Linda Elder and Richard Paul
Universal intellectual standards are standards which must be applied
to thinking whenever one is interested in checking the quality of
reasoning about a problem, issue, or situation. To think critically
entails having command of these standards. To help students learn
them, teachers should pose questions which probe student thinking,
questions which hold students accountable for their thinking, questions
which, through consistent use by the teacher in the classroom, become
internalized by students as questions they need to ask themselves.
The ultimate goal, then,
is for these questions to become infused in the thinking of students,
forming part of their inner voice, which then guides them to better
and better reasoning. While there are a number of universal standards,
the following are the most significant:
Could you elaborate further on that point? Could you express that
point in another way? Could you give me an illustration? Could
you give me an example?
Clarity is the gateway standard. If a statement is unclear, we
cannot determine whether it is accurate or relevant. In fact,
we cannot tell anything about it because we don't yet know what
it is saying. For example, the question, "What can be done about
the education system in America?" is unclear. In order to address
the question adequately, we would need to have a clearer understanding
of what the person asking the question is considering the "problem"
to be. A clearer question might be "What can educators do to ensure
that students learn the skills and abilities which help them function
successfully on the job and in their daily decision-making?"
Is that really true? How could we check that? How could we find
out if that is true?
A statement can be clear but not accurate, as in "Most dogs are
over 300 pounds in weight."
Could you give more details? Could you be more specific?
A statement can be both clear and accurate, but not precise, as
in "Jack is overweight." (We don't know how overweight Jack is,
one pound or 500 pounds.)
How is that connected to the question? How does that bear on the
A statement can be clear, accurate, and precise, but not relevant
to the question at issue. For example, students often think that
the amount of effort they put into a course should be used in
raising their grade in a course. Often, however, the "effort"
does not measure the quality of student learning, and when
this is so, effort is irrelevant to their appropriate grade.
How does your answer address the complexities in the question?
How are you taking into account the problems in the question?
Is that dealing with the most significant factors?
A statement can be clear, accurate, precise, and relevant, but
superficial (that is, lack depth). For example, the statement
"Just say No" which is often used to discourage children and teens
fro using drugs, is clear, accurate, precise, and relevant. Nevertheless,
it lacks depth because it treats an extremely complex issue, the
pervasive problem of drug use among young people, superficially.
It fails to deal with the complexities of the issue.
Do we need to consider another point of view? Is there another
way to look at this question? What would this look like from a
conservative standpoint? What would this look like from the point
of view of...?
A line of reasoning may be clear accurate, precise, relevant,
and deep, but lack breadth (as in an argument from either the
conservative or liberal standpoint which gets deeply into an issue,
but only recognizes the insights of one side of the question.)
Does this really make sense? Does that follow from what you said?
How does that follow? But before you implied this and now you
are saying that; how can both be true?
When we think, we bring a variety of thoughts together into some
order. When the combination of thoughts are mutually supporting
and make sense in combination, the thinking is "logical." When
the combination is not mutually supporting, is contradictory in
some sense, or does not "make sense," the combination is not logical.