0.765 between creative thinking and cognitive learning). The results from research on creativity and critical thinking indicate that training and experiences of students in college can enhance both of these skills.
Previous literature on creativity and critical thinking suggests that there is a positive correlation between these two skills. Moreover, cultural background influences creativity and critical thinking conception and performance. However, our literature review suggests that there are only a few studies that have investigated creativity and critical thinking simultaneously to examine whether cultural background is a significant influence in performance. In addition, most of the past research on creativity and critical thinking have relied on dispositions or self-reports to measure the two skills and the investigation on the actual performance have been scarce. Lastly, past studies suggest that the acquisition and enhancement of these skills are influenced by various factors. Notably, college experience and skill-specific training have been found to improve both creativity and critical thinking. However, it is not yet clear how college experience aids in fostering creativity and critical thinking and which elements of college education are beneficial for enhancing these two skills. The cultural influence on creativity and critical thinking performance also needs further investigation.
The current study aimed to answer two questions related to this line of thought. How does culture influence creativity and critical thinking performance? How does college experience affect creativity and critical thinking? Based on past findings, we developed three hypotheses. First, we hypothesized that there is a positive association between critical thinking and creativity. Second, we suggest that college students from different countries have different levels of creativity and critical thinking. More specifically, we predicted that United States students would perform better than Chinese students on both creativity and critical thinking. Last, we hypothesized that having college research experience (through courses or research labs) will enhance creativity and critical thinking.
Materials and Methods
The study was examined by the Internal Review Board by the host university in the United States and obtained an agreement from a partner university in China to meet the ethical standard of both countries.
Participants include 103 university students from the United States and 166 university students from Mainland China. Among all participants, 181 were female (67.3%), 54 were male (20.1%), non-binary or gender fluid ( n =3, 1.1%), and some did not report their gender ( n =31, 11.5%). The majority of participants majored in social sciences ( n =197, 73.2%). Other disciplines include business and management ( n =38, 14.1%), engineering and IT ( n =20, 7.4%), and sciences ( n =14, 5.2%). A Chi-square analysis was performed to see if the background in major was different between the American and Chinese samples. The results showed that the two samples are comparable in college majors, X 2 (3, 265) =5.50, p =0.138.
The American participants were recruited through campus recruitment flyers and a commercial website called Prolific (online survey distribution website). Ethnicities of the American participants were White ( n =44, 42.7%), Asian ( n =13, 12.6%), Black or African American ( n =11, 10.7%), Hispanic or Latinos ( n =5, 4.9%), and some did not report their ethnicity ( n =30, 29.1%). The Chinese participants were recruited through online recruitment flyers. All Chinese students were of Han ethnicity.
After reviewing and signing an online consent form, both samples completed a Qualtrics survey containing creativity and critical thinking measures.
Steam related creative problem solving.
This is a self-designed measurement, examining participant’s divergent and convergent creative thinking in solving STEAM-related real-life problems. It includes three vignettes, each depicting an issue that needs to be resolved. Participants were given a choice to pick two vignettes to which they would like to provide possible solutions for. Participants were asked to provide their answers in two parts. In the first part, participants were asked to provide as many solutions as they can think of for the problem depicted (divergent). In the second part, participants were asked to choose one of the solutions they gave in the first part that they believe is the most creative and elaborate on how they would carry out the solution (convergent).
The responses for the first part of the problem (i.e., divergent) were scored based on fluency (number of solutions given). Each participant received a score on fluency by averaging the number of solutions given across three tasks. In order to score the originality of the second part of the solution (i.e., convergent), we invited four graduate students who studied creativity for at least 1year as expert judges to independently rate the originality of all solutions. The Cronbach’s Alpha of the expert ratings was acceptable for all three vignette solutions (0.809, 0.906, and 0.703). We then averaged the originality scores provided by the four experts to represent the originality of each solution. We then averaged the top three solutions as rated by the experts to represent the student’s performance on originality. In the end, each student received two scores on this task: fluency and originality.
Psychological Critical Thinking Exam
We adopted an updated PCT Exam developed by Lawson et al. (2015) , which made improvements to the original measure ( Lawson, 1999 ). We used PCT to measure the participants’ domain-specific critical thinking: critical thinking involved in the sciences. The initial assessment aimed to examine the critical thinking of psychology majors; however, the updated measure was developed so that it can be used to examine students’ critical thinking in a variety of majors. The split-half reliability of the revised measurement was 0.88, and test-retest reliability was 0.90 ( Lawson et al., 2015 ). Participants were asked to identify issues with a problematic claim made in two short vignettes. For example, one of the questions states:
Over the past few years, Jody has had several dreams that apparently predicted actual events. For example, in one dream, she saw a car accident and later that week she saw a van run into the side of a pickup truck. In another dream, she saw dark black clouds and lightning and 2days later a loud thunderstorm hit her neighborhood. She believes these events are evidence that she has a psychic ability to predict the future through her dreams. Could the event have occurred by chance? State whether or not there is a problem with the person’s conclusions and explain the problem (if there is one).
Responses were scored based on the rubric provided in the original measurement ( Lawson et al., 2015 ). If no problem was identified the participants would receive zero points. If a problem was recognized but misidentified, the participants would receive one point. If the main problem was identified and other less relevant problems were identified, the participants received two points. If participants identified only the main problem, they received three points. Following the rubric, four graduate students independently rated the students’ critical thinking task. The Cronbach’s Alpha of the expert ratings was acceptable for both vignettes (0.773 and 0.712). The average of the four scores given by the experts was used as the final score for the participants.
California Critical Thinking Skills Test
This objective measure of critical thinking was developed by Facione and Facione (1994) . We used CCT to measure a few of the multidimensions of critical thinking such as evaluation, logical reasoning, and probability thinking. Five sample items provided from Insight Assessment were used instead of the standard 40-min long CCT. Participants were presented with everyday scenarios with 4–6 answer choices. Participants were asked to make an accurate and complete interpretation of the question in order to correctly answer the question by choosing the right answer choice (each correct answer was worth one point). This test is commonly used to measure critical thinking, and previous research has reported its reliability as r =0.86 ( Hariri and Bagherinejad, 2012 ).
Sternberg Scientific Inquiry and Reasoning
This measure was developed by Sternberg and Sternberg (2017) as an assessment of scientific reasoning. We used this assessment as a domain-specific assessment to measure participants’ scientific creativity (generating testable hypotheses) and scientific critical thinking involved in generating experiments. For this two-part measure, participants were asked to read two short vignettes. For one of the vignettes, participants were asked to generate as many hypotheses as possible to explain the events described in the vignette. For the other, create an experiment to test the hypothesis mentioned in the vignette.
After carefully reviewing the measurement, we notice that the nature of the tasks in the first part of this measure (hypothesis generation) relied on heuristics, requiring participants to engage in divergent thinking. The number of valid hypotheses provided (i.e., fluency) was used to represent the performance of this task. We, therefore, deem that this part measures creativity. In contrast, the second part of the measure, experiment generation, asked participants to use valid scientific methods to design an experiment following the procedure of critical thinking such as evaluation, problem-solving, and task evaluation. Its scoring also followed algorithms so that a correct answer could be achieved. For the above reasons, we believe hypotheses generation is a measurement of creativity and experiment generation is a measurement for critical thinking.
Based on the recommended scoring manual, one graduate student calculated the fluency score from the hypothesis generation measurement. Four experts read through all students’ responses to the experiment generation. They discussed a rubric on how to score these responses, using a four-point scale, with a “0” representing no response or wrong response, a “1” representing partially correct, a “2” representing correct response. An additional point (the three points) was added if the participant provided multiple design methods. Based on the above rubric, the four experts independently scored this part of the questionnaire. The Cronbach’s Alpha of the four expert ratings was 0.792. The average score of the four judges was used to represent their critical thinking scores on this task.
College Experience Survey
Participants were asked about their past research experience, either specifically in psychology or in general academia. Participants were asked to choose between three choices: no research experience, intermediate research experience (i.e., research work for class, research work for lab), and advanced research experience (i.e., professional research experience, published works).
Demographic and Background Questionnaire
Series of standard demographic questions were asked, including participants’ age, gender, and ethnicity.
We performed a Pearson correlation to examine the relationship between creativity and critical thinking (the two-c), which include performances on three measures on creativity ( creativity originality , creativity fluency , and hypothesis generation ) and three measures on critical thinking ( experiment generation , CCT , and PCT ).
Most of the dependent variables had a significantly positive correlation. The only insignificant correlation was found between Sternberg hypothesis generation and CCT, r (247) =0.024, p =0.708 (see Table 1 ).
Table 1 . Correlation coefficients for study variables.
Confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) was conducted by applying SEM through AMOS 21 software program and the maximum likelihood method. One-factor and two-factor models have been analyzed, respectively (see Figure 1 ).
Figure 1 . The comparison of the two confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) models: one-factor vs. two-factor.
As it is demonstrated in Table 2 , the value ranges of the most addressed fit indices used in the analysis of SEM are presented. Comparing two models, χ 2 /df of the two-factor model is in a good fit, while the index of the one-factor model is in acceptable fit. The comparison of the two models suggest that the two-factor model is a better model than the one-factor model.
Table 2 . Recommended values for evaluation and the obtained values.
Cross-Cultural Differences in Critical Thinking and Creativity
We conducted a 2 (Country: the United States vs. China)×2 (Two-C: Creativity and Critical Thinking) ANOVA to investigate the cultural differences in critical thinking and creativity. We averaged scores of three critical thinking measurement ( experiment generation , PCT , and CCT ) to represent critical thinking and averaged three creativity scores ( creativity originality , creativity fluency , and hypothesis generation ).
This analysis revealed a significant main effect for the type of thinking (i.e., creative vs. critical thinking), F (1,247) =464.77, p <0.01, η p 2 =0.653. Moreover, there was a significant interaction between country (i.e., the United States vs. China) and type of thinking, F (1,247) =62.00, p <0.01, η p 2 =0.201. More specifically, Chinese students ( M =1.32, SD =0.59) outperformed American students ( M =1.02, SD =0.44) on critical thinking. In contrast, American students ( M =2.59, SD =1.07) outperformed Chinese students ( M =2.05, SD =0.83) on creativity.
Influence of Research Experience on Critical Thinking and Creativity
The last hypothesis states that having college research experience (through courses or research lab) would enhance students’ creativity and critical thinking from both countries. We performed a 2 (Two-C: Creativity and Critical Thinking)×2 (Country: the United States vs. China)×3 (Research Experience: Advanced vs. Some vs. No) ANOVA to test this hypothesis. This analysis revealed a significant main effect for research experience, F (2,239) =4.05, p =0.019, η p 2 =0.033. Moreover, there was a significant interaction between country (i.e., the United States vs. China) and research experience, F (2,239) =5.77, p =0.004, η p 2 =0.046. In addition, there was a three-way interaction among country, two-C, and research experience. More specifically, with an increase of research experience for American students, both critical thinking and creativity improved. In contrast, for Chinese students, the impact of research experience was not significant for creativity. However, some research experience positively impacted Chinese students’ critical thinking (see Figure 2 ).
Figure 2 . Estimated marginal means of Two-C for the United States and Chinese samples.
The current study aimed to investigate the relationship between creativity and critical thinking, how culture influences creativity and critical thinking, and how college research experience affects creativity and critical thinking. Our results supported the first hypothesis regarding the positive correlation among all of the dependent variables. The mean correlation between the measures of creativity and critical thinking was 0.230. This result was in line with the findings from previous research ( Gibson et al., 1968 ; Gadzella and Penland, 1995 ; Siburian et al., 2019 ; Akpur, 2020 ; Qiang et al., 2020 ). Moreover, our confirmatory factor analysis yielded similar results as analysis of Wechsler et al. (2018) and Akpur (2020) and provides more evidence of the relative independence between creativity and critical thinking. We found that at the latent variable level, the two skills are highly correlated to each other ( r =0.84). In addition, we found that although the one-factor model was an acceptable fit, a two-factor model was a better fit for analysis. This result suggests that despite the correlation between creativity and critical thinking, the two skills should be studied as separate factors for an appropriate and comprehensive analysis.
The results of this study partially confirmed our second hypothesis and replicated the findings from past studies ( Niu et al., 2007 ; Lun et al., 2010 ; Wong and Niu, 2013 ; Tang et al., 2015 ). As predicted, there was a significant main effect for culture in students’ performance for all six measures in the two-C analysis model. United States students performed better than Chinese students in all three creativity measures, and Chinese students performed better than United States students in all critical thinking measures. Given the diversity in the type of measures used in this study, the results suggest that United States and Chinese students’ performance aligns with the stereotype belief found in study of Wong and Niu (2013) . The findings from the current study suggest that the stereotype belief observed in both United States and Chinese students (United States students generally perform better on creativity tasks, while Chinese students perform typically better on critical thinking tasks) is not entirely unfounded. Furthermore, the clear discrepancy in performance between United States and Chinese students provides more evidence to suggest that creativity and critical thinking are relatively autonomous skills. Although, a high correlation between these two skills was found in our study, the fact that students from two different cultures have two different development trajectories in critical thinking and creativity suggests that these two skills are relatively autonomous.
Lastly, the results also confirmed our third hypothesis, that is, college research experience did have a positive influence on students’ creativity and critical thinking. Compared to students with no research experience, students with some research experience performed significantly better in all measures of creativity and critical thinking. This finding is consistent with the previous literature ( Mill et al., 1994 ; Penningroth et al., 2007 ; Stevens and Witkow, 2014 ; Stevens et al., 2016 ; Kuo et al., 2018 ). The result of our study suggests that college research experience is significant to enhance both creativity and critical thinking. As research experience becomes a more essential component of college education, our results suggest that it not only can add credential for applying to graduate school or help students learn skills specific to research, but also help students enhance both creativity and critical thinking. Furthermore, it is worth noting that this nature held true for both Chinese and American students. To our knowledge, this is a first investigation examining the role of research experience in both creativity and critical thinking cross-culturally.
In addition to the report of our findings, we would like to address some limitations of our study. First, we would like to note that this is a correlational and cross-sectional study. A positive correlation between research experience and the two dependent variables does not necessarily mean causation. Our results indeed indicate a positive correlation between research experience and the two-C variables; however, we are not sure of the nature of this relationship. It is plausible that students with higher creativity and critical thinking skills are more engaged in research as much as it is to argue in favor of a reversed directional relationship. Second, we would like to note the sample bias in our study. Majority of our participants were female, majoring in the social sciences and a relatively high number of participants chose not to report their gender. Third, we would like to note that our study did not measure all creativity and critical thinking dimensions, we discussed in the introduction. Instead, we focused on a few key dimensions of creativity and critical thinking. Our primary focus was on divergent thinking, convergent thinking, and scientific creativity as well as few key dimensions of critical thinking (evaluation, logical reasoning, and probability thinking), scientific critical thinking involved in problem solving and hypothesis testing. Moreover, our results do not show what specific components of research training are beneficial for the enhancement of creativity and critical thinking.
For future research, a longitudinal design involving a field experiment will help investigate how different research training components affect the development of creativity and critical thinking. In addition, a cross-cultural study can further examine how and why the students from different cultures differ from each other in the development of these two potentials. As such, it might shed some light on the role of culture in creativity and critical thinking.
Conclusion and Implication
The result of our study provides few insights to the study of creativity and critical thinking. First, creativity and critical thinking are a different construct yet highly correlated. Second, whereas Americans perform better on creativity measures, Chinese perform better on critical thinking measures. Third, for both American and Chinese students, college research experience is a significant influence on the enhancement of creativity and critical thinking. As research experience becomes more and more essential to college education, its role can not only add professional and postgraduate credentials, but also help students enhance both creativity and critical thinking.
Based on our results, we recommend that research training be prioritized in higher education. Moreover, each culture has strengths to develop one skill over the other, hence, each culture could invest more in developing skills that were found to be weaker in our study. Eastern cultures can encourage more creativity and Western cultures can encourage more critical thinking.
To conclude, we would like to highlight that, although recognized globally as essential skills, methods to foster creativity and critical thinking skills and understanding creativity and critical thinking as a construct requires further research. Interestingly, our study found that experience of research itself can help enhance creativity and critical thinking. Our study also aimed to expand the knowledge of creativity and critical thinking literature through an investigation of the relationship of the two variables and how cultural background influences the performance of these two skills. We hope that our findings can provide insights for researchers and educators to find constructive methods to foster students’ essential 21st century skills, creativity and critical thinking, to ultimately enhance their global competence and life success.
Data Availability Statement
The original contributions presented in the study are included in the article/supplementary material, further inquiries can be directed to the corresponding author.
The studies involving human participants were reviewed and approved by Institutional Review Board at Pace University. The participants provided their informed consent online prior to participating in the study.
All authors listed have made a substantial, direct, and intellectual contribution to the work, and approved it for publication.
Conflict of Interest
The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.
All claims expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of their affiliated organizations, or those of the publisher, the editors and the reviewers. Any product that may be evaluated in this article, or claim that may be made by its manufacturer, is not guaranteed or endorsed by the publisher.
This work was supported by the International Joint Research Project of Faculty of Education, Beijing Normal University (ICER201904), and a scholarly research funding by Pace University.
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Keywords: creativity, critical thinking, cross-cultural differences, college, research experience
Citation: Park JH, Niu W, Cheng L and Allen H (2021) Fostering Creativity and Critical Thinking in College: A Cross-Cultural Investigation. Front. Psychol . 12:760351. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.760351
Received: 18 August 2021; Accepted: 11 October 2021; Published: 11 November 2021.
Copyright © 2021 Park, Niu, Cheng and Allen. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY) . The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.
*Correspondence: Li Cheng, [email protected]
† These authors have contributed equally to this work and share first authorship
This article is part of the Research Topic
Creativity and Innovation in STEAM Education
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5 Critical Thinking Activities That Get Students Up and Moving
More movement means better learning.
It’s easy to resort to having kids be seated during most of the school day. But learning can (and should) be an active process. Incorporating movement into your instruction has incredible benefits—from deepening student understanding to improving concentration to enhancing performance. Check out these critical thinking activities, adapted from Critical Thinking in the Classroom , a book with over 100 practical tools and strategies for teaching critical thinking in K-12 classrooms.
In this activity, students move to a corner of the classroom based on their responses to a question with four answer choices. Once they’ve moved, they can break into smaller groups to explain their choices. Call on students to share to the entire group. If students are persuaded to a different answer, they can switch corners and further discuss.
- Which president was most influential: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, or Abraham Lincoln?
- Is Holden Caulfield a hero: Strongly Agree, Agree, Disagree, or Strongly Disagree?
This strategy encourages students to move around the classroom in groups to respond to questions, documents, images, or situations posted on chart paper. Each group gets a different colored marker to record their responses and a set amount of time at each station. When groups move, they can add their own ideas and/or respond to what prior groups have written.
- Political cartoons
Stations are a great way to chunk instruction and present information to the class without a “sit and get.” Group desks around the room or create centers, each with a different concept and task. There should be enough stations for three to five students to work for a set time before rotating.
- Types of rocks
- Story elements
- Literary genres
Silent Sticky-Note Storm
In this brainstorming activity, students gather in groups of three to five. Each group has a piece of chart paper with a question at the top and a stack of sticky notes. Working in silence, students record as many ideas or answers as possible, one answer per sticky note. When time is up, they post the sticky notes on the paper and then silently categorize them.
- How can you exercise your First Amendment rights?
- What are all the ways you can divide a square into eighths?
Mingle, Pair, Share
Take your Think, Pair, Share to the next level. Instead of having students turn and talk, invite them to stand and interact. Play music while they’re moving around the classroom. When the music stops, each student finds a partner. Pose a question and invite students to silently think about their answer. Then, partners take turns sharing their thoughts.
- How do organisms modify their environments?
- What is the theme of Romeo and Juliet ?
Looking for more critical thinking activities and ideas?
Critical Thinking in the Classroom is a practitioner’s guide that shares the why and the how for building critical thinking skills in K-12 classrooms. It includes over 100 practical tools and strategies that you can try in your classroom tomorrow!
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Career Readiness | 21st Century Skills
Top 5 Critical Thinking Lesson Plans
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June 6th, 2023 | 8 min. read
For nearly 10 years, Bri has focused on creating content to address the questions and concerns educators have about teaching classes, preparing students for certifications, and making the most of the iCEV curriculum system.
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As a career readiness curriculum developer, we speak with teachers like you every day. Many share that some 21st Century skills are easier to teach than others.
One topic that teachers frequently ask us about is critical thinking.
While we provide curriculum that teaches critical thinking, our solution isn’t the right fit for everyone.
iCEV is a comprehensive curriculum designed to teach dozens of skills such as career exploration, customer service, critical thinking, public speaking, teamwork, and more.
However, some teachers are only looking for supplemental critical thinking resources to add to their existing curriculum.
To help you teach critical thinking skills to your students, we’ve pulled together a list of other popular options.
Five of the best places to find critical thinking lessons and activities are:
- Critical Thinking Lesson Plans by TEDEd
- Critical Thinking Resources from Resilient Educator
- Critical Thinking Resources & Lesson Plans by Teachers Pay Teachers
- The Believing Game & the Doubting Game by Morningside Center
- 10 Tips for Teaching Kids to Be Awesome Critical Thinkers by We Are Teachers
After reading, you should have a better idea of the types of lessons available to decide what's best for your classroom.
1. Critical Thinking Lesson Plans by TEDEd
TEDEd — a subdivision of the organization famous for its “TED Talks” — is a goldmine of free, open-sourced lesson ideas that you can use to shake up your classroom.
TEDEd’s critical thinking subjects give you the ability to introduce video, discussion, problem-solving, and a wide range of critical thinking elements.
Some of these aren’t lessons per se , but fun classroom activities that present a challenge and require students to overcome it.
That includes instructions on time management, interactive math problems, physics paradoxes, psychological concepts, and good old-fashioned riddles.
With that in mind, TEDEd provides one of the most varied and diverse collections of critical thinking resources on the Internet.
Best of all, they’re ready to use with a single click. All you have to do is bring up the page on your screen at the front of the class (or have students access it on their devices) and click on the proper lesson.
Then, your students engage with the introductory portion of the lesson that establishes the concept.
After that, the lesson will prompt them to come up with a solution or answer. That’s when you can have students work individually, in groups, or as a class to exercise their critical thinking skills.
TEDEd often splits these steps into Watch, Think, Dig Deeper, and Discuss.
TEDEd also gives you the expected answer at the end of each activity. The answer is then explained in a logical way that can help students refine their critical thinking skills, especially on a conceptual basis.
2. Critical Thinking Resources from Resilient Educator
Resilient Educator is a website created by teachers to help others grow professionally and stay resilient through everything thrown their way.
Among the resources on the site, they have a number of lesson ideas, including a list of critical thinking resources oriented toward 21st Century learning.
These resources are designed to help you teach critical thinking, as opposed to simply giving you pre-made lessons that you can use.
You may not be able to take their resources straight to your students, but you can adapt these resources to your own teaching style.
In that respect, you get something much more complex and skill-based than simple lesson plans. But the value you can derive from these resources lets you set the stage for continual professional improvement around critical thinking education.
Overall, that makes Resilient Educator's critical thinking resources an excellent start for any educator who has to teach students about 21st Century skills .
3. Critical Thinking Teaching Resources & Lesson Plans by Teachers Pay Teachers
Teachers Pay Teachers (TpT) is an online marketplace where educators can buy, sell, and share their resources with others.
Because TpT always has its doors open to new material, there’s a constant flow of critical thinking lesson plans throughout the year.
Some teachers may create lecture-based lessons that work well in traditional classrooms. Others might include a few videos to make their lesson more diverse in terms of content. Still, others might write a script for student role-playing that takes one class period.
Depending on the depth and type of resource, you may find some that are listed for free while others are upwards of $60 for a bundle.
That means you can sort through the options and find the one that best fits your teaching needs and budget.
Once you hone in on what you're looking for, it’s just a matter of finding a compatible critical thinking lesson on TpT!
4. The Believing Game & The Doubting Game by Morningside Center
The Morningside Center is a community-focused non-profit organization that strives to increase ethnic equity in schools while promoting social and emotional skills.
As a result, they’re natural experts on critical thinking skills.
Morningside Center’s resources for teaching critical thinking are “The Believing Game” and “The Doubting Game.”
These “games” are conversations based on perspective and playing devil’s advocate.
The Believing Game entails you giving your students a powerful quote or excerpt on a controversial topic, like civil disobedience. Then, you have students think of support and critiques.
You can also wrap this into The Doubting Game , which requires a similar preparation process of showing students an impactful quote or thought.
Then, you have students question the thought, ask questions, pose counterpoints, and otherwise pursue a critical viewpoint.
For both games, Morningside Center offers a number of examples you can use directly with your students.
Though depending on the age of your students, you may need to tweak the examples or come up with different ones.
Regardless of how you have to workshop the concepts, The Believing Game and The Doubting Game are two excellent additions to a critical thinking curriculum.
5. Tips for Teaching Kids to Be Awesome Critical Thinkers by We Are Teachers
We Are Teachers is a well-known online education publication with thousands of readers every month.
They have a variety of articles to help teachers overcome challenges in the classroom, including tips to make students critical thinkers .
As opposed to the other items on this list, this blog post from We Are Teachers consists of general guidelines you can employ in a critical thinking curriculum.
This post stresses the importance of slowing down your class’s pace to ensure every student gets the chance to apply critical thinking concepts to your material.
It also provides ideas for prep work, like creating charts, planning classroom discussions, and figuring out thought-provoking questions before class begins.
These are great starting points, though you will have to do some work with these concepts to make them fit well with your class.
Which Critical Thinking Lessons Are Right for You?
At the end of the day, there is no single "best" option for teaching critical thinking. It all depends on the needs of you, your course, and your students!
Each of these resources can be a great supplement to your existing classroom materials.
However, if you need a comprehensive curriculum solution that includes critical thinking lessons among other career readiness and professional skills, consider iCEV.
Thousands of teachers like you use iCEV to teach career exploration , personal financial literacy , communication skills , professionalism , and more.
Overall, it helps you save time with planning, assessing, and grading student work all while maximizing student understanding and information retention.
Wondering if iCEV could work for your classroom? Check out our Critical Thinking curriculum module to find out:
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Critical Thinking Activities Recommended for Teachers to Implement in the Classroom
Someone with critical thinking skills is being able to understand the logical connections between ideas, identify, construct and evaluate arguments, detect inconsistencies and common mistakes in reasoning.
This skill is developed among students by engaging them in activities that require them to process questions and come out with solutions for the same helping them to develop this skill.
In order to help students develop this skill and come out with uncommon thoughts, it is important for educators to understand the role they play in developing critical thinking is different than the role they are typically playing. For students to be engaged in critical thinking, the educator needs to act as a facilitator to allow for discussion and encourage a wider and open thought process, as well as to encourage understanding of the different perception of every individual that comes with thinking critically. Also engaged in this skill, it is important to understand that students do not always end with a right answer, but instead sometimes ends in more questions or differing evaluations of the topic.
Below are some activities recommended for teachers that they can implement in the classroom to help students develop critical thinking skill and prepare them for a better future.
1. If You Build it…
This team-building game is flexible. You simply have to divide students into teams and give them equal amounts of a certain material, like pipe cleaners, blocks, or even dried spaghetti and marshmallows.
Then, give them something to construct. The challenge can be variable (think: Which team can build the tallest, structurally-sound castle? Which team can build a castle the fastest?).
You can recycle this activity throughout the year by adapting the challenge or materials to specific content areas. Apart from critical thinking students also learn to collaborate and to work in groups.
In this activity first asks students to consider a question on their own, and then provide them an opportunity to discuss it in pairs, and finally together with the whole class. The success of such activities depends on the nature of the questions posed. This activity works ideally with questions to encourage deeper thinking, problem-solving, and/or critical analysis. The group discussions are critical as they allow students to articulate their thought processes.
Re-group as a whole class and solicit responses from some or all of the pairs.
Advantages of the think-pair-share include the engagement of all students in the classroom (particularly the opportunity to give voice to quieter students who might have difficulty sharing in a larger group), quick feedback for the instructor (e.g., the revelation of student misconceptions), encouragement and support for higher levels of thinking of the students.
3. The Worst Case Scenario
Construct a scenario in which students would need to work together and solve problems to succeed, like being stranded on a deserted island or getting lost at sea/jungle/town. Ask them to work together and come out with a solution that ensures everyone arrives safely. You might ask them to come up with a list of 10 must-have items that would help them most, or a creative passage to safety. Encourage them to vote everyone must agree to the final solution.
4. Go for Gold
This game is similar to the “If you build it” game: Teams have a common objective, but instead of each one having the same materials, they have access to a whole cache of materials. For instance, the goal might be to create a contraption with pipes, rubber tubing and pieces of cardboard that can carry a marble from point A to point B in a certain number of steps, using only gravity.
5. Keep it Real
This open-ended concept is simple and serves as an excellent segue into problem-based learning. Challenge students to identify and cooperatively solve a real problem in their schools or communities. You may set the parameters, including a time limit, materials and physical boundaries.
6. Gap Fill In
Students are shown a picture, projected in the front of the room, if possible. At the top of their paper, students should write: “What is happening in this picture?” At the bottom of the page, they should answer with what they believe is happening in the photo simply in 1-2 sentences or according to the age/grade this activity is being done with.
In the middle of the page students write down all of the steps they took to arrive at that answer. Students are encouraged to write down the evidence they see that supports their conclusion.
This activity not only uses evidence, but supports Meta cognition skills by asking what prior knowledge brought you to your conclusion. This is a good activity to Bell Work or “Do Now.”
Set up an inner circle and an outer circle in your classroom. Students should not be sitting in this setup yet, but rather in their regular classroom seats. The class should be presented with a question or a statement and allowed to reflect individually for a few minutes.
During this reflection period, count the class off into small groups by 3s, 4s, or 5s.
Students should now transition to the fishbowl setup. In the numbered groups, have students facilitate a conversation while others on the outside observe without comment. (For example, a teacher may have all 1s go to the fishbowl, while the rest of the class sits in the outer ring.)
Once the inner group has discussed for a bit, have the outer group evaluate two things: Their process is they actually listened to one another and their content from knowing whether they are providing evidence or just opinions.
8. Big Paper – Building a Silent Conversation
Writing (or drawing) and silence are used as tools to slow down thinking and allow for silent reflection, unfiltered. By using silence and writing, students can focus on other viewpoints. This activity uses a driving question, markers, and Big Paper. Students work in pairs or threes to have a conversation on the Big Paper. Students can write at will, but it must be done in silence after a reflection on the driving question. This strategy is great for introverts, and provides a readymade visual record of thought for later.
9. Barometer—Taking a Stand on Controversial Issues
When posed with a thought-provoking prompt, students line themselves up along a U-shaped continuum representing where they stand on that issue. The sides of the U are opposite extremes, with the middle being neutral. The teacher starts a discussion by giving equal opportunity for individuals in each area of the continuum to speak about their stand. The students use “I” statements when stating their opinion.
10. Journal Data Goals
Last but not the least, Students must be asked to maintain journals and update them on a regular basis. This can be done in the form of a blog as well. By doing so students become their own progress monitors and can assess the growth within oneself.
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Critical thinking definition
Critical thinking, as described by Oxford Languages, is the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgement.
Active and skillful approach, evaluation, assessment, synthesis, and/or evaluation of information obtained from, or made by, observation, knowledge, reflection, acumen or conversation, as a guide to belief and action, requires the critical thinking process, which is why it's often used in education and academics.
Some even may view it as a backbone of modern thought.
However, it's a skill, and skills must be trained and encouraged to be used at its full potential.
People turn up to various approaches in improving their critical thinking, like:
- Developing technical and problem-solving skills
- Engaging in more active listening
- Actively questioning their assumptions and beliefs
- Seeking out more diversity of thought
- Opening up their curiosity in an intellectual way etc.
Is critical thinking useful in writing?
Critical thinking can help in planning your paper and making it more concise, but it's not obvious at first. We carefully pinpointed some the questions you should ask yourself when boosting critical thinking in writing:
- What information should be included?
- Which information resources should the author look to?
- What degree of technical knowledge should the report assume its audience has?
- What is the most effective way to show information?
- How should the report be organized?
- How should it be designed?
- What tone and level of language difficulty should the document have?
Usage of critical thinking comes down not only to the outline of your paper, it also begs the question: How can we use critical thinking solving problems in our writing's topic?
Let's say, you have a Powerpoint on how critical thinking can reduce poverty in the United States. You'll primarily have to define critical thinking for the viewers, as well as use a lot of critical thinking questions and synonyms to get them to be familiar with your methods and start the thinking process behind it.
Are there any services that can help me use more critical thinking?
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