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Critical thinking is a cultivated ability to critically evaluate ideas (especially in academia) through the use of questioning, reasoning and reflective techniques. Critical thinking gives due consideration to the evaluation of evidence, context and other salient issues. Moreover, the process should promote the adoption of rational views based on balanced or reasoned conclusions. Although critical thinking should provide room for adjustment to one's position, some disagreements will nonetheless occur between critical thinkers. In any case, critical thinking asks its proponents to employ logic and intellectual criteria such as clarity, accuracy, relevance, depth, breadth, significance and fairness. Fisher & Scriven define critical thinking as "...the skilled, active, interpretation and evaluation of observations, communications, information and argumentation." Moore defines it as the careful determination of whether one will accept, reject or suspend judgment about a claim or argument. In contemporary use "critical" has the connotation of expressing disapproval but this is not necessarily the case with critical thinking. The critical evaluation of a paper, for example, might conclude that its ideas and conclusions are expressed reasonably well despite elements which do not hold up to close scrutiny.
Developing critical thinking processes
Open-ended questions to trigger thinking
Reading and reflecting on ideas are two critical activities in learning how to think. However, research indicates that teachers do not spend enough time in their classrooms posing questions. If they do, the vast number of teachers ask students to recall information rather than get them to think critically about it. Questions calling for a recall of facts are the least likely to promote student involvement. In fact, some studies show that open-ended questions that require divergent thinking (i.e., questions that allow for a range of possible answers and encourage students to think at a deeper level than rote memory) are more effective in eliciting student responses than “closed” questions (i.e., questions that require students to select one correct answer). The results indicate that students are more likely to respond to questions that require deeper-level thought (critical thinking) than those that require rote memorization.
Open-ended questions are useful cognitive triggers and can be used liberally in classes or small groups. Sometimes, students can think for a moment about their own responses to questions. This strategy benefits students by allowing them time to gather their thoughts prior to verbalizing them. International students and those who may be fearful about public speaking may find it gives them time to build their confidence before communicating their ideas. Experimental research indicates that students who are asked higher-level questions are more likely to display higher-level thinking on course exams. Class-based research indicates that students learn to generate their own higher-level thinking questions. Using a technique called guided peer questioning students are provided with generic questions that serve as cognitive prompts to stimulate different forms of thinking:
Questions that promote reflection
After students communicate their ideas orally via groups or in writing, ask them to reflect on what type of critical thinking they are engaged in and whether they think they have demonstrated critical thinking in their responses. Ask them to record their reflections either individually or in pairs. If they select the latter, their job is to listen and record the reflections shared by their partner.
Research shows that one distinguishing characteristic of high-achieving students is that they reflect on their thought processes and recognize the importance of cognitive strategies. Additional research shows that students can learn to engage in “meta-cognition” (thinking about thinking) if regularly asked to do so. When students learn to routinely ask themselves these questions, the depth and quality of their thinking are enhanced.
What makes a critical thinker?
Nickerson (1987) characterizes a good critical thinker in terms of knowledge, attitudes and abilities. Here are some of the characteristics of such a thinker:
Barriers to critical thinking
Linkage to information literacy