Getting in the Mood to Critically Think: The Seven Dispositions of a Critical Thinker

I just finished reading a very important article about critical thinking. It’s titled “Teaching thinking dispositions: from transmission to enculturation” by Shari Tishman, Eileen Jay and D.N. Perkins, a 1993 article still relevant today (Theory into Practice, 32(3), pp.147-53). I found an excerpt on Yahoo! Finance (http://finance.yahoo.com/news/harvard-says-best-thinkers-7-182227176.html?soc_src=mediacontentstory, published Oct. 10, 2014).

The Tishman et al. article is noteworthy because people don’t usually think of someone’s disposition – i.e., tendency to do something – as a part of critical thinking. But I believe it is a crucial aspect and easily overlooked. Here are the seven dispositions:

  1. The disposition to be broad and adventurous: The tendency to be open-minded, to explore alternative views; an alertness to narrow thinking; the ability to generate multiple options.
  2. The disposition toward sustained intellectual curiosity: The tendency to wonder, probe, find problems, a zest for inquiry; an alertness for anomalies; the ability to observe closely and formulate questions.
  3. The disposition to clarify and seek understanding: A desire to understand clearly, to seek connections and explanations; an alertness to unclarity and need for focus; an ability to build conceptualizations.
  4. The disposition to be planful and strategic: The drive to set goals, to make and execute plans, to envision outcomes; alertness to lack of direction; the ability to formulate goals and plans.
  5. The disposition to be intellectually careful: The urge for precision, organization, thoroughness; an alertness to possible error or inaccuracy; the ability to process information precisely.
  6. The disposition to seek and evaluate reasons: The tendency to question the given, to demand justification; an alertness to the need for evidence; the ability to weigh and assess reasons.
  7. The disposition be metacognitive: The tendency to be aware of and monitor the flow of one’s own thinking; alertness to complex thinking situations; the ability to exercise control of mental processes and to be reflective.

Interestingly, even if you have the ability to think critically but fail to do so, then you cannot rightly call yourself a critical thinker. That is because you don’t just turn them on and off. They should be used at all times in what are called “uncued conditions” (p. 5 of https://learnweb.harvard.edu/alps/thinking/docs/article2.html). This means you are a critical thinker not only at test time or during class but also when you read about a dangerous epidemic in the newspaper, hear a report about Afghanistan on TV, play a fun video game, listen to a sermon, or even read this article about dispositions – all the time and everywhere.

The authors also explain why dispositions cannot be taught through the transmission model, i.e., memorization. One cannot memorize one’s way into critical thinking. Critical thinking is a process that requires actively examining claims, scrutinizing support, and weighing data. We must never swallow anything whole, as is often the case when teachers lecture and students take notes. This teaching/learning model will not stand if a culture is to progress and make informed decisions.

I plan to write more about this, especially about cultures that may teach critical thinking but lack these critical dispositions.

Questioning Oneself

One of the best graduate school midterms I ever took was given by my mentor and dissertation advisor, Dr. Vera John-Steiner. She is one of four Vygotskian scholars who edited Mind in Society* (1978) and has written extensively about his sociocultural approach to education. In keeping with his philosophy – that acquiring knowledge is acquired through shared activities – she asked for pairs of students to develop a question for each other about anything they might have about Vygotsky’s work. We would then research our question and report the findings orally to each other and written (two pages max) for her perusal. It’s been 25 years since I took that exam, and I still remember my question and the answer. But that exam also taught me how powerful posing one’s own questions can be.

And even though I have superciliously tagged by blog the who, what, where, when, and why of critical thinking, I mean that I intend to seek answers to all those questions about critical thinking. So in that spirit, here are a few questions that have been rattling around in my brain:

  1.  How do the Common Core standards promote CT?
  2. How soon is too soon to start teaching CT and how should we do it?
  3. Do people from various educational traditions think critically in the same way?
  4. Why can’t we agree on a definition of CT?
  5. Do I have to accumulate a certain number of facts about a topic before I can critically think about it and if so, what is the tipping point?
  6. How can two intelligent people both be critical thinkers and yet come to different conclusions?
  7. Can everyone be a critical thinker regardless of IQ?
  8. Why is CT such a vague concept (“I think I know what it is, but I’m not sure”) and is there a better way or term we could use to explain and clarify its meaning?
  9. What are the best practices for teaching CT?
  10. Is there a textbook that teaches CT?
  11. What is Design Thinking and how does it comport with CT?

If you would like to add your own questions—and I hope you do!—or suggest resources to help answer them, I would be so grateful and will try my best to formulate a reply. Please post them on this blog or contact me at nancy . burkhalter @ live.com.

*Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind in society: the development of higher psychological processes. M. Cole, V. John-Steiner, S. Scribner, and E. Souberman (Eds.). Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Great Resources

I am so impressed with these three websites, especially the first one. It is a Canadian organization that gives terrific ideas on how to teach, create, and share ideas on CT.

The Critical Thinking Consortium

Critical Thinking Consortium

Just today I received an email from them with this information about more resources at this URL (under Join heading):

tc2- Join

“If you are in a position to help implement critical thinking, here are three resources you might use to introduce the Tools for Thought to teachers during a short meeting. This online collection of ready to use lesson plans introduces students to a wide range of intellectual tools for effective thinking. “

There are lots of easy to use ideas for all levels, including lesson plans. What could be easier?

CriticalThinking.net (http://www.criticalthinking.net/howteach.html)

Written by one of the fathers of critical thinking, Robert Ennis provides “Twenty-One Strategies and Tactics for Teaching Critical Thinking.” Subheads include Underlying and Fundamental Strategies, Tactics, and Mid-Level Strategies. It’s a bit condensed, but it provides a great bird’s-eye view of what CT consists of and how to teach it.

Critical Thinking Pathways (Critical Thinking Pathways)

Edutopia, where this article appears, has a lot to recommend it on many issues educational, but this posting by blogger Todd Finley really sent me over the moon. It has everything from definitions of CT ideas for project-based learning to the formulation of questions. It’s a collection of resources (including Ennis’s from above) that you could spend a day looking over. Be sure to look at the other articles in the series.

 

 

Articles on Assessment of Critical Thinking 4

This is the last in this series of annotated bibs about articles on CT assessment, but I would like to revisit it soon. It is, after all, a huge topic and not at all settled. These last two items are by the same people, Richard Paul and Linda Elder. Please let me know if you find these postings helpful or would like me to add one of your choosing.

Paul, R. & Elder, L. (2007). Critical thinking competency standards: Standards, principles, performance indicators, and outcomes with a critical thinking master rubric. Tomales, CA: Foundation for Critical Thinking Press.

This book is from a series about critical thinking that the Foundation for Critical Thinking writes and publishes. All of Paul and Elder’s books are based on eights elements of reasoning, nine intellectual standards, and eight intellectual traits.

Their rubric for assessing critical thinking is a combination of these 25 competencies. The authors recommend assigning 0-4 points per standard in their grading rubric. Each standard lists several outcomes. For instance, Standard Four: Inferences and Interpretations lists this as one of the nine outcomes: “Students distinguish between assumptions and inferences; they uncover and accurately assess the assumptions underlying inferences,” (p. 20). It doesn’t give any instructions on how to go about assessing assumptions and inferences, just that you should do it.

There is a wealth of information in this and all their booklets on different aspects of critical thinking, but many are not easily navigated without some instruction and practice. They are also fairly dense and somewhat repetitive from book to book, probably so one can read any of them as a stand-alone document. The Foundation has made a name for itself by identifying and expanding the elements of critical thinking, although it can be fairly said that Richard Paul brought a sterling reputation to the Foundation from his years as a philosopher. Their booklets are more informational than pedagogically suited. Useful for those wanting to appreciate how complex critical thinking can be, the information can be tailored to address individual teaching needs, albeit with some difficulty.

 

Paul, R. & Elder, L. (2006). The international critical thinking reading & writing test. Tomales, CA: Foundation for Critical Thinking Press.

As with the other booklet annotated above, this one also draws upon seven “symbiotic skills” of disciplined thought: 1. Clarify purpose, 2. Formulate clear questions, 3. Distinguish accurate and relevant information from inaccurate and irrelevant information, 4. Reach logical inferences or conclusions, 5. Identify significant and deep concepts, 6. Distinguish justifiable from unjustifiable assumptions, and 7. Trace logical implications. Outcomes are provided.

The authors break down the processes of close reading and substantive writing into five levels: paraphrasing, explicating, analysis, evaluation, and role-playing. For each level, they provide very useful exercises as well as sample responses. They use fairly high level texts, e.g., Thoreau’s On Civil Disobedience and Fromm’s The Art of Loving. The method, however, is applicable to any text. This book is much more teacher-friendly because it goes carefully through the steps of close reading and substantive writing. [Much of the method is also covered in their booklet titled A Thinkers Guide to How to Read a Paragraph and Beyond: The Art of Close Reading (2003)]. Their method really shows how to put critical thinking into action and prevent students from zooming through readings with little understanding. It is the antidote to fast-food thinking, which is, of course, their point.

This booklet does not teach how to design or conduct the test but rather provides examples of how to examine a particular component of critical thinking. Grading, they caution, should be done only by someone who is familiar with the tenets of critical thinking if reliability is to be achieved.

While the efforts of the Foundation are admirable and an invaluable contribution to the field, I find their explanations dense and at times inaccessible, even to someone who has studied critical thinking a lot and even attended several of their conferences. For my money, critical thinking is already mysterious enough, and those who come to this and other booklets uninitiated in their canon may find them tough sledding but worth the effort for the trying.

 

Observation: The Earliest Critical Thinking Skill

This is another guest posting of a presentation given by Steve Coxon, Ph.D., assistant professor & director of Programs in Gifted Education at Maryville University in St. Louis, Missouri. He presented his talk at the 34th International Conference on Critical Thinking and Educational Reform sponsored by the Foundation for Critical Thinking (www.criticalthinking.org) in July this year. He has also generously offered to send his PowerPoint presentation that accompanied his talk. Below that is Dr. Coxon’s contact information and some websites pertinent to his talk.

Observation: The Earliest Critical Thinking Skill

Careful observation is fundamental to a fair-minded understanding of the world and is important to continue to develop in elementary students through increasingly challenging learning activities. In her book, Emergent Science, Johnston (2014, p. 8) refers to observation as the “first and most important scientific skill” and suggests it begins to develop in the womb as the fetus learns to recognize familiar voices. While preschool curricula often focus on improving observational skills in early childhood, researchers Eberback and Crowley (2009) note that elementary classrooms neglect further development in middle and late childhood. This is unfortunate as it takes increasingly challenging experiences to improve any skill and careful observation is needed for well-developed habits of mind including clarity, accuracy, precision, depth, and breadth. Moreover, strong observational skills underlie such critical thinking concepts as comparing and contrasting viewpoints, evaluating evidence, and noting the sometimes subtle differences between fact and opinion. This concurrent session will provide a background on the development of observational skills in early childhood, connections between observation and critical thinking, and challenging activities to improve observational skills in elementary school students.

 

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Using Social Media as an Access Point to Analyze Our Thinking

Dear readers:

Shira Cohen-Goldberg delivered a presentation at the 34th International Conference on Critical Thinking and Educational Reform (July 2014) for teachers and elementary school students. Shira is a lead facilitator at the HILL for Literacy, Inc. Below is an abstract of her talk. Slides and handouts can be located at

http://hillforliteracy.org/resources/presentations (at the top of the page).

The Common Core State Standards establish that teaching practices and related tasks that help students cultivate their thinking are to be prioritized in classroom instruction. This presentation is designed to help participants explore novel ways to bring the core concepts of critical thinking to elementary and middle school students. By nature, digital information (including social networking sites and YouTube) is continuously accessible, abundant, and often requires careful analysis. Social media is a timely and appropriate means to help young students analyze new information and is an engaging point of access for all students. Cohen-Goldberg uses digital media to help participants explore the concepts of information/inferences/assumptions, touch on paraphrasing and explication, and deeply engage in the analysis level by exploring the logic of an internet persona’s thinking. She offers methods and tools to help students move their thinking beyond digital media and into textual analysis.

Critical Thinking in the Literature Classroom

Dear readers:

Hiner and Bird-Critical Thinking in the Literature Classroom is a PowerPoint that Dr. Amanda Hiner and Dr. John Bird presented at the 34th International Conference on Critical Thinking and Educational Reform (July 2014). Dr. Hiner has published extensively about this topic and has distilled many of her idea in this presentation, which contains many links and helpful resources. Please contact Dr. Hiner with questions and comments, or include them here and I will forward them

Amanda L. Hiner, PhD

Assistant Professor of English

Coordinator, Critical Reading, Thinking, and Writing

Winthrop University

241 Bancroft Hall

Rock Hill, SC 29733

803-323-2351

hinera@winthrop.edu

http://faculty.winthrop.edu/hinera

 

 

ARTICLES ON ASSESSMENT OF CRITICAL THINKING 3

Mazer, J., Hunt, S., Kuznekoff, J. (2007). Revising general education: Assessing a critical thinking instructional model in the basic communication course. The Journal of General Education, 56(3&4), 173-199.

In this article the authors describe their program and the courses where their critical thinking model is used. They also define critical thinking (as that is very important to do before embarking on any kind of assessment) and report on an experiment where they compare two CT instructional models for two Communications 110 courses, one current and one proposed. For assessment, they used two measurements. The first is a 17-item Likert scale for self assessment developed by Halpern (1996)1 and the second is a test specific to the content of the course. There were 10 multiple choice questions that measured students’ recognition of arguments, evidence, and fallacies.

This paper is useful for anyone wanting to see how CT is used in communication courses. Authors state that CT instruction is most effective when housed within a content course, such as a basic communication course, and applied to specific assignments” (p. 176). Moreover, there are many sources listed that address these important issues.

The research instrument used, as self-assessment tool which they call the CTSA, or the Critical Thinking Self Assessment, is

1Halpern, D. (1996). Thinking critically about critical thinking. Mahwah, N.J.: Erlbaum.

The authors have graciously granted me permission to publish the self-assessment instrument used in their study (with some modifications), as it is not included in the article.

Critical Thinking Self Assessment (CTSA) (printed with permission from Stephen Hunt)

 Directions: This questionnaire is designed to help you examine your own skills by asking you to describe how you interact with things you read and hear. Doing this accurately can help you know what skills you need to work on and what skills you have already developed. Your answers will not affect your grade in any way; so be honest with yourself. Think about times when you have seen or heard professionally-produced articles, stories, videos, books, speeches, or sermons that were designed to persuade you to believe something. Consider only those times when you paid attention. Using these recollections, and recollections about your own writing and speaking, please answer the following questions as honestly as you can. Please circle the appropriate response using the scale below (1 = never, 2 = rarely, 3 = sometimes, 4 = frequently, 5 = always)

Never Rarely Sometimes Frequently Always
1. When I read or hear items like those described above, I am able to get the point. 1 2 3 4 5
2. I am able to follow a fairly complex line of argument, so that I can tell which things are offered in support of which other things, and how it’s all supposed to fit together. 1 2 3 4 5
3. After reading or hearing someone’s line of argument on an issue, I can give an accurate, detailed summary of how the line of argument went. 1 2 3 4 5
4. I feel confident about deciding whether it is reasonable to believe a piece of evidence or a reason used in support of a conclusion. 1 2 3 4 5
5. I can tell when there are logical holes in the reasoning that is supposed to connect a conclusion and the reasons being used to support that conclusion. 1 2 3 4 5
6. I know how to tell the difference between a credible source and a garbage source of information or ideas. 1 2 3 4 5
7. I look for the hidden assumptions that are often present in an argument. 1 2 3 4 5
8. When I read reliable statistics that show two factors rise and fall together, I recognize that it doesn’t necessarily mean one caused the other. 1 2 3 4 5
9. When I evaluate someone else’s line of thinking, I consider their arguments rather than just deciding whether I agree with their conclusions. 1 2 3 4 5


Portfolio Assignment

Never Rarely Sometimes Frequently Always
10. I know how to go about deciding how strong an argument really is. 1 2 3 4 5
11. I am able to come up with acceptable reasons or evidence to support my conclusions when I write or give organized oral presentations. 1 2 3 4 5
12. When I write an essay or give a talk I try to respond carefully to possible significant objections to my positions. 1 2 3 4 5
13. I am able to construct an organized, logical argument that stays on topic. 1 2 3 4 5
14. When I present an argument for a position, other people can follow what I’m saying. 1 2 3 4 5
15. When there are good arguments for contrary views on a subject, I know how to evaluate them and come up with the best conclusion. 1 2 3 4 5
16. I am willing to take the time and make the effort to think through an argument carefully before deciding what I think about it. 1 2 3 4 5
17. I enjoy thinking through an issue and coming up with strong arguments about it. 1 2 3 4 5

In order to obtain a score, simply sum all 17 items. Your CTSA score ______.  Look back over your answers. Do you see any patterns of weaknesses or strengths? You can compare your score on the CTSA to other ISU students’ using the percentile chart below (the average beginning of semester CTSA score in a previous sample of ISU students was 64.11).

                  Percentiles                  Score

25                             60.00

50                             63.00

75                             69.00

ARTICLES ON ASSESSMENT OF CRITICAL THINKING 2

Here are two more articles that talk about assessment. By the way, these articles have been chosen because they mention assessment of critical thinking in their title. Their selection does imply any anything beyond that criterion.

Halpern, D. (2001). Assessing the effectiveness of critical thinking instruction. Best of the Journal of General Education: Featuring Articles from 1984–2000, 270-286.

Halpern provides a brief justification for why we teach critical thinking and how important it is. She lists 19 thinking skills that most courses draw from if they purport to enhance CT, e.g., reading with a high level of comprehension, using analogies, restructuring problems, planning a course of action.

Before launching into a survey of ways that CT is assessed, she cautions that any test must be sensitive enough to pick up subtle changes in students’ thinking abilities and in their disposition to think critically, e.g., a willingness to suspend judgment to consider information that would go against their thinking.

Halpern then outlines the various issues that surround a reliable assessment of critical thinking including who is tested and when, as well as which courses and activities contribute to critical thinking. She concludes that critical thinking can and should be taught in college, as its effects will benefit the students and businesses for years to come.

My question is why we wait until college to embark on teaching such a vital skill.

For further reading, see the 2013 issue of Inquiry: Critical Thinking Across the Disciplines, 28(3), with several articles critiquing the Halpern Critical Thinking Assessment (HCTA) and her reply.

Ikuenobe, P. (2001). Teaching and assessing critical thinking abilities as outcomes in an informal logic course. Teaching in Higher Education, 6(1), 19-32.

Many believe that informal logic and critical thinking intersect. Ikuenobe agrees but adds that although learning logical principles of reasoning is necessary for critical thinking, they are not sufficient because courses in informal logic do not clearly state outcomes. The article advances detailed abstract principles in informal logic that are also applicable to critical thinking, as well as the five developmental stages they are divided into for teaching, from the more passive skill of identifying to the more active ones of articulating, constructing, and evaluating argument structures.

Ikuenobe outlines in great detail what elements go into each of these stages and lists outcomes that can be turned into assessments, e.g., in Level 1, “They are able to identify statements, other kinds of sentences, arguments and …identify premises and conclusions in different texts” (p. 29). Level 5, however, involves the open-ended criterion of “applying general logical principles to the context of a subject matter” (p. 30).

While comprehensive, the article assumes intimate knowledge of informal logic and how to teach it, for instance, analyzing argument structure. The article is useful in helping us understand how informal logic and critical thinking might overlap. But the title might be a bit misleading in that it does not give any information on how to teach any of these skills. Perhaps most useful is the opportunity it provides those teaching critical thinking to see how their efforts jibe with the tenets of informal logic so they can build a few of those elements into their curriculum.

What Do You Know?: Assessing Critical Thinking

Here’s what I know for sure about assessing critical thinking: There are several ways to go about it. It sure is tricky though, mostly because critical thinking is not a skill that builds the same way we acquire vocabulary or learn to vault a high bar. It’s a protracted, nonlinear process that takes months, maybe even years, before significant progress can be measured.

I learned that the hard way. When I wrote my dissertation about critical thinking and persuasive writing, I hypothesized that persuasive writing would increase 4th graders’ ability to think critically. Among the data I collected were the results of a pre and post test on the Cornell Critical Thinking Test X that bookended a three-week unit on how to write persuasive essays. My results showed no significance. Duh! Critical thinking needs to be practiced–and practiced a lot over time and across domains–for it to become a habit of mind, a recurring method of inquiry, and a way of calibrating one’s ideas. So, no, three weeks in terms of learning to think critically is not enough time. Ah, live and learn.

So if it takes a long time to acquire those skills, when and how can we reliably measure them? To complicate things, critical thinking skills can differ from field to field. For instance, I may be a very good critical thinker when it comes to linguistic theory but a total bust when it comes to aviation or sociology. Some disagree, saying there are elements of critical thinking that carry over from one task to the next. (See Ennis, 1989, and Halpern, 1998, for thorough discussions about this still unsettled matter.) So should I just test their skill to think critically in math, or can I give them a generalized test that examines if they use those same skills in, say, English literature?

In the end, the question ends up being this: exactly how do we appraise students’ critical thinking and audit their progress? My next few postings will take up those issues with an annotated bibliography of several articles on the topic. (Hint: none of these methods includes multiple choice tests.) Feel free to suggest other articles for analysis.

Ennis, R. (1989). Critical thinking and subject specificity: clarification and needed research. Educational Researcher, 18(3), 4-10.

Halpern, D. (1998). Teaching critical thinking for transfer across domains. American Psychologist, 53(4), 449-455.