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Critical thinking as an educational ideal. David Hitchcock McMaster University Outline. Development of the concept Definition An educational ideal. 1. Development: John Dewey. ( How We Think , 1910) “active, persistent, and careful consideration

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Critical thinking as an educational ideal

Critical thinkingas an educational ideal

David Hitchcock

McMaster University


  • Development of the concept

  • Definition

  • An educational ideal

1 development john dewey
1. Development: John Dewey

(How We Think, 1910)

“active, persistent, and careful consideration

of any belief or supposed form of knowledge

in the light of the grounds that support it,

and the further conclusions to which it tends…

judgment suspended during further inquiry”

1 development edward glaser
1. Development: Edward Glaser

(An Experiment in the Development of Critical Thinking, 1941)

“The ability to think critically … involves three things:

( 1 ) an attitude of being disposed to consider in a thoughtful way the problems and subjects that come within the range of one's experiences,

(2) knowledge of the methods of logical inquiry and reasoning, and

(3) some skill in applying those methods.”

1 development robert ennis
1. Development: Robert Ennis

“the correct assessing of statements” (1962)

“reasonable reflective thinking focused on deciding what to believe or do” (1985 on)

1 development alec fisher and michael scriven
1. Development: Alec Fisher and Michael Scriven

(Critical Thinking: Its Definition and Assessment, 1997)

“skilled and active

interpretation and evaluation

of observations,


information and


2 definition commonalities
2. Definition: commonalities

  • a type of thinking

  • applies to all subject matters

  • involves looking back, suspending judgment

  • reasonable

  • involves careful consideration of evidence

  • oriented to making a definite judgment

  • ideal of a “critical thinker”

    • someone who thinks critically whenever appropriate

    • involves knowledge, skills, attitudes, dispositions

2 definition differences
2. Definition: differences

  • appraisal only or creative also?

  • skills, attitudes or both?

  • general or subject-specific?

2 definition component skills
2. Definition: component skills

  • clarify meaning

  • analyze arguments

  • evaluate evidence

  • judge whether a conclusion follows

  • draw warranted conclusions

2 definition component dispositions
2. Definition: component dispositions

  • open-minded

  • fair-minded

  • searching for evidence

  • trying to be well-informed

  • attentive to others’ views and their reasons

  • proportioning belief to the evidence

  • willing to consider alternatives and revise beliefs

Definition critical thinking process
Definition: critical thinking process

  • identify and analyze problem

  • clarify meaning

  • gather evidence

  • assess evidence

  • infer conclusions

  • consider other relevant information

  • make overall judgment

Definition relation to logical analysis
Definition: relation to logical analysis

Educational ideal basic argument
Educational ideal: basic argument

In my view, C [it should be a goal of any system of education to teach the knowledge, develop the skills, and foster the attitudes and dispositions of a “critical thinker”: someone who thinks critically when it is appropriate to do so, and who does so well.] 1 [The ability to think critically, in the sense just described, is an important life skill.] 1a [Everybody encounters from time to time perplexities about what to believe or what to do, both in everyday life and in specialized occupations.] 1b [Skillful critical thinking is by definition more likely to lead to a satisfactory resolution of such perplexities than inadequate reflection or a knee-jerk reaction.] 1 [A disposition to respond to perplexities with skillful critical thinking is thus helpful to anyone in managing their life.] Furthermore, although most people develop some disposition to think critically and some skill at doing so in the ordinary course of their maturation, especially in the context of schooling, 2 [focused attention on the knowledge, skills and attitudes of a critical thinker can improve them noticeably.] For example, 2a [in a study of the effectiveness of computer-assisted instruction in critical thinking (Hitchcock 2004), I found that, at the beginning of a critical thinking course, on a standardized test of critical thinking skills the average score of several hundred undergraduates who had already completed at least one year of university courses was 17 out of 34. At the end of the course, the average score on this standardized test had risen to 19 out of 34, a gain of half a standard deviation, enough to be noticeable, and far more than the expected gain of .05 of a standard deviation (Pascarella & Teranzini 2005).] 2b [Other studies have found even greater average gains from taking a course in critical thinking, ranging as high as 1.5 standard deviations.] Such results point to just one respect in which explicit instruction in critical thinking can make it better. 2c [More generally, a student can improve thinking of any sort in six different respects: awareness, effort, attitude, organization, sub-skills and smoothness (Swartz & Perkins 1990, p. 24).] For all the reasons just mentioned, C [it makes sense to make critical thinking an explicit goal of any educational system, and especially of any system of post-secondary education.]

Educational ideal basic argument1
Educational ideal: basic argument

Any system of education should aim to teach the knowledge, develop the skills, and foster the attitudes and dispositions of a “critical thinker”.

A disposition to respond to perplexities with skillful critical thinking is helpful to anyone in managing their life.

Attention to the knowledge, skills and attitudes of a critical thinker can improve them noticeably.

Everybody encounters perplexities about what to believe or what to do.

Skillful critical thinking is more likely to lead to a satisfactory resolution of such perplexities.

Noticeable gain, more than expected.

(Hitchcock 2004)

Other studies found greater gains.

A student can improve thinking in six different respects. (Swartz & Perkins 1990)

Educational ideal three caveats
Educational ideal: three caveats

  • don’t just say it, do it

  • ideal will be approached, not achieved

  • domain knowledge is needed too

Educational ideal three models
Educational ideal: three models

Educational ideal design principles
Educational ideal: design principles

  • Adapt to your situation.

  • Communicate goals clearly.

  • Motivate the students.

  • Use a framework.

  • Foster a critical spirit.

  • Prefer depth to breadth.

  • Use bridging.

  • Use salient current issues.

Educational ideal design principles1
Educational ideal: design principles

  • Use real or realistic examples.

  • Pick your examples with care.

  • Provide guided practice with feedback.

  • Check for understanding.

  • Encourage meta-cognition.

  • Think about context.

  • Watch for empty use of technical terms.

  • Design multiple-choice items carefully.

Educational ideal on the web
Educational ideal: On the Web

  • Robert Ennis:


  • Tim van Gelder:


  • Development: Dewey, Glaser, Ennis, Fisher and Scriven

  • Definition: commonalities, differences, skills, attitudes, process, relation to logical appraisal

  • Educational ideal: basic argument, three models, course design principles