Critical thinking and problem solving definition

This chapter provides a theoretical overview of these three key topics: the qualities of each, their relationship to each other, as well as practical classroom applications. Critical thinking is an extremely valuable aspect of education. The ability to think critically often increases over the lifespan as knowledge and experience is acquired, but it is crucial to begin the process of this development as early on as possible. Research has indicated that critical thinking skills are correlated with better transfer of knowledge, while a lack of critical thinking skills has been associated with biased reasoning [1].

Before children even begin formal schooling, they develop critical thinking skills at home because of interactions with parents and caregivers [2]. As well, critical thinking appears to improve with explicit instruction [3]. Being able to engage in critical thought is what allows us to make informed decisions in situations like elections, in which candidates present skewed views of themselves and other candidates.

Without critical thinking, people would fall prey to fallacious information and biased reasoning. It is therefore important that students are introduced to critical thought and are encouraged to utilize critical thinking skills as they face problems. In general, critical thinking can be defined as the process of evaluating arguments and evidence to reach a conclusion that is the most appropriate and valid among other possible conclusions. Critical thinking is a dynamic and reflective process, and it is primarily evidence-based [4].

Thinking critically involves being able to criticize information objectively and explore opposing views, eventually leading to a conclusion based on evidence and careful thought. Critical thinkers are skeptical of information given to them, actively seek out evidence, and are not hesitant to take on decision-making and complex problem solving tasks [5].

Cognition and Instruction/Problem Solving, Critical Thinking and Argumentation

Asking questions, debating topics, and critiquing the credibility of sources are all activities that involve thinking critically. As outlined by Glaser , critical thinking involves three main components: a disposition for critical thought, knowledge of critical thinking strategies, and some ability to apply the strategies [6]. Having a disposition for critical thought is necessary for applying known strategies. Critical thinking, which includes cognitive processes such as weighing and evaluating information, leads to more thorough understanding of an issue or problem.

As a type of reflection, critical thinking also promotes an awareness of one's own perceptions, intentions, feelings and actions.

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In modern education, critical thinking is taken for granted as something that people universally need and should acquire, especially at a higher educational level [8] [9]. However, critical thinking is a human construct [10] - not a scientific fact - that is tied to Ancient Greek philosophy and beliefs [11]. The link to Ancient Greece relates both to Ancient Greek priorities of logic over emotion [11] , as well as its democratic principles.

An additional connection with Ancient Greece involves the Socratic Method. Because of this strong connection to Ancient Greece, critical thinking is generally considered to be a western construct. Since critical thinking is a human construct, notions of what constitutes critical thinking vary considerably from person to person.

Moon lists 21 common notions of critical thinking provided by people from her workshops, and then provides her own 2-page definition of the term [8]. One view of critical thinking is that it involves a set of skills that enables one to reach defensible conclusions and make decisions in a domain or context in which one has some prior knowledge [10]. Another view is that critical thinking involves the use of systematic logic and reasoning, which while not necessarily producing empirical answers nevertheless uses a rational and scientific approach [17].

Ultimately, Moon concludes that there is no right or wrong definition [8]. Scholars argue that while the critical thinking construct is linked to western, democratic nations, that does not mean that other non-western cultures do not possess or use similar constructs that involve critical thinking [18]. This is due to eastern values regarding face-saving [8]. In contrast, western approaches are often viewed as being competitive: attacking the views of others while defending one's own position. Despite this dichotomous generalisation, eastern and western approaches have more similarities than they would first seem.


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Similarly, the extent to which other cultures adopt western notions of critical thinking is determined by cultural values. It has been suggested that critical thinking skills alone are not sufficient for the application of critical thinking — a disposition for critical thinking is also necessary [5]. A disposition for critical thought differs from cognitive skills. A disposition is better explained as the ability to consciously choose a skill, rather than just the ability to execute the skill [4]. Having a disposition for critical thinking can include such things as genuine interest and ability in intellectual activities.

Perkins et al. Halpern suggests that this critical thinking disposition must include a willingness to continue with tasks that seem difficult, openmindedness, and a habit of planning [5]. In fact, in a cognitive skills study conducted by Clifford et al. These are characteristics of one's attitude or personality that facilitate the process of developing CT skills:.

There are many factors that can influence one's disposition towards CT; the first of these is culture [5].

Critical Thinking and Strategic Problem Solving Skills for Leaders

There are many aspects of culture that can impact the ability for people to think critically. For instance, religion can negatively impact the development of CT [5]. Many religions are founded upon faith, which often requires wholehearted belief without evidence or support. The nature of organized religion counters the very premise of CT, which is to evaluate the validity and credibility of any claim. Growing up in an environment such as this can be detrimental to the development of CT skills.

This kind of environment can dampen dispositions that question religious views or examine the validity of religion. Another cultural factor that can be detrimental to a CT disposition is that of authority [5]. When a child is raised under the conditions of an authoritarian parenting style, it can be detrimental to many aspects of their lives, but especially to their CT skills, as they are taught not to question the credibility of authority and often receive punishment if they do.

This is also applicable in the classroom [5].


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  • Classroom environments that foster a disposition for critical thinking in which teachers who do not foster an atmosphere of openness or allow students to question what they are taught can impact CT development as well. Classrooms where questions are rejected or home environments in which there is a high level of parental power and control can all affect the ability of students to think critically.

    What is more, students will have been conditioned not to think this way for their entire lives [5]. However, despite these cultural limitations, there are ways in which a disposition for CT can be fostered in both the home and the classroom. Classroom structure is a primary way in which CT dispositions can be highlighted. Fostering a classroom structure in which students are a part of the decision making process of what they are studying can be very helpful in creating CT dispositions [5]. Such structures help students become invested in what they are learning as well as promote a classroom atmosphere in which students may feel free to question the teacher, as well as other students' opinions and beliefs about different subjects.

    Allowing the freedom to scrutinize and evaluate information that has been given to students is an effective way of creating a classroom environment that can encourage students to develop CT dispositions. This freedom allows for the students to remain individuals within the larger classroom context, and gives them the power to evaluate and make decisions on their own. Allowing the students to share power in the classroom can be extremely beneficial in helping the students stay motivated and analytical of classroom teachings [5].

    Teachers can also employ a variety of techniques that can help students become autonomous in the classroom. Giving students the opportunity to take on different roles can be effective in creating CT dispositions, such as making predictions and contemplating problems [5]. Allowing students to engage with problems that are presented, instead of just teaching them what the teacher or textbook believes to be true, is essential for students to develop their own opinions and individual, though. In addition to this, gathering data and information on the subject is an important part of developing CT dispositions.

    What is Critical Thinking?

    Doing so allows for students to go out and find resources that they themselves can analyze and come to conclusions on their own [5]. Using these aspects of CT students can most effectively relate to the predictions that were first made and critique the validity of the findings [5]. In conjunction with instructing CT, teachers also need to keep in mind the self-regulation of their students.

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    Students need to be able to maintain motivation and have a proactive attitude towards their own learning when learning a new skill. In an article by Phan , he argues that self-regulated students that have better goal setting have more personal responsibility for their learning, can maintain their motivation, are more cognitively flexible, and hence are more inclined to utilize CT. Since CT skills are highly reflective, they help in self-regulated learning SRL , and in turn, self-regulatory strategies aid in developing CT skills.

    Self-Regulation provides students with the basic meta-cognitive awareness required for proactive learning. This pro-activity allows students to engage in the cognitive processes of CT, such as evaluation, reflection and inference. Instead of having a supervisor overlook every task, the learner can progress at their own pace while monitoring their performance, thereby engaging in SRL.

    Part of this process would include periodic reflection upon the strategies that one uses when completing a task. The complex nature of CT suggests that it requires a long developmental process requiring guidance, practice and reinforcement. From there, through practice, students can extend their CT skills beyond themselves and into their educational contexts. With practice, students use their meta-cognitive strategies as a basis for developing CT in the long run.

    Psychologists and educators have discovered many different strategies for the development of critical thinking.

    Programme Overview

    Among these strategies are some that may be very familiar, such as concept maps or Venn diagrams , as well as some that may be less familiar, such as appeal-question stimuli strategies [21]. Concept mapping is particularly useful for illustrating the relationships between ideas and concepts, while Venn diagrams are often used to represent contrasting ideas [21]. An example of a situation in which a Venn diagram activity may be appropriate is during a science class. Instructors may direct students to develop a Venn diagram comparing and contrasting different plants or animals.

    Concept maps may be introduced in elementary grades, although they are most often used in the secondary and post-secondary levels. Concept maps are an interactive and versatile way to encourage students to engage with the course material.

    Critical Thinking for Problem Solving | Management Concepts

    A key aspect of concept mapping is how it requires students to reflect on previously learned information and make connections. In elementary grades, concept maps can be introduced as a project, while later, possibly in college or university, students may use them as a study strategy. At the elementary level, students can use concept maps to make connections about the characters, settings, or plot in a story they have read. When introducing concept maps, teachers may provide students with a list of words or phrases and instruct the students to illustrate the connections between them in the form of a concept map.

    Asking questions can also be a simple and engaging way to develop critical thought. Teachers may begin by asking the students questions about the material, and then encouraging students to come up with their own questions. In secondary and post-secondary education, students may use questions as a way to assess the credibility of a source. At the elementary school level, questions can be used to assess students' understanding of the material, while also encouraging them to engage in critical thought by questioning the actions of characters in a story or the validity of an experiment.

    Peer interactions provide a basis for developing particular critical thinking skills, such as perspective taking and cooperation, which may not be as easily taught through instruction. A large part of discussions, of course, is language.


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