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33rd International Conference Sessions

Join us for the World's Longest Running Annual Conference on Critical Thinking 

July 22-25, 2013 

Preconference July 20-21, 2013 




Conference focal session descriptions are found below. Click on each title in the overview section to be taken to the descriptions further down on the page. Choose the focal sessions you plan to attend when you register for the conference.  


Saturday and Sunday (July 20-21, 2013) 
(choose one of the following in-depth two-day sessions)


DAY ONE  Monday (July 22)  
(choose one of the following sessions, which runs all day following the morning key-note address) 

DAY TWO Tuesday morning (July 23) 
(choose one of the following sessions for the morning) 

DAY TWO Tuesday afternoon (July 23) 
(choose one of the following sessions for the afternoon) 

DAY THREE Wednesday (July 24) 

DAY FOUR Thursday morning (July 25) 
(choose one of the following sessions for the morning) 


All conference delegates are invited to attend …

The Bertrand Russell Distinguished Scholars Critical Thinking Conversation

This new feature of the conference highlights the work and thinking of distinguished thinkers within subjects, fields, disciplines or about specific topics or issues. 
This year's scholar is Elzabeth Loftus. All conference participants are invited to these lectures.


Dr. Elizabeth Loftus

Elizabeth Loftus is Distinguished Professor at the University of California, Irvine.  She holds faculty positions in three departments (Psychology & Social Behavior; Criminology, Law & Society; Cognitive Sciences), and in the School of Law.  Since receiving her Ph.D. in Psychology from Stanford University,  she has published twenty-two books (including the award winningEyewitness Testimony) and 500 scientific articles.  Loftus's research of the last 30 years has focused on the malleability of human memory.  She has been recognized for this research with six honorary doctorates (from universities in the U.S., Norway, the Netherlands, Israel, and Britain), and election to the National Academy of Sciences.  She is past president of the Association for Psychological Science.  Loftus has been recognized in the Review of General Psychology as one of the 100 most eminent psychologists of the 20th century.



Internalizing The Foundations of Critical Thinking...Richard Paul and Brian Barnes

This session will lay the foundation for all conference sessions and is therefore highly recommended for new conference attendees. It will introduce you to some of the most basic understandings 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 we will focus on is the elements of reasoning, or parts of thinking. These 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, logicalness, and significance. 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: relevance) information (element of reasoning) in their in thinking. Furthermore, their reasoning improves if and when they make sure that the information they are using is accurate (intellectual standard: accuracy).

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 – the virtues of fairmindedness, intellectual humility, intellectual perseverance, intellectual courage, intellectual empathy, intellectual autonomy, intellectual integrity, and confidence in reason.

Helping Students Improve Their Writing Through the Tools of Critical Thinking … Gerald Nosich

Skilled writing presupposes skilled reflection while writing. Unlike the impressionistic mind, the reflective mind seeks meaning, monitors what it writes, and draws a clear distinction between its thinking and the thinking of its audience. The reflective mind, being purposeful, adjusts writing to specific goals. Being integrated, it interrelates ideas it is writing about with ideas it already commands. Being critical, it assesses what it writes for clarity, accuracy, precision, relevance, depth, breadth, logic, significance, and fairness. Being open to new ways of thinking, it values new ideas and learns from what it writes. It engages in research whenever it is needed, and it reflects on the quality and interpretation of that research. The reflective mind improves its thinking by thinking (reflectively) about it. Likewise, it improves its writing by thinking (reflectively) about writing. It moves back and forth between writing and thinking about how it is writing. It moves forward a bit, and then loops back upon itself to check on its own operations. It rises above itself and exercises oversight. This applies to the reflective mind while writing - or while reading, listening or making decisions. This session focuses on bringing the tools of critical thinking to the writing process, and offers suggestions for fostering substantive writing in instruction.  


DAY ONE  (choose one) 

Placing a Substantive Conception of Critical Thinking at the Heart of Teaching and Learning … Rush Cosgrove and Brian Barnes

Bringing critical thinking into instruction entails understanding the concepts and principles within critical thinking and then applying those concepts throughout the curriculum. It means developing powerful strategies that emerge when we begin to understand critical thinking. In this session we will focus on strategies for engaging the intellect at potentially all levels of instruction. These strategies are powerful and useful, because each is a way to get students actively engaged in thinking about what they are trying to learn. Each represents a shift of responsibility for learning from the teacher to the student. These strategies suggest ways to get your students to do the hard work of learning.

Teaching Students to Think Within a Field Or Discipline … Gerald Nosich

A primary goal of instruction should be to help students internalize the most basic concepts in the subject and learn to think through questions in everyday life using those concepts. Critical thinking in biology is biological thinking. Critical thinking in anatomy is anatomical thinking. Critical thinking in literature is thinking the way a knowledgeable, sensitive, reasonable reader thinks about literature. A discipline is more than a body of information. It is a distinctive way (or set of ways) of looking at the world and thinking through a set of questions about it. It is systematic and has a logic of its own. In this session, participants will think through the logic of a discipline of their choosing. They will also focus on teaching the logic of their discipline so that students internalize the subject's inherent way of thinking as a life-long acquisition.

For Administrators: Understanding the Long-Term Nature of Professional Development in Critical Thinking … Linda Elder

Critical thinking, deeply understood, provides a rich set of concepts that enable us to think our way through any subject or discipline, as well as through any problem or issue. With a substantive concept of critical thinking clearly in mind, we begin to see the pressing need for a staff development program that fosters critical thinking within and across the curriculum. As we come to understand a substantive concept of critical thinking, we are able to follow out its implications in designing a professional development program. By means of it, we begin to see important implications for every part of the institution — redesigning policies; providing administrative support for critical thinking; rethinking the mission; coordinating and providing faculty workshops in critical thinking; redefining faculty as learners as well as teachers; assessing students, faculty, and the institution as a whole in terms of critical thinking abilities and traits. We realize that robust critical thinking should be the guiding force for all of our educational efforts. This session introduces the foundations of critical thinking, relates those foundations to instruction, and presents a professional development model that can provide the vehicle for deep change across the institution. We will utilize Dr. Elder's article on professional development, which has been published in TIMES HIGHER EDUCATION.

Advanced Session: Dialogue with Richard Paul – Objections and Replies  Richard Paul 

In this session, Richard Paul will lead a discussion that interweaves basic problems and issues in making sense of critical thinking theory and practice. He will deal with typical objections to critical thinking that might dovetail with any of the following:

   the problem of concept

   the problem of definition

   the problem of absolutism

   the problem of relativism

   the problem of divergent forms and manifestations of critical thinking

   the problem of content

   the problem of human nature

   the problem of divergent cultures and societies

   the problem of history

   the problem of self-critique

   the problem of egocentrism

   the problem of sociocentrism

   the problem of vested interest

   the problem of prejudice

   the problem of power

   the problem of rationality

This session will be largely guided by participant questions and is designed for returned conference attendees who have internalized the foundations of critical thinking.


DAY TWO — MORNING (choose one) 

Teaching Students Fundamental and Powerful Concepts … Gerald Nosich

Concepts are ideas we use in thinking. They enable us to group things in our experience in different categories, classes, or divisions. They are the bases for the labels we give things in our minds. They represent the mental map (and meanings) we construct of the world, the map that tells us the way the world is. Through our concepts we define situations, events, relationships, and all other objects of our experience. All our decisions depend on how we conceptualize things. All subjects or disciplines are defined by their foundational concepts. "Cell" versus "mitochondria" is an example. A cell is a much more fundamental and powerful concept in biology than is a mitochondrion. Students who achieve a deep understanding of the concept of a cell will be able to think though and gain insight into a very large number of topics in biology. It will give them a powerful entrance into thinking biologically. Not only that, but a good grasp of the concept "cell" will enable students to think critically about a range of topics they will encounter outside the course. By contrast, a student who achieves a good grasp of the concept "mitochondria" will not, thereby, gain insight into nearly as large a range of other biological topics.

When students master foundational concepts at a deep level, they are able to use them to understand and function better within the world. Can you identify the fundamental concepts in your discipline? Can you explain their role in thinking within your discipline? How can you help students take command of these concepts? These are some of the questions to be explored in this session.

Critical Thinking and the Common Core State Standards … Brian Barnes

The majority of states in the U.S. have adopted the Common Core Standards. Many, if not most, of these standards presuppose critical thinking. In this session we will begin to explore some of the important relationships between the common core standards and the concepts and principles of critical thinking. Using understandings of the elements of reasoning, intellectual standards, and intellectual traits (introduced earlier in the conference), participants will draw links between these essential understandings in critical thinking and the common core standards. Participants will continue to develop an integrated understanding of critical thinking that, when deeply internalized, will increase student achievement of the common core standards.

Helping Students Come to Terms With Their Own Self-Defeating Attitudes and Behavior … Linda Elder and Rush Cosgrove

Students do not come to us as blank slates. They come to us with an established, but still developing, worldview. This worldview has unfortunately emerged from a largely impoverished world culture that tends not to highlight problems in thinking, nor to offer substantive approaches to those problems. Most students have no sense that within each of us are self-defeating attitudes and behavior. Most students have little understanding of how these attitudes might affect their learning, and hence their long-term futures. It is therefore important for students to clearly understand these tendencies and how they can - and do - impede learning. It is important for students to see that they, like all people, are often intellectually arrogant, and that this tendency gets in the way of their learning. It is important for students to see that they, like all people, often fail to persevere through difficulties when learning complex ideas - and that this tendency also gets in the way of their learning. It is important, in short, for students to understand the general problems in thinking experienced by all humans that lead to self-defeating attitudes and behavior. Students can then use these understandings to uncover their own particular, dysfunctional patterns of thought. This session will focus on these general patterns of pathological thought and offer conceptual tools for student self-intervention.

Dialogue with Richard Paul on the Importance of Intellectual Virtues in Teaching and Learning ... Richard Paul

Critical thinking is not just a set of intellectual skills. It is a way of orienting oneself in the world, and 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, and to stand alone against the crowd. This session focuses on designing instruction that transforms the mind -instruction that fosters the development of fairmindedness, intellectual humility, intellectual perseverance, intellectual courage, intellectual empathy, intellectual autonomy, intellectual integrity, and confidence in reason. Join the dialogue on intellectual virtues with Richard Paul, Founder of the Center and Foundation for Critical Thinking. This session will largely be guided by participant questions in connection with activities for internalizing the ideas discussed. 



DAY TWO — AFTERNOON (choose one)

Using the Tools of Critical Thinking to Teach Students How to Study and Learn … Gerald Nosich

To study well and learn any subject is to learn how to think with discipline in 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 to human life. 


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 to 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 session will offer strategies for helping students begin to take learning seriously.

This session focuses on a number of instructional ideas that are based 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. These strategies are rooted in a vision of instruction implied by critical thinking, and in an analysis of the weaknesses typically found in most traditional didactic lecture/quiz/test formats of instruction. This session focuses on some basic instructional strategies that foster the development of student thinking, and strategies that require students to think actively within the concepts and principles of the subject

Emancipating the Mind Through Critical Thinking … Linda Elder

People want to be free. We want to be free to think and do as we wish. But enlightened people recognize that to free the mind is to discipline the mind, and to discipline the mind we must first comprehend it. To comprehend the mind is to understand, among other things, the intrinsic barriers to emancipatory thought. Consider, for instance, this “How-To List for Dysfunctional Living,” taken from 30 Days to Better Thinking and Better Living Through Critical Thinking by Linda Elder and Richard Paul. (As you read it, ask yourself: To what extent are these, and related habits of thinking and living, barriers to emancipating your mind?) 

  1. Surround yourself with people who think like you. Then no one will criticize you.
  2. Don't question your relationships. You then can avoid dealing with problems within them
  3. If critiqued by a friend or lover, look sad and dejected and say, "I thought you were my friend!" or "I thought you loved me!"
  4. When you do something unreasonable, always be ready with an excuse. Then you won't have to take responsibility. If you can't think of an excuse, look sorry and say, "I can't help how I am!"
  5. Focus on the negative side of life. Then you can make yourself miserable and blame it on others. 
  6. Blame others for your mistakes. Then you won't have to feel responsible for your mistakes nor will you have to do anything about them. 
  7. Verbally attack those who criticize you. Then you don't have to bother listening to what they say.
  8. Go along with the groups you are in. Then you won't have to figure out anything for yourself. 
  9. Act out when you don't get what you want. If questioned, look indignant and say, "I'm just an emotional person. At least I don't keep my feelings bottled up!"
  10. Focus on getting what you want. If questioned, say, "If I don't look out for number one, who will?"


All these ways of thinking stand as barriers to emancipating the mind. All come ultimately, from native egocentric and sociocentric tendencies. All people engage in these sorts of dysfunctional, imprisoning habits of thought. In this session we will consider these tendencies to freeing the mind and reaching our potential.

How to Prove You are Fostering Critical Thinking in Your Instruction: Designing Your Own Research Project … Rush Cosgrove

Participants will explore the concept of qualitative educational research, and will design an empirical study given their own unique educational contexts and their own unique objectives and perspectives. This will include a focused consideration of specific methodological tools (e.g. "interviews," "video recordings of classroom instruction and student interaction," "analysis of student work") and research strategies (e.g. "supportive research stance" and "triangulation of data collection methods") essential to effectively documenting the teaching and learning of critical thinking.  This session will launch the twin empirical investigations, currently titled the "One Year" and “One Semester" research projects. In these projects, Foundation for Critical Thinking scholars will support the efforts of teachers and researchers (at all levels and across the curriculum) in pursuing, again, from a research perspective, potential answers to the question "What can an enthusiastic and disciplined teacher do (in one year or one semester) to improve students’ critical thinking abilities and dispositions in contextually relevant ways?"

From the Trenches: Classroom Strategies for Equipping Students to Think Critically … Laura Ramey and Gary Meegan

Each day, students should use simple but powerful tools to challenge their thinking and deepen their understandings. In addition, the Common Core State Standards rely on critical thinking approaches to literacy. This session will offer concrete strategies and activities that can be used right away in the classroom. Included will be ways to approach reading, questioning, discussion, and using the essential questions of the course. The Elements of Thought, Intellectual Standards, and Intellectual Traits will be the touchstones for the session. Rubrics and PowerPoints will be provided so that participants can begin using the strategies on the first day of class. This session focuses on how two high school teachers who have been using the Paulian Approach to critical thinking bring it into the classroom on a typical day. While the workshop focuses on high school, the strategies can be modified for any grade level.


Concurrent sessions - TBA

If you would like to send a proposal for a concurrent session, please contact Foundation for Critical Thinking Fellow, Rush Cosgrove, at

Concurrent sessions are one hour in length. Most sessions are conducted by faculty and administrators who have been working with critical thinking concepts and principles for several years by bringing critical thinking into individual classrooms or across the curriculum.

Also, plan now to attend the Bertrand Russell Distinguished Scholars Conversation with Dr. Elizabeth Loftus. More on this presently…


DAY FOUR — MORNING (choose one) 

Fostering Critical Thinking Through Close ReadingRush Cosgrove

Educated persons are skilled at, and routinely engage in, close reading. They do not read blindly, but purposely. They have an agenda, goal, or objective. Their purpose, together with the nature of what they are reading, determines how they read. They read differently in different situations for different purposes. Of course, reading has a nearly universal purpose: to figure out what an author has to say on a given subject.

When we read, we translate words into meanings. The author has previously translated ideas and experiences into words. We must take those same words and re-translate them into the author’s original meaning using our own ideas and experiences as aids. Accurately translating words into intended meanings is an analytic, evaluative, and creative set of acts. Unfortunately, few students are skilled at this translation. Few are able to accurately mirror the meaning the author intended. They project their own meanings into a text. They unintentionally distort or violate the original meaning of the authors they read.

Reading, then, is a form of intellectual work. And intellectual work requires willingness to persevere through difficulties. But perhaps even more important, intellectual work requires understanding what such work entails. In this session you will be introduced to five levels of close reading and will work through one or two of them closely (as “students”).

Designing Instruction So That Students Learn to Think Things ThroughGerald Nosich

Students learn content within any subject only to the extent that they learn to think through the subject using their own thinking. But they can’t just use their own thinking. They have to use skilled, disciplined, reasonable, rational thinking - in other words, critical thinking. To do this, they need consistent practice over time in taking important ideas and following out the implications of those ideas, in integrating ideas, and in questioning them when it makes sense to. They need consistent practice in applying intellectual standards to thought as they reason through problems and issues within academic disciplines. They need to start with essential intellectual standards, and to apply those over and over again to problems and issues as they think through content. In short, they can’t just learn the theory of critical thinking in an abstract way. Rather, they need to learn the theory in relation to practice in applying it (that is, applying it to learning and ultimately to every domain of human life). This session focuses on taking the foundational theory of critical thinking and helping students internalize it through practice in thinking through content.

Reaching for Self-Command and Self-Actualization Through Critical ThinkingLinda Elder

Most faculty tend to think of critical thinking in connection with their academic disciplines or professions. But if we are to create fairminded critical societies, our focus on critical thinking should - perhaps most importantly - lead to self-discipline and self-command in life generally. When we take our thinking seriously in all domains of our lives, over many years of committed practice, we should experience what might be termed self-actualization. In this session we will first consider the terms “self-command,” “self-actualization,” and “enlightenment” through a critical thinking lens. We will briefly consider the intrinsic barriers to thought that stand in the way of our achieving self-actualization. We will consider the tools we can use, from our understanding of critical thinking, to intervene in our thought when it is neurotic or otherwise dysfunctional.  We will consider the stages of critical thinking and how they might be used as conceptual tools for self-development. We will draw on the thinking and work of Albert Ellis (Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy) and illuminate some of its important connections with critical thinking. We will come away with deep, powerful ideas that can transform our thought and hence our lives... as long we are committed to applying these ideas systematically to how we live.

Dialogue With Richard Paul on the Possibility of Cultivating Fairminded Critical SocietiesRichard Paul and Brian Barnes

The critical habit of thought, if usual in society, will pervade all its mores, because it is a way of taking up the problems of life. Men educated in it cannot be stampeded by stump orators ... They are slow to believe. They can hold things as possible or probable in all degrees, without certainty and without pain. They can wait for evidence and weigh evidence, uninfluenced by the emphasis or confidence with which assertions are made on one side or the other. They can resist appeals to their dearest prejudices and all kinds of cajolery. Education in the critical faculty is the only education of which it can be truly said that it makes good citizens. 

             - William Graham Sumner, Folkways, 1906

It is becoming increasingly clear that the survival and well being of humans largely depends on our ability to work together successfully and productively, to reach out to one another, and to help one another. Yet, problems of nationalism and ethnocentrism are pervasive across the world. People are raised to see their country, or their group, as better than other countries or groups. They tend to favor the groups to which they belong. This is a natural tendency of the human mind. And it is a tendency fostered within most, if not all, cultures across the world. If we are to create a world that advances justice for the vast majority of people across the globe, we must become citizens of the world. We must denounce nationalism and ethnocentrism. We must think within a global, rather than a national, view. We must take a long-term perspective. We must begin to relegate the status of any given country, including our own, to that of one of many: no more worthy, no more needy, no more deserving of the world’s resources than any other on the planet. We must see the lives of people in other countries as no less precious than the lives of people in our own country. We must oppose the pursuit of narrow selfish or group interests. Integrity and justice must become more important to us than national advantage and power. This session will focus on these essential ingredients of a critical society and briefly explore the possibilities for the creation of such a society in the future. The session content will be largely guided by participant questions