Psychology Critical Thinking
by
Heather Butler, Diane Halpern
  • LAST REVIEWED: 16 May 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0019

Introduction

Critical thinking has been described in many ways, but researchers generally agree that critical thinking involves rational, purposeful, and goal-directed thinking (see Defining Critical Thinking). Diane F. Halpern defined critical thinking as an attempt to increase the probability of a desired outcome (e.g., making a sound decision, successfully solving a problem) by using certain cognitive skills and strategies. Critical thinking is more than just a collection of skills and strategies: it is a disposition toward engaging with problems. Critical thinkers are flexible, open-minded, persistent, and willing to exert mental energy working on tough problems. Unlike poor thinkers, critical thinkers are willing to admit they have made an error in judgment if confronted with contradictory evidence, and they operate on autopilot much less than poor thinkers (see Critical Thinking Dispositions). There is good evidence that critical thinking skills and dispositions can be taught (see Teaching Critical Thinking). This guide includes (a) sources that extol the importance of critical thinking, (b) research that identifies specific critical thinking skills and conceptualizations of critical thinking dispositions, (c) a list of the best practices for teaching critical thinking skills and dispositions, and (d) a review of research into ways of assessing critical thinking skills and dispositions (see Assessments).

General Overviews

The sources highlighted here include textbooks, literature reviews, and meta-analyses related to critical thinking. These contributions come from both psychological (Halpern 2003; Nisbett 1993; Sternberg, et al. 2007) and philosophical (Ennis 1962, Facione 1990) perspectives. Many of these general overviews are textbooks (Facione 2011b; Halpern 2003; Nisbett 1993; Sternberg, et al. 2007), while the other sources are review articles or commentaries. Most resources were intended for a general audience, but Sternberg, et al. 2007 was written specifically to address critical thinking in psychology. Those interested in a historical reference are referred to Ennis 1962, which is credited by some as renewing contemporary interest in critical thinking. Those interested in a more recent conceptualization of critical thinking are referred to Facione 2011a, which is a short introduction to the field of critical thinking that would be appropriate for those new to the field, or Facione 1990, which summarizes a collaborative definition of critical thinking among philosophers using the Delphi method. Facione 2011b would be a valuable resource for philosophers teaching critical thinking or logic courses to general audiences. For psychologists teaching critical thinking courses to a general audience, Halpern 2003, an empirically based textbook, covers a wide range of topics; a new edition is expected soon. Fisher 2001 is also intended for general audiences and teaches a wide variety of critical thinking skills. Nisbett 1993 tackles the question of whether critical thinking skills can be taught and provides ample empirical evidence to that end. Sternberg, et al. 2007 is a good resource for psychology students interested in learning how to improve their scientific reasoning skills, a specific set of thinking skills needed by psychology and other science students.

  • Ennis, Robert H. 1962. A concept of critical thinking: A proposed basis of research in the teaching and evaluation of critical thinking. Harvard Educational Review 32:81–111.

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    A discussion of how critical thinking is conceptualized from a philosopher’s perspective. Critical of psychology’s definition of critical thinking at the time. Emphasizes twelve aspects of critical thinking.

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  • Facione, Peter A. 1990. Critical thinking: A statement of expert consensus for purposes of educational assessment and instruction; Executive Summary of The Delphi Report. Millbrae, CA: California Academic Press.

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    Describes the critical thinking movement, definitions of critical thinking agreed upon by philosophers using the Delphi method, the assessment of critical thinking, and how critical thinking can be taught.

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  • Facione, Peter A. 2011a. Critical thinking: What it is and why it counts. Millbrae, CA: Insight Assessment.

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    This accessible paper defines critical thinking, elaborates on specific critical thinking skills, and discusses what it means to have (or not have) a critical thinking disposition. A distinction is made between system 1 (shallow processing) and system 2 (deeper processing) thinking. Good resource for students new to the field.

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  • Facione, Peter A. 2011b. THINK critically. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

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    Written from a philosophical perspective this critical thinking textbook emphasizes the application of critical thinking to the real world and offers positive examples of critical thinking. Chapters cover inductive, deductive, comparative, ideological, and empirical reasoning

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  • Fisher, Alec. 2001. Critical thinking: An introduction. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    Textbook intended for college students discusses various types of reasoning, causality, argument analysis, and decision making. Includes exercises for students and teachers.

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  • Halpern, Diane F. 2003. Thought & knowledge: An introduction to critical thinking. 4th ed. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

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    This textbook, written by a cognitive psychologist, is grounded in theory and research from the learning sciences and offers practical examples. Chapters include an introduction to the topic and the correlates of critical thinking, memory, thought and language, reasoning, analyzing arguments, thinking as hypothesis testing, likelihood and uncertainty, decision making, development of problem-solving skills, and creative thinking.

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  • Nisbett, Richard E. 1993. Rules for reasoning. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

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    This text is rich with empirical evidence that critical thinking skills can be taught to undergraduate and graduate students. Each chapter discusses research on an aspect of reasoning (e.g., statistical reasoning, heuristics, inductive reasoning) with special emphasis on teaching the application of these skills to everyday problems.

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  • Sternberg, Robert J., Henry L. Roediger III, and Diane F. Halpern, eds. 2007. Critical thinking in psychology. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    This edited book explores several aspects of critical thinking that are needed to fully understand key topics in psychology such as experiment research, statistical inference, case studies, logical fallacies, and ethical judgments. Experts discuss the critical thinking strategies they engage in. Interesting discussion of historical breakthroughs due to critical thinking.

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Importance of Thinking Critically

The advent of the Internet has made it possible for information to be quite literally at our fingertips. Whether the information you seek is a treatment for liver disease or reviews of the top-rated digital camera this year, sorting through this information can be a daunting task. Consumers of information need to be savvy and wise to the fact that not all information on the Internet, or television, or newspaper is accurate. Hate websites have been disguised as tributes, social networking sites have been used to lure unsuspecting children into the hands of pedophiles, and an endless number of ineffective products are being sold to uninformed consumers. For these reasons, and many more, educators, national governments, and employers have identified critical thinking as a top priority for 21st-century thinkers. The sources included here were selected because they encompass a variety of perspectives on the need for critical thinking. Arum and Roksa 2011 is a controversial book that argues that students are not learning the skills in college that they will need to be successful in the workplace. The Program for International Student Assessment report, from the National Center for Education Statistics on the international ranking of students in math and science, is an invaluable tool and provides longitudinal evidence that students in the United States are falling behind. Halpern 2010 describes the recommendations of an American Psychological Association task force on undergraduate education that calls for educational reform. The other resources offer interesting statistics regarding the 21st-century skills that students need before entering the job market. For example, Bureau of Labor Statistics 2010 describes data from a US agency that indicates an increased demand for knowledge workers. Hunt 1995 is a critical analysis of the cognitive skills needed by American students in their future workplace. Hart Research Associates 2009 describes a survey of US employers who report that hiring new employees with better thinking skills is a top priority. Finally, Williams, et al. 2008 conducted a study of the relationship between critical thinking and various forms of patriotism. The results imply that critical thinking is an important part of being a good citizen.

  • Arum, Richard, and Josipa Roksa. 2011. Academically adrift: Limited learning on college campuses. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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    A large study of American college students that measured the critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing abilities of students during their first two years of college. Study concluded that 45 percent of college students showed no improvement in these abilities during that time. Implications for educators, students, and policymakers are discussed.

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  • Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2010. Occupational outlook handbook, 2010–11 edition. Lanham, MD: Bernan.

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    The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports an increased demand for “knowledge workers” or “symbol analysts.” These workers are able to understand complex ideas, perform multistep operations, and manipulate abstract symbols, are flexible, and can acquire new accurate information efficiently.

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  • Halpern, Diane. F. 2010. Undergraduate education in psychology: A blueprint for the future of the discipline. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

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    This “blueprint for the future” of psychology calls for the reform of undergraduate psychology education, such that more emphasis is put on transferable skills and critical thinking. The book discusses the findings and recommendations of the 2008 National Conference on Undergraduate Education in Psychology and provides practical examples for educators.

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  • Hart Research Associates. 2009. Raising the bar: Employers’ views on college learning in the wake of the economic downturn. Washington, DC: Hart Research Associates.

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    The Association of American Colleges and Universities commissioned a survey of 302 employers in 2009. This document describes the skills that employers want new employees to have before entering the job market. Eighty-one percent of employers listed critical thinking skills as a top priority, second only to good communication skills.

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  • Hunt, Earl. 1995. Will we be smart enough? A cognitive analysis of the coming workforce. New York: Russell Sage.

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    In this book, Hunt questions whether American students will be smart enough to meet the demands of the workplace of the future. The analysis is from the perspective of a cognitive psychologist with special emphasis on the measurement of thinking skills, intelligence, and job performance.

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  • Program for International Student Assessment. National Center for Education Statistics.

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    PISA is an international assessment of math, science, and reading skills given every three years to fifteen-year-olds. Report indicates that students in the United States are behind, although more money is spent on these students than in most countries. Problem-solving abilities will be assessed in the 2012 administration.

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  • Williams, Robert L., Lisa N. Foster, and Katherine R. Krohn. 2008. Relationship of patriotism measures to critical thinking and emphasis on civil liberties versus national security. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy 8.1: 139–156.

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    Greater critical thinking was associated with more constructive patriotism and less blind patriotism. Constructive patriots reported more respect for civil liberties. Blind patriots emphasized national security. Findings support the idea that promoting critical thinking would also promote better citizenship.

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Defining Critical Thinking

As is true for many abstract concepts, such as intelligence or love, the definition of the term “critical thinking” is both necessary and difficult. It is crucially important that we develop a complete and accurate operational definition of critical thinking both for our understanding of the construct and to ensure its proper measurement. Since the 1980s there have been many attempts to define critical thinking. The sources below present readers with examples to consider. Researchers generally agree that critical thinking involves rational, effortful, and goal-oriented mental activity that influences beliefs or actions. Many traditional definitions of critical thinking are quoted directly (e.g., Chance 1986, Halpern 2003, Lipman 1995), but as is evident from the recent dialogue between Yancher, et al. 2008; Yancher, et al. 2009; and Bensley 2009, although there is considerable agreement about the term in general, the precise boundaries for a definition of critical thinking are still being debated. Yanchar, et al. 2008 argues that too much emphasis is placed on the scientific reasoning aspect of critical thinking. Bensley responded to this criticism in Bensley 2009 by elaborating on the benefits of a scientific reasoning approach. Then Yanchar replied in Yanchar, et al. 2009 by arguing that Bensley missed the main point of the article, namely, that emphasizing scientific reasoning is biased and insufficient. In terms of an actual definition of critical thinking, the sources cited below emphasize slightly different aspects of critical thinking. The definition of critical thinking in Halpern 2003 is fairly general and inclusive. Chance 1986 also describes a set of general skills. Lipman 1995 focuses on the outcome of the thinking process, more specifically that it leads to good judgment. Mayer and Goodchild 1990 portrays critical thinking as more of a process than a set of skills to be executed. Tama 1989 defines critical thinking as reasoning based on adequate support.

  • Bensley, D. Alan. 2009. Thinking critically about critical thinking approaches: Comment on Yancher, Slife, and Warne (2008). Review of General Psychology 13.3: 275–277.

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    Reaction to the calls found in Yancher, et al. 2008 for reforming the definition of critical thinking. The author agrees that a more inclusive definition of critical thinking would encourage open-minded and respectful dialogue but argues that the relationship between the scientific analytic approach, dispositions, and discovery are more complicated.

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  • Chance, Paul. 1986. Thinking in the classroom: A survey of programs. New York: Teachers College, Columbia University.

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    Chance defines critical thinking as “the ability to analyze facts, generate and organize ideas, defend opinions, make comparisons, draw inferences, evaluate arguments and solve problems” (p. 6).

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  • Halpern, Diane F. 2003. Thought & knowledge: An introduction to critical thinking. 4th ed. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

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    Halpern defines critical thinking as “the use of those cognitive skills or strategies that increase the probability of a desirable outcome. It is used to describe thinking that is purposeful, reasoned, and goal directed—the kind of thinking involved in solving problems, formulating inferences, calculating likelihoods, and making decisions, when the thinker is using skills that are thoughtful and effective for the particular context and type of thinking task” (p. 6).

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  • Lipman, Matthew. 1995. Critical thinking—what can it be? In Contemporary issues in curriculum. Edited by A. Ornstein and L. Behar, 145–152. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

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    Lipman defines critical thinking as “skillful, responsible thinking that facilitates good judgment because it (1) relies upon criteria, (2) is self-correcting, and (3) is sensitive to context” (p. 146).

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  • Mayer, Richard, and Fiona Goodchild. 1990. The critical thinker. Dubuque, IA: Wm. C. Brown.

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    Mayer and Goodchild define critical thinking as an “active, systematic process of understanding and evaluating arguments. An argument provides an assertion about the properties of some object or the relationship between two or more objects and evidence to support or refute the assertion. Critical thinkers acknowledge that there is no single correct way to understand and evaluate arguments and that all attempts are not necessarily successful” (p. 4).

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  • Tama, Carrol M. 1989. Critical thinking has a place in every classroom. Journal of Reading 33:64–65.

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    Tama defines critical thinking as “a way of reasoning that demands adequate support for one’s beliefs and an unwillingness to be persuaded unless support is forthcoming” (p. 64).

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  • Yanchar, Stephen C., Brent D. Slife, and Russel Warne. 2008. Critical thinking as disciplinary practice. Review of General Psychology 12.3: 265–281.

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    This article criticizes the emphasis that psychologists put on the scientific analysis reasoning or method-centered critical thinking skills. The authors argue for a more subject-inclusive approach to critical thinking that would include the identification and evaluation of theoretical assumptions and values

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  • Yanchar, Stephen C., Brent D. Slife, and Russel Warne. 2009. Advancing disciplinary practice through critical thinking: A rejoinder to Bensley. Review of General Psychology 13.3: 278–280.

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    Authors respond to a critical commentary of their previous work (Yanchar, et al. 2008). They argue that the author of Bensley 2009 missed the main point of their previous article—that a scientific analytic reasoning approach to critical thinking is biased and insufficient.

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Critical Thinking Skills

Different researchers and practitioners highlight different skills based on their own preferences and research. Although one specific set of skills has not been agreed upon, there are a variety of known clearly identifiable critical thinking skills. This section will present skills based on whether they are conceptualized as a general skill or more specific skill. For a discussion of the debate between the conceptualization of critical thinking as either a general or subject-specific skill readers are referred to Moore 2004 and Davies 2006. Davies 2006 describes the debate over whether critical thinking is a general skill or a set of specific abilities and recommends an “infusion” approach. Moore 2004 argues that critical thinking skills are best thought of as domain-specific skills and discusses the implications of this recommendation for the Australian school system.

  • Davies, Martin W. 2006. An “infusion” approach to critical thinking: Moore on the critical thinking debate. Higher Education Research and Development 25:179–193.

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    Paper discusses the debate between “specifics”—those who emphasize the importance of a subject-specific conceptualization of critical thinking and “generalists”—those who emphasize the importance of a general conceptualization. The author argues that researchers are committing the logical fallacy of the false alternative and proposes an “infusion” approach to critical thinking.

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  • Moore, Tim. 2004. The critical thinking debate: How general are general thinking skills? Higher Education Research and Development 23:3–18.

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    Paper debates the merits of conceptualizing critical thinking as a general construct or a set of specific skills through a linguistic analysis. Moore concludes that critical thinking should be thought of as specific (discipline-specific) skills. Implications are discussed with an emphasis on Australian higher education.

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General Skills

General critical thinking skills are those skills that are not particular to one discipline or domain of knowledge. It may be difficult to conceptual narrow skills as critical thinking skills because critical thinking is needed in most contexts. Some might argue, for example, that the skills of analyzing an argument or understanding probabilities are domain-specific, but we believe that they are broadly applicable in a variety of contexts. Cheung, et al. 2002 discusses the validation of an instrument intended to assess general thinking skills. It includes aspects of critical thinking that would apply to various fields (e.g., motivation). McLean and Miller 2010 discusses changes in general critical thinking skills after an intervention in the differences between science and pseudoscience. Royalty 1995 specifically compares a measure of general critical thinking to other measures that are typically thought of as being domain-specific (e.g., statistical reasoning). Chan, et al. 2011 examines the relationship between critical thinking and epistemic beliefs (beliefs about knowledge being certain) using argument analysis. Heyman 2008 discusses critical thinking in young children.

  • Chan, Ngai-Man, Irene T. Ho, and Kelly Y. L. Ku. 2011. Epistemic beliefs and critical thinking of Chinese students. Learning and Individual Differences 21:67–77.

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    Two studies examined the relationship between epistemic beliefs (beliefs about knowledge being certain) and critical thinking among Chinese students. Greater cognitive ability and lower epistemic beliefs were associated with greater critical thinking. Students with greater epistemic beliefs performed more poorly on tests of argument analysis.

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  • Cheung, Chau-kui, Elisabeth Rudowicz, Anna S. F. Kwan, and Xiao Dong Yue. 2002. Assessing university students’ general and specific critical thinking. College Student Journal 36:504–525.

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    Validation of a general measure of critical thinking that includes eight components from the cognitive, motivational, behavioral, and ideological dimensions of critical thinking. Each component was reliable and accounted for a unique portion of the variance, and also loaded on the general critical thinking factor.

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  • Heyman, Gail D. 2008. Children’s critical thinking when learning from others. Current Directions in Psychological Science 17:344–347.

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    Review article about the critical thinking in children. By the age of three children can recognize that some sources may be inaccurate, but there is variability in the use of critical thinking skills. The authors suggest that differing social experiences explain these differences. Critical thinking can be encouraged in children.

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  • McLean, Carmen P., and Nathan A. Miller. 2010. Changes in critical thinking skills following a course on science and pseudoscience: A quasi-experimental study. Teaching of Psychology 37:85–90.

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    The general critical thinking skills and paranormal beliefs of students in a parapsychology course were compared to those of students in an advanced research methods course. Critical thinking gains were seen in both courses, but beliefs in paranormal phenomenon were reduced in the experimental condition (the parapsychology course).

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  • Royalty, Joel. 1995. The generalizability of critical thinking: Paranormal beliefs versus statistical reasoning. Journal of Genetic Psychology 156:477–488.

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    Studies explored the relationship between a general measure of critical thinking (Cornell Critical Thinking Test in Ennis and Millman 1985, cited under General or Comprehensive Assessments) and paranormal beliefs, statistical reasoning, and intelligence. Intelligence and critical thinking scores account for 27 percent of the variance in statistical reasoning, but not paranormal beliefs. The author suggests that paranormal beliefs may be axiological.

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Specific Skills

More specific skills are those that make up more general ones. For example, analyzing arguments is a general skill that is composed of being able to recognize a conclusion, reasons, assumption, and other components of arguments. The resources in this section include critical thinking skills such as overcoming heuristics, hindsight bias, and the relationship between critical thinking and various other factors (e.g., intelligence, academic performance, interpersonal skills). The limited resources provided here are in no way inclusive of all specific critical thinking skills that have been identified. Tversky and Kahneman 1974 reviews the most common heuristics. Kahneman and Tversky 1979 introduces a theory of decision making, Prospect Theory, which won Kahneman the Nobel Prize in economics. O’Hare and McGuinness 2009 examines a critical thinking skills test and extracts two factors, reasoning and academic knowledge. Pohl, et al. 2002 conducted research on hindsight bias, as did West, et al. 2008, which found that avoiding heuristics accounted for unique variance in critical thinking skills, after controlling for general cognitive ability. And Vasudeva and Keeley 2004 argues that interpersonal critical thinking is a skill that requires the use of specific critical thinking skills.

  • Kahneman, Daniel, and Amos Tversky. 1979. Prospect theory: An analysis of decision under risk. Econometrica 47:263–291.

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    A Nobel Prize–winning theory of decision making. Describes empirical evidence for a theory that predicts how people realistically make decisions. Model is an alternative to Expected Utility Theory, which describes how people should make decisions. This model is a descriptive model that emphasizes risk aversion.

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  • O’Hare, Liam, and Carol McGuinness. 2009. Measuring critical thinking, intelligence, and academic performance in psychology undergraduates. Irish Journal of Psychology 30:123–131.

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    Scores on the California Critical Thinking Skills Test and the Raven’s Advanced Progressive Matrices Set were compared to academic performance. Critical thinking scores improved over time. Two factors were extracted, reasoning skills and academic knowledge.

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  • Pohl, Riidiger, F. Michael Bender, and Gregor Lachmann. 2002. Hindsight bias around the world. Experimental Psychology 49:270–282.

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    Examined conflicting research on cross-cultural differences in hindsight bias. Less surprising items elicited more bias than more surprising items. Authors suggest that meta-cognitions elicited by surprise or self-serving motives may moderate amount of bias and that hindsight bias is a byproduct of adaptive learning.

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  • Tversky, Amos, and Daniel Kahneman. 1974. Judgment under uncertainty: Heuristics and biases. Science 185:1124–1131.

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    Reviews three common heuristics: representativeness, availability, and anchoring.

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  • Vasudeva, Mary, and Stuart Keeley. 2004. Critical thinking as a constructive rather than destructive force in interpersonal relationships. Inquiry: Critical Thinking across the Disciplines 23:17–22.

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    Interpersonal critical thinking is proposed as a new construct. The authors argue that people who think critically in a relationship, (a) recognize argument frames, (b) recognize that context is important, (c) frame caring as support and critical thinking exchanges, and (d) use active listening. No data is presented.

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  • West, Richard F., Maggie E. Toplak, and Keith E. Stanovich. 2008. Heuristics and biases as measures of critical thinking: Associations with cognitive ability and thinking dispositions. Journal of Educational Psychology 100:930–941.

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    Controlling for the effects of cognitive ability (SAT scores), the ability to avoid heuristics and biases (e.g., belief perseverance) and critical thinking dispositions (need for cognition and open-minded thinking) predicted a unique variance in critical thinking skills. Provides a detailed description of many cognitive skills.

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Metacognitive Monitoring Skills

Metacognition is one’s awareness of his or her thought processes or knowing what we do and do not know. Metacognition also involves selecting which learning strategy to use and determining how mental resources are allocated. According to Dean and Kuhn 2003, practicing metacognition requires self-reflection, self-awareness, and the ability to self-regulate or manage one’s cognitive abilities. Critical thinkers demonstrate more metacognitive monitoring than noncritical thinkers (see Halpern 2003, cited under Defining Critical Thinking). The resources in this section discuss various conceptualizations of metacognition. Garner and Alexander 1989 elaborates on a variety of issues in defining metacognition that are still relevant today. Efklides 2008 proposes a multifaceted, multilevel model of metacognition and argues that it can operate at an unconscious level, while Magno 2010 describes a metatheoretical framework for the relationship between metacognitive skills and critical thinking. Ku and Ho 2010 conducted research that supports the idea that metacognitive monitoring is an important aspect of critical thinking. More specifically, that greater use of metacognitive strategies was associated with higher critical thinking scores, even after participants were matched on cognitive ability, academic performance, and critical thinking disposition.

  • Dean, David, and Deanna Kuhn. 2003. Metacognition and critical thinking. New York: Teachers College, Columbia University.

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    Paper discusses metacognition and argues that the construct can bridge the gap between educational practices and academic research, while also improving transfer of knowledge.

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  • Efklides, Anastasia. 2008. Metacognition: Defining its facets and levels of functioning in relation to self-regulation and co-regulation. European Psychologist 13:277–287.

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    Author describes metacognition as a multifaceted construct. She argues that metacognition is also involved at a nonconscious level and interacts with affect in the self-regulation of behavior. A multifaceted, multilevel model is proposed.

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  • Garner, Ruth, and Patricia A. Alexander. 1989. Metacognition: Answered and unanswered questions. Educational Psychologist 24:143–158.

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    Older article, but asks questions that are still relevant today. Describes the need for research about metacognition including, how to measure it more accurately, how can we measure effectiveness of metacognitive instruction, how it is related to content knowledge, and what the role is of motivation.

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  • Ku, Kelly Y. L., and Irene T. Ho. 2010. Metacognitive strategies that enhance critical thinking. Metacognitive Learning 5:252–267.

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    The metacognitive strategies of students, who varied in critical thinking performance, were matched on cognitive ability, disposition, academic achievement, and were tested using a think-aloud protocol in a decision-making paradigm. Good critical thinking performance was associated with increased use of metacognitive strategies, namely better planning and evaluating.

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  • Magno, Carlo. 2010. The role of metacognitive skills in developing critical thinking. Metacognition Learning 5:137–156.

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    Modeled the relationship between metacognition and critical thinking on students from the Philippines. The Metacognitive Assessment Inventory (MAI) and the Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal (WGCTA) were used. Metacognition scores predicted critical thinking scores. Good review of the metacognition. Metatheoretical framework for the relationship between critical thinking and metacognition discussed.

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Critical Thinking Dispositions

People who have a disposition toward critical thinking willfully engage in thinking about material they rely upon or problems they solve. People who lack this disposition can use appropriate thinking strategies, but they simply fail to do so. Thus, many of the errors that people make occur not because they do not have the ability to think critically, but because they do not have a disposition toward thinking critically. Thinking critically is hard work, and good thinkers are persistent in solving problems and spend less time on autopilot than poor thinkers. Students should be encouraged to (a) plan ahead because critical thinkers often spend more time in preparation, (b) be flexible and avoid dogmatic thinking, (c) be persistent in solving complicated problems, (d) be willing to self-correct, admit errors, and change their mind, and (e) be mindful of what and how they are thinking (see Halpern 2003, cited under Defining Critical Thinking). The resources below discuss the various ways that a critical thinking attitude or disposition has been conceptualized as well as research that examined the correlates and consequences of having a critical thinking disposition. Facione, et al. 1995 uses a factor analysis approach to identify the factors relating to the disposition in adults, while Kawashima and Shiomi 2007 evaluates the critical thinking dispositions of high school students, and Giancarlo, et al 2004 discuss the development of a measure of critical thinking disposition for children. Rapps, et al. 2001 explores the factors that constitute a critical thinking disposition among nurses with varying levels of experience. Researchers have also compared scores on assessments of critical thinking dispositions to other factors. For example, Ku and Ho 2010 examines the relationship between critical thinking skills and dispositions. Paans, et al. 2010 explores the relationship between critical thinking disposition and the diagnostic accuracy of nursing students. Zhang 2003 examines the relationship between thinking styles and critical thinking dispositions. McBride, et al. 2002 conducted a cross-cultural study of critical thinking dispositions among university student in the United States and China.

  • Facione, Peter A., Carol A. Giancarlo, Noreen C. Facione, and Joanne Gainen. 1995. The disposition toward critical thinking. Journal of General Education 44:1–25.

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    This paper discusses a factor analysis that identified seven aspects of a critical thinking disposition: truth seeking, open-mindedness, analyticity, systematicity, critical thinking confidence, inquisitiveness, and cognitive maturity. College students were given the California Critical Thinking Disposition Inventory and the seven factors were extracted from their responses.

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  • Giancarlo, Carol A., Stephen W. Blohm, and Tim Urdan. 2004. Assessing secondary students’ disposition toward critical thinking: Development of the California measure of mental motivation. Educational and Psychological Measurement 64:347–364.

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    Discussed four studies of a critical thinking disposition measure intended for use with children grades 6–12. Factor analysis yielded four factors: learning orientation, creative problem solving, mental focus, and cognitive integrity. These factors correlated with student motivation and academic achievement.

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  • Kawashima, Noriaki, and Kunio Shiomi. 2007. Factors of the thinking disposition of Japanese high school students. Social Behavior and Personality 35:187–194.

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    Factor analysis revealed four critical thinking factors in this sample of Japanese high school students: critical thinking attitude, priority of self-benefit, anxiety for failure, and unsociable and indifferent.

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  • Ku, Kelly Y. L., and Irene T. Ho. 2010. Dispositional factors predicting Chinese students’ critical thinking performance. Personality and Individual Differences 48:54–58.

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    Students were administered a need for cognition scale, the openness and conscientiousness subscales of the NEO Inventory, the concern for truth scale, cognitive ability test (WAIS-III Verbal Comprehension), and the Halpern Critical Thinking Assessment (HCTA). Only concern for accuracy disposition accounted for unique variance in HCTA scores beyond cognitive ability.

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  • McBride, Ron E., Ping Xiang, David Wittenburg, and Jianhua Shen. 2002. An analysis of preservice teachers’ dispositions toward critical thinking: A cross-cultural perspective. Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education 30:131–140.

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    Public university students from the United States’ scores on the California Critical Thinking Disposition Inventory (CCTDI) were compared to scores of demographically matched Chinese students. Scores on two of the CCTDI subscales were higher for the US sample than for the Chinese sample. Cross-cultural differences in individualism-collectivism may explain the differences.

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  • Paans, Wolter, Walter Sermeus, Roos Nieweg, and Cees van der Schans. 2010. Determinants of the accuracy of nursing diagnoses: Influence of ready knowledge, knowledge sources, disposition toward critical thinking, and reasoning skills. Journal of Professional Nursing 26:232–241.

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    Randomized controlled trial determined that the diagnostic accuracy of nursing students was related to health science reasoning test (HSRT). Those who scored higher on the analysis domain of the HSRT were more accurate. No differences in accuracy based on critical thinking disposition (measured with the California Critical Thinking Disposition Inventory).

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  • Rapps, Jane, Barbara Riegel, and Dale Glaser. 2001. Testing a predictive model of what makes a critical thinker. Western Journal of Nursing Research 23:610–626.

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    Knowledge base, critical thinking skills, critical thinking disposition, and experience of registered nurses were used to predict cognitive development, on three levels from dualism (lowest), to relativism (middle), and commitment (highest). Critical thinking disposition contributed to all three levels of cognitive development, knowledge base did not. More support for thinking education.

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  • Zhang, Li-Fang. 2003. Contributions of thinking styles to critical thinking dispositions. Journal of Psychology 137:517–544.

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    Chinese students completed a thinking styles inventory (from Sternberg’s theory of mental self-government) and a critical thinking disposition inventory. Greater dispositions toward critical thinking were associated with Type 1 thinking styles (e.g., legislative, judicial, hierarchical, global, and liberal styles).

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Teaching Critical Thinking

There is a substantial body of research that indicates critical thinking skills can be taught and can transfer to other domains. Examples of that research are described below. Halpern 2003 (cited in General Overviews) previously proposed a four-part model for teaching critical thinking skills for effective transfer to other domains. The model involves (a) explicitly learning critical thinking skills, (b) developing a disposition or attitude toward effortful thinking and learning, (c) directing learning activities in ways that increase the probability of transcontextual transfer (structure training), and (d) making metacognitive monitoring explicit and overt. The resources for this section are organized using Halpern’s model. Critical thinking educators interested in critical thinking textbooks should consult those cited in General Overviews. The resources in this section are practical and conceptual views about teaching critical thinking. Readers interested in general overviews in support of the effectiveness of critical thinking instruction should consult Pithers and Sodin 2000, which is a review of the literature on teaching critical thinking skills; Abrami, et al. 2008, which is a meta-analysis of 117 interventions that teach critical thinking skills; and Dunn, et al. 2008, which is a handbook of best practices for teaching critical thinking. Those interested in the conceptual underpinning of teaching critical thinking instruction might review Gray 1993, which discusses five strategies for teaching critical thinking, and Moseley, et al. 2005, which is a critique of forty-two frameworks for thinking and learning. In terms of specific teaching interventions, Nisbett and his colleagues (cited in General Overviews, Teaching Specific Skills, and Transfer to Other Domains) conducted a series of compelling studies that demonstrated critical thinking could be taught and can transfer to other domains. Additionally, Marin and Halpern 2011 describes two studies that use implicit or explicit methods to teach critical thinking to low-performing high school students. Renaud and Murray 2008 assesses gains in both general and specific critical thinking skills through instruction. Blessing and Blessing 2010 describes an innovative lesson to teach critical thinking skills, called PsychBusters.

  • Abrami, Philip C., Robert M. Bernard, Evgueni Borokhovski, Anne Wade, Michael A. Surkes, Rana Tamim, and Dai Zhang. 2008. Instructional interventions affecting critical thinking skills and dispositions: A stage 1 meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research 78:1102–1134.

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    This is a meta-analysis on the effectiveness of critical thinking instruction. It included over 20,000 participants in 117 studies. Type of instruction (implicit or explicit) accounted for 32 percent of the variance. The authors recommend that instructors make critical thinking learning objectives explicit in their courses.

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  • Blessing, Stephen B., and Jennifer S. Blessing. 2010. PsychBusters: A means of fostering critical thinking in the introductory course. Teaching of Psychology 37:178–182.

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    Introduced an assignment for introductory psychology students called PsychBusters. Students chose a psychological myth, researched the myth, and presented to the class. Critical thinking performance increased 29 percent from pretest.

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  • Dunn, Dana, Jane S. Halonen, and Randolph A. Smith, eds. 2008. Teaching critical thinking in psychology: A handbook of best practices. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

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    Book includes a new taxonomy of critical thinking, an emphasis on assessment, ideas for teaching critical thinking in a variety of courses, a developmental perspective on critical thinking, scientific literacy, and the importance of writing and student research. While intended for psychology educators, many examples useful for other subjects.

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  • Gray, Peter. 1993. Engaging students’ intellects: The immersion approach to critical thinking in psychology instruction. Teaching of Psychology 20:68–74.

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    Paper describes five ways to encourage critical thinking: using ideas as units, modeling thought, teaching better study skills, encouraging discussion, and rewarding thought by testing beyond rote memorization. Title indicates that ideas are applicable to psychology, but these methods could certainly be used in other disciplines.

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  • Marin, Lisa. M., and Diane F. Halpern. 2011. Pedagogy for developing critical thinking in adolescents: Explicit instruction produces greatest gain. Thinking Skills and Creativity 6:1–13.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.tsc.2010.08.002Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Two studies explored whether critical thinking learning gains of low-performing high school students were greater when the instruction was explicit or imbedded. The results of both studies indicated that explicit critical thinking instruction led to greater learning gains than imbedded instruction. Halpern Critical Thinking Assessment scores were related to grade point average.

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  • Moseley, David, Vivienne Baumfield, Julian Elliott, et al. 2005. Frameworks for thinking: A handbook for teaching and learning. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    This book critiques forty-two frameworks for thinking and learning, including Bloom’s taxonomy, Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, and Paul’s model of critical thinking. Summary tables are provided for each framework. This is a good text for educators and readers interested in understanding how various researchers have conceptualized the thinking process.

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  • Pithers, R. T., and Rebecca Sodin. 2000. Critical thinking in education: A review. Educational Research 42:237–249.

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    Review of the literature on the teaching of critical thinking skills with an emphasis on instruction that inhibits or enhances critical thinking. Interesting review of Sternberg’s eight teaching fallacies that inhibit good thinking. Discussion of the role of metacognition in teaching and learning.

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  • Renaud, Robert D., and Harry G. Murray. 2008. A comparison of a subject-specific and general measure of critical thinking. Thinking Skills and Creativity 3:85–93.

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    Evaluated critical thinking instruction when measured with general (Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal) versus subject-specific tests of critical thinking (created by the authors of the article). Stronger improvement was found when the effectiveness of instruction was measured with a subject-specific test of critical thinking, rather than a general assessment.

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Teaching Specific Skills

Numerous critical thinking skills have been identified. The resources below describe instructional interventions that target specific critical thinking skills. Bensley, et al. 2010; Herrnstein, et al. 1986; and Davies 2008 describe research on teaching argument analysis. Fong, et al. 1986; Lehman, et al. 1988; and Lehman and Nisbett 1990 discuss the effectiveness of teaching statistical reasoning. These experiments have used a variety of methods. For example, Lehman, et al. 1988 examined the statistical reasoning of graduate students. In their first study the authors used a cross-sectional design and in the second study they used a longitudinal design. This research has also used numerous types of samples, for instance, college undergraduates, graduate students, children, and people in the military. For example, Quitadamo and Kurtz 2007 uses writing to improve the critical thinking of biology students and Helsdingen, et al. 2010 discusses a learning game that teaches decision-making skills to officers in the Royal Netherlands Air Force.

  • Bensley, D. Alan, Deborah S. Crowe, Paul Bernhardt, Camille Buckner, and Amanda L. Allman. 2010. Teaching and assessing critical thinking skills for argument analysis in psychology. Teaching of Psychology 37:91–96.

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    Three groups of undergraduate research methods students were given varying levels of argument analysis instruction. The group given explicit instruction on distinguishing arguments from non-arguments, evaluating evidence, and finding assumptions showed greater argument analysis skills than the groups given implicit critical thinking instruction.

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  • Davies, W. Martin 2008. “Not quite right”: helping student to make better arguments. Teaching in Higher Education 13:327–340.

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    Paper proposes explicit deductive syllogistic inferences and argument mapping software to improve the critical thinking skills of graduate students. No new data is presented, but clear recommendations based on previous work are made.

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  • Fong, Geoffrey. T., David H. Krantz, and Richard E. Nisbett. 1986. The effects of statistical training on thinking about everyday problems. Cognitive Psychologist 18:253–292.

    DOI: 10.1016/0010-0285(86)90001-0Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Students who previously received instruction on statistical thinking skills (e.g., the law of large numbers) were contacted under the facade of a phone survey to test for knowledge transfer. The students spontaneously utilized their critical thinking skills while completing the phone survey months after instruction, indicating that critical thinking skills can be taught and do transfer.

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  • Helsdingen, Anne S., Karel van den Bosch, Tamara van Gog, and Jeroen J. G. van Merrienboer. 2010. The effects of critical thinking instruction on training complex decision making. Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors Society 52:537–545.

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    Royal Netherlands Air Force officers participated in simulated battles. Half the officers received critical thinking instruction; half did not. Several measures of thinking process and decision outcome reveal that those receiving the critical thinking instruction make better decisions than those who did not.

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  • Herrnstein, Richard J., Raymond S. Nickerson, Margarita de Sanchez, and John A. Swets. 1986. Teaching thinking skills. American Psychologist 41:1279–1289.

    DOI: 10.1037/0003-066X.41.11.1279Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A randomized controlled experiment tested the effectiveness of critical thinking instruction with seventh graders who were given explicit critical thinking training (e.g., hypothesis testing, logic, argument analysis, decision making, etc.). Students who received the training saw improvement in language comprehension, IQ, and other measures of cognitive ability.

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  • Lehman, Darrin R., Richard O. Lempert, and Richard E. Nisbett. 1988. The effects of graduate training on reasoning: Formal discipline and thinking about everyday-life events. American Psychologist 43:431–442.

    DOI: 10.1037/0003-066X.43.6.431Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This article examines statistical reasoning among graduate students in law, medicine, psychology, and chemistry. Study one used a cross-sectional design and study two used a longitudinal design. Graduate training in psychology and medicine improved statistical reasoning, indicating that statistical reasoning can be taught and is taught more so in these fields.

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  • Lehman, Darrin R., and Richard E. Nisbett. 1990. A longitudinal study of the effects of undergraduate training on reasoning. Developmental Psychology 26:952–960.

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    Trained undergraduate students in the natural sciences, humanities, and social sciences on inductive reasoning (statistical and conditional reasoning). College students in natural science and humanities evidenced the largest learning gains. Part of a series of well-conducted studies by Nisbett and his colleagues.

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  • Quitadamo, Ian J., and Martha J. Kurtz. 2007. Learning to improve: Using writing to increase critical thinking performance in general education biology. CBE Life Science Education 6:140–154.

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    An experiment examined whether writing improved the critical thinking of introductory biology undergraduates. Half of the students were assigned a written assignment associated with a laboratory activity, while the control completed a multiple-choice quiz. Students in the writing condition demonstrated better analytic skills than the control condition.

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Encouraging a Disposition toward Thinking Critically

Students can be encouraged to value critical thinking. Critical thinking is difficult and historically there have been negative stereotypes associated with critical thinkers (e.g., Urkel, a nerdy television character; Spock, an unemotional character on the hit television series Star Trek). This view of critical thinkers has been changing in the media, but educators should address these stereotypes with their students. Halpern 2003 (cited in General Overviews) suggests that students should be encouraged to (a) plan ahead because critical thinkers often spend more time in preparation; (b) be flexible and avoid dogmatic thinking; (c) be persistent in solving complicated problems; (d) be willing to self-correct, admit errors, and change their mind; and (e) be mindful of what and how they are thinking. The resources below describe research that explores the extent to which a critical thinking disposition can be taught. Most of the instructional interventions discussed below were successful at encouraging a critical thinking disposition. For example, Hanley 1995 taught students to monitor their thinking strategies, which improved their problem-solving skills. Tiwari, et al. 2006 describes a longitudinal study to examine changes in critical thinking disposition throughout a nursing program and found the nursing students demonstrated increased critical thinking dispositions several times throughout their schooling. Janet Thompson was unsuccessful at training a critical thinking disposition but found that successful students who were doing well in the course had greater critical thinking dispositions than students doing poorly in the course (Thompson 2009). Yang and Chou 2007 investigates the interaction between improving thinking skills and dispositions, in an instructional intervention intended to improve both.

  • Hanley, Gerard L. 1995. Teaching critical thinking: Focusing on metacognitive skills and problem solving. Teaching of Psychology 22:68–72.

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    Students in a critical thinking class self-assess their thinking and problem-solving abilities before and after explicit instruction on problem solving. Students improved their thinking skills and developed a better awareness of their thinking skills after the intervention.

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  • Thompson, Janet. 2009. To question or not to question: The effects of two teaching approaches on students’ thinking dispositions, critical thinking skills, and course grades in a critical thinking course. PhD diss., Capella University.

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    Critical thinking skills and dispositions were assessed before and after an online critical thinking course. There were no differences in type of instruction, critical thinking skills, or disposition. However, students who received an A or B had higher dispositions toward critical thinking than students who received a C or D.

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  • Tiwari, Agnes, Patrick Lai, Mike So, and Kwan Yuen. 2006. A comparison of the effects of problem-based learning and lecturing on the development of students’ critical thinking. Medical Education 40:547–554.

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    Interesting longitudinal study of critical thinking disposition changes in nursing students who received either traditional lecture or problem-based (PBL) courses. Changes in critical thinking disposition subscale were seen at time points two, three, and four. Qualitative and quantitative data was collected.

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  • Yang, Ya-Ting C., and Heng-An Chou. 2007. Beyond critical thinking skills: Investigating the relationship between critical thinking skills and dispositions through different online instructional strategies. British Journal of Educational Technology 39:666–684.

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    Students in Taiwan completed an assessment of critical thinking skills and dispositions, along with an instructional intervention. Results indicate that increasing scores on the critical thinking skill measure improved critical thinking disposition scores, but improving critical thinking disposition scores did not increase scores on the measure of critical thinking skills.

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Transfer to Other Domains

Critical thinkers will be able to identify the structural similarities between cues present in academic and nonacademic domains, or between different domains within academia. For example, a student should recognize that his reluctance to change his major after two years of schooling even when he has no interest in the subject involves the sunken-cost bias, as does his reluctance to end a two-year relationship with a partner even thought he no longer has an interest in that partner. Knowledge transfer can be encouraged by explicitly requiring students to perform knowledge transfer and by drawing attention to the structural aspects of a problem, so that students can identify similar structural problems in the real world. The resources below describe various forms of evidence to suggest that critical thinking instruction can improve knowledge transfer to other domains. Halpern 1998 describes an empirical model to teaching for transfer that involves four components. Aspects of this model have recently been investigated. Neito and Saiz 2008 examined the structural component of Halpern’s model for teaching transfer and did not find support for the structural type of instruction, although instruction in general improved transfer. On the other hand, Barak 2009 demonstrated knowledge transfer with an instructional intervention that trained students to identify the underlying structure of problems and solutions. Future research in this area may clear up these conflicting findings. Perhaps the most compelling evidence for knowledge transfer is a series of studies done by Nisbett and his colleagues. The empirically based article Nisbett, et al. 1987 reviews numerous studies that demonstrate knowledge transfer, and, perhaps more important, they demonstrate that knowledge transfer can occur over time. There is a great deal of evidence that knowledge of critical thinking skills can transfer to other domains. This has even been demonstrated over the Internet and with children. For example, Lee and Tsai 2004 explores how learning styles influenced knowledge transfer in an instructional intervention that occurred over the Internet. Additionally, Riesenmy, et al. 1991 reports that children trained on the use of metacognitive strategies retained more information, demonstrated knowledge transfer, and were able to do both of these after a long delay.

  • Barak, Moshe. 2009. Idea focusing versus idea generating: A course for teachers on inventive problem solving. Innovations in Education and Teaching International 46:345–356.

    DOI: 10.1080/14703290903301743Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This training course trained students to generate inventive solutions to problems. Both qualitative and quantitative data on the effectiveness of the training was collected. Students were able to identify the underlying structure of the problems and solutions and demonstrate knowledge transfer.

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  • Halpern, Diane F. 1998. Teaching critical thinking for transfer across domains: Dispositions, skills, structure training, and metacognitive monitoring. American Psychologist 53:449–455.

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    Empirically based model for teaching for transfer, including (a) preparing learners for effortful cognitive work by encouraging a critical thinking disposition, (b) teaching specific thinking skills, (c) identifying the structural aspects of problems, and (d) encouraging metacognition that involves checking for accuracy and monitoring progress toward the goal. Practical recommendations are made.

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  • Lee, C. I., and F. Y. Tsai. 2004. Internet project-based learning environment: The effects of thinking styles on learning transfer. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning 20:31–39.

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    A project-based investigation of differences in knowledge transfer based on learning styles (executive, legislative, judicial, or mixed styles). Near transfer was better in the mixed learning style group than the legislative and judicial group. Far transfer was better for the mixed learning style group than the legislative group.

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  • Nieto, Ana M., and Carlos Saiz. 2008. Evaluation of Halpern’s “structural component” for improving critical thinking. Spanish Journal of Psychology 11:266–274.

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    Experiment involved three instruction types: “structural,” nonstructural, and control. Structural instruction involved an emphasis on the structural aspects of the problem, to improve transfer. Instructed groups performed better on knowledge test than control group, but no differences were found between the two instructional groups. Authors question effectiveness of structural instruction.

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  • Nisbett, Richard E., Geoffrey T. Fong, Darrin R. Lehman, and Patricia W. Cheug. 1987. Teaching Reasoning. Science 238:625–631.

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    Empirically based review article discusses numerous studies that demonstrate general, abstract critical thinking can be taught, does transfer to other domains, and persists over time. Impressive collection of experiments. Although focus is on general critical thinking skills, there is an emphasis on statistical reasoning and some skills that would be domain-specific.

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  • Riesenmy, Madonna R., Sybil Mitchell, Bryce B. Hudgens, and Debra Ebel. 1991. Retention and transfer of children’s self-directed critical thinking skills. Journal of Educational Research 85:14–25.

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    Children in the treatment group were given a teaching “role” (metacognitive strategy); the control group was not given instruction. Those receiving instruction retained more information and thinking strategies, and gave better quality answers. Children were tested four to eight weeks after the instruction. Children given the instruction did better on transfer tests.

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Metacognitive Monitoring

Metacognition is an awareness of one’s own cognitive processes. It can include judgments of how well something has been learned or the probability of being able to recall it at some later time. It is an awareness of the processes used in thinking. This section describes research pertaining to metacognitive instruction. Cohen, et al. 1996 provides a cognitive thinking framework for metacognitive training. The authors were able to improve the critical thinking skills of naval officers through their metacognitive instruction. Bannert and Mengelkamp 2008 tested two methods of metacognitive monitoring instruction and found that both methods were successful. This metacognitive instruction has shown to be effective with a wide variety of populations, including navel officers, college students, and children. Huff and Nietfeld 2009 gave children instruction in metacognitive monitoring that increased the accuracy and confidence of their judgments. Loizidou and Koutselini 2007 found that children with poor metacognitive monitoring benefited the most from metacognitive instruction. Zohar and Ben David 2008 also found that low-ability students benefited the most from metacognitive instruction using both computerized and noncomputerized tasks. Other researchers have explored cross-cultural differences in metacognitive instruction. Kurtz, et al. 1990 explores cross-cultural differences in the instruction of metacognitive monitoring between US and German teachers.

  • Bannert, Maria, and Christoph Mengelkamp. 2008. Assessment of metacognitive skills by means of instruction to think aloud and reflect when prompted: Does the verbalization method affect learning? Metacognition Learning 3:39–58.

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    Various methods of measuring verbal data are discussed. This article tested two think-aloud protocols used to measure metacognition. Both methods improved learning performance, compared to the control condition.

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  • Cohen, Marvin S., Jared T. Freeman, and Steve Wolf. 1996. Metarecognition in time-stressed decision making: Recognizing, critiquing, and correcting. Human Factors 38:206–219.

    DOI: 10.1518/001872096779048020Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This paper provides evidence that critical thinking can be improved through metacognitive monitoring. A cognitive thinking framework (the recognition/metarecognition model) is used in the context of a naval tactical decision-making task.

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  • Huff, Jessica D., and John L. Nietfeld. 2009. Using strategy instruction and confidence judgments to improve metacognitive monitoring. Metacognition Learning 4:161–176.

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    Fifth graders were instructed in various methods of metacognitive monitoring. All metacognitive instruction increased the accuracy of judgment of reading comprehension and increased confidence of test performance. Those who received accuracy monitoring training also demonstrated increases in overconfidence.

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  • Kurtz, Beth E., Wolfgang Schneider, Martha Carr, John G. Borkowski, and Elizabeth Rellinger. 1990. Strategy instruction and attributional beliefs in West Germany and the United States: Do teachers foster metacognitive development? Contemporary Educational Psychology 15:268–283.

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    German teachers reported more metacognitive instruction of strategies; American teachers reported more effort-related attributions. Other cross-cultural differences were found for specific instructional strategies and the type of learning problems used.

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  • Loizidou, Andri, and Mary Koutselini. 2007. Metacognitive monitoring: An obstacle and a key to effective teaching and learning. Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice 13:499–519.

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    Metacognitive monitoring intervention instruction was given to children who varied in metacognitive abilities. Children with poorer metacognitive skills benefited the most from the instruction. Students’ affective state influenced metacognitive monitoring. Metacognitive monitoring assessment issues are discussed.

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  • Zohar, Anat, and Adi Ben David. 2008. Explicit teaching of meta-strategic knowledge in authentic classroom situations. Metacognition Learning 3:59–82.

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    Experiment taught 8th grade students an aspect of metacognition (intervention), meta-strategic knowledge (MSK), or did not (control) using computerized and noncomputerized tasks. Results indicate that explicit MSK instruction improved learning; this was especially true for low-ability students (determined by pretest).

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Assessments

The definitional dilemma of critical thinking researchers becomes even more apparent when those researchers begin to construct an assessment of their critical thinking construct. At this point in history, researchers seem moderately content with the ambiguity of the critical thinking definition—the acceptance of ambiguity is, after all, one of the hallmarks of a critical thinker. This ambiguity has not stopped researchers from developing a variety of critical thinking assessments that assess general critical thinking, specific critical thinking skills, and dispositional attributes. The resources below describe such assessments. Some of the assessments below include multiple-choice measures of critical thinking, while other use essays and other constructed responses. Readers interested in a more comprehensive list of critical thinking assessment are referred to Ennis 2009 or the list of Critical Thinking Assessment Resources updated by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, which lists most of the tests used by colleges in the United States.

General or Comprehensive Assessments

These assessments measure a broad range of skills. Many of these assessments use a multiple-choice format that requires only recognition memory. Most of these assessments measure the critical thinking skills of college students, for instance, the California Critical Thinking Skills Test (Facione 1990–2000), which is also available in many languages and online. Other multiple-choice format assessments cater to a wide range of ages. For example, the Cornell Critical Thinking Test (Ennis and Millman 1985) assesses the skills of students from grade 4 through college, and the James Madison Test of Critical Thinking is intended for grades 7 through college. Cognitive psychologists distinguish between recognition memory (the type of memory used with multiple-choice tests) and recall memory (the type of memory used for short-answer and essay questions). Recall memory is more difficult than recognition memory and is less susceptible to guessing. There are several assessments of critical thinking that take advantage of recall memory. The American College Testing Program’s Assessment of Reasoning and Communication contains a reasoning subset that involves constructed responses to short-answer and essay questions. The ICAT Critical Thinking Essay Examination is an argument analysis–based assessment. The Tasks in Critical Thinking assessment is intended for use with college students in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. Responses are constructed for nine performance-based tasks. There is even a critical thinking assessment that utilizes recall memory of children. The Ennis-Weir Critical Thinking Essay Test (Ennis and Weir 1985) is an essay intended for grade 6 through college. Only one assessment utilizes both recognition and recall memory. The Halpern Critical Thinking Assessment (HCTA) (Halpern 2010) uses both multiple-choice and constructed responses. It is a problem-based assessment that is available in many languages and online. It is intended for use with people age fifteen and older.

  • Assessment of reasoning and communication. 1986. American College Testing (ACT) Program.

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    A reasoning subtest offered in conjunction with the writing and speaking subtest of the ACT. Open-ended responses to three short essays and three short speeches are graded based on pertinence, relevance, plausibility, reasonableness, and realism of student responses. Three scores are produced based on social, scientific, and artistic reasoning. Intended for students finishing college.

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  • Ennis, Robert H., and Jason Millman. 1985. Cornell Critical Thinking Test, Level X and Level Z. 3d ed. Pacific Grove, CA: Critical Thinking Press.

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    Multiple choice. Level X is intended for grades 4–12 and above and measures induction, credibility, observation, deduction, and assumption identification. Level Z is intended for college students and measures induction, credibility, prediction and experimental planning, fallacies (especially equivocation), deduction, definition, and assumption identification.

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  • Ennis, Robert H., and Eric Weir. 1985. The Ennis-Weir Critical Thinking Essay Test: An instrument for teaching and testing. Pacific Grove, CA: Midwest Publications.

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    Intended for grades 6 through college. Student reads an eight-paragraph article that contains errors and writes an essay evaluating the arguments made. Graders need special training, but manual is provided and inter-rater reliability is high. Discontinued by original publisher, but available for free online.

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  • Facione, Peter. 1990–2000. California Critical Thinking Skills Test. Millbrae, CA: California Academic Press.

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    Intended for college students. Available in many languages. Paper and pencil version yields scores on Analysis & Interpretation, Inference, Evaluation & Explanation, Inductive Reasoning, Deductive Reasoning, and Total Critical Thinking Skill. Online version yields scores in Analysis, Interpretation, Inference, Evaluation and Explanation. Multiple-choice responses to text and graphical displays.

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  • Halpern, Diane F. 2010. Halpern Critical Thinking Assessment. Vienna: SCHUHFRIED (Vienna Test System).

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    Halpern Critical Thinking Assessment (HCTA) uses multiple response formats (constructed responses and recognition formats), to assess critical thinking in twenty-five everyday scenarios. It combines the ecological validity of opened-ended responding with a reliable scoring system. The HCTA has been validated with numerous diverse samples and is intended for use with people who are fifteen or older.

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  • International Critical Thinking Essay Test. 2009. International Center for the Assessment of Thinking.

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    Intended for students. Test-takers read an editorial that is selected by the test administrator and write an essay summarizing the editorial, identifying its focus, and identifying its strengths and weaknesses.

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  • James Madison Test of Critical Thinking. 2004. Seaside, CA: Critical Thinking Company

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    Intended for grades 7 through college. A multiple-choice assessment that targets basic deductive reasoning, informal fallacies, and assumptions.

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  • Tasks in Critical Thinking. 1989. Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service.

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    Assessment measures three skills: analysis skills, inquiry skills, and communication skills in the context of humanities, social science, and natural science. Includes nine performance tasks and requires constructed responses. Students are rated based on the conclusions they draw, reasons to support their conclusions, and metacognition.

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  • Young, John W. 2007. Validity of the Measures of Academic Proficiency and Progress (MAPP) Test. Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service.

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    Intended for college students. Multiple-choice format with regular or abbreviated versions. Measures reading, mathematics, writing, and critical thinking within humanities, social science, and natural science.

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Metacognition Assessments

These assessments focus on how well individuals are aware of their thinking processes and their ability to allocate mental resources (e.g., attention) to various tasks. The most commonly used metacognitive assessment is Watson and Glaser’s Critical Thinking Appraisal (Watson and Glaser 2008), a problem-based assessment that can be used in a variety of settings. The assessment in Schraw and Dennison 1994 measures various types of cognition as well as thinking strategies. The Whitebread, et al. 2009 assessment differs from most other assessments in that it is intended to assess young children, ages three to five.

  • Schraw, Gregory, and Rayne S. Dennison 1994. Assessing metacognitive awareness. Contemporary Education Psychology 19:460–475.

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    Measures knowledge of cognition (declarative knowledge, procedural knowledge, conditional knowledge) and regulation of cognition (planning, information management strategies, comprehension monitoring, debugging strategies, evaluation) in a bipolar response format. Good internal consistency.

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  • Watson, Goodwin, and Edward M. Glaser. 2008. Watson-Glaser critical thinking appraisal: Short form manual. New York: Pearson Education.

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    Measures five factors of metacognition: inference, recognition of assumptions, deduction, interpretation, and argument evaluation. Problem-based assessment. Intended for use in a variety of settings, including business. Content and construct validity has been assessed. Short and long form available online or in paper version.

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  • Whitebread, David, Penny Coltman, Deborah P. Pasternak, Claire Sangster, Valeska Grau, Sue Bingham, Qais Almeqdad, and Demetra Demetriou. 2009. The development of two observational tools for assessing metacognition and self-regulated learning in young children. Metacognition Learning 4:63–85.

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    Metacognition assessment intended for children three to five years old. Observational assessment includes a checklist of attributes. Factors include knowledge of persons, self, others, tasks, and strategies. Planning, monitoring, control, evaluation, motivational monitoring, and motivational control.

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Critical Thinking Disposition Assessments

These assessments use a self-report format to ask test takers to reflect on their willingness to engage in various cognitive tasks. The most common critical thinking disposition assessment is Facione 1990, the California Critical Thinking Dispositions Inventory. This assessment uses a multiple-choice format to measure the attitudes of adults. In a recent reexamination of the factor structure of the assessment, Walsh, et al. 2007 found that the seven-factor structure was not supported, but a four-factor structure was supported. It is unknown at this time whether this finding will influence the subscales of this assessment. Giancarlo, et al. 2004 created another critical thinking disposition assessment, the California Measure of Mental Motivation. It also supports a four-factor structure.

  • Facione, Peter. 1990. California Critical Thinking Dispositions Inventory. Millbrae, CA: California Academic Press.

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    Intended for use with adults. A seventy-five-item multiple-choice, adjective checklist format. Yields subscale scores on truth seeking, open-mindedness, analyticity, systematicity, critical thinking confidence, inquisitiveness, and maturity of judgment.

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  • Giancarlo, Carol A., Stephen W. Bloom, and Tim Urdan. 2004. Assessing secondary students’ disposition toward critical thinking: Development of the California Measure of Mental Motivation. Educational and Psychological Measurement 64:347–364.

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    Four studies using the measure yielded four dispositional factors: learning orientation, creative problem solving, mental focus, and cognitive integrity. Twenty-five items demonstrated sufficient reliability and validity.

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  • Walsh, Catherine M., Lisa A. Seldomridge, and Karen K. Badros. 2007. California Critical Thinking Disposition Inventory: Further factor analytic examination. Perceptual and Motor Skills 104:141–151.

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    Factor-analysis conducted on the Critical Thinking Disposition Inventory. Does not support the seven-factor structure and proposed a four-factor structure. Reduces the number of assessment items from seventy-five to twenty-five and increases the variance explained from 27 percent to 45 percent.

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Thinking Critically about Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is not without its critics. This section provides a smattering of resources that question whether critical thinking can be adequately defined, taught, or assessed. Like most abstract concepts, critical thinking is difficult to define, so it may be inevitable that researchers and philosophers will continue to debate the boundaries of critical thinking. For example, Lipman 1988 argues that, with regard to our definitions of critical thinking, too much emphasis has been placed on the outcome of critical thinking and not enough emphasis has been placed on the process of critical thinking. Davies 2006 (cited in Critical Thinking Skills) discusses the debate over whether critical thinking is a general or domain-specific skill. And the exchange between Yanchar, et al. 2008; Yanchar, et al. 2009; and Bensley 2009 (all cited in Defining Critical Thinking) regarding the definition of critical thinking clearly indicates that this discussion is not over. Other critics question whether critical thinking can adequately be taught. Readers are referred to the section on Teaching Critical Thinking for ample evidence that refutes this belief. Still other critics caution against using standardized testing. You may recall that Ennis was credited with renewing interest in the field of critical thinking, so it is somewhat surprising then that he is listed as one of its critics. Ennis 2008 argues that nationwide critical thinking testing is problematic because of testing issues and the gravity of the outcome of such assessments.

  • Ennis, Robert. H. 2008. Nationwide testing of critical thinking for higher education: Vigilance required. Teaching Philosophy 31:1–26.

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    Paper discusses potential problems with the Spelling Commission’s recommendation for nationwide testing of American college students, namely that institutions might be motivated to manipulate the situation to make their institution look good. The author further recommends that a limited number of critical thinking assessments be used; testing issues are discussed.

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  • Lipman, Matthew. 1988. Critical thinking—What can it be? Educational Leadership 46:38–43.

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    Paper argues that the definition of critical thinking is too dependent on outcomes and that more emphasis should be placed on processing, such as evaluating, classifying, and inferring. Also emphasizes self-correction and the need for a critical thinking disposition. From the perspective of a philosopher.

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