Critical Thinking Skills

1. The Scope of Critical Thinking: Mere Thinking, Critical Thinking, Creative Thinking, Problem Solving

A. Thinking

Thinking is the process of using our mind to consciously consider something.

The object of thinking (the “something” that is consciously considered by the mind) can be basically anything: natural and social external reality, our own internal or mental reality, or even whether there is a supernatural reality and what it is like.

Thinking can even be reflexive, i.e., have itself as its object.

Thinking that has anything but itself as its object, is first-order thinking; thinking that has itself as its object is higher-order thinking.

As to the manner of thinking, it can be extended, attentive and careful or it can be fleeting, distracted and careless, or anything in between.

B. Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is, as a rule, extended, attentive and careful, not fleeing, distracted and careless.

Critical thinking has the following additional characteristics:

First, it has thinking itself as its object, and, therefore, is a higher-order, reflective sort of thinking;

Second, the objective of critical thinking is to determine, analyze and assess the epistemic credentials of what people think.

Third, since thinking expresses itself primarily in language, critical thinking can be seen primarily as thinking (with the stated objective) about what people say.

Fourth, when not explicitly expressed in language, thinking can often be inferred from action, since action is not mere, unthinking behavior, but behavior preceded by thinking (decision and sometimes deliberation), and therefore critical thinking can also be seen as thinking (with the stated objective) about what people do.

Thus, critical thinking is thinking about thinking, with objective of determining, analyzing and assessing the epistemic credentials of what people think, be this thinking explicitly manifested in what they say or inferred from what they do.

When speaking of critical thinking one often includes not only the process of evaluating thinking but also the value of the commitment to do so.

C. Creative Thinking

Creative thinking differs from critical thinking in having, as its object, something that does not yet exist in reality but the existence of which is considered desirable, valuable or useful.

Since creative thinking is a form of thinking, critical thinking can have creative thinking as its object, critical creative thinking not being an impossible expression.

D. Problem Solving

Problem solving is thinking that is aimed at solving a problem of a practical or theoretical nature.

Problem solving can be directed at problems caused by factors other than thinking or at problems caused by thinking.

When directed at problems caused by thinking, problem solving could be seen as a form of critical thinking.

But problem solving necessarily involves creative thinking as well, being perhaps best classified as a form of critical creative thinking.

E. Critical Thinking as a Skill

Even though we are born with an incredible capacity to learn, including the capacity to, in the appropriate social context, acquire and master language, make effective communication possible, we are not born with the capacity to thinking critically. This capacity is an acquired skill that has to be developed through education. Even in the course of human history the conditions that made critical thinking possible and even mandatory did not emerge all at the same time: they evolved gradually through time.

F. References








8. Critical Thinking by Brooke Noel Moore (Kindle Edition – Jul. 22, 2008) – Kindle Book

9. Critical Thinking: A Concise Guide by Gary Kemp (Kindle Edition – Aug. 3, 2009) – Kindle Book

10. Critical Thinking: A Concise Guide, Second edition by Gary Kemp (Kindle Edition – Mar. 20, 2007) – Kindle Book

11. Critical Thinking: Tools for Taking Charge of Your Professional and Personal Life by Richard W. Paul and Linda Elder (Kindle Edition – June 13, 2002) – Kindle Book

12. Critical Thinking for Helping Professionals: A Skills-Based Workbook by Eileen Gambrill and Leonard Gibbs (Kindle Edition – Mar. 25, 2009) – Kindle Book

13. The Ultimate Guide to Innovative Thinking – How to Solve Problems Quickly and Decisively by Betty Andre (Kindle Edition – May 9, 2010) – Kindle Book

14. The Critical Thinking Community:

15. Critical Thinking Web: – Online tutorials and teaching material on critical thinking.

16. Critical Thinking: What Is It Good for? (In Fact, What Is It?) by Howard Gabennesch, Skeptical Inquirer magazine.

17. Foundation For Critical Thinking – A large library of articles, research, assessment instruments, etc.

18. The Watson Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal – An independent critical evaluation

19. Encouraging Critical Thinking Online – A set of free teaching resources from the gateway site Intute

20. What "Critical" means in "Critical Thinking" by Donald Jenner

21. Critical Thinking Means Business – A guide to developing critical thinking ability by Pearson

22. blog – Articles, tips and resources to improve your thinking

23. Critical thinking at the Open Directory Project

2. The Evolution of Critical Thinking as Skill

A. Critical Thinking Before the 21st Century

Although some authors consider critical thinking a 20th century phenomenon, critical thinking has existed at least since the invention of philosophy in Greece in the second half of the last millennium before the Christian era. But it became an important skill that was placed as one of the main objectives of education only in the latter portion of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st century.

B. Critical Thinking and Language

Critical thinking is inevitably tied to language, which is the main form in which thinking expresses itself. But it was with the invention of writing, especially alphabetic writing, that it became possible to register one’s thinking for wider distribution, including for posterity, that conditions were created that would soon make philosophy, and with it critical thinking, possible.

C. Critical Thinking and Logic

But it was the invention – or, if the term is too strong, the systematization – of logic, by Aristotle, that really brought critical thinking into life: Aristotle basically created the argumentative use of language, upon which critical thinking depends.

D. Critical Thinking and Information

Critical thinking requires thinking as its object, and thinking is expressed mostly through language. Linguistic information (in oral or written form) is the main focus of critical thinking. However, critical thinking can be focused on non-verbal sounds images (static or moving) as well.

E. Critical Thinking and Communication

Although critical thinking in purely individual contexts is possible, critical thinking thrives where communication is easy and open, since effective analysis and evaluation of ideas often involve – even require – dialogue, discussion and mutual criticism.

F. Critical Thinking in the Late 20th Century

The role of information and communication in critical thinking explains why it began to thrive, as an activity and as one of the goals of education, at more or less the same time when the world faced an information and communication explosion.

G. Critical Thinking and Technology

Since this explosion is closely related to the emergence of digital information and communication technologies, the role of these technologies in critical thinking became quite important, given the unprecedented access to information to information and communication that this technology provides.

3. Methods and Tools of Critical Thinking

As it became evident in the previous section, the main tools for critical thinking, now grouped by affinity, are:

A. Language

Language has many uses. The main ones are to:

  • Communicate and convey information;
  • Express sentiments;
  • Argue, convince and persuade;
  • Evoke feelings;
  • Command, counsel, and suggest;
  • Perform acts and rituals.
  • The first three are the uses that are most relevant to critical thinking. When we convey information, express sentiments, and argue we use declarative statements that can be true or false. Language used to evoke feelings, command and perform acts cannot properly be said to contain statements that can be true or false. In critical thinking the objective is to evaluate thinking expressed in statements that can be true or false. Evaluation, in this case, means assessment of the epistemic credentials of a statement: determine and evaluate the evidence or the arguments used to support truth claims.

    B. Logic

    Logic is the science of evaluating arguments as to their validity or invalidity.

    Arguments are composed of sets of statements, in which one is the thesis (the conclusion) and the others are the premises (the epistemic support for the conclusion).

    In arguments, premises and conclusion must be statements that are either true or false.

    An argument is valid when, if its premises are true
    , its conclusions cannot (logically) be false. This means that the conjunction of the truth of the premises and the falsity of the conclusion is a contradiction in a valid argument. This means that validity is a formal concept that does not have anything to do with the truth or falsity of the premises of an argument.

    Thus, a valid argument can, in fact, contain statements that are either false or undetermined as to the truth value.

    A valid argument that in fact contains all true premises (and, therefore, a true conclusion) is called a sound argument. Logic does not have principles to determine the truth or falsity of statements, but it does have complex rules for evaluating the validity or invalidity of arguments. An unsound argument either is invalid or has at least one false premise.

    C. Information

    What we call verbal information consists of (oral or written) declarative statements. In a context, such as the Information Society, where we have information overload, there are many more possibilities for the exercise of critical thinking.

    Since critical thinking has as its objective the evaluation of thinking expressed in language, and our society is overloaded with information, we have here the main reason why critical thinking became to central to our society and one of the most important goals of education.

    D. Communication

    If information provides most of the input for critical thinking in the Information Society, communication is the main tool for achieving it, since it is a necessary condition for collaborative discussion and debate, which are essential to critical thinking.

    E. Information and Communication Technologies

    Given the centrality of information and communication processes in critical thinking, it is no wonder that information and communication technologies are also central tools to it.

    F. References

    1. Methods of Critical Thinking:

    2. Assessment and Teaching of 21st-Century Skills:

    3. Critical Thinking Skills for Education Students by Elaine McCreery (Kindle Edition – Feb. 24, 2010) – Kindle Book

    4. The Socratic Method and its Effect on Critical Thinking – An article at the Socratic Method Research Portal

    5. Using Internet Primary Sources to Teach Critical Thinking Skills in World Languages by Grete Pasch and Kent Norsworthy (Kindle Edition – Nov. 30, 2000) – Kindle Book

    6. Using Internet Primary Sources to Teach Critical Thinking Skills in World Literature by Roxanne M. Kent-Drury (Kindle Edition – Mar. 30, 2005) – Kindle Book

    7. Using Internet Primary Sources to Teach Critical Thinking Skills in the Sciences by Carolyn M. Johnson (Kindle Edition – Aug. 30, 2003) – Kindle Book

    8. Using Internet Primary Sources to Teach Critical Thinking Skills in Government, Economics, and Contemporary World Issues by James M. Shiveley and Phillip J. VanFossen (Kindle Edition – Sept. 30, 2001) – Kindle Book

    9. Using Internet Primary Sources to Teach Critical Thinking Skills in Geography by Martha B. Sharma and Gary S. Elbow (Kindle Edition – Sept. 30, 2000) – Kindle Book

    10. Using Internet Primary Sources to Teach Critical Thinking Skills in History by Kathleen W. Craver (Kindle Edition – Oct. 30, 1999) – Kindle Book

    11. Using Internet Primary Sources to Teach Critical Thinking Skills in History: Washington Tackles the Yugoslav Conflict by Danielle S. Sremac (Kindle Edition – Oct. 30, 1999) – Kindle Book

    12. Using Internet Primary Sources to Teach Critical Thinking Skills in History: Generals, Knowledge, and Warfare in Early Modern Europe, 1680-1740 by Erik Lund (Kindle Edition – Oct. 30, 1999) – Kindle Book

    13. The Critical Thinking Community Bookstore:

    4. Critical Thinking and Education: How to Develop and Improve Critical Thinking Skills

    It is difficult to question that information is an essential ingredient of the educational process. What became questionable in the 21st century was the thesis that the main role of education is to transmit information to the students – “content delivery” (“content” being understood primarily as information organized according to disciplinary criteria that reflect academic specialization. Since, today, an unprecedented amount of information is readily available on the Internet, there seems to be little justification to spend large sums of information simply to transmit information from one generation to the other.

    Given this fact, which became more and more evident at the end of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st century, the focus of education began to change from information transm
    ission to capacity building – that is, to skill and competency development.

    There is no doubt that conventional education had basic skill development as one of its goals. After all, learning how and read and write and how to deal with numbers, quantities, formulas, shapes, patterns, etc. involves the development not only of various skills but also of extremely complex competencies.

    However, many of the skills and competencies that became important in 21st-century society were not covered – or were insufficiently or inadequately covered – in the conventional educational systems of the 20th century. Hence the idea to promote 21st-century skills as part – probably the central core – of the curriculum. And critical thinking has been included in every list of 21st-century skills suggested.

    There is ample agreement that conventional teaching – centered on teacher-led lecturing and exposition – is not an effective method to help students develop skills and competencies (21st-century or any other). There is considerable agreement, as well, that problem-oriented, project-based and inquiry-led collaborative methodologies provide such method. Hence, the conclusion that the best way to develop and improve skills – including and especially critical thinking – is through this methodology, which involves:

  • Access to information or search for information
  • Information management (organization, storage, retrieval, preservation of the integrity and security of information, etc.)
  • Analysis, evaluation and processing of information
  • Interpersonal communication
  • Public communication (dissemination of information to the general public by audiovisual and written means)
  • Critical discussion and debate of information
  • These information and communication processes are, today, closely dependent of digital technology (but many of them were dependent of conventional technologies, such as print, photography, telephone, cinema, radio and television). And they are essential for the development of critical thinking skills.

    Hence the importance that problem-oriented, project-based and inquiry-led collaborative methodologies have assumed at the present.




    3. Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher by Stephen D. Brookfield (Kindle Edition – Oct. 13, 1995) – Kindle Book

    4. Classrooms That Work: Teaching Generic Skills in Academic and Vocational Settings by C Stasz (Kindle Edition – Jan. 25, 1993) – Kindle Book

    5. Critical Squares: Games of Critical Thinking and Understanding by Shari Tishman and Albert G. Andrade (Kindle Edition – May 15, 1997) – Kindle Book

    6. Differentiating With Graphic Organizers: Tools to Foster Critical and Creative Thinking by Patti Drapeau (Kindle Edition – Sept. 26, 2008) – Kindle Book

    7. Information Literacy and Technology Research Projects: Grades 6-9 by Norma Heller (Kindle Edition – Feb. 15, 2001) – Kindle Book

    8. Making Questions Work: A Guide to How and What to Ask for Facilitators, Consultants, Managers, Coaches, and Educators by Dorothy Strachan (Kindle Edition – Nov. 28, 2006) – Kindle Book

    9. Philosophy in the Classroom: Improving Your Pupils – Thinking Skills and Motivating Them to Learn by Ron Shaw (Kindle Edition – Jan. 23, 2009) – Kindle Book

    10. Socratic Circles: Fostering Critical And Creative Thinking In Middle And High School by Matt Copeland (Kindle Edition – Mar. 1, 2005) – Kindle Book

    11. Spoofing and Proofing the Classics: Literature-Based Activities to Develop Critical Reading Skills and Grammatical Knowledge by Keith Polette and Nancy Polette (Kindle Edition – Feb. 28, 2007) – Kindle Book

    12. Students as Researchers by Shirley (Ed.) Steinberg (Kindle Edition – Dec. 7, 2002) – Kindle Book

    13. The Beanstalk and Beyond: Developing Critical Thinking Through Fairy Tales by Joan M. Wolf (Kindle Edition – Aug. 15, 1997) – Kindle Book

    14. Tricky Thinking Problems: Advanced Activities in Applied Thinking Skills for Ages 6-11 by Jan Langrehr (Kindle Edition – Jan. 9, 2009) – Kindle Book

    In São Paulo, on June 18, 2010, transcribed on July 11, 2010
    © Eduardo Chaves


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