ERIC Identifier: ED348128
Publication Date: 1992-09-00
Author: Hirose, Shannon
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for
Junior Colleges Los Angeles CA.
Critical Thinking in Community Colleges. ERIC Digest.
The issue of critical thinking is being addressed at all levels of education
throughout the nation. "Deep-seated problems of environmental damage, human
relations, overpopulation, rising expectations, diminishing resources, global
competition, personal goals, and ideological conflict" will need to be addressed
by individuals capable of reflective and critical thought (Paul, 1992, p. 4).
Many of today's youth lack the basic skills to function effectively when they
enter the workforce. A common complaint is that entry-level employees lack the
reasoning and critical thinking abilities needed to process and refine
information. With the modern work environment requiring more thinking and
problem solving than the jobs of the past, community college teachers and
administrators should emphasize critical thinking on their campuses, in their
curricula, and in their teaching practices in order to prepare students to
function effectively in today's workforce. This digest presents an overview of
the concept of critical thinking, methods of teaching critical thinking, and
examples of critical thinking programs in community colleges.
WHAT IS CRITICAL THINKING?
Cromwell (1992) notes that the
definition of critical thinking has gone through a transformation from meaning
the ability to distinguish the thought patterns in the work of others to a
reflection on one's own beliefs, thoughts, and decisions. Nickerson, Perkins,
and Smith (1985, p. 4-5) define it as figuring out what to believe, in a variety
of contexts, "in a rational way that requires the ability to judge the
plausibility of specific assertions, to weigh evidence, to assess the logical
soundness of inferences, to construct counter arguments and alternative
hypotheses." Paul (1992, p. 9-10) defines critical thinking as "disciplined,
self-directed thinking that exemplifies the perfections of thinking appropriate
to a particular mode or domain of thought." Glock (1987, p. 9) offers the
following broad definition: "Critical thinking skills are (a) those diverse
cognitive processes and associated attitudes, (b) critical to intelligent
action, (c) in diverse situations and fields, (d) that can be improved by
instruction or conscious effort."
TEACHING CRITICAL THINKING
Much of community college
instruction is delivered through lectures. The instructor stands in front of a
classroom and recites facts and information, while students sit passively and
soak up (or ignore) what the instructor is presenting. The goal of teaching, in
this mode, is to facilitate students' rote memorization of facts from lectures
and textbooks. According to Paul (1992, p. 4), this type of lower-order
learning, "undisciplined, associative, and inert" hinders rather than
facilitates the educational process. Instead, students must be encouraged to go
beyond the memorization of a fact, and adjust that fact to a particular domain
of thought. For students to gain critical thinking skills, teachers will have to
change the way they present materials and change who does the presenting in
their classrooms. They must learn to ask more open-ended questions -- why, how,
and what if -- and coach students through the process of learning how to answer
them. Rather than having students absorb knowledge, teachers must encourage
students to think problems through, analyze, conceptualize, ask questions, be
questioned, and reflect on how their beliefs might affect and compare to others.
In addition to memorizing facts and figures for a final examination, students
must be challenged to apply what they have learned to the real world.
Glock (1986) suggests ways that teachers can reinforce verbal critical
thinking skills by focusing greater attention on students' "why" questions than
their "who," "where" and "how" questions. Teachers should also pay attention to
their own methods of asking questions, questioning answers, and questioning
questions. She suggests the following:
* When a student asks a why question, have the rest of the class discuss the
kinds of questions that are most powerful and the sources of their power.
Explain the structure of analytical questions. Use such questions -- especially
those generated by students -- in quizzes.
* Once students become accustomed to answering analytical questions using
material presented in class, ask similar questions that must be answered through
their own work experience or out-of-class inquiries.
* Have students analyze the information presented in the textbook to discern
which forms of inquiry were used to generate it.
* Have students read critical analyses of their text, and encourage students
to develop their own criticisms based on their personal experiences.
* Compare opposing positions on a topic, and help students identify the
sources of the differences of opinion. Avoid emotion-laden topics until students
begin to perceive the "universality of reinterpretation and redefinition."
In her second-year oral communications course, Tripp (1990) uses the
problem-solving conference. Students (1) select, define, and establish the
parameters of a school-related problem; (2) analyze the problem to identify
underlying causes, its scope and seriousness, and potential impact; (3) conduct
a brainstorming session to generate creative solutions; (4) assess the proposed
solutions in terms of viability and potential effectiveness; (5) reach consensus
on the solutions; and (6) implement the decision. This process is used in the
development of students' group research projects, which result in a technical
report based on primary research. Questionnaires and interviews are generally
used to gather data on such problems as curriculum requirements, campus parking,
or dress codes. All group members should be involved throughout the
process--"talking, listening, gathering data, writing, and editing" --and
decisions should be reached democratically.
Sheridan (1992) believes that writing facilitates critical thinking, arguing
that "the act of generating written discourse is not merely a result of critical
thinking but also a stimulus to new thinking and new discoveries." In his
freshman composition course, Sheridan uses the Freewrite exercise to liberate
students from their stultifying fear of grammar and spelling mistakes and open
them to the risk taking required for innovative thought. Subsequent writing
assignments are based on real life topics generated by the students themselves
in a series of brainstorming sessions. With instructor guidance the students
also generate other thinking-writing strategies to apply to their assignments,
including techniques such as:
Ways of Looking
the Next Step
to Consider Opposition
It on Its Head
It in Pieces
The students also generate the criteria to be used in evaluating their
written work, in the belief that students will more readily internalize
standards they themselves have suggested.
CRITICAL THINKING PROGRAMS AT COMMUNITY COLLEGES
colleges have introduced campuswide programs to implement critical thinking
across the curriculum. At Miami-Dade Community College, the Learning to Learn
Subcommittee was formed to help create a course for faculty in teaching-learning
theory, specify student behaviors and teaching methods to promote critical
thinking skills, and develop ways to include the learning-to-learn concept
across all disciplines (Miami-Dade Community College District, 1989). Similarly,
Oakton Community College's (OCC) critical thinking program began with the
faculty (Lee, Bers, and Storinger, 1992). One of the central components of the
Critical Literacy Project is a year-long, faculty seminar designed and taught by
OCC faculty, to teach volunteer participants ways of incorporating critical
literacy skills into their courses. In addition to providing a theoretical
context for course revisions, the seminar utilizes a workshop format during
which participants rethink and revise at least one of their courses to
incorporate critical literacy content and assignments. The Community College of
Aurora, Colorado, involves faculty in a year-long Integrated Thinking Skills
Project, in which interdisciplinary teams of faculty participate in critical
thinking training, curriculum redesign, coaching, evaluation, and follow-up. Ten
years ago, LaGuardia Community College began its critical thinking program with
its Critical Thought Skills (CTS) course. Course objectives are: "Enhance and
accelerate the development of students' reading, writing, and speaking skills;
Develop and refine students' higher order thinking, reasoning, and
problem-solving abilities; and Encourage students to explore their basic
attitudes toward their lives and larger social concerns, fostering qualities
such as maturity and responsibility" (Chaffee, 1992, p.27).
At other institutions, critical thinking is implemented through curriculum
change. At Alverno College, eight abilities (i.e., communication, analysis,
problem solving, valuing, social interaction, responsibility toward the global
environment, effective citizenship, and aesthetic responsiveness) have been
embodied in the curriculum to facilitate the intellectual development of
students (Cromwell, 1992).
The ability to analyze problems and think
critically will serve students well in today's complex world. Taking on the role
of preparing and training students for this world will require many changes in
teaching practices and learning styles, and in community college curricula and
This digest was drawn in part from "Critical
Thinking: Educational Imperative, New Directions for Community Colleges, Number
77," edited by Cynthia A. Barnes. The cited articles are: "Critical Thinking:
What, Why, and How," by Richard Paul; "Teaching Critical Thinking Across the
Curriculum," by John Chaffee; "Assessing Critical Thinking," by Lucy S.
Cromwell; "Skipping on the Brink of the Abyss: Teaching Thinking through
Writing," by James J. Sheridan; and "The Critical Literacy Seminar: A Faculty
Development and Rejuvenation Strategy," by Margaret B. Lee, Trudy H. Bers, and
Glock, Nancy Clover. "'College Level' and
'Critical Thinking': Public Policy and Educational Reform." 32pp. (ED 298 982)
Miami-Dade Community College District. "Recommendations on 'Learning to
Learn.'" Miami, Fla.: Miami-Dade Community College, 1989. 47pp. (ED 313 077).
Nickerson, Ray; And Others. "Teaching Thinking." Hillsdale, N.J.: Erlbaum,
Tripp, Ellen L. "Speak, Listen, Analyze, Respond: Problem-Solving
Conferences. 'Teaching English in the Two-Year College,'" 1990, 17(3), 183-186.