Systematicity In Critical Thinking

Abstract

Objective: To investigate the tendency of undergraduate athletic training students to think critically, to assess their likelihood of using specific components of critical thinking, and to study the effect of selected demographic and educational variables on critical-thinking tendencies in this sample of students.

Design and Setting: Data were collected before regularly scheduled athletic training classes at the beginning of the spring semester.

Subjects: Ninety-one students enrolled in 3 Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs-accredited undergraduate athletic training education programs in the southeast. The subjects ranged in age from 19 to 29 years (mean age = 22.33 ± 1.94). Forty-six (50.5%) of the subjects were men and 45 (49.5%) were women.

Measurements: The California Critical Thinking Disposition Inventory contains 75 Likert-type items assessing 7 components of critical thinking: truth seeking, open mindedness, analyticity, systematicity, inquisitiveness, cognitive maturity, and critical-thinking self-confidence.

Results: The overall mean indicated a general but mild trend toward critical thinking, with weak scores on the truth-seeking subscale. One-way analysis of variance reflected significant differences among the schools for truth seeking, open mindedness, and maturity subscales and for the overall mean score for the entire inventory. Only the open-mindedness difference persisted between 2 of the schools after post hoc testing. Correlation analyses indicated no significant relationship between total score and age, sex, ethnicity, year in athletic training program, cumulative grade point average, completed semester hours, or clinical-experience hours.

Conclusions: Athletic training students are inclined toward critical thinking, but this tendency is relatively weak. Classroom and clinical instructors should use teaching methods and techniques that facilitate the components of critical thinking. The promotion of critical thinking and critical-thinking skills has implications for athletic training education and the advancement of certified athletic trainers and the profession of athletic training.

Keywords: California Critical Thinking Disposition Inventory, metacognition, education

The concept of critical thinking has been a concern related to the development of society since the time of the Greek philosophers thousands of years ago. John Dewey brought critical thinking to the attention of educators in 1916,1 and it has been a focal point in higher education for the past 2 decades. The National Education Goals Panel advocated critical thinking and effective communication and problem-solving abilities as indicators of success in higher education,2 and the United States Congress included significant improvement in the critical-thinking skills of all college graduates in the Goals 2000: National Goals for Education Act.3 Critical thinking was also delineated as an outcome measure for the accreditation of baccalaureate and graduate degree programs in nursing.4 Understandably, this inclusion resulted in multiple studies of critical thinking in baccalaureate and certificate programs in nursing.521 Critical thinking has also been investigated in athletic training,22 dentistry,23 medicine,24,25 pharmacy,26 and respiratory therapy.27

Several factors have confounded the recent attention to critical thinking. Chief among these has been the lack of a consistent operational definition of critical thinking. Critical thinking has been defined as reflective and reasonable thinking that is focused on deciding what to believe or do28; thinking about your thinking while you are thinking in order to make your thinking better29; and the process of purposeful, self-regulatory judgment that gives reasoned consideration to evidence, contexts, conceptualization, methods, and criteria.30 Based on its consensus definition of critical thinking, the American Philosophical Association30 characterized the ideal critical thinker as being habitually inquisitive, well-informed, trustful of reason, open minded, flexible, fair minded in evaluation, honest in facing personal biases, prudent in making judgments, willing to reconsider, clear about issues, orderly in complex matters, diligent in seeking relevant information, reasonable in the selection of criteria, focused in inquiry, and persistent in seeking results that are as precise as the subject and the circumstances of inquiry permit.

This definition implies the presence of a “critical spirit”31 that disposes one to critical thinking. Facione et al32 described the disposition to critical thinking as the consistent internal motivation to employ one's own critical-thinking abilities in judging what to believe or do in any situation. Simply put, if there is no disposition toward critical thinking, then critical thinking will not take place, regardless of the presence or absence of the necessary skills.

Additionally, preliminary research has not demonstrated a relationship between critical-thinking ability and professional competence.16 This paradox lies in the fact that critical thinking is nonlinear and not synonymous with logical thinking. Many professionals associate critical-thinking ability with the ability to problem solve and arrive at a sound and rational judgment. Purposeful evaluation is crucial in medical and allied medical professions: practitioners must be able to analyze multiple pieces of information and render sound decisions regarding clinical care on a consistent and repetitive basis. However, a clinician can follow a prescribed template, conduct an efficient and orderly evaluation, and arrive at a workable solution without ever thinking critically. This clinician is competent, but the barrier that keeps him or her from success and expert status is the key critical-thinking component of reflection. The truly outstanding clinician follows the same template, analyzes the same pieces of information, and then compares the data with previous experience before forming a decision. This clinician has the ability to generate alternative theories or solutions to solve a particular problem, which distinguishes him or her from a merely competent peer.

While critical thinking has direct implications for the quality of patient care, it also influences individual growth and professional-development decision processes. Athletic training is characterized by the need for flexibility, creativity, and the capacity to “think on the go.” These qualities are even more important in the current health care and economic climates, when the ability to create novel solutions, readily adapt to new situations, and integrate multiple tasks is paramount. Certified athletic trainers (ATCs) who are competent and disposed toward critical thinking will thrive and advance in today's uncertain workplace environments. By promoting the disposition toward critical thinking and teaching critical-thinking skills, athletic training educators will help prepare ATCs who are optimally positioned for career success.

The purposes of our study were to use the California Critical Thinking Disposition Inventory (CCDTI)33 to investigate the tendency of undergraduate athletic training students to think critically and to assess their likelihood of using specific components of critical thinking. We also studied the effect of selected demographic and educational variables on critical-thinking tendencies.

METHODS

The California Critical Thinking Disposition Inventory

The CCTDI is composed of 75 Likert-type items scored on a 6-point scale anchored by “agree strongly” and “disagree strongly.” The items measure 7 aspects of critical thinking: truth seeking, open mindedness, analyticity, systematicity, inquisitiveness, cognitive maturity, and critical-thinking self-confidence (Table ​1). A subscale score of 30 or less indicates consistent opposition to the characteristic or attribute represented by that subscale, while scores between 40 and 50 suggest progressive strength. Within this range, scores closer to 40 reflect some ambivalence, while scores closer to 50 indicate affirmation of the corresponding trait. A subscale score over 50 reflects a strong tendency toward that dimension. The possible overall score ranges from 70 to 420, with a total score of 280 to 349 indicating a general disposition for critical thinking.33 Reliability of the overall instrument (Cronbach α = .92) and the subscales (Cronbach α = .60 to .78) was established in an administration of the CCTDI to 1019 college freshmen.31 The internal consistency for our total sample was .72. For psychological tests, a Cronbach alpha level greater than .60 indicates an acceptable level of reliability.34

Table 1. California Critical Thinking Disposition Inventory Subscale Descriptions

Subjects

Ninety-one students (mean age = 22.33 ± 1.94 years) enrolled in 3 Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP)-accredited undergraduate athletic training education programs in the southeast served as subjects. All of the schools were public; 2 were comprehensive universities, and 1 was a regional university. Forty-six (50.5%) of the subjects were men and 45 (49.5%) were women. Eighty percent (n = 73) of the subjects were white, 14.3% (n = 13) were black, and the remaining 5.5 % (n = 5) identified themselves as American Indian, Asian/Pacific Islander, Hispanic, or other. The subjects completed an information sheet that included items on total credit hours, grade point average, and other relevant variables (Table ​2).

Table 2. Subject Demographic Information*

Inventory Administration

We administered the CCTDI to the subjects before a regularly scheduled athletic training class at the start of the spring semester. The subjects also completed a demographic information sheet and provided informed consent before the testing session began. The institutional review boards of all participating institutions approved this study.

Data Analysis

We scored each subject's inventory by hand and calculated descriptive statistics for each school using SPSS (version 8.0, SPSS Inc, Chicago, IL). Using one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA), we assessed differences within the mean subscale scores and mean total scores for the 3 schools. We used Scheffé post hoc analyses to investigate differences indicated by the ANOVA and further refined the results by employing the SPSS feature of automatically grouping the variables by means into homogeneous subsets after the post hoc tests. Pearson and Spearman rho correlation analyses were used to assess the relationship between the continuous and categoric demographic variables and CCTDI total score, respectively. We set the a priori alpha level at P = .05 for all analyses.

RESULTS

The mean scores for each subscale ranged from the low- to mid-40s, except for truth seeking, which scored 35.10 (Table ​3). The mean total score for this sample was 293 ± 26.05, with a range from 229 to 356. Although this score is within the range indicating a disposition toward critical thinking, it falls close to the lower limits, indicating that the disposition is weak.

Table 3. Mean California Critical Thinking Disposition Inventory Scores*

One-way ANOVA indicated significant differences between the schools for the truth seeking (F2,89 = 3.818, P = .026), open mindedness (F2,89 = 5.655, P = .005), and maturity (F2,89 = 4.098, P = .020) subscales and for total score (F2,89 = 3.154, P = .048). Only the open-mindedness subscale difference persisted after post hoc tests, with subjects from one of the comprehensive institutions scoring significantly higher than those from the regional university. Correlation analyses indicated no significant relationship between the demographic variables and the total score.

DISCUSSION

Components of Critical-Thinking Disposition

We were disappointed but not surprised that our sample had weak truth-seeking scores. This finding is consistent with other studies of nursing,10,14,15 general college,32,35 and community college students36 using the CCTDI. Like most allied medical and medical professions, competencies and facts drive the educational process for athletic training. Students are then tested on these facts and, thus, are often primarily concerned with knowing the right answer. Knowing why the answer is correct and knowing equally correct alternative responses are not often considered. This type of atmosphere can stifle the desire for the best knowledge that is characteristic of truth seeking, as the student often becomes a passive learner who is not encouraged to exchange ideas or pursue parallel lines of discussion.10

Our subjects' other subscale scores and total scores were similar to those of a sample of 100 senior nursing students studied by Colucciello10 but much higher than those reported by Ip et al,14 who administered the CCTDI to 125 Chinese nursing undergraduates. This disparity most likely lies in the educational atmosphere in China, where the educational system is authoritarian and learners are expected to conform and passively absorb knowledge.

The literature does not include between-school comparisons using the CCTDI. Our data do not allow us to explain the differences we observed in the open-mindedness scores between the regional university and one of the comprehensive universities. However, we believe that this difference is not specific to the athletic training students or the athletic training education programs at these 2 schools. Rather, we believe that it reflects a difference in the general characteristics of these types of universities and the attributes of the students who attend them. Generally, students at larger universities interact with a more diverse segment of the population and encounter a broader range of opposing ideas. Exposure to such divergent opinions and varied student backgrounds would tend to attract students who are comfortable in such a setting. This comfort is reinforced and expanded by the exposure itself. As a result, students at larger universities would be expected to have higher open-mindedness scores.

Correlation Analyses

Research has suggested that critical-thinking skills do increase significantly after entry into clinical practice,16 but investigations of enrolled students have been somewhat equivocal. Some evidence suggests that critical-thinking skills increase over time5,17 but most studies12,16,18,21 have found no difference between nursing students at 2 points in their educational programs.

Results from critical-thinking investigations have been similar. Leppa15 administered the CCTDI to students in the first and fourth quarters of an undergraduate nursing program and found significant increases in total score. Colucciello10 and Ip et al14 reported increases in CCTDI scores from the sophomore to junior years of baccalaureate nursing programs, but significant decreases were seen from the junior to senior year14 and during both years.10 Differences in study design may account for these incongruent findings. Leppa15 conducted test-retest investigations on the same students at 2 points in their educational program, while the other research10,14 was cross-sectional in nature. Our finding of no correlation between year in program or total credit hours and subscale and total score is supported by Facione et al,32,35 who suggested that increases in subscale scores and total score are possible but that overall disposition toward critical thinking appears to be stable over a period of years.

The lack of a relationship between sex, age, and race and critical-thinking disposition is consistent with the literature. Facione et al37 found no difference in total dispositional score between the sexes in their study of general college students, while Ip et al14 found no relationship between nursing students' mean total score or subscale scores and sex or work experience. These findings all further reinforce the concept that critical-thinking disposition is a trait that does not depend on general personal characteristics.

The reflective component of critical thinking requires the existence of some body of experience to consider and reflect upon in the decision-making process. This concept is supported by Goodfellow,27 who reported that years of clinical experience were associated with self-perceived increases in critical-thinking ability among practicing respiratory therapists. Therefore, initially, we were somewhat surprised that there was no correlation between critical-thinking disposition and clinical-experience hours. Aside from the obvious differences in types of measurement and samples between our study and Goodfellow's27 work, we speculate that our findings are also explained by the concept of quality versus quantity. The accumulation of a large number of clinical hours does not guarantee the accumulation of valuable experience, clinical competence, or the use of critical thinking during that time. Indeed, this disparity may be one driving force behind the transition to competency-based education in the allied medical and medical professions.

Previous research using the CCTDI in nursing students14 has indicated significant correlations between grade point average (GPA) and mean total score and the mean scores for the open-mindedness, analyticity, systematicity, inquisitiveness, self-confidence, and cognitive maturity subscales. The disparity between our findings and these results could be related to the method used by Ip et al14 to calculate GPA. Their process was based on an honors grading system and differed from the system used by American universities. Other research7 involving nursing students has found no relationship between critical-thinking skill and GPA.

Recommendations for the Educator

Promoting Truth Seeking. Truth seeking incorporates the concept of intellectual courage: the student desires the best knowledge even if such knowledge fails to support or undermines his or her own beliefs, preconceptions, or self-interests. Facilitating this attribute requires an instructor who is also willing to seek the truth. Truth seeking demands self-examination on the instructor's part and the willingness to discuss instances when he or she was challenged by information that was inconsistent with values or previous knowledge. In these situations, the instructor should also provide information about strategies used to reconcile such inconsistencies. Thinking aloud and talking students through decision-making processes are helpful in this regard. Finally, both classroom and clinical instructors can improve truth seeking by using the Socratic method of teaching with open-ended questioning techniques and case studies or scenarios specifically designed not to fit into the patterns that would be expected based on readings or class discussions. Many of these techniques require planning and take time, so it is unrealistic to view them as the sole teaching method. However, their consistent, varied, and strategic use throughout the curriculum is beneficial.

Promoting Reflection. Because reflection distinguishes great practitioners from their peers, classroom and clinical instructors should consistently seek to promote student reflection. Journals and directed writings are 2 traditional methods that can force a student to look back on and analyze actions and clinical decisions. Written simulations are also beneficial in forcing the student to draw on previous experience while dealing with a current situation. Oral or written critiques of relevant research can also be helpful in this regard, particularly if the student is required to provide a clear explanation of his or her positions and statements and to apply this information to previous clinical experiences. A final technique for improving reflection is the use of situational learning, in which the student is allowed to make a mistake without compromising the safety of the patient. When the student sees the mistake and then is guided through possible solutions by the clinical instructor, he or she begins to identify patterns that will enable recognition of similar situations in the future. As the student improves, the clinical instructor provides less guidance to the point when the student self-corrects and avoids the mistake altogether.

The athletic training students in our study were disposed to think critically, but these tendencies were weak overall. While critical-thinking ability is not an absolute requirement for minimal professional competence, it is crucial for true quality practice and for maximal professional development. Critical-thinking disposition also has implications for job satisfaction and security. As a result, athletic training educators must strive to develop the disposition for critical thinking in their students. Doing so requires purposeful planning and teaching on the part of classroom and clinical instructors, but the potential outcomes will benefit the profession as a whole.

Clearly, the disposition to think critically does not imply the ability to think critically. Additional investigations are needed to assess the critical-thinking skills of athletic training students and the relationship between critical-thinking skill and critical-thinking disposition among this population. Changes in these measures during the transition from student to entry-level ATC should also be studied. Finally, professional competence does not imply critical-thinking ability, but there is certainly some relationship between clinical judgment and critical thinking. Further research is needed to define these factors and their relationship in the practicing ATC.

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With Implications for Instruction

Linda Elder with Richard Paul

Though most teachers aspire to make critical thinking a primary objective of their instruction, most also do not realize that, to develop as thinkers, students must pass through stages of development in critical thinking. That is, most teachers are unaware of the levels of intellectual development that people go through as they improve as thinkers. We believe that significant gains in the intellectual quality of student work will not be achieved except to the degree that teachers recognize that skilled critical thinking develops, only when properly cultivated, and only through predictable stages.

In this paper we shall set out a stage theory based on the nearly twenty years of research of the Center for Critical Thinking and explain some of the theory’s implications for instruction. We shall be brief, concise, and to the point in our explanation with minimal theoretical elaboration. Furthermore, we believe that the “practicality” of the theory we explain here is best tested in the classroom and in everyday life. The reader should be expressly aware that we are approaching the human mind exclusively from an intellectual standpoint — not from a psychological standpoint. Each stage of intellectual development will be explained in terms of the following variables:

  1. Defining Feature
  2. Principal Challenge
  3. Knowledge of Thinking
  4. Skill in Thinking
  5. Relevant Intellectual Traits
  6. Some Implications for Instruction

Due to space limitations, we have made no attempt to be exhaustive with respect to any stage, nor to answer the many questions that might be raised concerning the development, reliability or validity of the stages. The basic intention is to provide a practical organizer for teachers interested in using a conceptual map to guide student thinking through developmental stages in the process of becoming critical thinkers. Once the stages are explained, and stage-specific recommendations are given, we close with some global implications for instruction.

We make the following assumptions: (1) that there are predictable stages through which every person who develops as a critical thinker passes, (2) that passage from one stage to the next is dependent upon a necessary level of commitment on the part of an individual to develop as a critical thinker, is not automatic, and is unlikely to take place “subconsciously,” (3) that success in instruction is deeply connected to the intellectual quality of student learning, and (4) that regression is possible in development.

Before moving to the stages themselves, a brief overview of what we mean by critical thinking is in order. Our working definition is as follows: We define critical thinking as:

the ability and disposition to improve one’s thinking by systematically subjecting it to intellectual self-assessment.

It is important to recognize that on this view, persons are critical thinkers, in the fullest sense of the term, only if they display this ability and disposition in all, or most, of the dimensions of their lives (e.g. as a parent, citizen, consumer, lover, friend, learner, and professional). We exclude from our concept of the critical thinker those who think critically in only one dimension of their lives. We do so because the quality of one’s life is dependent upon high quality reasoning in all domains of one’s life, not simply in one dimension.

The stages we will lay out are as follows:

Stage One: The Unreflective Thinker
Stage Two: The Challenged Thinker
Stage Three: The Beginning Thinker
Stage Four: The Practicing Thinker
Stage Five: The Advanced Thinker
Stage Six: The Accomplished Thinker

Stage One: The Unreflective Thinker

Defining Feature: Unreflective thinkers are largely unaware of the determining role that thinking is playing in their lives and of the many ways that problems in thinking are causing problems in their lives. Unreflective thinkers lack the ability to explicitly assess their thinking and improve it thereby.

Knowledge of Thinking: Unreflective thinkers lack the knowledge that high quality thinking requires regular practice in taking thinking apart, accurately assessing it, and actively improving it. In fact, unreflective thinkers are largely unaware of thinking as such, hence fail to recognize thinking as involving concepts, assumptions, inferences, implications, points of view, etc. Unreflective thinkers are largely unaware of the appropriate standards for the assessment of thinking: clarity, accuracy, precision, relevance, logicalness, etc.

Skill in Thinking: Unreflective thinkers may have developed a variety of skills in thinking without being aware of them. However, these skills are inconsistently applied because of the lack of self-monitoring of thought. Prejudices and misconceptions often undermine the quality of thought of the unreflective thinker.

Some Implications for Instruction: We must recognize that in the present mode of instruction it is perfectly possible for students to graduate from high school, or even college, and still be largely unreflective thinkers. Though all students think, most students are largely unaware of how their thinking is structured or how to assess or improve it. Thus when they experience problems in thinking, they lack the skills to identify and “fix” these problems. Most teachers do not seem to be aware of how unaware most students are of their thinking. Little is being done at present to help students "discover" their thinking. This emphasis needs shifting.

Stage Two: The Challenged Thinker

Defining Features: Thinkers move to the “challenged” stage when they become initially aware of the determining role that thinking is playing in their lives, and of the fact that problems in their thinking are causing them serious and significant problems.

Principal Challenge: To become initially aware of the determining role of thinking in one’s life and of basic problems that come from poor thinking.

Knowledge of Thinking: Challenged thinkers, unlike unreflective thinkers are becoming aware of thinking as such. They are becoming aware, at some level, that high quality thinking requires deliberate reflective thinking about thinking (in order to improve thinking). They recognize that their thinking is often flawed, although they are not able to identify many of these flaws. Challenged thinkers may develop an initial awareness of thinking as involving concepts, assumptions, inferences, implications, points of view, etc., and as involving standards for the assessment of thinking: clarity, accuracy, precision, relevance, logicalness, etc., though they have only an initial grasp of these standards and what it would take to internalize them. Challenged thinkers also develop some understanding of the role of self-deception in thinking, though their understanding is limited. At this stage the thinker develops some reflective awareness of how thinking operates for good or ill.

Skill in Thinking: Most challenged thinkers have very limited skills in thinking. However like unreflective thinkers, they may have developed a variety of skills in thinking without being aware of them, and these skills may (ironically) serve as barriers to development. At this stage thinkers with some implicit critical thinking abilities may more easily deceive themselves into believing that their thinking is better than it actually is, making it more difficult to recognize the problems inherent in poor thinking. To accept the challenge at this level requires that thinkers gain insight into the fact that whatever intellectual skills they have are inconsistently applied across the domains of their lives.

Relevant Intellectual Trait: The fundamental intellectual trait at this stage is intellectual humility, in order to see that problems are inherent in one’s thinking.

Some Implications for Instruction: We must recognize the importance of challenging our students — in a supportive way — to recognize both that they are thinkers and that their thinking often goes awry. We must lead class discussions about thinking. We must explicitly model thinking (e.g., thinking aloud through a problem). We must design classroom activities that explicitly require students to think about their thinking. We must have students examine both poor and sound thinking, talking about the differences. We must introduce students to the parts of thinking and the intellectual standards necessary to assess thinking. We must introduce the idea of intellectual humility to students; that is, the idea of becoming aware of our own ignorance. Perhaps children can best understand the importance of this idea through their concept of the "know-it-all," which comes closest to their recognition of the need to be intellectually humble.

Stage Three: The Beginning Thinker

Defining Feature: Those who move to the beginning thinker stage are actively taking up the challenge to begin to take explicit command of their thinking across multiple domains of their lives. Thinkers at this stage recognize that they have basic problems in their thinking and make initial attempts to better understand how they can take charge of and improve it. Based on this initial understanding, beginning thinkers begin to modify some of their thinking, but have limited insight into deeper levels of the trouble inherent in their thinking. Most importantly, they lack a systematic plan for improving their thinking, hence their efforts are hit and miss.

Principal Challenge: To begin to see the importance of developing as a thinker. To begin to seek ways to develop as a thinker and to make an intellectual commitment to that end.

Knowledge of Thinking: Beginning thinkers, unlike challenged thinkers are becoming aware not only of thinking as such, but also of the role in thinking of concepts, assumptions, inferences, implications, points of view, etc. Beginning thinkers are also at some beginning stage of recognizing not only that there are standards for the assessment of thinking: clarity, accuracy, precision, relevance, logicalness, etc., but also that one needs to internalize them and thus begin using them deliberately in thinking. They have a beginning understanding of the role of egocentric thinking in human life.

Skill in Thinking: Beginning thinkers are able to appreciate a critique of their powers of thought. Beginning thinkers have enough skill in thinking to begin to monitor their own thoughts, though as “beginners” they are sporadic in that monitoring. They are beginning to recognize egocentric thinking in themselves and others.

Relevant Intellectual Traits: The key intellectual trait required at this stage is some degree of intellectual humility in beginning to recognize the problems inherent in thinking. In addition, thinkers must have some degree of intellectual confidence in reason, a trait which provides the impetus to take up the challenge and begin the process of active development as critical thinkers, despite limited understanding of what it means to do high quality reasoning. In addition, beginning thinkers have enough intellectual perseverance to struggle with serious problems in thinking while yet lacking a clear solution to those problems (in other words, at this stage thinkers are recognizing more and more problems in their thinking but have not yet discovered how to systematize their efforts to solve them).

Some Implications for Instruction: Once we have persuaded most of our students that much of their thinking — left to itself — is flawed and that they, like all of us, are capable of improving as thinkers, we must teach in such a way as to help them to see that we all need to regularly practice good thinking to become good thinkers. Here we can use sporting analogies and analogies from other skill areas. Most students already know that you can get good in a sport only if you regularly practice. We must not only look for opportunities to encourage them to think well, we must help them to begin to understand what it is to develop good HABITS of thinking. What do we need to do regularly in order to read well? What must we do regularly and habitually if we are to listen well? What must we do regularly and habitually if we are to write well. What must we do regularly and habitually if we are to learn well? We must recognize that students are not only creatures of habit, but like the rest of us, they are largely unaware of the habits they are developing. They are largely unaware of what it is to develop good habits (in general), let alone good habits of thinking. If our students are truly “beginning” thinkers, they will be receptive to the importance of developing sound habits of thought. We must emphasize the importance of beginning to take charge of the parts of thinking and applying intellectual standards to thinking. We must teach students to begin to recognize their native egocentrism when it is operating in their thinking.

Stage Four: The Practicing Thinker

Defining Feature: Thinkers at this stage have a sense of the habits they need to develop to take charge of their thinking. They not only recognize that problems exist in their thinking, but they also recognize the need to attack these problems globally and systematically. Based on their sense of the need to practice regularly, they are actively analyzing their thinking in a number of domains. However, since practicing thinkers are only beginning to approach the improvement of their thinking in a systematic way, they still have limited insight into deeper levels of thought, and thus into deeper levels of the problems embedded in thinking.

Principal Challenge: To begin to develop awareness of the need for systematic practice in thinking.

Knowledge of Thinking: Practicing thinkers, unlike beginning thinkers are becoming knowledgeable of what it would take to systematically monitor the role in their thinking of concepts, assumptions, inferences, implications, points of view, etc. Practicing thinkers are also becoming knowledgeable of what it would take to regularly assess their thinking for clarity, accuracy, precision, relevance, logicalness, etc. Practicing thinkers recognize the need for systematicity of critical thinking and deep internalization into habits. They clearly recognize the natural tendency of the human mind to engage in egocentric thinking and self-deception.

Skill in Thinking: Practicing thinkers have enough skill in thinking to critique their own plan for systematic practice, and to construct a realistic critique of their powers of thought. Furthermore, practicing thinkers have enough skill to begin to regularly monitor their own thoughts. Thus they can effectively articulate the strengths and weaknesses in their thinking. Practicing thinkers can often recognize their own egocentric thinking as well as egocentric thinking on the part of others. Furthermore practicing thinkers actively monitor their thinking to eliminate egocentric thinking, although they are often unsuccessful.

Relevant Intellectual Traits: The key intellectual trait required to move to this stage is intellectual perseverance. This characteristic provides the impetus for developing a realistic plan for systematic practice (with a view to taking greater command of one’s thinking). Furthermore, thinkers at this stage have the intellectual humility required to realize that thinking in all the domains of their lives must be subject to scrutiny, as they begin to approach the improvement of their thinking in a systematic way.

Some Implications for Instruction: What are the basic features of thinking that students must command to effectively become practicing thinkers? What do they need to do to take charge of their thinking intellectually, with respect to any content? We must teach in such a way that students come to understand the power in knowing that whenever humans reason, they have no choice but to use certain predictable structures of thought: that thinking is inevitably driven by the questions, that we seek answers to questions for some purpose, that to answer questions, we need information, that to use information we must interpret it (i.e., by making inferences), and that our inferences, in turn, are based on assumptions, and have implications, all of which involves ideas or concepts within some point of view. We must teach in such a way as to require students to regularly deal explicitly with these structures (more on these structure presently).

Students should now be developing the habit — whenever they are trying to figure something out — of focusing on: purpose, question, information, inferences, assumptions, concepts, point of view, and implications. The result of this emphasis in instruction is that students begin to see connections between all the subject matter they are learning. In studying history, they learn to focus on historical purposes and questions. When studying math, they clarify and analyze mathematical goals and problems. When studying literature, they reflect upon literary purposes and questions. They notice themselves making historical, mathematical, and literary assumptions. They notice themselves tracing historical, mathematical, and literary implications. Recognizing the "moves" one makes in thinking well is an essential part of becoming a practicing thinker.

Students should be encouraged to routinely catch themselves thinking both egocentrically and sociocentrically. They should understand, for example, that most of the problems they experience in learning result from a natural desire to avoid confusion and frustration, and that their inability to understand another person’s point of view is often caused by their tendency to see the world exclusively within their own egocentric point of view.

Stage Five: The Advanced Thinker

Defining Feature: Thinkers at this stage have now established good habits of thought which are “paying off.” Based on these habits, advanced thinkers not only actively analyze their thinking in all the significant domains of their lives, but also have significant insight into problems at deeper levels of thought. While advanced thinkers are able to think well across the important dimensions of their lives, they are not yet able to think at a consistently high level across all of these dimensions. Advanced thinkers have good general command over their egocentric nature. They continually strive to be fair-minded. Of course, they sometimes lapse into egocentrism and reason in a one-sided way.

Principal Challenge: To begin to develop depth of understanding not only of the need for systematic practice in thinking, but also insight into deep levels of problems in thought: consistent recognition, for example, of egocentric and sociocentric thought in one’s thinking, ability to identify areas of significant ignorance and prejudice, and ability to actually develop new fundamental habits of thought based on deep values to which one has committed oneself.

Knowledge of Thinking: Advanced thinkers are actively and successfully engaged in systematically monitoring the role in their thinking of concepts, assumptions, inferences, implications, points of view, etc., and hence have excellent knowledge of that enterprise. Advanced thinkers are also knowledgeable of what it takes to regularly assess their thinking for clarity, accuracy, precision, relevance, logicalness, etc. Advanced thinkers value the deep and systematic internalization of critical thinking into their daily habits. Advanced thinkers have keen insight into the role of egocentrism and sociocentrism in thinking, as well as the relationship between thoughts, feelings and desires.

They have a deep understanding of the powerful role that thinking plays in the quality of their lives. They understand that egocentric thinking will always play a role in their thinking, but that they can control the power that egocentrism has over their thinking and their lives.

Skill in Thinking: Advanced thinkers regularly critique their own plan for systematic practice, and improve it thereby. Practicing thinkers regularly monitor their own thoughts. They insightfully articulate the strengths and weaknesses in their thinking. They possess outstanding knowledge of the qualities of their thinking. Advanced thinkers are consistently able to identify when their thinking is driven by their native egocentrism; and they effectively use a number of strategies to reduce the power of their egocentric thoughts.

Relevant Intellectual Traits: The key intellectual trait required at this stage is a high degree of intellectual humility in recognizing egocentric and sociocentric thought in one’s life as well as areas of significant ignorance and prejudice. In addition the thinker at this level needs: a) the intellectual insight and perseverance to actually develop new fundamental habits of thought based on deep values to which one has committed oneself, b) the intellectual integrity to recognize areas of inconsistency and contradiction in one’s life, c) the intellectual empathy necessary to put oneself in the place of others in order to genuinely understand them, d) the intellectual courage to face and fairly address ideas, beliefs, or viewpoints toward which one has strong negative emotions, e) the fair-mindedness necessary to approach all viewpoints without prejudice, without reference to one’s own feelings or vested interests. In the advanced thinker these traits are emerging, but may not be manifested at the highest level or in the deepest dimensions of thought.

Some Implications for Instruction: For the foreseeable future most of our students will not become advanced thinkers — if at all — until college or beyond. Nevertheless, it is important that they learn what it would be to become an advanced thinker. It is important that they see it as an important goal. We can help students move in this direction by fostering their awareness of egocentrism and sociocentrism in their thinking, by leading discussions on intellectual perseverance, intellectual integrity, intellectual empathy, intellectual courage, and fair-mindedness. If we can graduate students who are practicing thinkers, we will have achieved a major break-through in schooling. However intelligent our graduates may be, most of them are largely unreflective as thinkers, and are unaware of the disciplined habits of thought they need to develop to grow intellectually as a thinker.

Stage Six: The Accomplished Thinker

Defining Feature: Accomplished thinkers not only have systematically taken charge of their thinking, but are also continually monitoring, revising, and re-thinking strategies for continual improvement of their thinking. They have deeply internalized the basic skills of thought, so that critical thinking is, for them, both conscious and highly intuitive. As Piaget would put it, they regularly raise their thinking to the level of conscious realization. Through extensive experience and practice in engaging in self-assessment, accomplished thinkers are not only actively analyzing their thinking in all the significant domains of their lives, but are also continually developing new insights into problems at deeper levels of thought. Accomplished thinkers are deeply committed to fair-minded thinking, and have a high level of, but not perfect, control over their egocentric nature.

Principal Challenge: To make the highest levels of critical thinking intuitive in every domain of one’s life. To internalize highly effective critical thinking in an interdisciplinary and practical way.

Knowledge of Thinking: Accomplished thinkers are not only actively and successfully engaged in systematically monitoring the role in their thinking of concepts, assumptions, inferences, implications, points of view, etc., but are also regularly improving that practice. Accomplished thinkers have not only a high degree of knowledge of thinking, but a high degree of practical insight as well. Accomplished thinkers intuitively assess their thinking for clarity, accuracy, precision, relevance, logicalness, etc. Accomplished thinkers have deep insights into the systematic internalization of critical thinking into their habits. Accomplished thinkers deeply understand the role that egocentric and sociocentric thinking plays in the lives of human beings, as well as the complex relationship between thoughts, emotions, drives and behavior.

Skill in Thinking: Accomplished thinkers regularly, effectively, and insightfully critique their own use of thinking in their lives, and improve it thereby. Accomplished thinkers consistently monitor their own thoughts. They effectively and insightfully articulate the strengths and weaknesses inherent in their thinking. Their knowledge of the qualities of their thinking is outstanding. Although, as humans they know they will always be fallible (because they must always battle their egocentrism, to some extent), they consistently perform effectively in every domain of their lives. People of good sense seek out master thinkers, for they recognize and value the ability of master thinkers to think through complex issues with judgment and insight.

Relevant Intellectual Traits: Naturally inherent in master thinkers are all the essential intellectual characteristics, deeply integrated. Accomplished thinkers have a high degree of intellectual humility, intellectual integrity, intellectual perseverance, intellectual courage, intellectual empathy, intellectual autonomy, intellectual responsibility and fair-mindedness. Egocentric and sociocentric thought is quite uncommon in the accomplished thinker, especially with respect to matters of importance. There is a high degree of integration of basic values, beliefs, desires, emotions, and action.

Some implications for Instruction: For the foreseeable future the vast majority of our students will never become accomplished thinkers — any more than most high school basketball players will develop the skills or abilities of a professional basketball player or student writers the writing skills of a published novelist. Nevertheless, it is important that they learn what it would be to become an accomplished thinker. It is important that they see it as a real possibility, if practicing skills of thinking becomes a characteristic of how they use their minds day to day.

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