A Transactional Perspective on Critical Thinking

Article excerpt

The quality of thinking has received much attention within the last decade. The scientific inquiry models introduced by Dewey, Dressel and Mayhew, and Watson-Glaser have been expanded to incorporate such aspects as reflection, development, attitude, skill, and knowledge domain. Dichotomies between critical and creative thinking have been eased. While this scholarship on thinking has been impressive, current pedagogy remains focused on scientific inquiry and on received knowledge. In nursing the learning paradigm has been similarly focused for the past 3 decades on a scientific inquiry model and received knowledge. The major cognitive approach to education and practice has been the nursing process, a linear problem-solving paradigm equivalent to the scientific method. This linear approach does not fully account for how nurses think and make judgments in clinical practice. The Transactional Model of Critical Thinking presented in this paper addresses the complexity of critical thinking in nursing. The model provides an educative and novel vision of thinking based on a transactional view of the individual, personal attributes, and the environment. Components and elements of the model are described and suggestions made for teaching-learning and for evaluation of critical thinking in nursing.

Educators and other professionals have called for improvements in teaching-learning aimed at enabling individuals to think more effectively about such complex issues as social responsibilities, life options, and professional-employment situations. In this quest, the construct of critical thinking has become vital. In accord with this interest in critical thinking, nursing scholars have expressed concern about the ability of nurses to develop and mature in reasoned thought and action (Eyres, Loustau, & Ersek, 1992; Hickman, 1993; Moore, 1990; Nkongho, 1994; Pesut & Herman, 1992; Shank, 1990; Swirsky, 1993). Given an increasingly complex health care environment, the quality of thinking has become crucial for the nursing profession. This article reviews selected scholarship in critical thinking and presents a model of critical thinking for nursing that is viewed by the authors to be complementary to the current nursing process model and to the domain of nursing knowledge.

THE EVOLUTION OF PERSPECTIVES ON THINKING

The nature and grounds of knowledge are inextricably connected with the act of thinking and have been debated throughout the centuries. Plato upheld the subjective nature of knowledge as discovered through reflection, while Aristotle upheld the objective nature of knowledge as discovered through empirical reality. In this century, E. L. Thorndike (1912) advanced an objective frame of knowledge acquisition, a genetically determined process called connectionism. His theories reduced thinking to rote memorization and knowledge stockpiling. In contrast, Dewey's (193 8) theory of thinking supported the interactive nature between objective reality and subjective knowing. According to his work, truth and meaning could only be discovered by the reflective effort of the individual. He described a five-step problem-solving algorithm based on scientific inquiry. Other theorists have expanded on Dewey's work by more explicit description of the learner's task (Dressel & Mayhew, 1957), by a componential framework that highlighted attitudinal, knowledge and skill dimensions (Watson & Glaser, 1980), and by a metaphorical paradigm that required the skillful integration of problem-solving with imagination (Gordon, 1961,1987).

More recent models of critical thinking, while retaining the problem-solving dimensions of prior models, have more explicitly integrated issues of development, context, and reflection. Key attributes of critical thinking that have emerged are its purposeful nature, active construction, self-regulation, environmental aspects, and domain-specific context. For instance, the Critical Thinking Delphi Project (Facione, 1990) has characterized critical thinking as follows:

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