Critical Thinking

Summary of reform: Although not really very clearly defined, the public and academic community seems convinced that critical thinking is an important college outcome. It is commonly understood to be the ability to properly construct and evaluate an argument. Sub-skills proposed to be taught and assessed include: (a) for evaluation of an argument -- identifying purported conclusions; identifying premises; identifying assumptions that serve as additional premises; to identify and exclude extraneous information; and to rephrase and argument so that it faithfully represents the author's intended presentation; (b) for creating an argument -- identify issues requiring the application of specific research techniques; ability to define the nature of background knowledge needed in deciding a given issue, ability to develop plausible hypothesis, the ability to define the procedure that will test this hypothesis relative to a given issue; ability to articulate an argument regarding the hypothesis using results from one's testing and data gathering, and the ability to critique oneUs own arguments and refine hypothesis.

There is a debate whether it should be a technique of inductive logic in content oriented courses, solving open-ended problems, or applying Aristotlean rhetorical modes. There is a debate whether it should be taught in content oriented classes or separately. Research indicates that generic classes in critical thinking do not carry over well to disciplines so there is currently an emphasis on integrating this development into content courses. Thinking across the curriculum like writing across the curriculum.

Techniques for teaching include: in-class free writing; pre- or -in classroom questions to guide discussion or assignments; small group activities, inter-group debates, solving open-ended problems, pre-writing activities, multiple drafts of papers, peer editing, quizzes. Successful institutional efforts have involved more than one-time seminars on techniques for developing critical thinking. Some ways to supplement individual faculty efforts are working group of faculty across disciplines to read work on critical thinking together, sharing experiments to integrate methods into courses over sustained period of time, round table or luncheons over the semester innovations are introduced, stipend to help faculty transform classes.

Connection to other reforms:
Model Institutions: University of Washington.

Web Site:
Types of institutions: multiple institution types
Duration: since 1970's
Source list of institutions: AAHE has list of 2,300 partnerships
Contact for further information:

Level of institutionalization: Individual classroom change. Efforts can be enhanced by institutional support but no resources are needed.

Outcomes: This reform is an outcome

Process: For the most part, critical thinking is dependent on faculty pedagogical changes (and to a lesser degree pedagogical changes). That is, it involves changing assignments, feedback on assignments, standards and class expectations, and way material presented by introduction to methods for developing critical thinking and models of intellectual development

Target of Reform: both students and faculty; but mostly faculty since they are being asked to be more attuned to pedagogy and to assess whether they are teaching this skill

K-12 parallel:

Origination of reform: association or national level

Support: private grant -- Exxon; government grant -- FIPSE

Linking Characteristic 1: back to basics

Linking Characteristic 2:

Linking Characteristic 3:

Linking Characteristic 4:

Assessment? Yes

Description of assessment: Mostly classroom assessment through exams or papers. Jackson State University developed a Critical Thinking and Outcomes Measures Program which is assessed. Possible model for survey for future.

Resistances: Several critiques have been offered since critical thinking arises out of a particular way of viewing and evaluating reality and can make students feel other methods are not worthwhile. Not all statements of knowledge are made as propositions, so critical thinking is not always applicable, but this is often not emphasized to students. Problem is that it absolutizes the analytical process. Leads to cognitive passivity and lack of creativity among students in learning. Instead critics ask for a balancing between critical thinking and other outcomes. John Garder's work on multiple intelligences is key in understanding this critique.

Evolution/History: 1970's there was a major effort to develop experimental courses in developing critical thinking, mostly as elective courses in philosophy, psychology, speech, education, and English. Courses varied from teaching logic, study skills, informal fallacies, and decision making. Then there was a flood of criticism in the mid-1980's that this was not effectively being taught. Critical thinking courses are offered now as a part of the formal curriculum of many college and universities. This only emerged in the last twenty years. It was always assumed students developed this skill but as it became evident that they did not specific courses developed. There is now an annual conference on critical thinking since there is such national interest about the issue. This skill is seen as critical in a democratic society based on an informed and critical citizenry.


Major sources:

Arons, Arnold B. (1985.) "Critical Thinking" and the Baccalaureate Curriculum. Liberal Education, 71(2), 141-157.

Facione, Peter A. (1986.) Testing College-Level Critical Thinking. Liberal Education, 72(3), 221-231.

Garver, Eugene. (1986.) Critical Thinking, Them, and Us: A Response to Arnold B. Arons's "'Critical Thinking' and the Baccalaureate Curriculum." Liberal Education, 72(3), 245-249.

Walters, Kerry S. (1986.) Critical Thinking in Liberal Education: A Case of Overkill? Liberal Education, 72(3), 233-244.

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