8 Critical Thinking Guidelines

John Bean writes that once professors decide to focus on developing critical thinking skills, “much of their classroom preparation time shifts from planning and preparing lectures to planning and preparing critical thinking problems for students to wrestle with” (6, p. Below, we suggest a series of what he might call “critical thinking tasks” that give students practice—and the opportunity to receive feedback on—analyzing and critically evaluating ideas, arguments, and points of view.To teach critical evaluation, we must define critical thinking in general and in the discipline, model habits of disciplinary thought, engage students in activities that require sophisticated thinking, and design assessments that call on students to demonstrate thinking skills.

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There is a link between this objective and developing deeper understandings of the self and the world.

By encouraging our students to adopt a critical framework, we prepare them not only to engage in scholarly conversation and debate in our disciplines, but also to be engaged citizens in a democratic society.

Learning how to analyze and critically evaluate arguments thus helps them to develop a sound framework to test their own arguments and advance their own points of view.

– training students in the habits of thought in our disciplines.

To achieve this and related objectives, instruction must incorporate intellectual challenge and activity; opportunities for creative or original work; finding and using information and translating that information into coherent communication; and opportunities to produce original work rather than simply recalling information.

This is supported by IDEA research finding that instructors stressing this objective frequently stimulate students to intellectual effort (#8), introduce stimulating ideas about the subject (#13), ask students to share ideas (#16), and assign work that requires original or creative thinking (#19).Rather than simply presenting information, be explicit with your students about how you approach such questions, defining critical thinking in your field and modeling disciplinary ways of thought.Engage students in activities that require sophisticated thinking and design assessments that call on students to demonstrate thinking skills.Below, we provide specific ideas for how to teach students to analyze and critically evaluate ideas and assess their abilities to do so.These activities and assessments require students to identify assumptions, weigh competing evidence, make decisions, imagine alternatives, and build arguments.IDEA research has found that it is related to Objectives #6 through #10 and Objective #12, which all address activities at the upper levels of cognitive taxonomies, activities requiring application and frequent synthesis and evaluation of ideas and events (3).Active processing is critical to our students’ long-term retention of ideas and concepts and their ability to transfer those ideas and concepts to other contexts (4).In a classroom, a student can see a drop of water, a literary device, a historical figure, or a math theorem, but these are just fragments that are worthless in and of themselves.A student in biology studying a drop of water must see the water as infinitely plural–as something that holds life and something that gives life. It is a tool, a miracle, a symbol, and a matter of science.To ask a question is to see both backward and forward–to make sense of a thing and what you know about it, and then extend outward in space and time to imagine what else can be known, or what others might know.To ask a great question is to see the conceptual ecology of the thing.


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