1. Are critical thinking skills taught in most teacher preparation programs? That is, do pre-service teachers receive instruction in critical thinking practices? Why?/Why not?
Critical thinking is not typically a significant part of teacher preparation programs. A few years ago the Center for Critical Thinking was asked to conduct a study for the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing to determine the extent to which teacher preparation programs were preparing prospective teachers to teach for critical thinking. This study (Paul, et. al., 1997) was conducted at the directive of the California state legislature and included randomly selected faculty from all private and public colleges and universities across California (including the University of California at Berkley and Stanford, as well as other prestigious higher education institutions). The study showed that though most faculty considered critical thinking to be of primary importance to instruction (89%), only 19% could adequately articulate what critical thinking is. In addition, more than 75% of those interviewed were unable to reconcile how to teach content while fostering critical thinking. These were faculty either in teacher preparation programs, or supporting disciplines.
The reason teacher preparation programs fail to place critical thinking at the heart of the curriculum is two-fold: first, faculty who control and teach the curriculum simply don’t understand critical thinking, that is, they really don’t know what it is. Second, they think they do. This is a problem, not just with faculty in teacher preparation programs, but with faculty as a rule. Most teachers have never been explicitly taught the intellectual skills inherent in critical thinking. Many of them teach as if learning were equivalent to rote memorization. Teachers tend to teach as they have been taught. Many confuse schooling with intellectual development. They believe that, because they are college graduates, they automatically think well. The fact is that teacher preparation programs seldom prepare teachers to foster critical thinking skills and dispositions.
2. Is critical thinking best suited to gifted students, or can other students benefit from it?
Virtually all students can and should learn basic critical thinking skills. And the critical thinking fundamentals we would teach the “gifted” student are the same as those we would teach the “typical” or “learning-disabled” student, though the pace at which students learn will differ. This is true because the foundations of critical thinking are the same, no matter what the teaching conditions, no matter what level or content area, no matter how “advanced” the students. Moreover, the basics of critical thinking can easily be made intuitive to most students. Students can learn to apply them regularly to problems and situations in their lives. Depending on their level of motivation and disability, students considered average, or even learning disabled, can equal gifted students in their ability to apply and use critical thinking. The primary determinant of intellectual skill development is not whether a person is “smart” in the traditional sense of the word, but rather whether a person has opportunities to learn critical thinking over time, and whether that person at some point becomes motivated to do so.
3. Are there any special problems gifted students face in learning and applying critical thinking?
One problem common among “gifted” students is intellectual arrogance. Of course, all humans have a propensity to think they know more than they do. But many “gifted” students are especially inclined to do this. Let me explain. Students traditionally considered gifted are often quick to learn and generally think faster than other students. These students are usually among the first students to learn to read. They often solve math problems quickly and can easily memorize large amounts of information. They are adept at taking multiple-choice tests, and completing typical class worksheets and “scholastic” tasks. Teachers tend to think of these students as “smart,” because they perform better at traditional school assignments than other students. Consequently, teachers tend to favor these students. These students are in special pull-out programs for the “gifted,” so that other students see them as smarter than themselves. What is more, adults in “gifted” students personal lives often express a sense of “awe” at the their seeming mental prowess. Consequently, these students come to conceptualize themselves as high performers and naturally deserving of high grades.
At the same time, most of these students (like most students everywhere) never learn what it means to be intellectually disciplined. They are rarely taught to work through difficulties when faced with complex problems. They often expect instant success. They do not typically learn intellectual humility, intellectual empathy, fair-mindedness, intellectual integrity, nor indeed any other intellectual trait.
Indeed, as far as I know, there is no evidence to suggest that “gifted” students end up functioning better than the average person in dealing with life’s problems. Perhaps the most commonly used indicator of a “gifted” student is IQ. Yet IQ alone is not a good indicator of success. Michael Howe (1997), in his book, IQ in Question: The Truth About Intelligence, focuses on the relationship between IQ and one’s ability to successfully function in life. He concludes that variables other than IQ (such as schooling and socio-economic class) play a far more significant role in determining success in life than performance on IQ tests.
In sum, students that we think of as “gifted” are certainly not more likely to learn and apply critical thinking to their lives than the “average” student. And in fact, because “gifted” students are often predisposed toward intellectual arrogance, they may have more difficulty facing problems in their own thinking than students with a more realistic sense of their intellectual abilities.
As teachers, then, we need to be especially careful not to inflate students’ sense of their knowledge base and ability level.
One set of concepts in critical thinking delineates intellectual standards. These are the standards by which the quality of thinking is judged, standards such as clarity, accuracy, relevance, depth, breadth, logic, significance, and fairness. One of the most basic intellectual standards is clarity. The ability to clarify thinking is accessible to most students, as well as an important intellectual goal. If we don’t understand what someone is saying, for example, we cannot further assess the quality of what has been said. Many problems in thinking result from being vague, muddled, or confused. Therefore students should learn how to ask questions of clarification when they are unclear, many of which are quite simple. They can ask, for example, “Can you say that in other words? Can you give me an example? Can you illustrate what you mean?” Students can also learn to say things in their own words to clarify what someone else is saying. They can say, for example, “this is what I understand you to be saying…Am I understanding you correctly?” Or “I don’t understand everything you said. This is the part I understand. This is the part I don’t. Could you help me with the part I am having trouble with?”
As you see, virtually all students can learn to clarify thinking. And it is important to realize that students with learning disabilities are often unclear about what others are saying. This works to their disadvantage in any number of ways. These students, for example, can be easily coerced into doing things against their best interest when they don’t fully understand what people mean. Sometimes they end up as victims in our legal system, people who confess to crimes they did not commit, people who accept a plea bargain when they don’t understand the terms. So it is vitally important that all students learn critical thinking skills, not just those we label “gifted.”
For another example, consider the importance of reading comprehension. Most students reach the college level, even our most “advanced” students, without learning to read for understanding. Many students do not see reading as an active, engaged process. They don’t realize that good readers actively formulate questions as they read; that good readers write down important points as they read; that they distinguish what they understand from what they don’t understand; that they engage in a silent dialog with the author. This is what it means to read critically. Students need routine practice in creating meaning as they read.
Teachers can use the following structure on a daily basis to teach critical reading. The basic idea is that students will read aloud in pairs taking turns reading and saying in their own words what they have read. Here is the basic format, which can be used with students from the elementary through the college level:
For additional examples, I recommend the Miniature Guide for Children and its accompanying Teacher’s manual. These publications provide basic strategies for teaching elementary concepts in critical thinking.
5. Please discuss the impact television has had on the development of critical thinking skills.
There have been numerous studies on the effects of TV on children’s behavior. Though I won’t attempt to comment on these studies from a research perspective, I can discuss some of the implications of TV from a critical thinking perspective. First, consider the programs available to our children. Most of them contain violence along with other forms of dysfunctional behavior. In many of the teen programs, characters routinely exchange sarcastic or rude remarks. They are dishonest to their parents and to each other. They focus on the trivial and the superficial.
On the other hand, there is a sad lack of TV programs aimed at developing the mind. Those programs commonly thought to foster the development of the mind are usually information-based, typically focused either on historical events or some scientific (e.g. nature-based) phenomena. Certainly these programs have value – in and of themselves. But by themselves they accomplish little in the light of typical programs students watch. For example, few programs on TV depict rational human relationships, an area of great importance for students. Few programs help viewers reason through complex human problems or engage in reasonable interaction patterns.
Television programming focuses on the emotional, the melodramatic, and the simplistic. The world presented is black and white, pure evil against pure good. Social stereotypes are fostered. Complexity is ignored. There is no role for deep learning. Special effects are given great significance. Is it then surprising that most people vote for politicians who explain the world in these same simplistic stereotyped terms? So at minimum, most of the time students spend watching TV is a waste of precious time. At worst, students are soaking up dysfunctional ideas about how humans ought to interrelate, or validating the irrational ideas they already have.
Another significant problem with TV is that it is a vehicle for media bias and propaganda. The logic behind bias and propaganda in the news media is simple. Each society and culture has a unique worldview. This colors what they see and how they see it. News media in the cultures of the world reflect the worldview of their own culture. But the truth of what is happening in the world is much more complicated than what appears true in any culture. To be a critical reader of the news media, students need to come to terms with this truth and critique the media accordingly. When students learn the tools of critical thought, they have the tools they need to detect media bias. For more on this subject, see The Miniature Guide on How to Detect Media Bias and Propaganda in National and World News.
6. Can you discuss the relationship between teacher practices and the development of critical thinking skills.
There is a direct relationship between teacher practices and student development of critical thinking. To the extent that teachers foster the development of thinking abilities through their practices, students will begin to develop these abilities. To the extent that teachers fail to foster critical thinking, students will fail to develop these abilities. As a rule, people will not develop these abilities on their own. And very few students will learn them at home.
Unfortunately, most typical classroom structures and practices do not aim at the development of critical thinking skills. As I have mentioned, this is true because most teachers have not been taught critical thinking and consequently do not themselves understand it. The overwhelming majority of teachers were not taught critical thinking as students. They were not taught critical thinking in teacher preparation programs. The curriculum they use is not designed to foster critical thinking. And most teachers don’t identify vehicles for learning critical thinking on their own. Therefore, in the typical classroom, any relationship between critical thinking development and classroom structures tends to be incidental and inconsistent.
In fact, much of what happens in the typical class is antithetical to critical thinking. Rather than learning the skills of disciplined thought, students often learn the skills of “getting by.” They develop bad learning habits. They come to see learning as “doing what the teacher says.” They come to view smartness as finishing first on tests, proving that you can memorize lots of unrelated facts, figuring out how to do the minimum to get an “A.” Therefore students who perform well in the typical classroom often have an inflated sense of their intellectual abilities. Because they receive good grades, they infer that they are becoming educated persons. Most students develop few, if any, intellectual skills in traditional schooling.
For students to develop critical thinking skills, teachers must place thinking at the heart of the curriculum, through their conceptualizations of the subject matter, as well as the activities in which they engage students. They must see that content---any content whatsoever--- can by understood only through thinking. The content of history is historical thinking, of math is mathematical thinking, of chemistry is chemical thinking. If one “studies” history but does not learn how to think historically, then one does not learn the true content of history. A parallel truth holds for every content area, bar none. The only way students can learn content is through the development of intellectual skills that enable them to bring that content into their thinking in a meaningful way. But most teachers did not learn how to think historically in their own history courses and consequently do not have a model for teaching history as historical thinking (nor teaching math as mathematical thinking, chemistry as chemical thinking, etc.).
7. In what ways do our society view teachers as critical thinkers?
First, I don’t think that our society has a clear model of a critical thinker. Critical thinking, though glibly talked about in school circles, is not typically understood, either in schools or in the broader society. We don’t have models of critical thinking for people to emulate. We rarely see examples of critical thinking in the mass media. For example, even in “critical” debates on TV, we do not see true critical thinking, but pseudo critical thinking. One side argues for his viewpoint while the other side argues for his, each trying to get in as much airtime as possible, butting into the other’s dialog, asserting his own views without acknowledging strengths in the opposing viewpoint. These practices are represented as good debate. What is missing is intellectual empathy. Neither speaker is honestly attempting to enter the other’s viewpoint. Each is summarily dismissing the other, sparring with the other through one-sided attacks. These speakers also lack any sense of intellectual humility, any recognition that they might actually be wrong on any point whatsoever.
We see this same problem in TV programming, as I have mentioned before, which has a tremendous influence on thinking in our culture. It is obvious that the concept of critical thinking is foreign to most writers and producers of TV programs. They just don’t have a clear notion of what it means to think rationally and with discipline. In the news media, the well-educated person is depicted as a specialist with a large body of narrow esoteric facts. Intellectuals are seen as nerdy, eggheads, eccentric, forgetful, and emotionally cold. A small set of them are understood to be “geniuses,” and are then portrayed as having a mysterious and unaccountable talent for coming up with new ideas---often out of the blue. These geniuses are often thought of as capable of designing great inventions but incapable of engaging in meaningful and healthy relationships. The concept of a well-rounded critical thinker is virtually unheard of in the mass media. And since people largely formulate their views of the way things are, as well as the way things should be, from the media, most consumers of the mass media never formulate a clear concept of critical thinking---nor of education, for that matter.
Now since there is no clear concept of critical thinking in our society at large, there is no clear concept of the teacher as critical thinker. Vague, confused, and muddled conceptions of schooling and education abound. Views of teachers reflect the confused hodgepodge of notions of what should be going on in the classroom. Some view teachers as professionals interested in helping students develop. Others view teachers as products of a sociocentric society, largely indoctrinating students into the cultural beliefs of the day. Some see teachers as limited by bureaucratic rules and process, and so forth.
But if there is a vague common denominator among people in the way they view schooling, it is a vision of a human repository of facts (teachers) dispensing these facts to largely empty vessels (students). These students then wait to be filled to the brim until the quiz or test occurs when they can relieve themselves by pouring out what they have rotely memorized onto a blank sheet of paper. Of course, very few people reconcile this idea of teaching with the decisions they make about schooling, either for themselves or for their children. In other words, though most people have a vague sense that something is wrong with schooling, they can neither clarify what is wrong, nor make good decisions about how they should pursue education for themselves or others in their care.
8. Who is responsible for teaching critical thinking skills? How do we support those who are responsible?
Though one might argue that the responsibility for teaching critical thinking lies with society as a whole, it is unrealistic to expect society as it currently exists to interest itself with thinking abilities. Too few people understand critical thinking. But we can expect, and even demand, that teachers develop students’ abilities to reason through content, to take ideas and apply them to life problems, which is just another way of saying that teachers should be expected to teach critical thinking skills. The stated purpose of schooling is to foster education, the development of the intellectual skills and abilities one needs to function well in the world. This is the very promise of schooling. To the extent that schools fail to foster intellectual skills, they fail to fulfill their obligation as educators.
But we can’t expect teachers to do this without guidance and support.
To effectively teach for critical thinking, teachers first need to learn critical thinking skills and abilities themselves. Just as their students have a right to be truly educated, so do they. But since most of them find themselves teaching without the requisite insights into thinking and how to foster high quality thinking in the classroom, they need long-term staff development in critical thinking.
Second, teachers must be motivated by professional development possibilities to develop insights into critical thinking and their own intellectual abilities and deficits. Deep development of the mind can only be accomplished through life-long commitment to learning and growing.
Third, teachers need support for developing and testing innovative classroom strategies. Many teachers of critical thinking feel isolated. They are often ostracized by other teachers if they think independently, and subtly punished by administrators who do not understand critical thinking or how it is fostered in the classroom. Teachers developing their own critical thinking abilities and attempting to teach critical thinking to others will have to experiment with new ideas. Therefore administrators need to give these teachers time to design strategies and then test them in the classroom.
The three prerequisites, then, for successfully teaching critical thinking are long-term staff development in critical thinking, personal motivation to learn critical thinking, and administrative support.
Let me add one additional point about the nature of the relationship between teachers and administrators. While administrative support is vital to staff development in critical thinking, it is also true that some appropriate pressure from administrators can aid in fostering critical thinking across the curriculum. The administrator who expects and even demands her teachers to teach for critical thinking, who looks for examples of it on a daily basis, who supports it with staff development time, who seeks resources for long-term staff development, will most successfully cultivate critical thinking in her school.
9. Do you feel there is a best way to assess higher order thinking skills in the gifted?
First, the assessment of higher order thinking skills does not differ between the typical and the “gifted” student. Students either have these skills (at a given level of practice) or they don’t. Second, the ways in which we traditionally think of assessment need to be modified somewhat when we are speaking of assessing higher order thinking abilities. For example, higher order thinking, or critical thinking, is naturally self-assessing. When we think critically, we consistently assess the quality of our reasoning, as well as the reasoning of others.
We ask ourselves questions like: “Am I clear about what this person is saying? Am I clear about what I am trying to say? What part of this sentence do I understand and what part is giving me trouble? Is the conclusion I am coming to logical in the circumstances? Am I thinking in a superficial way given the complexities inherent in the issue? Is the information being used in this argument accurate? Is it relevant to the issue?” These are the types of questions routinely pondered in the mind of the critical thinker. Thus teaching students to assess their own reasoning, placing the burden of assessment more on the student and less on us as teachers is critical to developing higher order reasoning skills. When we assess students’ critical thinking abilities, it is important that we assess their ability to assess themselves.
For a formal test of critical thinking abilities, we recommend the International Critical Thinking Test, an essay test involving sentence completion and assessment. Even at their best, however, individual tests of critical thinking can only be used to assess aspects of critical thinking, not the entire nature and sweep of it.
As for assessing critical thinking skills in student thinking, first we must understand exactly what we are assessing. Consider the following intellectual abilities and dispositions
|• Thinking independently |
• Developing insight into egocentricity or sociocentricity
• Exercising fair-mindedness
• Exploring thoughts underlying feelings and feelings underlying thoughts
• Developing intellectual humility and suspending judgment
• Developing intellectual courage
• Developing intellectual good faith or integrity
• Developing intellectual perseverance
• Developing confidence in reason
• Refining generalizations and avoiding oversimplifications
• Comparing analogous situations: transferring insights to new contexts
• Developing one's perspective: creating or exploring beliefs, arguments, or theories
• Clarifying issues, conclusions, or beliefs
• Clarifying and analyzing the meanings of words or phrases
• Developing criteria for evaluation: clarifying values and standards
• Evaluating the credibility of sources of information
• Questioning deeply: raising and pursuing root or significant questions
• Analyzing or evaluating arguments, interpretations, beliefs, or theories
• Generating or assessing solutions
• Analyzing or evaluating actions or policies
• Reading critically: clarifying or critiquing texts
• Listening critically: the art of silent dialogue
• Making interdisciplinary connections
• Practicing Socratic discussion: clarifying and questioning beliefs, theories, or perspectives
• Reasoning dialogically: comparing perspectives, interpretations, or theories
• Reasoning dialectically: evaluating perspectives, interpretations, or theories
• Comparing and contrasting ideals with actual practice
• Thinking precisely about thinking: using critical vocabulary
• Noting significant similarities and differences
• Examining or evaluating assumptions
• Distinguishing relevant from irrelevant facts
• Making plausible inferences, predictions, or interpretations
• Evaluating evidence and alleged facts
• Recognizing contradictions
• Exploring implications and consequences
We might focus on any one of these abilities or dispositions in illustrating how one might assess the extent to which students have them. Take, for example, this ability: “Distinguishing relevant from irrelevant facts.” Before assessing this ability in students, we would of course teach them the importance of relevance in thinking. We would give them examples of how people often use irrelevant information when arguing for a position. We would teach them how to gather information relevant to an issue. We would teach them to discipline their own thinking so that they stick to the issue at hand. Then, in assessing the extent to which they could distinguish relevant from irrelevant information, we might ask them to write a paper that required them to think through an issue. We could assess whether they used irrelevant facts in addressing the problem, whether all easily available relevant facts were used, whether they failed to use important relevant facts, or whether they noted that the quality of their argument may have been limited by their inability to gather certain important relevant facts.
Or consider this ability: “Exploring implications and consequences.” One of the problems common in human thinking is a failure to think through the implications of one’s actions before acting (all actions being reflections of inner thoughts). When we use higher order thinking, we discipline our thinking so that we consider what might happen if we were to do this or that before we act. So, again, prior to assessing our students’ ability to think through implications, we first teach them how to do so, and the importance of doing so. We might give them imaginary situations to consider and ask them to explore the implications of behaving in different ways in those situations. We might ask them to recall an important situation they were in wherein they failed to think through implications before acting, which then led to negative consequences. We might have them document those consequences. Once they have had practice in thinking through implications, we could then assess their ability to do so by asking them, for example, to list all the implications they can think of for a given situation. In other words, we could say, “here is the situation…write out all of the ways in which you might reasonably act in this situation, and the implications for each behavior.”
10. What do you think about the Watson Glaser or the Ross Test of Higher Order Thinking Skills? Are there others that should be examined?
These two tests, like most critical thinking tests I have seen, focus on assessing the extent to which students can demonstrate isolated critical thinking skills. And as such these tests do a fairly good job of testing some specific critical thinking skills. However, the best assessment tools are those with high consequential validity. Assessment tools with high consequential validity are those which when used necessarily lead to the improvement of instruction. Assessing isolated critical thinking abilities has limited value in terms of helping students learn to think through complex problems within multiple disciplines (and therefore has low consequential validity).
The International Critical Thinking Test, developed by the International Center for the Assessment of Higher Order Thinking (the essay test I mentioned before), is an assessment tool with high consequential validity because teachers cannot accurately grade it unless they first understand critical thinking at a fairly deep level. Moreover, students can perform well on the test only if teachers explicitly teach the critical thinking concepts and tools highlighted in the test. Use of the test, then, drives teachers to develop classroom structures and strategies that foster critical thinking skills and abilities.
In this test, students are given a prompt, which can be an article, chapter, or essay of the teacher’s choosing. The purpose of the test is to determine the extent to which students are able to analyze and evaluate the reasoning embedded in the written prompt. The test can be used at the high school level and beyond, and can be modified for use with younger students.
Here is part one of the test:
Directions to students: Complete the following sentences with whatever elaboration you think necessary to make your meaning clear.
1) The main purpose of the “text” you are analyzing is _____________________.
2) The key question that the author is addressing is _______________________. (Your goal is to figure out the key question implicit in the “text.” In other words, What was the key question addressed?)
3) The most important information in this article is ________________________. (You want to identify the key information the author used, or presupposed, in the article to support his/her main arguments. Here you are looking for facts, experiences, data the author is using to support her/his conclusions).
4) The main inferences/conclusions in this article are ________________.
5) The key idea(s) we need to understand in this “text” is (are)_______________ . By these ideas the author means ________________________________.
6) The main assumption(s) underlying the author’s thinking is (are)_____________ (Ask yourself: What is the author taking for granted (that might be questioned). The assumptions are generalizations that the author does not think s/he has to defend in the context of writing the article, and they are usually unstated. This is where the author's thinking logically begins).
7) a) If we take this line of reasoning seriously, the implications are ___________.
b) If we fail to take this line of reasoning seriously, the implications are _____________.
8) The main point(s) of view of the author of the “text” is (are)_______________. (The main question you are trying to answer here is: What is the author looking at, and how is s/he seeing it? For example, in this test: “What are we looking at?” (thinking) “How are we seeing it?” (critically). Our point of view is defined by the fact that we see “thinking” as subject to critical evaluation).
In part two of the test students are asked to assess the reasoning embedded in the writing prompt. It provides the criteria by which students will evaluate the reasoning:
Directions to students: You should consider the questions below in developing your assessment of the writing sample. In addition to the questions below, you should feel free to comment on the reasoning in terms of its clarity, accuracy, precision, relevance, depth, breadth, logicalness, significance, and fairness or lack thereof.
1. Question: Is the question at issue clearly stated or implied? Is it unbiased? Does the expression of the question do justice to the complexity of the matter at issue?
2. Purpose: Is the purpose well-stated or implied? Is it clear and justifiable? Are the question and purpose directly relevant to each other?
3. Information: Is relevant evidence, experiences and/or information essential to the issue cited? Is the information accurate? Are the complexities of the issue addressed?
4. Ideas (concepts): Are key ideas clarified when necessary? Are the concepts used justifiably?
5. Assumptions: Is there sensitivity to what is being taken for granted or assumed? (Insofar as those assumptions might reasonably be questioned?). Are questionable assumptions being used without addressing problems which might be inherent in those assumptions?
6. Conclusions: Is a line of reasoning well developed explaining the main conclusions? Are alternative conclusions considered? Are there any apparent inconsistencies in the reasoning?
7. Point of View: Is a sensitivity to alternative relevant points of view or lines of reasoning shown? Is consideration given to objections framed from other relevant points of view? If so, were they responded to?
8. Implications: Is sensitivity shown to the implications and consequences of the position taken
This essay test contains both directions for students, as well as grading directions and sample graded tests for teachers.
11. Can teachers of the gifted develop their own higher order or critical thinking tests?
The difficulty with developing one’s own critical thinking tests is that it presupposes knowledge of critical thinking that most teachers simply do not have. The first step to developing critical thinking assessment tools of any kind is beginning the process of learning critical thinking oneself. Unfortunately many teachers resist take this step. Before they have sufficient understanding of critical thinking, they see themselves as capable of assessing it. In other words, they think they can design assessment instruments to test something they do not themselves understand.
But when teachers have worked the concepts embedded in critical thinking into their thinking, when they have designed classroom activities to teach for critical thinking, and are taking the theory of critical thinking seriously, assessing critical thinking will become a natural outgrowth of their own development. Assessment components for every critical thinking assignment will begin to become apparent.
12. How should gifted kids be taught scientific thinking skills and reasoning?
The ability to think scientifically is very important for living in today’s complex world. But again, there is no reason to believe that “gifted students” should be taught scientific thinking skills and abilities differently from other students. Richard Paul and I have just completed a miniature guide to scientific thinking for students and teachers. To a large extent, scientific thinking should be taught in the same way that any discipline should be taught. Students should learn to think through the content, to see scientific content as a mode of reasoning that is understood through thinking, assessed through thinking, and applied through thinking. They should first learn, truly learn, what science is. Most students go through years and years of science instruction, yet never learn what science is. They cannot articulate the concept of science. They don’t apply scientific laws and principles to situations in their lives. For example, many people believe in the ancient practice of astrology, though no scientific evidence has ever existed to support it, and though the idea at its very foundation is absurd (that if you were born when the sun was passing through a certain constellation of stars---shaped, for example, like a wolf--- you will end up behaving in keeping with that constellation---i.e., like a wolf!). The people who believe in astrology are often the same people who sit through years of science instruction but who never learn to think scientifically.
As we point out in our miniature guide to scientific reasoning, a well-cultivated scientific thinker:
The following checklist can be used to foster scientific reasoning:
1) All scientific reasoning has a PURPOSE.
2) All scientific reasoning is an attempt to FIGURE something out, to settle some scientific QUESTION, solve some scientific PROBLEM.
3) All scientific reasoning is based on ASSUMPTIONS.
4) All scientific reasoning is done from some POINT OF VIEW.
5) All scientific reasoning is based on scientific DATA, INFORMATION & EVIDENCE.
6) All scientific reasoning is expressed through, and shaped by, scientific CONCEPTS and THEORIES.
Make sure you are using concepts and theories with care and precision.
7) All scientific reasoning contains INFERENCES or INTERPRETATIONS by which we draw scientific CONCLUSIONS and give meaning to scientific data.
8) All scientific reasoning leads somewhere or has IMPLICATIONS and CONSEQUENCES.
With thinking at the heart of science instruction, students learn to reason their way through scientific issues and problems. They begin to see science as integrated and applicable to human life.
When teachers of science understand the foundations of critical thinking, they can begin to develop instructional strategies to foster scientific reasoning. Here are two examples of templates that focus on analyzing the logic of an experiment. Students can be asked to complete these analyses for every experiment they conduct or work through. These templates can be simplified for young students.
The Logic of An Experiment
(Or Laboratory Procedure)
The main goal of the experiment is …
The hypothesis(es) we seek to test is/are…
The key question the experiment seeks to answer is…
The controls involved in this experiment are…
The key concept(s) or theory(ies) behind the experiment i/ares…
The experiment is based on the following assumptions…
The data that will be collected in the experiment are…
The potential implications of the experiment are…
The point of view behind the experiment is…
Post Experiment Analysis
The data collected during the experiment was…
The inferences (conclusions) that most logically follow from the data are…
These inferences are/are not debatable, given the date gathered in this study and the evidence to this point.
The hypothesis (or hypotheses) for this experiment was/was not (were/were not) support by the experiment results.
The assumptions made prior to this experiment should/should not be modified given the data gathered in this experiment. Modifications to assumptions (if any) should be as follows…
The most significant implications of this experiment are…
Recommendations for future research in this area are…
These are just two examples of how we can help students learn to reason through scientific questions. Our main goal is to help students see science, and indeed any subject, as a discipline to be thought through on one’s own, as a discipline alive with questions, a discipline which, when understood, helps one better deal with life’s complex problems.
13. If there were one book you would want gifted children/teachers/parents to read, what would it be?
For children in grades 1-5, I would recommend the Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking for Children. I recommend the teacher’s manual to this guide for teachers of these grade levels. For students in 6th grade and beyond I recommend the Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts and Tools. For teachers and parents interested in learning the fundamentals of critical thinking, I recommend the book Critical Thinking: Tools for Taking Charge of Your Learning and Your Life, or the book Critical Thinking: Tools for Taking Charge of Your Personal and Professional Life. All of these publications are available through the Foundation for Critical Thinking (www.criticalthinking.org).
There are many books, both of nonfiction and fiction, which shed light on human problems, books well-worth reading. But the reader is rarely left with an explicit understanding of the problems in thinking which lead to problem behavior. When thinking is considered, it is often dealt with implicitly rather than explicitly. It is crucial that students, teachers and parents study thinking itself, that they learn to take thinking apart and assess it, that they learn to evaluate both their own thinking and the thinking of others. This is best done through explicit instruction in thinking, instruction outlined in the miniature guides and books mentioned above.
14. In our frenzy to mainstream and include children with disabilities in regular classrooms, what effect will this have on educating gifted children and enhancing their thinking skills?
Certainly mainstreaming students with diverse ability levels can be challenging, but what is most important is how we structure the typical class day, what activities we design for students, and whether we actively engaged them in intellectual work. There are certain skills that students must learn if they are to function even marginally, such as learning to read. And we need to use specific teaching strategies such as the Phonographic Reading Program to help students learn to read who are having difficulties deciphering language. But, beyond these basic skills, teachers need to design instructional strategies that routinely engage students in intellectual work.
It is possible to design many student activities that intellectually engage both advanced and struggling students. For an example, let us return to the reading comprehension strategy I discussed in question 4. In this activity, students take turns reading and then explaining in their own words what they have read. They then discuss the meaning of the passage, sharing their different (if any) interpretations. In this activity, students who read at more advanced levels should be better able to interpret what they read than other students in the group. When grouped with students who have difficulties reading, they are able, through their example, to help these students better comprehend what they read. At the same time, through the practice of explaining aloud in their own words what they have read, and critiquing the interpretations of their peers, they deepen their own comprehension ability. In this type of activity we give life to the idea: It is in teaching that we learn.
While I am focused on “cooperative” classroom strategies, let me briefly comment on the use of competition that is now so popular in our schools. It is my view that cooperation should be encouraged and rewarded in the classroom, and that competition should be reduced to a minimum. Whenever possible, student work in class should mirror the intellectual work they will need to do when they are thinking their way through life’s problems. Real life intellectual work often depends not only upon students’ own reasoning abilities, but also on cooperating with others. When we design class structures that are genuinely inclusive, structures that communicate the importance of everyone’s development, structures that require a willingness to work together to help one another grow, each student is shown respect, and each student grows according to their capability. Moreover, advanced students come to see the intrinsic value in helping others, rather than focusing exclusively on their own needs and desires.
15. Are teachers currently teaching to Bloom’s higher aspects of his taxonomy or are they teaching to Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences. What are the pros and cons of both of these approaches? Both Bloom’s taxonomy and Gardner’s multiple intelligences are stilling playing a role in k-12 schooling, though the extent to which they are varies. Moreover, the effects of these two approaches on student development varies depending on how they are used in the classroom.
Let’s consider Bloom’s taxonomy first. The taxonomy itself, which is found in The Taxonomy of Educational Objectives (Bloom, et.al., 1979) contains what Bloom considers a hierarchy of cognitive skill domains, from the simple to the complex. The taxonomy itself includes a wealth of potentially useful information. But the taxonomy as a hierarchy is fundamentally flawed. Let me explain. Bloom presents “knowledge” as the first level of cognitive skill, meaning that it is the most simple of all cognitive skills. Moreover, Bloom equates knowledge with recall. But true knowledge occurs in the mind only through an active skilled intellectual process. Knowledge cannot be memorized, but must be brought into the mind, connected to other ideas, and used by the mind when relevant to particular situations. The second cognitive skill level according to Bloom is comprehension. Thus Bloom would lead us to believe that one can have knowledge prior to comprehension, that one can know something when one doesn’t understand it. How can this be?
A second major flaw in Bloom’s taxonomy is that it lacks intellectual standards. For example, according to the taxonomy, the highest cognitive skill is evaluation. Yet every human being routinely evaluates situations, experiences, relationships, etc. In other words, each one of us makes evaluative judgments every day. This is what humans do. The significant question is: how do we make these judgments? What standards do we use to evaluate? Do we decide in accordance with what we have always done, or what our friends would want us to do? Or do we use intellectual standards in evaluation, standards such as accuracy, relevance, depth, breadth, significance, logicalness and fairness?
Another problem in Bloom’s taxonomy is its failure to integrate its six cognitive domains: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Nowhere does Bloom help teachers understand how these domains interrelate. In addition, the taxonomy implies that teachers need only be armed with questions within each of the cognitive levels to effectively foster cognitive skills. Yet higher order thinking entails complex interrelated skills teacher must develop before they can teach these skills to others. In other words, it is unrealistic to assume that teachers can easily develop intellectual skills simply by using a few structures or activities that purportedly lead to higher order reasoning abilities. For these reasons, reliance on Bloom’s taxonomy has misled many well-meaning teachers.
Now let us turn to Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences theory. This theory implies that the idea of intelligence must be broadened beyond the traditional verbal/mathematical skills. Instead it must include a number of intellectual domains within which human beings are capable of excelling and should be encouraged to excel. This theory contends that students should be encouraged to develop those "intelligences" that interest them and that they are naturally inclined toward.
It certainly makes sense to broaden our view of “intelligence” beyond the narrow focus on skill areas traditionally measured by intelligence tests. To understand this, let’s consider the concept of “intelligence.” In standard educated usage "intelligence" is understood as the ability to learn or understand from experience or to respond successfully to new experiences. It involves the ability to acquire and retain knowledge. It implies the use of reason in solving problems and directing conduct effectively. Given this definition of “intelligence,” multiple intelligences would thus roughly mean the ability to learn in multiple domains, or to respond successfully to new experiences in multiple domains, to solve problems in multiple domains.
Because students are likely to face a variety of complex problems in many different intellectual fields throughout their lives, it stands to reason that students must develop multiple skills and insights to successfully function within those fields. For example, students must learn to reason well through economic, sociological, historical, scientific, and mathematical questions. They must learn command over their emotions. They must learn to scrutinize their behavior in order to assess it and change it. They must deeply understand the role of self-deception in thinking. Thus students must have intellectual command over all of these domains, and many others, to function well, broadly speaking. Therefore simply from a conceptual viewpoint, students need to develop multiple uses of their “intelligence.”
However, the skills of mind they need to successfully think through these domains are generalizable in nature. They are intellectual tools that enable students to develop multiple levels of intellectual strategies, as well as to develop new insights in new domains of their lives.
Certainly, to some extent students should be encouraged to develop within the domains that interest them. Yet education, properly so called, has as its first obligation to teach students intellectual command over their minds, to teach students the intellectual skills they must have to function well in the world. To elaborate, students need to learn how to pursue questions, how to clarify and evaluate purposes, how to check information for accuracy and relevance, how to uncover faulty assumptions, how to think through issues of conflict in a fair-minded way, how to follow out implications before acting, how to consider multiple conclusions to a problem, how to think through their use of concepts to ensure justifiable usage.
When "multiple intelligence" is misused in the classroom, the fundamental pitfall has been that teachers consider every domain in which intelligence can be manifested to be equally important.
If teachers are using Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences as a guide to instructional practices, they are emphasizing development of the following "intelligences" as delineated by Gardner:
Although Gardner’s theory may not be problematic in-and-of-itself, the manner in which it is embodied in the classroom often is. Certainly these, as well as many other potential “intelligences” could be identified. Yet our emphasis on any one of them in the classroom must be driven by the ultimate goals of education. In other words, if our role as educators is to teach students the intellectual skills they will need to make reasonable, rational decisions as adults, then we must emphasize development of the “intelligences” that lead to their ability to do so. For example, there is no getting around the fact that it is far more important for students to learn to evaluate their thinking, to effectively assess it, and to upgrade it when reasoning through complex issues than to pursue musical or kinesthetic intelligences. When we have provided the intellectual foundations presupposed in an educated person, we can then afford to focus on less essential, but nevertheless important, manifestations of human intelligence.
Furthermore, teachers often emphasize certain “intelligences” in the classroom based on areas of student interest. While we want learning to be enticing and even enjoyable for students wherever possible, it is often the case that the most important concepts to learn are the most difficult to learn. If we encourage students only in those domains of greatest interest to them, we may inadvertently fail to provide them with the intellectual skills that define the educated mind.
18. What does it mean to be an effective student? In other words, what does it take for students to be skilled at learning? Are gifted students more effective at learning than other students?
In the Miniature Guide on How to Study and Learn for Students, we list 18 Ideas for Becoming a Master Student. These ideas largely foster independent thinking and responsibility for one’s own learning. They are not presupposed in any students, including “gifted students.” Here are the 18 ideas:
Idea #1: Make sure you thoroughly understand the requirements of each class, how it will be taught and what will be expected of you. Ask questions about the grading policies and for advice on how best to prepare for class.
Idea # 2: Become an active learner. Be prepared to work ideas into your thinking by active reading, writing, speaking, and listening.
Idea # 3: Think of each subject you study as a form of thinking (If you are in a history class, your goal should be to think historically; in a chemistry class to think chemically; etc…)
Idea # 4: Become a questioner. Engage yourself in lectures and discussions by asking questions. If you don’t ask questions, you will probably not discover what you do and do not know.
Idea # 5: Look for interconnections. The content in every class is always a SYSTEM of interconnected ideas, never a random list of things to memorize. Don’t memorize like a parrot. Study like a detective, always relating new learning to previous learning.
Idea # 6: Think of your instructor as your coach. Think of yourself as a team member trying to practice the thinking exemplified by your instructor. For example, in an algebra class, think of yourself as going out for the algebra team and your teacher as demonstrating how to prepare for the games (tests).
Idea # 7: Think about the textbook as the thinking of the author. Your job is to think the thinking of the author. For example, role play the author frequently. Explain the main points of the text to another student, as if you were the author.
Ideal # 8: Consider class time as a time in which you PRACTICE thinking (within the subject) using the fundamental concepts and principles of the course. Don’t sit back passively, waiting for knowledge to fall into your head like rain into a rain barrel. It won’t.
Idea # 9: Relate content whenever possible to issues and problems and practical situations in your life. If you can’t connect it to your life, you don’t know it.
Idea # 10: Figure out what study and learning skills you are not good at. Practice those skills whenever possible. Recognizing and correcting your weaknesses is a strength.
Idea # 11: Frequently ask yourself: “Can I explain this to someone not in class?” (If not, then you haven’t learned it well enough.)
Idea # 12: Seek to find the key concept of the course during the first couple of class meetings. For example, in a Biology course, try explaining what biology is in your own words. Then relate that definition to each segment of the content throughout the semester. Fundamental ideas are the basis for all others.
Idea # 13: Routinely ask questions to fill in the missing pieces in your learning. Can you elaborate further on this? Can you give an example of that? If you don’t have examples, you are not connecting what you are learning to your life.
Idea # 14: Test yourself before you come to class by trying to summarize, orally or in writing, the main points of the previous class meeting. If you cannot summarize main points, you haven’t learned them.
Idea # 15: Learn to test your thinking using intellectual standards. “Am I being clear? Accurate? Precise? Relevant? Logical? Am I looking for what is most significant?”
Idea # 16: Use writing as a way to learn by writing summaries in your own words of important points from the textbook or other reading material. Make up test questions. Write out answers to your own questions.
Idea # 17: Frequently evaluate your listening. Are you actively listening for main points? Can you summarize what your instructor is saying in your own words? Can you elaborate what is meant by key terms?
Idea # 18: Frequently evaluate your reading. Are you actively reading the textbook? Are you asking questions as you read? Can you distinguish what you understand from what you don’t?
In terms of the question: Are gifted students more effective at learning than other students, on the whole I would say no. How many “gifted” students, for example, routinely engage in the intellectual practices mentioned above? Moreover, how many of them routinely use intellectual standards in their thinking? Intellectual standards are the standards be which educated persons determine the quality of reasoning. Here are some of those standards, as well as some questions implied by them:
Moreover, how many “gifted” students possess intellectual traits or dispositions? Consider the following intellectual traits, and related questions that foster their development.
Intellectual humility is knowledge of ignorance, sensitivity to what you know and what you do not know. It means being aware of your biases, prejudices, self-deceptive tendencies and the limitations of your viewpoint. Questions that foster intellectual humility include:
Intellectual courage is the disposition to question beliefs you feel strongly about. It includes questioning the beliefs of your culture and the groups to which you belong, and a willingness to express your views even when they are unpopular. Questions that foster intellectual courage include:
Intellectual empathy is awareness of the need to actively entertain views that differ from our own, especially those we strongly disagree with. It is to accurately reconstruct the viewpoints and reasoning of our opponents and to reason from premises, assumptions, and ideas other than our own. Questions that foster intellectual empathy include:
Intellectual integrity consists in holding yourself to the same intellectual standards you expect others to honor (no double standards). Questions that foster intellectual integrity include:
Intellectual perseverance is the disposition to work your way through intellectual complexities despite the frustration inherent in the task. Questions that foster intellectual perseverance include:
Confidence in reason is based on the belief that one’s own higher interests and those of humankind at large are best served by giving the freest play to reason. It means using standards of reasonability as the fundamental criteria by which to judge whether to accept or reject any belief or position. Questions that foster confidence in reason include:
Intellectual autonomy is thinking for oneself while adhering to standards of rationality. It means thinking through issues using one’s own thinking rather than uncritically accepting the viewpoints of others. Questions that foster intellectual autonomy:
16. What kind or kinds of educational reform are currently needed?
The most important area of education reform at this point in our history should be on rethinking “education” so that students learn the intellectual skills, abilities, and dispositions vital to living a productive and ethical life. Students need these skills to reason through the content in class, to interrelate important ideas within and between subjects, and apply content to life’s problems. At present, students leave our elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, colleges and graduate schools without the intellectual abilities essential to the educated person. For the most part, for example, students have not learned to:
Students are not learning what it means to reason through content, to actively bring it into their thinking in a meaningful and productive way.
This type of reform can occur only when the development of reasoning abilities and dispositions are placed at the very foundation of teacher preparation programs and therefore of schooling.
Bloom, B. (1956). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. NY: David McKay Co., Inc.
Howe, M. (1997). IQ In Question: The Truth About Intelligence. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications Inc.
Paul, R., Elder, L., Bartell, T. (1997). California Teacher Preparation for Instruction In Critical Thinking: Research Findings and Policy Recommendations. Dillon Beach, CA: The Foundation for Critical Thinking.