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«Facilitating Higher-Order Thinking: Synthesizing Pedagogical Frameworks for the Development of Complex and Coherent Conceptual Systems Michael A. ...»

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The recent revision (Anderson, Krathwohl, Airasian, Cruikshank, et al., 2001) of Bloom's taxonomy of cognitive skills includes creation as the skill of producing new ideas and expressions from historical understandings; Facione (1990) and his associates specified explanation as a higher-order cognitive skill; Ennis (1989) included social interaction skills, including argumentation, as an important focus for instruction. Thus we may conclude that higher-order thinking includes abilities to articulate and to express our most coherent assessments and conclusions.

Robert Ennis (1962, 1987, 1989, 1998) has spent over 40 years on this project. In his early (1962) paper on the subject, Ennis distinguished three dimensions (aspects or facets) of critical thinking, including logic, domain-specific criteria and practical applicability. According to this formulation, the purpose of critical thinking is to arrive at "correct" assessments of discursive statements. The critical thinker evaluates justifications to decide whether a statement is meaningful and warranted; arguments are evaluated for self-contradiction and ambiguity. Ennis (1987) provided a taxonomy of critical thinking dispositions and abilities (including fourteen dispositions and twelve abilities), and he defined CT as "reasonable reflective thinking that is focused on deciding what to believe or do" (p. 10). He remarked that Bloom's taxonomy includes "lower" cognitive skills (knowledge recall, comprehension and application) as well as the "higher" functions of analysis, synthesis and evaluation; he also pointed out that (at that time, 17 years ago) the higher functions had never been clearly described, and we lacked criteria for assessing their applications. Ennis (1989) focussed on the question of "subject specificity," coming out in favour of the pedagogical generalizability of critical thinking skills, and concluding, "Under the general approach, the appropriate balance between emphasis on principles which are applied to content and emphasis on abstract principles depends at least on the nature of the content, the critical thinking dispositions and abilities being promoted, and the students. This balance must be determined empirically" (p. 4).

The Delphi Committee of the American Philosophical Association (Facione, 1990, as described in the Introduction above) has described six skills (including 16 "subskills") and 19 dispositions, which they (more or less consensually) regard as being

associated with critical thinking, namely:


1. Interpretation: Categorization, Decoding Significance, Clarifying

–  –  –

6. Self-Regulation: Self-examination, Self-correction (p. 6) and


• inquisitiveness with regard to a wide range of issues • concern to become and remain generally well-informed • alertness to opportunities to use CT • trust in the processes of reasoned inquiry • self-confidence in one's own ability to reason • open-mindedness regarding divergent world views • flexibility in considering alternatives and opinions • understanding of the opinions of other people • fair-mindedness in appraising reasoning

–  –  –

Examining this array of skills and attitudes reveals the difficulty of the task facing educators who intend to teach their students how to think critically. In particular, the willingness to adopt the nineteen dispositions described may be seen to limit one's capacities to apply the cognitive skills of analysis, evaluation, and self-regulation (skills which seem to distinguish highly effective thinkers from those who are untrained in the effective application of these practices). Thus teaching cognitive skills may be of little avail unless the learners are committed to adopting commitments to (most or all of) the above dispositions. The teaching of critical (including self-critical) attitudes, then, may be seen as essential to CT instruction.

Matthew Lipman (2003) has presented a detailed and cogent analysis of educational applications of research into higher-order thinking, writing, "If we want to foster and strengthen critical thinking in the schools and colleges, we would do well to keep in mind the persistent concerns to which it has been addressed. We also need a clear conception of what critical thinking can be. Therefore, it will be very useful to know its defining features, its characteristic outcomes, and the underlying conditions that make it possible" (p. 209). Lipman concludes, "[C]ritical thinking is thinking that (1) facilitates judgment because it (2) relies on criteria, (3) is self-correcting, and (4) is sensitive to context" (p. 212, original emphasis). Criteria involved in CT include conventions, rules, standards and values, which must be analysed in terms of their applicability to problematic discourses. Self-correction is paramount, and "One of the most important advantages of converting the classroom into a community of inquiry... is that the members of the community begin looking for and correcting each others methods and procedures. Consequently, insofar as each participant is able to internalize the methodology of the community as a whole, each is able to become self-correcting in his or her own thinking" (p. 219; here we may see how the dispositions to diligence, fairmindedness, clarity, etc. may be encouraged). The fourth characteristic, context sensitivity, includes recognition of exceptional circumstances and acknowledgment of the limits of applicability of rules and guidelines.

Lipman emphasizes the products of critical thinking (judgments) as the focus of this process; in particular, CT is the exercise of "good judgment." Judgments are likely to be good "if they are the products of skillfully performed acts guided or facilitated by appropriate instruments and procedures... This involves more than attaining understanding... It involves using knowledge to bring about reasonable change.

Minimally, the product is a judgment; maximally, it is putting that judgment into practice" (p. 211, original emphasis). This approach highlights the practical applicability of CT in action.

Richard Paul and Linda Elder (2002) have bemoaned the failure of social institutions to emphasize the value of critical thinking skills. "Great power is wielded around the world by little minds. Critical thinking is not a social value in any society" (p.

5). These authors distinguish "weak" from "strong" critical thinking; the former applies to egocentric (self-centred) thought processes, while the latter refers to "fair-minded" cognitive analyses, those which consider multiple viewpoints, including those that are contradictory to the thinker's historical points of view.

Paul and Elder have done an excellent job of describing critical thinking skills in relation to discursive practices. They elaborate upon the purposes involved in CT (including the achievement of clarity, significance, consistency and justifiability), and they stress the possibility of the reconciliation of various points of view (which requires flexibility and breadth of vision). In addition to the requirement for confirmation of the accuracy of information used in inquiry, they describe the need for the clarification of the concepts and the assumptions (as well as the implications) used by any line of thought, and they acknowledge the importance of validation of inferences and interpretations, which follow from a line of reasoning.

Paul and Elder also explain how critical thinking applies to decision-making.

Effective and rational decision-makers are aware of (and are able to re-evaluate) their "most fundamental goals, purposes, and needs" (Paul and Elder, 2002, p. 149); they describe situations and alternative courses of action as precisely as they can, and they consider the consequences and the implications of each alternative. They actively seek relevant information, which they analyze and interpret carefully, evaluating each option in the light of circumstances, and adopting an appropriate strategy, which considers all of the above. Finally, competent decision-makers monitor and evaluate the consequences of their actions, and are ready to modify their analyses and change their strategies as more information becomes available.

Mogenson (1999) expands the idea of critical thinking to include epistemic, transformational, dialectical, and holistic thinking.

[C]ritical thinking aims at identifying and challenging what is in existence, simply because it exists. This means, among other things, recognizing that what exists is always encapsulated in cultural and historical contexts.

Critical reflections should reach an understanding of how these contexts have influenced the thinker. From this basis, critical thinking should develop the ability to imagine alternatives and propose possible modes of action. Critical thinking is visionary thinking. (Mogenson, 1999, p. 432) Harvey Siegel (1980, 1988, 1991, 1997) has supplied a comprehensive review of theories of CT, along with a perspicuous analysis of the pedagogical implications of recent research. Siegel has done a thorough job of analyzing Ennis', Lipman's and Paul's contributions (along with those of many others), and he has provided an excellent guide through the intellectual morass of skills, sub-skills, dispositions, attitudes and tendencies which are attributed to those who characteristically produce good judgments. Siegel's work concentrates on controversies surrounding the generalizability of CT, with regard to both its philosophical and pedagogical considerations; he provides a view which eschews epistemic relativism and which promotes a fallibililistic and inclusive vision of consensual rationality.

Siegel grounds CT in the modern epistemic tradition, which holds that informed rational analyses of controversial issues approach closer to the truth as more and more evidence is generated. Thus he champions the generalizability of epistemology and rationality, and he describes the necessity for fundamental rules and assumptions, which are universally applicable. In order for CT to be possible (on Siegel's analysis), we must accept the premise that "reasons are good reasons if (and only if) they afford warrant to the claims or propositions for which they are reasons... There are all sorts of good reasons - causal, inductive, explanatory, purposive, deductive, etc. - but they all share this crucial epistemic feature" (Siegel, 1997, p. 322). Thus epistemology (and critical thinking) are generally involved with the study of warrant, of what counts as a good reason in whatever circumstances may be under consideration. While different criteria apply to reason assessment in different circumstances, or in different fields of study, the same rationale nevertheless applies to all critical analyses: CT involves focussed inquiry as to the nature, the quality, and the applicability of reasons for (or against) belief and action; thus CT relates closely to the ideas of justification and social legitimation.

Siegel acknowledges the importance of dispositional traits and attitudes, to which complex set of structures he assigns the term "critical spirit"; he holds that this (inquiring) attitude is fully generalizable across fields of study. Siegel focuses on the possibility of communicating the critical spirit while fostering critical skills in the classroom, and he describes various methods for doing this. For example., he promotes the use of philosophical novels as tools for critical instruction; he describes Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov (which is rich in philosophically-disposed characters) to illustrate the instructional value of calling attention to the plights of fictional people.

Students identify with the problems, personalizing the various issues involved; critical inquiry is facilitated through this process in ways, which cannot occur through (for example) the instructional practice of explicating philosophical fallacies.

Siegel makes the point that CT is about justification, rather than truth; when evidence points to a particular conclusion, critical thinkers are obliged to accept that conclusion (regardless of its "ultimate" truth). While, in the long run, we are more likely to reach more true conclusions by relying on evidentiary justification, we must also accept that available evidence sometimes misleads even the most astute of thinkers; as the author argues, "a well-educated student/person is one who is, at least, appropriately moved by reasons" (Siegel, 1997, p. 49).

Halpern (1998) has bemoaned the failure of "college students and the American public in general" (p. 449) to apply the faculties of critical cognition to justify their beliefs (in, e. g., paranormal phenomena). She states, "Naive and flawed reasoning practices... are resistant to change because they make sense to the individual, and, for the most part, the individual believes that they work" (p. 449). She points out that a national consensus in the United States led both the first President Bush and his successor to declare critical thinking education a national priority for college students. With the electronic age having resulted in a widespread availability of a great deal of information, it is more important than ever that people be taught to discriminate better (that is welljustified) beliefs from those that are highly suspect (due to a lack of coherent justification).

According to Halpern (1998), "Higher order skills are relatively complex, require judgment, analysis and synthesis, and are not applied in a rote or mechanical manner.

Higher order thinking is thinking that is reflective, sensitive to the context, and selfmonitored... The goal of instruction designed to help students become better thinkers is transferability to real-life, out-of-the-classroom situations" (p. 451). Williams (1999) notes that thinking skills should not only be taught in classrooms, but also assessed.

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