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What is Critical Thinking?                                                                             

"Eye Level program teaches students 'how to think' instead of teaching them 'what to think'." 


All education consists of transmitting to students Two different things:

(1) the subject matter or discipline content of the course ("what to think"), and
(2) the correct way to understand and evaluate this subject matter ("how to think").

This second ability is termed Critical Thinking.                            

The Purpose and Rationale of teaching Critical Thinking is to improve the thinking skills of students and thus better prepare them to succeed in the world.

Definition of Critical Thinking

Critical thinking means correct thinking in the pursuit of relevant and reliable knowledge about the world. Another way to describe it is reasonable, reflective, responsible, and skillful thinking that is focused on deciding what to believe or do.

Children are not born with the power to think critically, nor do they develop this ability naturally beyond survival-level thinking. Critical thinking is a learned ability that must be taught. Most individuals never learn it. Critical thinking cannot be taught reliably to students by peers or by most parents. Trained and knowledgeable instructors are necessary to impart the proper information and skills. 

Characteristics of a Critical Thinker:                                  

We are thinking critically when we 

  • rely on reason rather than emotion,
  • require evidence, ignore no known evidence, and follow evidence where it leads, and
  • are concerned more with finding the best explanation than being right analyzing apparent confusion and asking questions.


We are thinking critically when we 

  • weigh the influences of motives and bias, and
  • recognize our own assumptions, prejudices, biases, or point of view.


We are thinking critically when we recognize emotional impulses, selfish motives, nefarious purposes, or other modes of self-deception.

We are thinking critically when we

  • evaluate all reasonable inferences
  • consider a variety of possible viewpoints or perspectives,
  • remain open to alternative interpretations
  • accept a new explanation, model, or paradigm because it explains the evidence better, is simpler, or has fewer inconsistencies or covers more data
  • accept new priorities in response to a reevaluation of the evidence or reassessment of our real interests, and
  • do not reject unpopular views out of hand.

We are thinking critically when we 

  • are precise, meticulous, comprehensive, and exhaustive
  • resist manipulation and irrational appeals, and
  • avoid snap judgments.


We are thinking critically when we

  • recognize the relevance and/or merit of alternative assumptions and perspectives
  • recognize the extent and weight of evidence

In sum,

  • Critical thinkers are by nature skeptical. They approach texts with the same skepticism and suspicion as they approach spoken remarks. 
  • Critical thinkers are active, not passive.  They ask questions and analyze. They consciously apply tactics and strategies to uncover meaning or assure their understanding. 
  • Critical thinkers do not take an egotistical view of the world. They are open to new ideas and perspectives.  They are willing to challenge their beliefs and investigate competing evidence.

Critical thinking enables us to recognize a wide range of subjective analyses of otherwise objective data, and to evaluate how well each analysis might meet our needs. Facts may be facts, but how we interpret them may vary.

By contrast, passive, non-critical thinkers take a simplistic view of the world. 

  • They see things in black and white, as either-or, rather than recognizing a variety of possible understanding.
  • They see questions as yes or no with no subtleties.
  • They fail to see linkages and complexities.
  • They fail to recognize related elements.

Non-critical thinkers take an egotistical view of the world

  • They take their facts as the only relevant ones.
  • They take their own perspective as the only sensible one.
  • They take their goal as the only valid one.

This list is, of course, incomplete, but it serves to indicate the type of thinking and approach to life that critical thinking is supposed to be.

Perhaps the most effective way to foster critical thinking skills is through explicit instruction.

Studies suggest that students become remarkably better problem-solvers when we teach them to

  • analyze analogies
  • create categories and classify items appropriately
  • identify relevant information
  • construct and recognize valid deductive arguments
  • test hypotheses
  • recognize common reasoning fallacies
  • distinguish between evidence and interpretations of evidence

Do such lessons stifle creativity? Not at all. Critical thinking is about curiosity, flexibility, and keeping an open mind. Creative problem solving depends on critical thinking skills

Research Studies

In fact, research suggests that explicit instruction in critical thinking may make kids smarter, more independent, and more creative.

Here are some examples - and some expert tips for teaching critical thinking to kids.

Teaching critical thinking may boost inventiveness and raises IQ

Richard Herrnstein and his colleagues gave over 400 seventh graders explicit instruction in critical thinking--a program that covered hypothesis testing, basic logic, and the evaluation of complex arguments, inventiveness, decision making, and other topics. 
After sixty 45-minute lessons, the kids were tested on a variety of tasks, including tests the Otis-Lennon School Ability Test and Raven Progressive Matrices (both used to measure IQ). The project was remarkably effective.

Compared to students in a control group, the kids given critical thinking lessons made substantial
and statistically significant improvements in language comprehension, inventive thinking, and even IQ.

Teaching critical thinking in class may help kids solve everyday problems.

In another experimental study, researchers Anat Zohar and colleagues tested 678 seventh graders’ analytical skills. Then they randomly assigned some students to receive critical thinking lessons as part of their biology curriculum. Students in the experimental group were explicitly trained to recognize logical fallacies, analyze arguments, test hypotheses, and distinguish between evidence and the interpretation of evidence. Students in a control group learned biology from the same textbook but got no special coaching in critical thinking.

At the end of the program, students were tested again. The students with critical thinking training showed greater improvement in their analytical skills, and not just for biology problems. The kids trained in critical thinking also did a better job solving everyday problems.


What Else Can We Do?  


Start early. Young children might not be ready for lessons in formal logic. But they can be taught to give reasons for their conclusions. And they can be taught to evaluate the reasons given by others.

Avoid pushing dogma
. When we tell kids to do things in a certain way, we should give reasons. 

Encourage kids to ask questions
. Parents and teachers should foster curiosity in children. If a rationale doesn’t make sense to a child, she should be encouraged to voice her objection or difficulty. 

Ask kids to consider alternative explanations and solutions
. It’s nice to get the right answer. But many problems yield themselves to more than one solution. When kids consider multiple solutions, they may become more flexible thinkers.

Get kids to clarify meaning
. Kids should practice putting things in their own words (while keeping the meaning intact). And kids should be encouraged to make meaningful distinctions.

Talk about biases
. Even grade school students can understand how emotions, motives--even our cravings--can influence our judgments.

Don’t confine Critical Thinking to purely factual or academic matters
. Encourage kids to reason about ethical, moral, and public policy issues.

Get kids to write
. As many teachers know, the process of writing helps students clarify their explanations and sharpen their arguments. In a recent study, researchers assigned college biology students to one of two groups. The writing group had to turn in written explanations of their laboratory work. The control group had to answer brief quizzes instead. At the end of the term, the students in the writing group had increased their analytical skills significantly.

Tips for Teaching Critical Thinking
: What should parents and teachers do?

The short answer is 'make the principles of rational and scientific thinking explicit'.

Philip Abrami and colleagues analyzed 117 studies about teaching critical thinking. The teaching approach with the strongest empirical support was explicit instruction--i.e., teaching kids specific ways to reason and solve problems. In studies where teachers asked students to solve problems without giving them explicit instruction, students experienced little improvement.

So it seems that kids benefit most when they are taught formal principles of reasoning. And the experiments mentioned above suggest that middle school students aren't too young to learn about logic, rationality, and the scientific method.

If your school isn’t teaching your child these things, then it might be a good idea to find some educational materials and work on critical thinking skills at home or enroll in Eye Level Program, which is the only after school program which includes Critical Thinking in its curriculum.