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Session Descriptions: 2023 Critical Thinking Academy

Session Descriptions

for the 2023 Critical Thinking Academy

October 13-15, 2023

Compton Gardens & Arboretum
Northwest Arkansas
312 N. Main Street
Bentonville, AR 72712

Session Options

Click Titles for Descriptions

Day 3: October 15th

Session Descriptions for Days 1 & 2

Placing Critical Thinking at the Heart of Teaching and Learning: Redesigning Instruction Through the Foundations of Critical Thinking . . . Dr. Gerald Nosich

This session will focus on the fundamentals of critical thinking. It will lay the foundation for teaching critical thinking through your subject(s), and will introduce you to the essential conceptual sets in critical thinking — namely, how to analyze thinking, how to assess it, and how to develop and foster intellectual virtues or dispositions.

One conceptual set that we will focus on is the elements of reasoning , or parts of thinking . The elements or parts of reasoning are those essential dimensions of reasoning that are present whenever and wherever reasoning occurs — independent of whether we are reasoning well or poorly. Working together, these elements shape reasoning and provide a general logic to the use of thought. They are presupposed in every subject, discipline, and domain of human thought.

A second conceptual set we will focus on is universal intellectual standards . One of the fundamentals of critical thinking is the ability to assess reasoning. To be skilled at assessment requires that we consistently take apart thinking and examine its parts with respect to standards of quality. We do this using criteria based on clarity, accuracy, precision, relevance, depth, breadth, logicality, and significance, among others. Critical thinkers recognize that whenever they are reasoning, they reason to some purpose (element of reasoning); implicit goals are built into their thought processes. But their reasoning is improved when they are clear (intellectual standard) about that purpose or goal. Similarly, to reason well, they need to know that, consciously or unconsciously, they are using relevant (intellectual standard) information (element of reasoning) in their in thinking. Furthermore, their reasoning improves if they ensure that the information they are using is accurate (intellectual standard).

A third conceptual set in critical thinking is intellectual virtues or traits. Critical thinking does not entail merely intellectual skills; it is a way of orienting oneself in the world. It is a way of approaching problems that differs significantly from that which is typical in human life. People may have critical thinking skills and abilities, and yet still be unable to enter viewpoints with which they disagree. They may have critical thinking abilities, and yet still be unable to analyze the beliefs that guide their behavior. They may have critical thinking abilities, and yet be unable to distinguish between what they know and what they don’t know, to persevere through difficult problems and issues, to think fairmindedly, to stand alone against the crowd. Thus, in developing as a thinker and fostering critical thinking abilities in others, it is important to develop intellectual virtues — virtues such as fairmindedness, intellectual humility, intellectual perseverance, intellectual courage, intellectual empathy, intellectual autonomy, intellectual integrity, and confidence in reason.

A process will be modeled throughout each day that will exemplify the essential ingredients of teaching for ownership: modeling thinking, requiring thinking, assessing thinking.

How Critical Thinking Provides the Tools for Skilled Reasoning Within Business, Government, and all Levels of Administration . . . Dr. Brian Barnes

The problems we increasingly face at all levels of society require a radically different form of thinking: thinking that is more complex, more adaptable, and more sensitive to divergent points of view. The world in which we now live demands that we continually relearn, that we routinely rethink our decisions, and that we regularly reevaluate the way we work and live. In short, the world we now face is one in which the power of the mind to command itself, to regularly engage in competent analysis, will increasingly determine the quality of our work, the quality of our lives, and perhaps our very survival.

Through this session you will learn how to apply explicit tools of critical thinking to better analyze problems and decisions, as well as how to reason through complex questions. To analyze your own thinking, you must be able to take it apart and scrutinize how you are using each element. To analyze others’ reasoning, you must be able to scrutinize it in the same way. When you clearly understand the components of thought (or elements of reasoning), and begin to use them explicitly in your thinking on a daily basis, the quality of your work significantly improves.

This session will help leaders in business, government, and education:

  • internalize the elements of reasoning essential to skilled analysis;

  • use analytic thinking as a tool for thinking deeply about the questions, issues, and challenges you face in your work.

  • internalize standards of criticality commonly used by skilled reasoners.

  • understand the barriers to critical reasoning that pervade professional life and impede skilled decision-making.

  • cultivate the intellectual character traits that are the hallmark of the intelligent leader.

Advanced Seminar for Returning Attendees . . . Dr. Linda Elder

Participants who have attended our conferences or academies in the past may sign up for this advanced seminar, based on the Oxford Tutorial Approach ( see our description and modification of this approach here ). In this seminar you will read, write, and discuss your way through deeper understandings in critical thinking. We will focus on the following topics.

  • Going beyond critical thinking skills: how can you help students develop intellectual character?

  • Why are the barriers to critical thinking — namely egocentric and sociocentric thought — so important to a rich conception of critical thinking?

  • Instructional design based in the principles of critical thinking: going deeper.

  • Appreciating classic ideas that illuminate and reinforce your understanding of critical thinking.

  • Exploring your deeper questions.


Our advanced group will join the other registrants for a few sessions and activities throughout the three days. This helps everyone develop at a higher level during the time we are together, and it makes for more varied discussions.


Session Descriptions for Day 3

Deep and Surface Learning: Why Students Get Trapped on the Surface; How to Facilitate Deeper Learning Through the Tools of Critical Thinking . . . Dr. Brian Barnes

In this session, we will focus on the differences between students whose approach to learning is “deep” and those whose approach is “on the surface.” We will emphasize ways in which we can help students see the difference between the two as they move increasingly toward “deep” learning of content, and we will explore how to leverage the tools of critical thinking that are necessary in this process.

To study well and learn any subject is to learn how to think with discipline within that subject. It is to learn to think within its logic, to:

  • raise vital questions and problems within it, formulating them clearly and precisely.
  • gather and assess information, using ideas to interpret that information insightfully.
  • come to well-reasoned conclusions and solutions, testing them against relevant criteria and standards.
  • adopt the point of view of the discipline, recognizing and assessing, as need be, its assumptions, implications, and practical consequences.
  • communicate effectively with others using the language of the discipline and that of educated public discourse.
  • relate what one is learning in the subject to other subjects, and to what is significant in human life.

When we take a deep approach to teaching and learning, we understand the relationship between content and thinking; we realize that all subjects and disciplines have a fundamental logic defined by the structures of thought embedded in them. Therefore, to lay bare a subject’s most fundamental logic, we encourage students to ask, and reason through, these questions:

  • What is the main purpose or goal of studying this subject?
  • What are people in this field trying to accomplish?
  • What kinds of questions do they ask? What kinds of problems do they try to solve?
  • What sorts of information or data do they gather?
  • What types of inferences or judgments do they typically make? (Judgments about…)
  • How do they go about gathering information in ways that are distinctive to this field?
  • What are the most basic ideas, concepts, or theories in this field?
  • What do professionals in this field take for granted or assume?
  • How should studying this field affect my view of the world?
  • What viewpoint is fostered in this field?
  • What implications follow from studying this discipline? How are the products of this field used in everyday life?

These questions can be contextualized for any class day, any chapter in a textbook, and any dimension of study. For example, on any given day, students should be encouraged to ask one or more of the following questions:

  • What is our main purpose or goal today? What are we trying to accomplish?
  • What kinds of questions are we asking? What kinds of problems are we trying to solve? How does this problem relate to everyday life?
  • What sort of information or data do we need? How can we get that information?
  • What is the most basic idea, concept, or theory we need to understand to solve the problem we are most immediately posing?
  • From what point of view should we look at this problem?
  • What can we safely assume as we reason through this problem?
  • Should we call into question any of the inferences that have been made?
  • What are the implications of what we are studying?

To become a skilled learner is to become a self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinker who has given assent to rigorous standards of thought and mindful command of their use. Skilled learning of a discipline requires that one respect the power of it, as well as its, and one’s own, historical and human limitations. This workshop will offer strategies for helping students begin to take learning seriously — using reading, writing, discussions, and feedback as primary vehicles. It focuses on the idea that substantive teaching and learning can occur only when students take ownership of the most basic principles and concepts of the subject

Socratic Questioning Through Critical Thinking . . . Dr. Gerald Nosich

Socratic questioning encompasses a disciplined and systematic approach to questioning based on tools of criticality. It helps explore, develop, evaluate, analyze, and come to terms with our thinking. It is invaluable in any aspect of life, and it forms a key part of being a high-functioning teacher, student, professional, or government official. It involves the process of asking and addressing the questions that are essential in both our personal and professional lives.

In Socratic questioning we explore complex ideas and issues, evaluate our assumptions, elucidate concepts and ideas, distinguish between what we know and what we only thought we knew, exercise intellectual humility and intellectual perseverance, and follow out the implications and consequences of our own thinking and the thinking of others.

Participants in these sessions will engage in the active practice of Socratic questioning, internalizing its methods as well as the critical thinking concepts and processes that lie at the heart of it. This session is for those educators, administrators, business and government trainers, and military instructors who value critical thinking and the art of intelligent, disciplined questioning.

Advanced Seminar for Returning Attendees Continues . . . Dr. Linda Elder

Those registered for the advanced session will continue it on day three. The advanced seminar will join the Socratic Questioning session in the first part of the day, and will then reconvene in the advanced group for the remainder of our time together.