Critical and Creative Thinking: A Guide for Teachers revealsways to develop a capacity to think both critically and creativelyin practical and productive ways.
* Explains why critical and creative thinking complement eachother with clear examples
* Provides a practical toolkit of cognitive techniques forgenerating and evaluating ideas using both creative and criticalthinking
* Enriches the discussion of creative and critical intersectionswith brief "inter-chapters" based on the thinkinghabits of Leonardo da Vinci
* Offers an overview of current trends in critical and creativethinking, with applications across a spectrum of disciplines
Robert DiYanni is Adjunct Professor of Humanities at New York University. He has authored or edited a variety of books, including Literature: An Introduction, The Scribner Handbook for Writers, Occasions for Writing, Arts and Culture: An Introduction to the Humanities, and Modern American Poets: Their Voices and Visions.
Essential Critical Thinking Concepts
Figure 1.1 Critical thinking. © Keng Guan Toh/Shutterstock
No problem can withstand the assault of sustained thinking.
What Is Critical Thinking?
Critical thinking is a type of thinking in which you reflect and analyze when making decisions and solving problems. Based on logic and careful reasoning, critical thinking is purposeful thinking guided by reasoned evidence. It defines problems, identifies competing arguments, uses relevant data, raises key questions, and uses information effectively to make reasoned judgments. The word "critical" derives from the Greek work kritikos, which means "judge." Critical thinking involves rationality and convergent thinking.
Critical thinking does not necessarily involve criticizing ideas (although sometimes, being "critical" in this way can be an aspect of thinking critically). Nor is critical thinking used only for serious subjects or important issues. You can think critically about what kind of popcorn to buy or what hat to wear, whether to marry or remain single, whether you should go to graduate school or move to a foreign country.
Characteristics of critical thinking include noticing perceptively and establishing careful connections; asking probing questions and making meaningful distinctions. Critical thinking involves analyzing, interpreting, and evaluating evidence; applying knowledge; thinking independently and interdependently.
Certain tendencies, or dispositions, are essential for critical thinking. Among them are open-mindedness, honesty, and flexibility; perseverance; reasonableness, diligence, and focus. Critical thinkers reconsider ideas and sometimes change their minds. They recognize the legitimacy of alternative views, embrace ambiguity and remain open to continued learning.
Essential critical thinking competencies include evaluation and self-direction. Evaluation through informed and sound judgments, and through considering values, is central to the process of critical thinking. Self-direction includes self-awareness and self-regulation-managing your thinking and your motivation for thinking. Critical thinking also involves asking productive questions. Asking the right kinds of questions is as important as answering them. Essential significant questions include those shown in Table 1.1.
Table 1.1 Essential critical thinking questions What do you know? What have you assumed? What questions can you ask? What does it mean? What is the evidence? What are the criteria?
Underlying these questions is the fundamental critical thinking question: "How do I know what I think I know?" And, "What evidence do I have for what I think I know?"
Critical thinkers constantly challenge their thinking and the thinking of others. They exhibit a stance of deliberate skepticism, refusing to accept assertions without evidence to support them. They also try to consider their own ideas from the perspective of others who might see things differently. The following questions, which have been adapted from Richard Paul's and Linda Elder's (2002) Critical Thinking, offer guidance in doing this.
Guiding questions for critical thinking
- What are the purpose and goal of the thinking?
- What question or problem is being addressed?
- What is the point of view or perspective?
- What claim or idea is being advanced, and why?
- What facts, information, or data support the claim or idea?
- What assumptions are being made, and which of those assumptions might be questioned or challenged?
- What inferences are being made, and what conclusion is drawn from them?
- What implications and consequences can be inferred?
- What concept or theory guides the thinking?
Habits of Mind
Your intelligence is the sum of your habits of mind-how you use those mental habits to think and solve problems. This book is designed to improve your current productive habits of mind while helping you modify or eliminate bad thinking habits. The Institute for Habits of Mind identifies and recommends the following thinking habits: (1) applying past knowledge to new situations; (2) remaining open to continued learning; (3) posing questions and identifying problems; (4) taking intellectual risks; (5) developing and sustaining curiosity; (6) thinking independently and interdependently.
Applying past knowledge to new situations
Using what you already know, you make connections between prior knowledge and new situations. American philosopher John Dewey reminds us that we learn by reflecting on our experiences. Thomas Edison claimed that he never made mistakes, but rather kept learning what didn't work in the process of figuring out what might.
Remaining open to continued learning
You continue learning all your life, which involves identifying opportunities for continuous learning everywhere. Being "open" to learning opportunities includes being willing to consider other perspectives and ideas, to possibilities for intellectual growth and development wherever they can be found.
Posing questions and identifying problems
Asking productive questions and identifying problems are essential for quality thinking. Socrates asked probing questions, pushing those he questioned ever deeper into inquiry, often to the point of exasperation and an acknowledgment of their ignorance. Questions invite answers; considering answers to thoughtful questions helps you discover the limits of your knowledge.
Taking intellectual risks
Taking risks with your thinking, moving outside your comfort zone prods you to think in new and interesting ways. Taking risks involves the chance of failure; it involves being frustrated by uncertainty. Progress, however, depends upon taking chances. Being willing to fail, and even to embrace failure, is essential for invention and discovery.
Developing and sustaining intellectual curiosity
Curiosity is the motivation for all learning. Children are immensely curious about all sorts of things. Many people, unfortunately, lose that curiosity during their years of schooling. One of the greatest thinkers of all time, Leonardo da Vinci, considered curiosity fundamental to his life as an artist, scientist, and inventor. He repeatedly acknowledged curiosity as his most important habit of mind.
Thinking independently and interdependently
Although necessary, independent thinking is only part of the story; also necessary is collaborative thinking. The process is reciprocal: you link your thinking with the thinking of others. You feed off the ideas of others, who then feed off yours. Both independent and interdependent thinking spur progress and spark innovation.
Why Intellectual Habits and Character Matter
To become truly useful, these habits of mind need to be actualized as things you do regularly. In making these kinds of thinking habitual, you develop what Ron Ritchhart (2004) has called "intellectual character," a cohesive way of thinking that is distinctively your own. His notion of intellectual character includes habits of mind, along with patterns of thinking and general dispositions about thinking that reflect how you think. Developing an intellectual character requires building on positive thinking dispositions, such as persistence, patience, and perseverance. Your intellectual character defines you as an individual thinker; it reflects your particular way of engaging the world mindfully.
David Brooks (2014) echoes and extends these ideas with a set of "mental virtues" he believes are embedded in character, virtues necessary for quality higher-order thinking. Among these mental virtues are intellectual courage, which Brooks defines as the "willingness to hold unpopular views." Firmness and autonomy require an ability to hold to your ideas in the face of opposition. They involve a balancing act between flaccidity and rigidity, and between respect for authority and tradition on one hand, and the ability to depart from those influences, on the other. Brooks adds generosity and humility to the mix, recognizing others' ideas and acknowledging the limits of your knowledge and understanding. Thinking well requires resisting vanity and laziness, pushing against the need for certainty, resisting the urge to avoid painful truths. In short, good critical thinking for Brooks is a "moral enterprise," one that requires "the ability to go against our lesser impulses for the sake of our higher ones."
Enhancing your ability to think critically can have a pronounced effect on your behavior as well as on your attitude toward learning and the thinking of others. Taking intellectual risks can make you both a more daring thinker and a more interesting one. Being open to the possibility of failure can lead you to a more experimental and exploratory frame of mind, permitting you to try different options with the knowledge that some won't work out. Risk-taking...