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Richard Paul Critical Thinking Strategies For Middle School

To think well is to impose discipline and restraint on our thinking-by means of intellectual standards — in order to raise our thinking to a level of "perfection" or quality that is not natural or likely in undisciplined, spontaneous thought. The dimension of critical thinking least understood is that of  "intellectual standards." Most teachers were not taught how to assess thinking through standards; indeed, often the thinking of teachers themselves is very "undisciplined" and reflects a lack of internalized intellectual standards.

Question: Could you give me an example?

Paul: Certainly, one of the most important distinctions that teachers need to routinely make, and which takes disciplined thinking to make, is that between reasoning and subjective reaction.

If we are trying to foster quality thinking, we don't want students simply to assert things; we want them to try to reason things out on the basis of evidence and good reasons. Often, teachers are unclear about this basic difference. Many teachers are apt to take student writing or speech which is fluent and witty or glib and amusing as good thinking. They are often unclear about the constituents of good reasoning. Hence, even though a student may just be asserting things, not reasoning things out at all, if she is doing so with vivacity and flamboyance, teachers are apt to take this to be equivalent to good reasoning.

This was made clear in a recent California state-wide writing assessment in which teachers and testers applauded a student essay, which they said illustrated "exceptional achievement" in reasoned evaluation, an essay that contained no reasoning at all, that was nothing more than one subjective reaction after another. (See "Why Students-and Teachers-Don't Reason Well")

The assessing teachers and testers did not notice that the student failed to respond to the directions, did not support his judgment with reasons and evidence, did not consider possible criteria on which to base his judgment, did not analyze the subject in the light of the criteria, and did not select evidence that clearly supported his judgment. Instead the student:

described an emotional exchange

asserted-without evidence-some questionable claims

expressed a variety of subjective preferences

The assessing teachers were apparently not clear enough about the nature of evaluative reasoning or the basic notions of criteria, evidence, reasons, and well-supported judgment to notice the discrepancy. The result was, by the way, that a flagrantly mis-graded student essay was showcased nationally (in ASCD's Developing Minds), systematically misleading the 150,000 or so teachers who read the publication.

Question: Could this possibly be a rare mistake, not representative of teacher knowledge?

Paul: I don't think so. Let me suggest a way in which you could begin to test my contention. If you are familiar with any thinking skills programs, ask someone knowledgeable about it the "Where's the beef?" question. Namely, "What intellectual standards does the program articulate and teach?" I think you will first find that the person is puzzled about what you mean. And then when you explain what you mean, I think you will find that the person is not able to articulate any such standards. Thinking skills programs without intellectual standards are tailor-made for mis-instruction. For example, one of the major programs asks teachers to encourage students to make inferences and use analogies, but is silent about how to teach students to assess the inferences they make and the strengths and weaknesses of the analogies they use. This misses the point. The idea is not to help students to make more inferences but to make sound ones, not to help students to come up with more analogies but with more useful and insightful ones.

Question: What is the solution to this problem? How, as a practical matter, can we solve it?

Paul: Well, not with more gimmicks or quick fixes. Not with more fluff for teachers. Only with quality long-term staff development that helps the teachers, over an extended period of time, over years not months, to work on their own thinking and come to terms with what intellectual standards are, why they are essential, and how to teach for them. The State Department in Hawaii has just such a long-term, quality, critical thinking program (see "mentor program"). So that's one model your readers might look at. In addition, the National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking Instruction is focused precisely on the articulation of standards for thinking. I am hopeful that eventually, through efforts such as these, we can move from the superficial to the substantial in fostering quality student thinking. The present level of instruction for thinking is very low indeed.

Question: But there are many areas of concern in instruction, not just one, not just critical thinking, but communication skills, problem solving, creative thinking, collaborative learning, self-esteem, and so forth. How are districts to deal with the full array of needs? How are they to do all of these rather than simply one, no matter how important that one may be?

Paul: This is the key. Everything essential to education supports everything else essential to education. It is only when good things in education are viewed superficially and wrongly that they seem disconnected, a bunch of separate goals, a conglomeration of separate problems, like so many bee-bees in a bag. In fact, any well-conceived program in critical thinking requires the integration of all of the skills and abilities you mentioned above. Hence, critical thinking is not a set of skills separable from excellence in communication, problem solving, creative thinking, or collaborative learning, nor is it indifferent to one's sense of self-worth.

Question: Could you explain briefly why this is so?

Paul: Consider critical thinking first. We think critically when we have at least one problem to solve. One is not doing good critical thinking, therefore, if one is not solving any problems. If there is no problem there is no point in thinking critically. The "opposite" is also true. Uncritical problem solving is unintelligible. There is no way to solve problems effectively unless one thinks critically about the nature of the problems and of how to go about solving them. Thinking our way through a problem to a solution, then, is critical thinking, not something else. Furthermore, critical thinking, because it involves our working out afresh our own thinking on a subject, and because our own thinking is always a unique product of our self-structured experience, ideas, and reasoning, is intrinsically a new "creation", a new "making", a new set of cognitive and affective structures of some kind. All thinking, in short, is a creation of the mind's work, and when it is disciplined so as to be well-integrated into our experience, it is a new creation precisely because of the inevitable novelty of that integration. And when it helps us to solve problems that we could not solve before, it is surely properly called "creative".

The "making" and the "testing of that making" are intimately interconnected. In critical thinking we make and shape ideas and experiences so that they may be used to structure and solve problems, frame decisions, and, as the case may be, effectively communicate with others. The making, shaping, testing, structuring, solving, and communicating are not different activities of a fragmented mind but the same seamless whole viewed from different perspectives.

Question: How do communication skills fit in?

Paul: Some communication is surface communication, trivial communication--surface and trivial communication don't really require education. All of us can engage in small talk, can share gossip. And we don't require any intricate skills to do that fairly well. Where communication becomes part of our educational goal is in reading, writing, speaking and listening. These are the four modalities of communication which are essential to education and each of them is a mode of reasoning. Each of them involves problems. Each of them is shot through with critical thinking needs. Take the apparently simple matter of reading a book worth reading. The author has developed her thinking in the book, has taken some ideas and in some way represented those ideas in extended form. Our job as a reader is to translate the meaning of the author into meanings that we can understand.

This is a complicated process requiring critical thinking every step along the way.

What is the purpose for the book?

What is the author trying to accomplish?

What issues or problems are raised?

What data, what experiences, what evidence are given?

What concepts are used to organize this data, these experiences?

How is the author thinking about the world?

Is her thinking justified as far as we can see from our perspective?

And how does she justify it from her perspective?

How can we enter her perspective to appreciate what she has to say?

All of these are the kinds of questions that a critical reader raises. And a critical reader in this sense is simply someone trying to come to terms with the text.

So if one is an uncritical reader, writer, speaker, or listener, one is not a good reader, writer, speaker, or listener at all. To do any of these well is to think critically while doing so and, at one and the same time, to solve specific problems of communication, hence to effectively communicate.

Communication, in short, is always a transaction between at least two logics. In reading, as I have said, there is the logic of the thinking of the author and the logic of the thinking of the reader. The critical reader reconstructs (and so translates) the logic of the writer into the logic of the reader's thinking and experience. This entails disciplined intellectual work. The end result is a new creation; the writer's thinking for the first time now exists within the reader's mind. No mean feat!

Question: And self esteem? How does it fit in?

Paul: Healthy self-esteem emerges from a justified sense of self-worth, just as self-worth emerges from competence, ability, and genuine success. If one simply feels good about oneself for no good reason, then one is either arrogant (which is surely not desirable) or, alternatively, has a dangerous sense of misplaced confidence. Teenagers, for example, sometimes think so well of themselves that they operate under the illusion that they can safely drive while drunk or safely take drugs. They often feel much too highly of their own competence and powers and are much too unaware of their limitations. To accurately sort out genuine self-worth from a false sense of self-esteem requires, yes you guessed it, critical thinking.

Question: And finally, what about collaborative learning? How does it fit in?

Paul: Collaborative learning is desirable only if grounded in disciplined critical thinking. Without critical thinking, collaborative learning is likely to become collaborative mis-learning. It is collective bad thinking in which the bad thinking being shared becomes validated. Remember, gossip is a form of collaborative learning; peer group indoctrination is a form of collaborative learning; mass hysteria is a form of speed collaborative learning (mass learning of a most undesirable kind). We learn prejudices collaboratively, social hates and fears collaboratively, stereotypes and narrowness of mind, collaboratively. If we don’t put disciplined critical thinking into the heart and soul of the collaboration, we get the mode of collaboration which is antithetical to education, knowledge, and insight.

So there are a lot of important educational goals deeply tied into critical thinking just as critical thinking is deeply tied into them. Basically the problem in the schools is that we separate things, treat them in isolation and mistreat them as a result. We end up with a superficial representation, then, of each of the individual things that is essential to education, rather than seeing how each important good thing helps inform all the others

Question: One important aim of schooling should be to create a climate that evokes children’s sense of wonder and inspires their imagination to soar. What can teachers do to "kindle" this spark and keep it alive in education?

Paul: First of all, we kill the child's curiosity, her desire to question deeply, by superficial didactic instruction. Young children continually ask why. Why this and why that? And why this other thing? But we soon shut that curiosity down with glib answers, answers to fend off rather than to respond to the logic of the question. In every field of knowledge, every answer generates more questions, so that the more we know the more we recognize we don't know. It is only people who have little knowledge who take their knowledge to be complete and entire. If we thought deeply about almost any of the answers which we glibly give to children, we would recognize that we don't really have a satisfactory answer to most of their questions. Many of our answers are no more than a repetition of what we as children heard from adults. We pass on the misconceptions of our parents and those of their parents. We say what we heard, not what we know. We rarely join the quest with our children. We rarely admit our ignorance, even to ourselves. Why does rain fall from the sky? Why is snow cold? What is electricity and how does it go through the wire? Why are people bad? Why does evil exist? Why is there war? Why did my dog have to die? Why do flowers bloom? Do we really have good answers to these questions?

Question: How does curiosity fit in with critical thinking?

Paul: To flourish, curiosity must evolve into disciplined inquiry and reflection. Left to itself it will soar like a kite without a tail, that is, right into the ground! Intellectual curiosity is an important trait of mind, but it requires a family of other traits to fulfill it. It requires intellectual humility, intellectual courage, intellectual integrity, intellectual perseverance, and faith in reason. After all, intellectual curiosity is not a thing in itself — valuable in itself and for itself. It is valuable because it can lead to knowledge, understanding, and insight; because it can help broaden, deepen, sharpen our minds, making us better, more humane, more richly endowed persons.

To reach these ends, the mind must be more than curious, it must be willing to work, willing to suffer through confusion and frustration, willing to face limitations and overcome obstacles, open to the views of others, and willing to entertain ideas that many people find threatening. That is, there is no point in our trying to model and encourage curiosity, if we are not willing to foster an environment in which the minds of our students can learn the value and pain of hard intellectual work. We do our students a disservice if we imply that all we need is unbridled curiosity, that with it alone knowledge comes to us with blissful ease in an atmosphere of fun, fun, fun.

What good is curiosity if we don't know what to do next or how to satisfy it? We can create the environment necessary to the discipline, power, joy, and work of critical thinking only by modeling it before and with our students. They must see our minds at work. Our minds must stimulate theirs with questions and yet further question; questions that probe information and experience; questions that call for reasons and evidence; questions that lead students to examine interpretations and conclusions, pursuing their basis in fact and experience; questions that help students to discover their assumptions, questions that stimulate students to follow out the implications of their thought, to test their ideas, to take their ideas apart, to challenge their ideas, to take their ideas seriously. It is in the totality of this intellectually rigorous atmosphere that natural curiosity thrives.

Question: It is important for our students to be productive members of the work-force. How can schools better prepare students to meet these challenges?

Paul: The fundamental characteristic of the world students now enter is ever-accelerating change; a world in which information is multiplying even as it is swiftly becoming obsolete and out of date; a world in which ideas are continually restructured, retested, and rethought; where one cannot survive with simply one way of thinking; where one must continually adapt one's thinking to the thinking of others; where one must respect the need for accuracy and precision and meticulousness; a world in which job skills must continually be upgraded and perfected — even transformed. We have never had to face such a world before. Education has never before had to prepare students for such dynamic flux, unpredictability, and complexity for such ferment, tumult, and disarray.

We as educators are now on the firing line.

Are we willing to fundamentally rethink our methods of teaching?

Are we ready for the 21st Century?

Are we willing to learn new concepts and ideas?

Are we willing to learn a new sense of discipline as we teach it to our students?

Are we willing to bring new rigor to our own thinking in order to help our students bring that same rigor to theirs?

Are we willing, in short, to become critical thinkers so that we might be an example of what our students must internalize and become?

These are profound challenges to the profession. They call upon us to do what no previous generation of teachers was ever called upon to do. Those of us willing to pay the price will yet have to teach side by side with teachers unwilling to pay the price. This will make our job even more difficult, but not less exciting, not less important, not less rewarding. Critical thinking is the heart of well-conceived educational reform and restructuring, because it is at the heart of the changes of the 21st Century. Let us hope that enough of us will have the fortitude and vision to grasp this reality and transform our lives and our schools accordingly.

Question: National standards will result in national accountability. What is your vision for the future?

Paul: Most of the national assessment we have done thus far is based on lower-order learning and thinking. It has focused on what might be called surface knowledge. It has rewarded the kind of thinking that lends itself to multiple choice machine-graded assessment. We now recognize that the assessment of the future must focus on higher – not lower – order thinking; that it must assess more reasoning than recall; that it must assess authentic performances, students engaged in bona fide intellectual work.

Our problem is in designing and implementing such assessment. In November of this last year, Gerald Nosich and I developed and presented, at the request of the U.S. Department of Education, a model for the national assessment of higher order thinking. At a follow-up meeting of critical thinking's problem-solving, communication, and testing scholars and practitioners, it was almost unanimously agreed that it is possible to assess higher-order thinking on a national scale. It was clear from the commitments of the departments of Education, Labor, and Commerce that such an assessment is in the cards.

The fact is, we must have standards and assessment strategies for higher-order thinking for a number of reasons.

First, assessment and accountability are here to stay. The public will not accept less.

Second, what is not assessed is not, on the whole, taught.

Third, what is mis-assessed is mis-taught.

Fourth, higher-order thinking, critical thinking abilities, are increasingly crucial to success in every domain of personal and professional life.

Fifth, critical thinking research is making the cultivation and assessment of higher-order thinking do-able.

The road will not be easy, but if we take the knowledge, understanding, and insights we have gained about critical thinking over the last twelve years, there is much that we could do in assessment that we haven't yet done — at the level of the individual classroom teacher, at the level of the school system, at the level of the state, and at the national level.

Of course, we want to do this in such a way as not to commit the "Harvard Fallacy;" the mistaken notion that because graduates from Harvard are very successful, that the teaching at Harvard necessarily had something to do with it.

It may be that the best prepared and well-connected students coming out of high school are going to end up as the best who graduate from college, no matter what college they attend. We need to focus our assessment, in other words, on how much value has been added by an institution. We need to know where students stood at the beginning, to assess the instruction they received on their way from the beginning to the end. We need pre-and post-testing and assessment in order to see which schools, which institutions, which districts are really adding value, and significant value, to the quality of thinking and learning of their students.

Finally, we have to realize that we already have instruments available for assessing what might be called the fine-textured micro-skills of critical thinking. We already know how to design prompts that test students' ability to identify a plausible statement of a writer's purpose; distinguish clearly between purposes; inferences, assumptions, and consequences; discuss reasonably the merits of different versions of a problem or question; decide the most reasonable statement of an author's point of view; recognize bias, narrowness, and contradictions in the point of view of an excerpt; distinguish evidence from conclusions based on that evidence; give evidence to back up their positions in an essay; recognize conclusions that go beyond the evidence; distinguish central from peripheral concepts; identify crucial implications of a passage; evaluate an author's inferences; draw reasonable inferences from positions stated . . . and so on.

With respect to intellectual standards, we are quite able to design prompts that require students to recognize clarity in contrast to unclarity; distinguish accurate from inaccurate accounts; decide when a statement is relevant or irrelevant to a given point; identify inconsistent positions as well as consistent ones; discriminate deep, complete, and significant accounts from those that are superficial, fragmentary, and trivial; evaluate responses with respect to their fairness; distinguish well-evidenced accounts from those unsupported by reasons and evidence; and tell good reasons from bad.

With respect to large scale essay assessment, we know enough now about random sampling to be able to require extended reasoning and writing without having to pay for the individual assessment of millions of essays.

What remains is to put what we know into action: at the school and district level to facilitate long-term teacher development around higher-order thinking, at the state and national level to provide for long-term assessment of district, state, and national performance. The project will take generations and perhaps in some sense will never end.

After all, when will we have developed our thinking far enough, when will we have enough intellectual integrity, enough intellectual courage, enough intellectual perseverance, enough intellectual skill and ability, enough fairmindedness, enough reasonability?

One thing is painfully clear. We already have more than enough rote memorization and uninspired didactic teaching; more than enough passivity and indifference, cynicism and defeatism, complacency and ineptness. The ball is in our court. Let's take up the challenge together and make, with our students, a new and better world.

{This is taken from the book: How to Prepare Students for a rapidly Changing World by Richard Paul.}

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The Center for Critical Thinking and Moral Critique conducts advanced research and disseminates information on critical thinking. 

Each year it sponsors an annual International Conference on Critical Thinking and Educational Reform. It has worked with the College Board, the National Education Association, the U.S. Department of Education, as well as numerous colleges, universities, and school districts to facilitate the implementation of critical thinking instruction focused on intellectual standards. The following studies demonstrate:

  1. the fact that, as a rule, critical thinking is not presently being effectively taught at the high school, college and university level, and yet
  2. it is possible to do so.

To assess students' understanding of critical thinking, we recommend use of the International Critical Thinking Test as well as the Critical Thinking Interview Profile for College Students . To assess faculty understanding of critical thinking and its importance to instruction, we recommend the Critical Thinking Interview Profile For Teachers and Faculty . By registering as a member of the community, you will have access to streaming video, which includes a sample student interview with Dr. Richard Paul and Rush Cosgrove. 


Research:




Effect of a Model for Critical Thinking on Student Achievement in Primary Source Document Analysis and Interpretation, Argumentative Reasoning, Critical Thinking Dispositions and History Content in a Community College History Course
Abstract of the Study, conducted by Jenny Reed, in partial fulfillment for her dissertation (October 26, 1998)

View Abstract   -  View Full Dissertation (Adobe Acrobat PDF) 




The Effect of Richard Paul's Universal Elements and Standards of Reasoning on Twelfth Grade Composition A Research Proposal Presented to the Faculty Of the School of Education Alliant International University In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts in Education: Teaching Study conducted by J. Stephen Scanlan, San Diego (2006) View Abstract   -   View Full Dissertation (Adobe Acrobat PDF) Study of 38 Public Universities and 28 Private Universities To Determine Faculty Emphasis on Critical Thinking In Instruction Principal Researchers: Dr. Richard Paul, Dr. Linda Elder, and Dr. Ted Bartell View Abstract    -   View the full study A Research Proposal Presented to the Faculty Of the School of Education Alliant International University In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts in Education: Teaching
Study conducted by J. Stephen Scanlan, San Diego (2006)

View Abstract   -   View Full Dissertation (Adobe Acrobat PDF) 




Study of 38 Public Universities and 28 Private Universities
To Determine Faculty Emphasis on Critical Thinking In Instruction

Principal Researchers: Dr. Richard Paul, Dr. Linda Elder, and Dr. Ted Bartell

View Abstract    -   View the full study

Executive Summary

(Complete Study is available for purchase.)  On September 29, 1994 Governor Wilson signed legislation authored by Senator Leroy Greene (SB1849) directing the Commission on Teacher Credentialing to conduct a study of teacher preparation programs to assess the extent to which these programs prepare candidates for teaching credentials to teach critical thinking and problem-solving skills in elementary and secondary schools.

During the spring of 1995, Commission staff began to conceptualize a study design that would yield descriptive information on course content and teaching practices being employed by postsecondary faculty to train teacher candidates. With assistance from the Center for Critical Thinking at Sonoma State University, an interview protocol was designed for use in telephone interviews with a cross-section of education and subject matter faculty in both public and private colleges and universities in California.

During the study planning process, a decision was made to design respondent selection procedures in such a way as to assure that information collected would be generalizable to all faculty preparing teachers across the state. To accomplish this objective, two statewide probability samples were designed: a sample of teacher education faculty, and a separate sample of Arts and Sciences faculty teaching courses in Commission-approved subject matter programs.

There were three major objectives in this study. The first was to assess current teaching practices and knowledge of critical thinking among faculty teaching in teacher preparation programs in California. The second was to identify exemplary teaching practices that enhance critical thinking. The third was to develop policy recommendations based on the results of the study. The study included 38 public colleges and universities and 28 private ones.

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The Concept of Critical Thinking and Problem Solving Used in the Study


The concept of critical thinking and problem solving used in this study is "minimalist," that is, one which captures the essential dimensions of the concept reflected in the following: its etymology and dictionary definition, major definitions and explanations in the literature, a brief history of the idea, major tests of critical thinking, and the basic values it presupposes.

This minimalist concept of critical thinking is embedded not only in a core body of research over the last 30 to 50 years but is also derived from roots in ancient Greek. The word ’’critical’’ derives etymologically from two Greek roots: "kriticos" (meaning discerning judgment) and "kriterion" (meaning standards). Etymologically, then, the word implies the development of "discerning judgment based on standards." In Webster's New World Dictionary, the relevant entry reads "characterized by careful analysis and judgment" and is followed by the gloss: "critical, in its strictest sense, implies an attempt at objective judgment so as to determine both merits and faults." Applied to thinking, then, we might provisionally define critical thinking as thinking that explicitly aims at well-founded judgment and hence utilizes appropriate evaluative standards in the attempt to determine the true worth, merit, or value of something.

The tradition of research into critical thinking reflects the common perception that human thinking left to itself often gravitates toward prejudice, over-generalization, common fallacies, self-deception, rigidity, and narrowness. The critical thinking tradition seeks ways of understanding the mind and then training the intellect so that such "errors", "blunders", and "distortions" of thought are minimized. It assumes that the capacity of humans for good reasoning can be nurtured and developed by an educational process aimed directly at that end. It assumes that sound critical thinking maximizes our ability to solve problems of importance to us by helping us both to avoid common mistakes and to proceed in the most rational and logical fashion.

For example, those who think critically typically engage in intellectual practices of the following sort, monitoring, reviewing, and assessing: goals and purposes; the way issues and problems are formulated; the information, data, or evidence presented for acceptance, interpretations of such information, data, or evidence; the quality of reasoning presented or developed, basic concepts or ideas inherent in thinking, assumptions made, implications and consequences that may or may not follow; points of view and frames of reference. In monitoring, reviewing and assessing these intellectual constructs, those who think critically characteristically strive, for such intellectual ends as clarity, precision, accuracy, relevance, depth, breadth, and logicalness. Each of these modes of thinking help us to accomplish the ends for which we are thinking and hence to solve the problems inherent in pursuing those ends.

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Current Teaching Practices and Knowledge of Critical Thinking

In-depth interviews were utilized to provide information on how faculty tend to think about critical thinking and the manner in which that thinking influences the design of their classes. Questions were designed to shed light on the extent to which students in teacher preparation programs in California are being taught in ways that facilitate skill in critical thinking and the ability to teach it to others.

There were three goals of this component of the study. The first was to ensure that any faculty who had a developed notion of critical thinking (of any kind) would have a full opportunity and much encouragement to spell out that notion. We wanted to make sure that everyone interviewed was encouraged to express their actual views and to express them in detail.

The second goal was to examine the views expressed to see: a) how many faculty actually had a developed view and b) how much internal coherence there was in any given faculty view. In other words, we sought to determine how many faculty had seriously thought through the concept of critical thinking--irrespective of how they defined it, and then, once we had a full expression of any given person's views, we examined what was said, not only for clarity but also for coherence.

The third goal was to determine the extent to which the views expressed demonstrated an internalization of traditional "minimalist" elements of critical thinking. We sought to determine, in other words, how much of the common core of meaning now attached to the traditional concept by those working in the field of critical thinking research (and reflected in its semantics and history) has been internalized by faculty teaching in teacher preparation programs.

Data collection included both closed-ended and open-ended questions. In addition, the coders of responses made judgments about some important global features of the responses made (using minimalist components of critical thinking as criteria). The open-ended questions, and the follow-up questions, were designed, as indicated above, to provide maximum opportunity for individuals to articulate virtually any concept of critical thinking that they favored. The follow-up questions’’ main function was that of ensuring that the most specific and precise views that could be obtained were obtained. Since the interviews lasted 45 minutes on average, the interviewees had ample opportunity to express their views.

The same interview protocol was utilized for both education faculty and subject matter faculty. A total of 140 interviews were completed, representing a 78% response rate among those contacted for an interview. Since the samples were constructed so as to be representative in a statistical sense of all faculty involved in teacher preparation in California, the results can in fact be generalized to teacher preparation faculty in the state as a whole. The results of the analysis were as follows:

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

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

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

4) When asked how they conceptualized truth, a surprising 41% of those who responded to the question said that knowledge, truth and sound judgment are fundamentally a matter of personal preference or subjective taste.

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

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

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

8) Although the vast majority (89%) stated that critical thinking was of primary importance to their instruction, only `a very small minority could clearly explain the meanings of basic terms in critical thinking. For example, only 8% could clearly differentiate between an assumption and an inference, and only 4% could differentiate between an inference and an implication.

9) Only a very small minority (9%) mentioned the special and/or growing need for critical thinking today in virtue of the pace of change and the complexities inherent in human life. Not a single respondent elaborated on the issue.

10) In explaining their views of critical thinking, the overwhelming majority (69%) made either no allusion at all, or a minimal allusion, to the need for greater emphasis on peer and student self-assessment in instruction.

11) From either the quantitative data directly, or from minimal inference from those data, it is clear that a significant percentage of faculty interviewed (and, if representative, most faculty):

  • do not understand the connection of critical thinking to intellectual standards.
  • are not able to clarify major intellectual criteria and standards.
  • inadvertently confuse the active involvement of students in classroom activities with critical thinking in those activities. 
  • are unable to give an elaborated articulation of their concept of critical thinking. 
  • cannot provide plausible examples of how they foster critical thinking in the classroom.
  • are not able to name specific critical thinking skills they think are important for students to learn.
  • are not able to plausibly explain how to reconcile covering content with fostering critical thinking.
  • do not consider reasoning as a significant focus of critical thinking.
  • do not think of reasoning within disciplines as a major focus of instruction.
  • cannot specify basic structures essential to the analysis of reasoning.
  • cannot give an intelligible explanation of basic abilities either in critical thinking or in reasoning .
  • do not distinguish the psychological dimension of thought from the intellectual dimension.
  • have had no involvement in research into critical thinking and have not attended any conferences on the subject.
  • are unable to name a particular theory or theorist that has shaped their concept of critical thinking.

Some differences were also observed between Education and Arts and Sciences faculty. These differences do not alter the overall findings but do suggest relative strengths and weaknesses for each group. The comparative results were as follows:

1) Education faculty was slightly more likely ( 91%) to state that critical thinking is of primary importance to their instructional objectives than Arts and Sciences faculty ( 82%).

2) Education faculty was somewhat more likely (55%) to include in their concept of critical thinking a distinction between critical thinking skills and traits than Arts and Sciences faculty (39%), though neither group effectively articulated that difference.

3) Education faculty was somewhat better in articulating how they bring critical thinking into the curriculum on a typical class day (33% of the Arts and Sciences faculty had little or no conception of how to do this while only 15% of the Education faculty had the same lack of conception).

4) Education faculty also was better able to reconcile covering content with fostering critical thinking (31% of Arts and Sciences faculty had little or no conception of how to reconcile the two, while only 11% of education faculty had little or no conception). What is more, education faculty were more likely to elaborate on how they would reconcile content coverage with fostering critical thinking (25% were able to elaborate on reconciliation of these, while only 8% of the Arts and Sciences faculty were able to elaborate on the same point).

5) The Arts and Sciences faculty better articulated the basic skills of thought that students need to effectively address issues and concerns in their lives such as clarifying questions, gathering relevant data or information, formulating or reasoning to logical or valid conclusions, interpretations or solutions, etc. Of the Education faculty, 40% failed to mention any of these basic skills while only 5% of the non-education faculty failed to mention any.

6) The Education faculty were somewhat less likely to ignore the importance of emphasizing problem solving in the classroom than the Arts and Sciences group. Only 10% of this group failed to mention its importance while 26% of the Arts and Sciences faculty failed to mention it.

7) The Education faculty were somewhat less likely to ignore the special need for critical thinking today in virtue of such phenomena as accelerating change, intensifying complexity, and increasing interdependence (64% of the Arts and Sciences faculty failed to mention its importance, while 51% of the education group failed to mention it).

8) The Education faculty were less likely to ignore the need for emphasis on peer and student self-assessment (33% percent of this group failed to mention it, while 55% of the Arts and Sciences group failed to mention it).

Analysis of open-ended responses provided not only confirmation of the quantitative data, but also powerful support for significant qualitative generalizations. What is more, a close look at individual cases reveals that there is significant contrast between those faculty members who have a developed concept of critical thinking and those who do not. Profiles of individual faculty responses are presented in the full report to illustrate clearly the kind of differences which existed between those who were articulate in explaining how they approach critical thinking and those who were not.

Most faculty answered open-ended questions with vague answers, rather than clear and precise answers. In many of their answers there were internal "tensions" and, in some cases, outright contradictions. The magic talisman were phrases like "constructivism", "Bloom's Taxonomy", "process-based", "inquiry-based", "beyond recall", "active learning", "meaning-centered" and similar phrases that under probing questions the majority of interviewees were unable to intelligibly explain in terms of critical thinking. The most common confusion, perhaps, was confusion between what is necessary (for critical thinking) and what is sufficient (for it). For example, active engagement is necessary to critical thinking, but one can be actively engaged and not think critically.

Virtually all of those interviewed identified critical thinking and the learning of intellectual standards as primary objectives in instruction, yet few could give a clear explanation of what their concept of either was. Virtually all said that students lacked intellectual standards when they entered their classes, yet implied, at the same time, that they left with those intellectual standards in place. They also overwhelmingly stated or implied that their students left them with a good level of critical thinking as well as a good level of ability to foster critical thinking in their future students.

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

Careful analysis of the interviews indicates that, irrespective of the diversity of language used, the central problem is that most faculty have not carefully thought through any concept of critical thinking, have no sense of intellectual standards they can put into words, and are, therefore, by any reasonable interpretation, in no position to foster critical thinking in their own students or to help them to foster it in their future students-except to inculcate into their students the same vague views that they have.

{"id":"67","title":"Current Teaching Practices and Knowledge of Critical Thinking","author":"","content":"<p><span style=\"font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif;\"><span style=\"font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif;\">In-depth interviews were utilized to provide information on how faculty tend to think about critical thinking and the manner in which that thinking influences the design of their classes. Questions were designed to shed light on the extent to which students in teacher preparation programs in California are being taught in ways that facilitate skill in critical thinking and the ability to teach it to others.<br /> <br /> There were three goals of this component of the study. The first was to ensure that any faculty who had a developed notion of critical thinking (of any kind) would have a full opportunity and much encouragement to spell out that notion. We wanted to make sure that everyone interviewed was encouraged to express their actual views and to express them in detail. <br /> <br /> The second goal was to examine the views expressed to see: a) how many faculty actually had a developed view and b) how much internal coherence there was in any given faculty view. In other words, we sought to determine how many faculty had seriously thought through the concept of critical thinking--irrespective of how they defined it, and then, once we had a full expression of any given person's views, we examined what was said, not only for clarity but also for coherence.<br /> <br /> The third goal was to determine the extent to which the views expressed demonstrated an internalization of traditional \"minimalist\" elements of critical thinking. We sought to determine, in other words, how much of the common core of meaning now attached to the traditional concept by those working in the field of critical thinking research (and reflected in its semantics and history) has been internalized by faculty teaching in teacher preparation programs. <br /> <br /> Data collection included both closed-ended and open-ended questions. In addition, the coders of responses made judgments about some important global features of the responses made (using minimalist components of critical thinking as criteria). The open-ended questions, and the follow-up questions, were designed, as indicated above, to provide maximum opportunity for individuals to articulate virtually any concept of critical thinking that they favored. The follow-up questions&rsquo;&rsquo; main function was that of ensuring that the most specific and precise views that could be obtained were obtained. Since the interviews lasted 45 minutes on average, the interviewees had ample opportunity to express their views.<br /> <br /> The same interview protocol was utilized for both education faculty and subject matter faculty. A total of 140 interviews were completed, representing a 78% response rate among those contacted for an interview. Since the samples were constructed so as to be representative in a statistical sense of all faculty involved in teacher preparation in California, the results can in fact be generalized to teacher preparation faculty in the state as a whole. The results of the analysis were as follows:<br /> <br /> 1) Though the overwhelming majority (89%) claimed critical thinking to be a primary objective of their instruction, only a small minority (19%) could give a clear explanation of what critical thinking is. Furthermore, according to their answers, only 9% of the respondents were clearly teaching for critical thinking on a typical day in class.<br /> <br /> 2) Though the overwhelming majority (78%) claimed that their students lacked appropriate intellectual standards (to use in assessing their thinking), and 73% considered that students learning to assess their own work was of primary importance, only a very small minority (8%) could enumerate any intellectual criteria or standards they required of students or could give an intelligible explanation of what those criteria and standards were.<br /> <br /> 3) While 50% of those interviewed said that they explicitly distinguish critical thinking skills from traits, only 8% were able to provide a clear conception of the critical thinking skills they thought were most important for their students to develop. Furthermore the overwhelming majority (75%) provided either minimal or vague allusion (33%) or no allusion at all (42%) to intellectual traits of mind.<br /> <br /> 4) When asked how they conceptualized truth, a surprising 41% of those who responded to the question said that knowledge, truth and sound judgment are fundamentally a matter of personal preference or subjective taste.<br /> <br /> 5) Although the majority (67%) said that their concept of critical thinking is largely explicit in their thinking, only 19% could elaborate on their concept of thinking. <br /> <br /> 6) Although the vast majority (89%) stated that critical thinking was of primary importance to their instruction, 77% of the respondents had little, limited or no conception of how to reconcile content coverage with the fostering of critical thinking. <br /> <br /> 7) Although the overwhelming majority (81%) felt that their department&rsquo;s graduates develop a good or high level of critical thinking ability while in their program, only 20% said that their departments had a shared approach to critical thinking, and only 9% were able to clearly articulate how they would assess the extent to which a faculty member was or was not fostering critical thinking. The remaining respondents had a limited conception or no conception at all of how to do this.<br /> <br /> 8) Although the vast majority (89%) stated that critical thinking was of primary importance to their instruction, only `a very small minority could clearly explain the meanings of basic terms in critical thinking. For example, only 8% could clearly differentiate between an assumption and an inference, and only 4% could differentiate between an inference and an implication.<br /> <br /> 9) Only a very small minority (9%) mentioned the special and/or growing need for critical thinking today in virtue of the pace of change and the complexities inherent in human life. Not a single respondent elaborated on the issue.<br /> <br /> 10) In explaining their views of critical thinking, the overwhelming majority (69%) made either no allusion at all, or a minimal allusion, to the need for greater emphasis on peer and student self-assessment in instruction.<br /> <br /> 11) From either the quantitative data directly, or from minimal inference from those data, it is clear that a significant percentage of faculty interviewed (and, if representative, most faculty):<br /> <br />\r\n<ul>\r\n<li>do not understand the connection of critical thinking to intellectual standards.</li>\r\n<li>are not able to clarify major intellectual criteria and standards.</li>\r\n<li>inadvertently confuse the active involvement of students in classroom activities with critical thinking in those activities.&nbsp;</li>\r\n<li>are unable to give an elaborated articulation of their concept of critical thinking.&nbsp;</li>\r\n<li>cannot provide plausible examples of how they foster critical thinking in the classroom.</li>\r\n<li>are not able to name specific critical thinking skills they think are important for students to learn.</li>\r\n<li>are not able to plausibly explain how to reconcile covering content with fostering critical thinking.</li>\r\n<li>do not consider reasoning as a significant focus of critical thinking.</li>\r\n<li>do not think of reasoning within disciplines as a major focus of instruction.</li>\r\n<li>cannot specify basic structures essential to the analysis of reasoning.</li>\r\n<li>cannot give an intelligible explanation of basic abilities either in critical thinking or in reasoning .</li>\r\n<li>do not distinguish the psychological dimension of thought from the intellectual dimension.</li>\r\n<li>have had no involvement in research into critical thinking and have not attended any conferences on the subject.</li>\r\n<li>are unable to name a particular theory or theorist that has shaped their concept of critical thinking.</li>\r\n</ul>\r\n<br /> Some differences were also observed between Education and Arts and Sciences faculty. These differences do not alter the overall findings but do suggest relative strengths and weaknesses for each group. The comparative results were as follows:<br /> <br /> 1) Education faculty was slightly more likely ( 91%) to state that critical thinking is of primary importance to their instructional objectives than Arts and Sciences faculty ( 82%).<br /> <br /> 2) Education faculty was somewhat more likely (55%) to include in their concept of critical thinking a distinction between critical thinking skills and traits than Arts and Sciences faculty (39%), though neither group effectively articulated that difference.<br /> <br /> 3) Education faculty was somewhat better in articulating how they bring critical thinking into the curriculum on a typical class day (33% of the Arts and Sciences faculty had little or no conception of how to do this while only 15% of the Education faculty had the same lack of conception).<br /> <br /> 4) Education faculty also was better able to reconcile covering content with fostering critical thinking (31% of Arts and Sciences faculty had little or no conception of how to reconcile the two, while only 11% of education faculty had little or no conception). What is more, education faculty were more likely to elaborate on how they would reconcile content coverage with fostering critical thinking (25% were able to elaborate on reconciliation of these, while only 8% of the Arts and Sciences faculty were able to elaborate on the same point).<br /> <br /> 5) The Arts and Sciences faculty better articulated the basic skills of thought that students need to effectively address issues and concerns in their lives such as clarifying questions, gathering relevant data or information, formulating or reasoning to logical or valid conclusions, interpretations or solutions, etc. Of the Education faculty, 40% failed to mention any of these basic skills while only 5% of the non-education faculty failed to mention any. <br /> <br /> 6) The Education faculty were somewhat less likely to ignore the importance of emphasizing problem solving in the classroom than the Arts and Sciences group. Only 10% of this group failed to mention its importance while 26% of the Arts and Sciences faculty failed to mention it. <br /> <br /> 7) The Education faculty were somewhat less likely to ignore the special need for critical thinking today in virtue of such phenomena as accelerating change, intensifying complexity, and increasing interdependence (64% of the Arts and Sciences faculty failed to mention its importance, while 51% of the education group failed to mention it). <br /> <br /> 8) The Education faculty were less likely to ignore the need for emphasis on peer and student self-assessment (33% percent of this group failed to mention it, while 55% of the Arts and Sciences group failed to mention it).<br /> <br /> Analysis of open-ended responses provided not only confirmation of the quantitative data, but also powerful support for significant qualitative generalizations. What is more, a close look at individual cases reveals that there is significant contrast between those faculty members who have a developed concept of critical thinking and those who do not. Profiles of individual faculty responses are presented in the full report to illustrate clearly the kind of differences which existed between those who were articulate in explaining how they approach critical thinking and those who were not. <br /> <br /> Most faculty answered open-ended questions with vague answers, rather than clear and precise answers. In many of their answers there were internal \"tensions\" and, in some cases, outright contradictions. The magic talisman were phrases like \"constructivism\", \"Bloom's Taxonomy\", \"process-based\", \"inquiry-based\", \"beyond recall\", \"active learning\", \"meaning-centered\" and similar phrases that under probing questions the majority of interviewees were unable to intelligibly explain in terms of critical thinking. The most common confusion, perhaps, was confusion between what is necessary (for critical thinking) and what is sufficient (for it). For example, active engagement is necessary to critical thinking, but one can be actively engaged and not think critically.<br /> <br /> Virtually all of those interviewed identified critical thinking and the learning of intellectual standards as primary objectives in instruction, yet few could give a clear explanation of what their concept of either was. Virtually all said that students lacked intellectual standards when they entered their classes, yet implied, at the same time, that they left with those intellectual standards in place. They also overwhelmingly stated or implied that their students left them with a good level of critical thinking as well as a good level of ability to foster critical thinking in their future students. <br /> <br /> By direct statement or by implication, most claimed that they permeated their instruction with an emphasis on critical thinking and that the students internalized the concepts in their courses as a result. Yet, only the rare interviewee mentioned the importance of students thinking clearly, accurately, precisely, relevantly, or logically. Very few mentioned any of the basic skills of thought such as the ability to clarify questions; gather relevant data; reason to logical or valid conclusions; identify key assumptions; trace significant implications; or enter without distortion into alternative points of view. Intellectual traits of mind, such as intellectual humility, intellectual perseverance, and intellectual responsibility, are virtually unheard of by the interviewees. <br /> <br /> Careful analysis of the interviews indicates that, irrespective of the diversity of language used, the central problem is that most faculty have not carefully thought through any concept of critical thinking, have no sense of intellectual standards they can put into words, and are, therefore, by any reasonable interpretation, in no position to foster critical thinking in their own students or to help them to foster it in their future students-except to inculcate into their students the same vague views that they have.</span></span></p>\r\n<p><br style=\"clear: both;\" /></p>","public_access":"1","public_downloads":"1","sku":"","files":[],"images":[]}


Some Policy Recommendations

If it is essential for teachers to foster critical thinking, then it is essential for those who teach the teachers to have at least baseline knowledge of the concept of critical thinking. Those who teach prospective teachers must be sufficiently well-informed about critical thinking not only to be able to explain it in a general way to their students, they must also regularly model instruction for critical thinking in their own classroom procedures and policies. The design of their classes must reflect an explicit critical thinking orientation, so that students not only systematically think through the content of their courses, but also come to see how the design of a course can require and cultivate critical thinking and thoughtfulness — or fail to do so.

On our view, four interventions are requisite for substantive change to occur. First, we must disseminate the information faculty need to change their perceptions. Second, we must provide for faculty skill-building through appropriate professional development. Third, we must establish a mandate to systematically teach critical thinking (and how to teach for it) in all programs of teacher education. And fourth, we must develop an exit examination in critical thinking for all prospective teachers. Let us look at each of these proposed interventions in turn.

1) Information Dissemination: Sufficient awareness, grounded in intellectual humility, must be generated in those communities of faculty teaching in teacher preparation programs leading to the recognition a) that there is a general lack of knowledge on the part of the teaching faculty of the baseline concept of critical thinking, and b) that most students in teacher preparation programs are now graduating without knowledge of critical thinking or how to teach for it. There are seven forms of information that need wide dissemination. At present none of these categories of information are widely disseminated in the teaching community. The categories are as follows:

  • We need to disseminate information that documents the problem at the k-12 teaching level. 
  • We need to disseminate information on teaching for critical thinking within particular disciplines (such as math). 
  • We need to disseminate information about the process that faculty go through as they initially develop their ability to bring critical thinking successfully into the classroom (especially regarding those who display intellectual humility). 
  • We need to disseminate information about exemplary teaching practices of individuals, as they reach high levels of success.

2) Skill Building: Minimal inservicing in critical thinking must be provided for faculty in teacher preparation programs. If faculty is not provided with convenient ways to upgrade their knowledge of critical thinking and how to teach for it, very few will go out of their way to pursue it.