Assessing and Teaching Critical Thinking

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"Education is nothing more or less, than learning to think" written in English and Chinese

This Guest Blog Post by Peter A. Facione, Ph.D., Measured Reasons LLC, is presented as part of Insight Assessment’s commitment to advancing critical thinking worldwide.  In it he summarizes his recent keynote speech at the 9th Annual Critical Thinking and Innovative Education Conference in Beijing, China.

This recounting of the 50-year journey to define, teach, and measure critical thinking begins at the end, with assessment.

Assessing critical thinking

Empirical data show there are large differences between critical thinking skills even in fairly homogeneous samples, like college students.  The same holds true for the spread of scores on vital critical thinking dispositional attributes, like truth-seeking.

Educators can gather objective data online using powerful assessment tools like the CCTST,BCTST,HSRT, and CCTDI.  In addition, they can promote critical thinking by incorporating developmental tools such as the Holistic Critical Thinking Scoring Rubric.

Learning critical thinking and decision-making

To understand how to teach for critical thinking, we begin by asking how humans learn and how we make decisions in natural contexts.

The highly formal, top-down, methods of teaching brittle content do not work as methods of teaching for critical thinking.  Critical thinking is developed bottom-up, for reflection on realistic examples and authentic problems.

Teachers who describe accurately their own thinking process, talking about how they analyze, interpret, explain, and evaluate reflectively, are able to model the positive habits of mind as they demonstrate the skills.

Teaching critical thinking

To teach for critical thinking, no matter what the subject matter is or the age of the students, effective instructors can be found doing these five things:

  • Creating space during class time for dialogue – demonstrating and eliciting critical thinking;
  • Connecting classroom content to real problems and authentic examples that demand reflective judgment;
  • Making assignments that require critical thinking to earn a high grade.  Using prompts like “analyze, explain, evaluate, interpret, and infer likely outcomes;”
  • Inviting students to evaluate one another’s presentations with the Holistic Critical Thinking Scoring Rubric;
  • Giving important examinations which rely more on applying critical thinking and less on memorizing content.

Critical thinking is an active process.  To teach for critical thinking, we must engage students in using critical thinking!

Critical thinking definition from the APA Delphi Consensus Definition

Defining critical thinking

Having shared assessment data and identified effective teaching strategies, the story comes full circle with the Expert Consensus Definition of Critical Thinking which grounds all of our assessment instruments:

Critical thinking is the process of purposeful reflective judgment which manifests itself in reasoned consideration of evidence, context, methods, standards, and conceptualizations in order to decide what to believe or what to do.

Insight Assessment conference participants standing under an arch at the Beijing Foreign Studies Universities

Beijing Conference

Advancing Thinking Worldwide. Peter Facione, PhD is the Founder and Senior Researcher at Insight Assessment, the provider of critical thinking assessments and development programs for more than 30 years.

As a principal at Measured Reasons LLC, a consulting firm supporting excellence in strategic thinking and leadership decision-making, he leads workshops, executive coaching sessions and speaks at conferences and conventions.

Facione recently spoke at the the 9th Annual Critical Thinking and Innovative Education Conference. Hosted by the Beijing Foreign Studies University, the conference was attended by educators from K-12, graduate and post graduate institutions. During the July 23-24, 2019, conference, there was enthusiastic consensus in the importance of critical thinking. Facione particularly enjoyed the discussions about the role of educators in teaching students how to improve their critical thinking skills.

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