ERIC Identifier: ED297003
Publication Date: 1988-00-00
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Teacher Education
Critical Thinking Skills and Teacher Education. ERIC Digest
Many educators have long advocated the teaching of critical thinking skills
such as reasoning and problem solving. No action was generated, however, until
1980, when the Rockefeller Commission on the Humanities recommended that
critical thinking be included in the U.S. Office of Education definition of
basic skills. Three universities now offer a master of arts program in teaching
critical thinking; the California State University system requires a course in
critical thinking; and the College Board has made it one of the six basic skills
needed for college (Educational Testing Service 1984, 8; Ennis 1985, 28).
There are many definitions of critical thinking. Richard Paul (1988, 49)
calls it the ability to reach sound conclusions based on observation and
information. Barry Beyer (1983) describes it as assessing the authenticity,
accuracy and worth of knowledge claims, beliefs, or arguments. Stephen Norris
(1985, 40-45) says it helps students to "apply everything they already know and
feel, to evaluate their own thinking, and especially to change their
Critical thinking is not the same as, and should not be confused with,
intelligence; it is a skill that may be improved in everyone (Walsh and Paul
1988, 13). However, it is not something that necessarily develops with maturity
and so should be taught to all ages. The New Jersey Test of Reasoning Skills,
for example, found that the mean scores of college freshmen tested were less
than one point above the mean scores of sixth graders (Lipman 1980).
HOW CAN CRITICAL THINKING BE TAUGHT?
There is some
controversy as to whether or not critical thinking should be taught as an
independent course (the process approach) or within established courses (the
Those favoring the process method maintain that like reading and writing,
critical thinking is an enabling discipline and deserves separate instruction
(Lipman 1988, 143). They argue that an independent course would prevent students
from confining critical thinking to a specific subject matter, thereby
inhibiting its development (Lipman 1980, 211); would avoid repetition of
introductory principles in each subject; and would encourage the application of
cognitive skills to other disciplines (Ennis 1985, 29). Matthew Lipman (1980,
209) recommends all grade levels learn reasoning through philosophy because of
its unique, intellectually adventurous approach.
Learning cognitive skills separately, however, may not necessarily facilitate
their application to content-area studies or real-life situations. Research
suggests the effectiveness of such courses depends on parallel efforts across
the curriculum (Resnick 1987, 34-35), including training all teachers in
cognitive skills (Pauker 1987, 27).
Advocates of the content approach argue that certain cognitive skills are
specific to particular disciplines and should be taught in context (Ashton 1988,
4). This method requires that teachers have extensive knowledge of their own
discipline and of how it differs from others. They can then instruct students
how to apply cognitive skills in their areas and when to make contextual links
with other areas (Chambers 1988, 5-6). While this approach enhances
content-domain learning (Resnick 1987, 36) and eliminates the problem of
scheduling an extra course (Martin 1983), it has not been widely successful in
transferring cognitive skills across the curriculum (Resnick 1987, 36) and
imposes the burden of redesigning the way courses are taught (Pauker 1987, 27).
Consideration of the advantages and disadvantages of each leads one to
conclude the solution is not exclusively in either method, but in combination.
Such a unified approach to critical thinking would provide a framework for
instruction in any field (Presseisen 1988).
HOW WILL THIS EMPHASIS AFFECT TEACHER EDUCATION?
student performance on critical thinking tests, schools of education must
improve teacher training. They must teach cognitive skills to preservice
teachers before training them to teach these skills in the classroom (Ashton
1980, 2). They must integrate critical thinking skills into all aspects of
teacher preparation and train future teachers to be models of effective thinking
strategies (Walsh and Paul 1988, 49).
Schools of education have several obstacles to overcome before accomplishing
these goals, including an inadequate knowledge base on teaching critical
thinking; a lack of consensus on methods of evaluating critical thinking
programs; conditions that require classroom management at the expense of
academic instruction; and a lack of support for collaboration between liberal
arts and teacher education faculty (Ashton 1988, 2-5).
Elementary and secondary schools considering a critical thinking skills
emphasis must make a long-term commitment to programs fostering the critical
thinking process; provide inservice training; assign mentors to new teachers;
allot time for teachers to share effective strategies for instruction; involve
experienced teachers in the selection of instructional materials and testing
programs (Committee on Standards 1988); and appoint a committee to guide
curriculum development (Walsh and Paul 1988, 49).
ARE THERE ANY PROGRAMS THAT PROMOTE CRITICAL
Project THISTLE (Thinking Skills in Teaching and Learning) is a
teacher training program designed to improve the precollege preparation of urban
high school students by strengthening their critical thinking abilities (Oxman
and Barell 1983).
Lipman's Philosophy for Children is a program for younger students that
develops informal logic skills through the discussion of issues raised in
narrative tests, including problems of meaning, truth, ethics, reality and
imagination (Resnick 1987, 31).
The Instrumental Enrichment program (Feuerstein et al. 1986) is a
content-free, paper-and-pencil program that improves problem-solving strategies
in 14 cognitive areas and promotes broad application of these strategies from
classroom subjects to real-life situations (Martin 1987). The program is
currently being applied in the preservice education department at Gallaudet
University (Martin 1984, 68-69).
Tactics for Thinking, a teacher-directed approach to critical thinking, is a
flexible program for grades K-12 that can be tailored to each school's
curriculum and student needs. It focuses on 22 skills and processes that can be
applied selectively or to all grades and subjects.
Many of the following references--those
identified with an ED or EJ number--have been abstracted and are in the ERIC
data base. The journal articles should be available at most research libraries.
The documents (citations with an ED number) are available on microfiche in ERIC
microfiche collections at more than 700 locations. Documents also can be ordered
through the ERIC Document Reproduction Service. Call (800) 227-3742 for price
and order information. For a list of ERIC collections in your area or for
information on submitting documents to ERIC, contact the ERIC Clearinghouse on
Teacher Education, One Dupont Circle, NW, Suite 610, Washington, DC 20036, (202)
Ashton, P. (1988). Teaching higher-order thinking and content: An essential
ingredient in teacher preparation. Gainesville, FL: University of Florida.
Beyer, B. (1983, November). Common sense about teaching thinking skills.
EDUCATIONAL LEADERSHIP, 41, 44-49. EJ 289-719.
Chambers, J. (1988, April). Teaching thinking throughout the
curriculum--where else? EDUCATIONAL LEADERSHIP, 45, 4-6.
Committee on Standards of the Association Collaborative for Teaching
Thinking. (1988). Standards and practices for teachers for thinking. Alexandria,
VA: Association Collaborative for Teaching Thinking, Association for Supervision
and Curriculum Development.
Educational Testing Service. (1984). Critical thinking. FOCUS, 15.
Ennis, R. H. (1985). Critical thinking and the curriculum. NATIONAL Forum:
PHI KAPPA PHI JOURNAL, 65, (1), 28-31.
Feuerstein, Reuven & Others. (1986). Learning to learn: Mediated learning
experiences and instructional enrichment. SPECIAL SERVICES IN THE SCHOOLS, 3,
(1-2), 49-82. EJ 345-527.
Lipman, M. (1988). Philosophy goes to school. Philadelphia: Temple University
Lipman, M., Sharp, A. M., & Oscanyan, F. S. (1980). Philosophy in the
Classroom. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Martin, D. (1983, February). Thinking skills: A critical new role in teacher
education. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Association of
Colleges for Teacher Education, Detroit, MI. ED 227-065.
Martin, D. (1984). Can teachers become better thinkers? Occasional Paper No.
12. National Staff Development Council: Oxford, OH. ED 236-151. Microfiche only
available from EDRS.
Martin, D. (1984, November). Teaching thinking skills: Infusing cognitive
strategies into teacher preparation programs. EDUCATIONAL LEADERSHIP, 42, 68-72.
Marzano, Robert J. & Arredondo, Daisy E. (1986). Tactics for thinking:
Teacher's manual. Aurora, CO: Mid-continent Educational Laboratory.
Norris, S. P. (1985, May). Synthesis of research on critical thinking.
EDUCATIONAL LEADERSHIP, 42, 40-45. EJ 319-814.
Oxman, W., & Barell, J. (1983, April). Reflective thinking in schools: A
survey of teacher perceptions. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the
American Educational Research Association, Montreal, Canada. ED 246-067.
Oxman, W., & Michelli, N. (1984, February). Project THISTLE: Thinking
skills in teaching and learning. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the
American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, San Antonio, TX. ED
Pauker, R. (1987). Teaching thinking and reasoning skills. In Brodinsky, Ben
(Ed.), AASA Critical Issues Report. Arlington, VA: American Association of
Paul, R. (1988, April). Critical thinking in the classroom. TEACHING K-8, 18,
Presseisen, B. (1988, April). Avoiding battle at curriculum gulch: Teaching
thinking and content. EDUCATIONAL LEADERSHIP, 45, 7-8.
Resnick, L. (1987). Education and learning to think. Washington, D.C.:
National Academy Press.
Walsh, D., & Paul, R. (1988). The goal of critical thinking: From
educational ideal to educational reality. Washington, D.C.: American Federation