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Critical thinking and teaching critical thinking


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Presented at the OECD Meeting in Paris, between 6-7 September 2018, by Professor Daniela Dumitru from ASE Bucuresti (Romania).

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Critical thinking and teaching critical thinking

  1. 1. Critical thinking and teaching critical thinking Assoc. Prof. Daniela Dumitru, PhD University of Bucharest, Romania OECD Meeting Paris, 6th and 7th of September, 2018
  2. 2. Summary • The concept of critical thinking. Definitions • Teaching CT - pedagogical aspects
  3. 3. CT definition across time • The Ancient Greece • Plato’s Dialogues (e.g. The Republic, 2007), in which Socrates is the main character. The Socratic Dialogue. Maeutics. • Aristotle showed that anyone who wishes to deeply understand reality, beyond the surface and the appearances that can be deceiving, that person must think well, understand well and seek the answers and solutions to the obstacles and counterexamples that can be formulated by opponents.
  4. 4. • In the Middle Ages, in his famous work, Summa Theologica, Thomas Aquinas (1981) wanted his reasoning to meet all the requirements of the critical thinking, to be always systematically exposed and to always answer the criticisms of the exposed ideas. • In England, we have a few representatives of empiricism, just as famous, who had the active idea of criticism and reflection in their work. Therefore, we mention Francis Bacon (2008) who was concerned with the way in which our mind gathered information about the world. • Fifty years later, in France, René Descartes wrote what could be called the second book of critical thinking, a less known, incomplete and posthumously published work, Regulae ad directione ingenii (Rules for the Direction of the Natural Intelligence 1619-1628, 1998).
  5. 5. • In the 16th and 17th century, Thomas Hobbes and John Locke had a critical attitude. • Hobbes had a naturalistic vision of the world, where everything needed to be explained in terms of proofs and reason. • Locke supported the application of critical thinking at the level of the common sense of life and everyday thinking. He was the one to lay the foundation of the critical thinking applied to human’s fundamental rights, involved in establishing the responsibilities of the governments etc. Therefore, John Locke was the one who brought into discussion and highlighted the necessity of critical thinking first of all in a democracy and second of all in social life.
  6. 6. • Immanuel Kant (1999) wrote the Critique of pure reason, in which the critical thinking turns to itself, to its powers and limitations. • …and a jump the 20th century: • Contemporary definition: starts with J. Dewey, How we think (1909, as in Stoianovici 2005). He suggested the term of reflective thinking, “a number of features that differentiate the superior use of the humans’ rational faculty from its minimal and routine functioning” (Dewey, 1909, as in Stoianovici 2005, 123).
  7. 7. • Edward Glaser is an author that followed the conceptual line opened by Dewey. • Critical thinking is an attitude according to which someone is willing to take into consideration the facing problems in a reflective manner. This feature is followed by the acknowledgment of investigation and logical judgment methods and certain skills of operating and using these methods. You also have to be willing to use them in everyday situations.
  8. 8. • In 1989 Robert Ennis, one of the most important representatives who decisively contributed to the development of this domain, proposed probably the most used definition today: critical thinking is reasonable and reflective thinking focusing on deciding what to believe or do (Norris and Ennis, 1989). • Richard Paul (1993) added another feature in the definition of critical thinking: metacognition. The way of thinking about any subject, content, or problem, in which the thinker improves the quality of his or her thinking by skillfully taking charge of the inherent structures in thinking and imposing intellectual standards on them.
  9. 9. Paul & Elder (2001)
  10. 10. • Alec Fisher (2001, p. 5) said that this definition drew the attention on the fact that the only way to improve a person’s critical thinking abilities consisted in that person’s conscious participation in the improving process, having a model of “good” thinking, an ideal model of thinking correctly, to which the person can constantly relate. • See also the work of H. Siegel, D. Halpern, R. Barnett, Bailin and Battersby, R. Epstein.
  11. 11. The Delphi Project • In 1988, the Delphi Project started. The official title of this project was Critical Thinking: A Statement of Expert Consensus for Purposes of Educational Assessment and Instruction. • It was financed by the American Philosophical Association and gathered an interdisciplinary team of specialists (philosopher, teachers, psychologists, sociologists, critical thinking specialists, assessment specialists, an economist, a computer science specialist, a zoologist and a physicist). • Its aim was to conceptualize “critical thinking”.
  12. 12. • Here is the entire Delphi definition: critical thinking is purposeful, self-regulatory judgment, which results in interpretation, analysis, evaluation, and inference, as well as explanation of the evidential, conceptual, methodological, criteriological, or contextual considerations upon which that judgment is based. The definition continues with: critical thinking is an essential tool of inquiry.
  13. 13. • The Delphi Project experts believe that the following set of cognitive skills represents the main dimensions of critical thinking: • Analysis • Interpretation • Evaluation • Inference • Explanation • Self-regulation
  14. 14. • And seven dispositions: • Truth-seeking • Open-mindedness, • Analyticity, • Systematicity, • Self-confidence, • Inquisitiveness • Cognitive maturity
  15. 15. • The panelists described the dispositions or characteristics of a good critical thinker: he commits and encourages the others to commit to critical judgment; he is capable of such judgments in a wide area of contexts and a variety of purposes (“The Delphi Report”, Executive Summary, 1990, p. 12). • The experts make up a list of affective dispositions that define a good critical thinker, divided into two categories: • Affective dispositions regarding life and the quotidian in general • Affective dispositions regarding themes, matters and specific questions
  16. 16. Critical thinking development. Cognitive values • Deanna Kuhn (1999, 2003, 2004, 2007, 2008) describes a stage model of the development of critical thinking. • The author acknowledges four stages of the critical thinking development that closely follow the Piagetian stages. • The first stage, realism, corresponds to the preschool age and to the preoperational stage. • In this stage, assertions are copies of the external reality, the knowledge comes from an external source and is certain and critical thinking is unnecessary because there cannot be any dispute, since everybody “sees” the same thing.
  17. 17. • The second stage, absolutist, corresponds to the school age and the stage of concrete operations. • This is the stage of an accumulation of some safe facts, assertions are facts that are either correct or incorrect in their representation of reality and the knowledge comes from an external source and is certain, but not directly accessible, thus producing false beliefs. • Critical thinking is a vehicle for comparing assertions about reality, aiming to determine their truth or falsehood.
  18. 18. • The third stage, multiplism or relativism, corresponds to adolescence. Assertions are freely chosen opinions and are seen as personal goods and therefore, unavailable to discussions. In this stage, knowledge is seen as generated by the human mind and that is the reason why it is uncertain. • Adolescents fall into a “whirlpool of doubt” (Chandler, 2003 apud. Kuhn, 2003), from which they may never get out. • The conclusion according to which everybody is right in their own way and everybody is right in their own way from certain points of view they agree more than others’, namely their opponents’ and that they are free to believe whatever they want and in what they want is a well-known picture of adolescence. However, in this picture, critical thinking is irrelevant.
  19. 19. • Critical thinking development can continue with a fourth stage, called the evaluativist stage. • This stretches out over the age of the young adult and is characterized by considering assertions as judgments that can be evaluated and compared using the criteria of rationality, demonstration and alternatives. • In the evaluativist stage, knowledge is seen as being generated by the human mind and therefore uncertain and can be susceptible to evaluation.
  20. 20. • It is perfectly acceptable that some opinions are better than others, meaning that some are better supported by proofs and arguments and the justification of the opinions must be more than pure personal preference. • In the evaluativist stage, critical thinking is the vehicle that brings valid assertions and enhances understanding.
  21. 21. • In her book Education for Thinking (2010), Deanna Kuhn presents the results of a research conducted over three years and she shows that there is a strong connection between the value attributed by family to knowledge and a child’s school results. • In other words, if the family thinks it is very important and positive to know, to possess knowledge, then the child is highly motivated and will make great efforts to gather as much knowledge as possible.
  22. 22. Teaching CT. Instructional approach • Ennis (1989): • the general approach: focuses on teaching critical thinking, on developing critical thinking apart from the specific content of subject matters; • the infusion approach: presupposes the encouragement of students to think critically within each subject matter in which the general principles of critical thinking are explicitly formulated;
  23. 23. Teaching CT. Instructional approach • the immersion approach: students are immersed in the respective domain without being specifically referred to the principles of critical thinking (Prawat, 1991); • the mixed approach is a hybrid between the general approach and one of the other two approaches presented above, immersion or the infusion approach.
  24. 24. • McPeck criticizes the standard approach to critical thinking, which says that CT is a universal and transferable capacity (1990). • Ennis’ answer is a nuanced one. He says that there are three forms in which the specificity of the domain is defined. • And any discussion about the transfer of critical thinking skills has to begin from the vision on specificity that we adopt.
  25. 25. The empirical domain specificity When there is an empirical difference between the domains in question we have to: • (i) have background knowledge; • (ii) have the capacity to transfer: • (a) the simple transfer of critical thinking skills and dispositions form one domain to another is impossible; • (b) anyway, the transfer becomes feasible if: 1. there is sufficient practice in several domains; 2. there is training concentrating on the transfer; • (iii) have overall instruction.
  26. 26. Epistemological Specificity It claims that credible arguments are domain dependent and that critical thinking consequently varies from one domain to another. • This boils down to the following: • (i) knowledge in the domain: in order to be able to think critically within one domain one has to have knowledge within that domain. • (ii) interdisciplinary variability: good arguments are domain dependent; they may vary from one domain to another; • (iii) full understanding of the domain: this is a necessary condition if one is to think critically within a domain.
  27. 27. Conceptual Specificity • Ennis claims that certain concepts are common to several disciplines and that the specificity of domains from this point of view is much vaguer than in the case of the other specificity criteria. • So conceptual specificity is much more problematic than the others.
  28. 28. • McPeck (1990) states that ‘thinking always comes down to thinking about something’ and that the phrases ‘to teach thinking’ or ‘teaching someone how to think’ are meaningless. • He states that if one is to consider formal logic as an example, which is the most prone to transferability, this is irrelevant for some domains in the sense that its usage is not an abstract capacity as the domain of formal logic is, but a part of what we call “rational thinking” in certain domains or disciplines. • NB! Evans (1982) and Glaser (1984) have demonstrated through experimental research that the transfer of logic abilities is as problematic as any other transfer.
  29. 29. • Ennis contradicts McPeck: • if one says “All As are Bs, which amounts to saying that if something is not B that something is not A either”, where A and B are variables which may be replaced with any concrete object, this statement is about A and B without being related to a certain domain or topic or object. • One can teach and talk about a principle without relying on a certain content. • McPeck briefly answers that it involves “an A and a B, therefore this thinking is about something”.
  30. 30. Hence… • McPeck thinks that the forms of critical thinking are in direct proportion with the topics, whereas Ennis believes that there is a general ability called critical thinking just as Logic is universal. • McPeck does not even accept that Logic is the one which governs argumentation in specific domains, claiming that this falls under the authority of Epistemology, • He opt for a thinking that is natural, applied and contextualized to objects of study or to topics of discussion.
  31. 31. • McPeck shows where the mistake in the standard vision on critical thinking lies: • there is a confusion between “logical subsuming” and “psychological transfer”. • In other words, if a sum of logical principles is found in each domain and if the domains have to subject to these principles, this does not mean that one has to infer that the transfer is done on the basis of these logical principles, because this transfer is psychological in its essence and not logical.
  32. 32. • The fact that we accept the existence of domain organization according to logical principles (whatever that might mean), does not mean that once we have managed to isolate these universal principles within a domain on which we are expert, these principles will be automatically transferred to other domains and to daily life. • There has to be a way to render particular to a domain all “principles”, which do not seem to be as psychologically universal as they are theoretically and logically universal.
  33. 33. CT teaching strategies • Ennis describes two basics teaching methods for promoting CT: • Lecture-Discussion Teaching (LDT) • Problem-Based Learning (PBL) • They contrast with each other. • LDT is the most common approach to college teaching.
  34. 34. Corollary. An instantiation of critical thinking transfer: philosophers • How can they discuss with the same acuteness about almost anything? • We might think that this is a success story of transfer. • Actually, it might very well be that this case precisely has had scholars assert that critical thinking is made up of universal principles that may be transferred from one domain to another.
  35. 35. • I believe this presupposition to be false. • Philosophers’ job is to focus on argumentation, on performing a critical exercise on anything. • Philosophers look for the principles and the argumentative construction of any speech. • We cannot have the same expectations from any other individual who has not been trained accordingly and who does not have the necessary structural motivation to reflect, to find principles and to assess their strength.
  36. 36. • A specialist on the domain or a student who is studying a domain does not question the axioms of the discipline, nor does he ask questions about the empirical, conceptual and epistemological make-up of their domain. • They do not actually know that there are such dimensions concerning the specifics of a discipline. They simply function within a space which they take for granted.
  37. 37. • Asking ourselves why philosophers can perform the transfer is like asking why the tailors have scissors whereas the mechanics have spanners. • It is because this is what they do and we cannot extrapolate this case of successful transfer to all domains.
  38. 38. Research example (Dumitru, 2013) • The method • The research method we employed was the quasi-experiment, pre-post test of non-equivalent. • Basic plan with one independent variable, the educational program (a classical course of critical thinking or an integrated course of critical thinking). • Working hypotheses • The general hypothesis of the study: integrated educational programs are a developing factor of critical thinking. The students attending these programs will exhibit a higher capacity for argumentation, reasoning, research and critical judgement.
  39. 39. • The experimental group ended up by consisting of 33 subjects, while the control group had 31. • The ages of the subjects ranged between 20 and 34 years of age in the control group and between 20 and 32 years of age in the experimental group. • The course was conceived of as a mix form, beginning with an immersion into Critical Thinking by presenting the material or the subject and carrying on with a Socratic dialogue where problems were freely discussed; later on, when the students grasped the error, the specific terminology, the principles or the explanations, and the definitions were introduced.
  40. 40. • The control group had a traditional course of Argumentation and Critical thinking, though this type of course is not that old in what the educational offer in the universities is concerned. • The term “traditional” should be understood as “more recurrent” in the academic curriculum. • The teaching method employed in this course was the lecture.
  41. 41. • The instruments • LSAT (Law School Admission Test) test (Logical Reasoning) • the essay test, designed by Robert Ennis and Eric Weir in 1985
  42. 42. Testul Levene pentru egalitatea varianţelor t-test pentru egalitatea mediilor F Sig. t df Sig. (2-tailed) Mean Dif Standar d error 95% interval de încredere al diferenţei Inferior level Superior level Asumarea egalităţii varianţelor .006 .941 – 1.153 61 .254 – 1.02117 .88600 – 2.79283 .75049 Neasumarea egalităţii varianţelor - 1.151 60.026 .254 – 1.02117 .88736 – 2.79614 .75380
  43. 43. Testul Levene pentru egalitatea varianţelor t-test pentru egalitatea mediilor F Sig. t df Sig. (2-tailed) Diferenţa dintre medii Eroarea standard a mediei 95% intervalul de încredere al diferenţei Limita inferioară Limita superioară Asumarea egalităţii varianţelor 3.260 .076 – 4.878 61 .0001 – 2.56855 .52658 – 3.62152 – 1.51558 Neasumarea egalităţii varianţelor – 4.900 57.223 .0001 – 2.56855 .52414 – 3.61804 – 1.51906
  44. 44. • Effect size ω2 is 0.27, for pre-post Ennis-Wier test • Effect size ω2 is 0.05, for pre-post LSAT test. • Indicates a strong association between the results obtained at the essay test and the group to which the subjects belonged.
  45. 45. Conclusions • If one aims at employing the abilities of critical thinking in daily-life situations, an integrated, trans-disciplinary or inter-disciplinary course integrating the disciplines socially is by far more suitable than a classical course in Critical Thinking, where the principles and the terminology that are specific to this domain are presented. • It is necessary that the actual use of critical thinking abilities take place under the guidance of a professor/trainer and within a formal environment; this aspect should not be ignored in the hope that the student will know by herself how to think critically. • It is acceptable to think that there are certain principles which we can transfer, but which are few and which need to be checked through experimental research cum grano salis. • We cannot claim that CT skills are transferable base on philosophers case or, broadly speaking, base on academics or researchers case.
  46. 46. • Thank you!