Defining Critical Thinking

By Rudd, Rick D. | Techniques, October 2007 | Go to article overview

Defining Critical Thinking


Rudd, Rick D., Techniques


Critical thinking is a skill that most teachers would readily agree is important for students to develop. Unfortunately, many of our students have poorly developed critical thinking skills. Perhaps the problem is rooted in those who teach. Do teachers in career and technical education (CTE) understand the concept of critical thinking well enough to teach students to think critically in and about the discipline being studied? Good thinking skills will not develop on their own, they must be taught. Teaching thinking skills is a difficult endeavor. Teaching to promote thinking takes much time to prepare, is difficult to plan, and limits the amount of content "taught." Teachers can no longer be information givers. On the other hand, students must learn thinking and reasoning skills to reach their fullest potential in today's society. If we are to prepare students for entry and advancement in careers through CTE, we must commit to developing problem solving and decision making through teaching critical thinking skills and developing the dispositions necessary to think critically.

The "more information is better" attitude tends to prevail in modern education. That is unfortunate considering that factual material taught has a relatively short lifespan (Tererini, Springer, Pascarella, and Nora, 1993). The term critical thinking is common in educational, psychological and philosophical circles today. Employers, parents and administrators want critical thinking skills in today's graduate. Developing critical thinking skills is not a new idea. Osborne (1932 p.402) stated that "... it is assumed that development of thought power is one of the major aims of education." Dressel and Mayhew (1954) believed that educational institutions were responsible for teaching students to go beyond the simple mental activities of recall and restatement of ideas and facts to the higher level skills and habits involved in critical thinking. Sutton and de Oliveira (1995) asserted that although students complete basic courses, they have only a superficial understanding of what they have learned. In fact, few students are taught the skills needed to examine principles, values and facts.

Purpose, Methods and Procedures

The purpose of this article is to clarify the concept of critical thinking for career and technical educators. In an effort to clarify the concept of critical thinking the author has been engaged in critical thinking research for 12 years and offers his view of critical thinking based on literature in education, philosophy and psychology. In the descriptive and interpretive discussion that follows, the author attempts to present multiple views of critical thinking and to propose defining critical thinking and establishing a point to begin further research into teaching for thinking in CTE.

Critical Thinking Defined

To date, much work has been completed in multiple disciplines in the name of critical thinking. A great deal of this work not only leaves one wondering how it is measured, but also leaves one groping for a clear definition of critical thinking. Paul (1995) wrote that the "master of critical thinking" uses a set of intellectual standards while thinking. These standards guide the thinking process as well as help individuals heighten their ability to think critically. Thinking about thinking for the purpose of improving the thought process is at the heart of critical thinking (Paul, 1995).

Halpern (1996 p.5) defined critical thinking as "... the use of cognitive skills or strategies that increase the probability of a desirable outcome." Other definitions include: the formation of logical inferences (Simon and Kaplan, 1989); developing careful and logical reasoning (Stahl & Stahl, 1991); deciding what action to take or what to believe through reasonable reflective thinking (Ennis, 1991), and purposeful determination of whether to accept, reject or suspend judgment (Moore and Parker, 1994). …

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