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Critical About Critical Thinking

April 15, 2011

Dictionary.com defines critical thinking as

the mental process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating information to reach an answer or conclusion

There are of course many other definitions for critical thinking but this one is more or less in line with what I think of when the words “critical thinking” or “think critically” are used.

The other day I was checking out the latest tweets and I came across a video which discusses critical thinking and critical inquiry.

This video resonated with me in many ways and I found I had to watch it several times to make sure I caught all of the nuances of the presentation.  The one statement that pulled me in the most was:

One of the most enduring stereotypes is the impression that teaching students to think critically is tantamount to teaching them to criticize and be specious of everything perhaps even cynical.

After hearing this for this third time I found I was thinking over the events of the last few years and questioning if the educational partners I work with are more in the realm of thinking critically or simply criticizing and playing “devil’s advocate.” I will not state my conclusions here but some of the questions I found myself asking were:

  1. Do I think critically when a problem is presented or criticize the problem?
  2. Do I find myself agreeing or disagreeing without thinking critically?
  3. Are those around me critical thinkers or do they criticize?

The presentation continues to state that critical inquiry is:

Centrally concerned with what makes sense and what does not make sense though:

  1. ongoing mindful assessment
  2. assessments in a balanced and appropriate way
  3. applied when creating and responding to ideas
  4. conducted alone and with others
  5. considering relevant criteria

It is not that any of these ideas were new to me or that I had not thought of them before but they did resonate with me at a time that there is so much change in education and mathematics education in particular.

I welcome any critically thought out comments.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Nick permalink
    April 19, 2011 4:38 pm

    I think of critical thinking as having a skeptical outlook, as opposed to a cynical one. I think it’s essential to ask questions, the challenge is doing it in a way that is constructive. While you don’t want to be a devils advocate for the sake of being difficult, it’s also healthy to hear multiple perspectives and not converge into groupthink.

  2. April 19, 2011 5:32 pm

    Thanks for the comments Nick. I absolutely agree. In a collaborative environment it is essential to agree that while there is a need for skepticism we are all working toward a goal of mutual understanding even if there is not agreement. Disagreeing for the sake of arguing is not productive.

  3. April 24, 2011 2:54 pm

    The video you found was produced by The Critical Thinking Consortium, which originated right here in BC. Roland Case was one of the originators and continues to head the Consortium, which is now active across Canada, in several States and in some schools in India. It publishes a free monthly newsletter called The Thinking Teacher, which can be found at http://www.tc2.ca/wp/april-2011/. The April issue included this video.

  4. April 25, 2011 9:14 am

    Thanks for the information Bruce. This was a piece that I was not aware of and will certainly check out the site. It is also great to know who made the video so credit can be given. It is a great piece and has helped inspire me to think more. The professional learning calendar looks like it has some great sessions: http://www.tc2.ca/wp/tc2-online-professional-learning-calendar-pst/

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