Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Pedagogical Tools to Develop Critical Thinking

Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Pedagogical Tools to Develop Critical Thinking

Article excerpt


Faculties in college and university programs strive to graduate individuals who are experienced and adept in critical thinking. This article discusses the value of three pedagogical tools for developing students' critical thinking skills. The authors suggest learning journals, book critiques, and persuasive essay assignments can provide students with opportunities to reflect upon and synthesize information, to adopt a position or view about an issue based on valid, carefully considered evidence, and to communicate clearly their position to others in a persuasive manner.


College and university programs are continually striving to graduate individuals who are experienced and adept in critical thinking (Brown & Meuti, 1999; Halpern & Riggio, 1996). Barnes (2005) notes that most colleges in the country now feature critical thinking as an essential component of successful college experiences. Students must be able to think critically about an issue, communicate persuasively their point of view, synthesize information from divergent sources, and substantiate their recommendations and actions. With these goals in mind, college and university professors seek to design courses of study which will encourage students to think independently and which will develop students who are able to support empirically and experientially their conclusions, recommendations, and actions. A continuing challenge for many educators is translating the philosophical desire and the empirical support for critical thinking into pragmatic, pedagogical practice. Given this challenge, the purpose of this paper is to discuss three pedagogical tools which support the development of critical thinking skills.

In this paper, a framework for critical thinking will first be presented. Following the discussion of the skills and dispositions of critical thinking, the authors will present three pedagogical tools currently used in higher education courses to promote critical thinking: Learning Journals, Book Critiques, and Persuasive Essays.

Critical Thinking Defined

There are several models and definitions for critical thinking; however, implicit in each is the need for students to skillfully analyze and assess the quality of their thinking based on careful consideration of personal beliefs, knowledge, and understandings (Dewey, 1909, 1997; Elder & Paul, 2002). The process of critical thinking encourages students to realize everything is not as it may seem to be on the surface; therefore, maintaining a healthy skepticism and suspending judgment is foundational (Burback, Matkin, Fritz, 2004; Dewey, 1997). Learners engaging in critical thinking must also provide explanations of the conceptual and methodological considerations upon which their judgment is based (Facione, 1998).

For this article, the critical thinking elements developed by Richard Paul, director of the National Council on Excellence in Critical Thinking (NCECT), will be used as a framework in discussing the merits of learning journals, persuasive essays, and book reviews as sound pedagogical tools for developing critical thinking skills. The NCECT model was selected due to its strong historical and theoretical base, it is based on universal intellectual values that transcend subject matter divisions, and the emphasis on the ability for excellence in critical thinking to be systematically cultivated (Foundation for Critical Thinking, 2004). According to NCECT, critical thinking focuses on a set of skills and attitudes that assist students in skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information that is generated through reflection, observation, experience, reasoning, or communication (Foundation for Critical Thinking, 2004). Good critical thinkers clearly formulate vital questions and problems, gather and assess relevant information, come to well-reasoned conclusions, test their conclusions against relevant criteria and standards, think open-mindedly, communicate effectively, and are self-directed and self-disciplined (Browne & Freeman, 2000; Elder & Paul, 2002). …

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