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. 

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.

Published by Nancy Burkhalter

I am in love with words. Trained as a linguist, journalist and researcher, I write, teach writing, and research everything about writing, especially how writing aids critical thinking. I've taught around the world, including three years in Kazakhstan, and a year each in Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Germany.

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