Educators, researchers, and the business community have long lamented that students are not learning the high level thinking and problem solving skills needed to confront our rapidly changing world and the problems facing society as a whole (Nickerson, 1994). This is despite attempts at all levels of education to deal with the sometimes elusive concepts of "critical" and "creative" thinking. So what is the answer? Should students attend special units or courses in critical and creative thinking? Can thinking skills be developed through the curriculum when there is so much content to teach? What are the implications of such approaches?
These dilemmas will be addressed in this session through exploring with participants the various meanings we attach to the terms "critical" and "creative" thinking, the relationship between critical & creative thinking and knowledge acquisition, and the implications for how such thinking can be fostered and developed at the tertiary level so that we better meet the concerns of the community.
At the heart of developing thinking lies the dispositions. Dispositions (sometimes termed "habits" or "abilities") reflect the attitudes and beliefs that are brought to the thinking task. According to writers such as Ruggiero (1988) and Oxman-Michelli (1992), certain dispositions, also referred to as a "critical spirit", facilitate and make the thinking process effective. Table 1 provides examples of different types of dispositions considered essential to effective thinking.
|From Ruggiero (1988)
Interest in sources of attitudes, beliefs and values
Eagerness to develop mental processes Willingness to make mistakes
Positive attitude toward novelty
Interest in widening experience
Passion for truth
|From Oxman-Michelli (1992)|
Self-confidence and intellectual autonomy
Curiosity and attentiveness
Enthusiasm and perseverance
Objectivity, integrity and humility
Fairmindedness, readiness to listen and consider others' points of view
Bloom and Broder as cited by Ruggiero (1988) found that students who had negative attitudes, who lacked faith in their abilities and who let personal opinion interfere with their objectivity, were poor problem solvers. Clearly, the attitudes brought to thinking tasks affect how well the tasks are tackled and completed.
These dispositions or attitudes are not merely the domain of the student: they can be shaped by the teacher and the classroom atmosphere. Oxman-Michelli (1992) suggests a number of strategies for teachers for the development of such dispositions in their students. These include:
A wide range of skills in both areas of critical and creative thinking have been identified through the literature. Examples have been collated in Table 2.
|Critical thinking||Creative thinking|
|From Ennis (1987)
Focussing on a question
Judging the credibility of a source
Observing and judging observation reports
Deducing and judging deductions
Inducing and judging inductions
Making value judgements
Defining and judging definitions
From Marzano et al (1988)
|From Lubart (1994)|
Noticing relevant new information
Comparing disparate information
Finding relevant connections and combining information
Generating multiple ideas
From Ruggiero (1988)
From De Bono (1978)
Examination of Table 2 shows the difficulties that can arise when attempting to separate these two "types" of thinking. Under the headings of both "critical" and "creative" thinking are listed similar skills. For instance "restructuring" appears similar in nature to "finding relevant connections and combining information". At other times, the two skill lists highlight differences in when to apply seemingly contradictory skills such as "judging" on the one hand, and "deferring judgement" on the other. Yet, there are still distinctive skills in each thinking area. So while there is cross-over, there are also differences and these are reflected in the strategies both teachers and students can take.
For students to learn a full range of skills, teachers need to adopt teaching techniques and strategies that promote both critical and creative thought. Table 3 outlines examples of strategies from the literature that teachers can use to develop these two types of thinking.
|Strategies to develop critical thinking||Strategies to develop creative thinking|
|From Ruggierro (1988)
Frequently pose issues to be explored
Play devil's advocate to raise awareness of the neglected side of an argument
Present common fallacies in the field and have students analyse them
Present current affairs as thinking exercises
Build thinking exercises into reading assignments
Build a journal requirement into the course
Have students debate important issues
Have students develop questions
From Paul (1992)
to probe assumptions
to probe reasons and evidence
to probe viewpoints or perspectives
to probe implications and consequences
to question the questions
|From Ruggiero (1988)|
Frequently pose problems to be solved
Encourage students to "think aloud" when they have difficulty solving problems
Involve students in the search for interesting problems for class discussion
Have students design assignments for the following semester
Build-on to argument analysis questions that require creative thought
Set exercises that encourage students to
improve or invent new systems, processes, concepts etc
From De Bono (1978)
Design and innovation problems
Examination of table 3 shows that many of these teaching strategies provide students with the opportunities to develop and practise the types of skills listed in table 2 as well as support the development of the dispositions listed in table 1. The table also shows that by focussing on both critical and creative thinking, a wide range of teaching strategies needs to be employed in order to provide students with the opportunities to develop skills in both areas.
Providing students with multiple and varied opportunities to engage with material in critical and creative ways under the guidance and support of the teacher, certainly provides fertile ground in which students can develop a wide range of skills. Students, however, can also benefit from exposure to the various strategies they could employ to help themselves successfully deal with challenging thinking tasks they are being set. Table 4 outlines a number of strategies derived from the literature that students could use to improve their critical and creative thinking abilities.
|Strategies to improve critical thinking||Strategies to improve creative thinking|
|From: Chaffee (1997)
Ask yourself key questions. Eg:
What is the evidence?
What are the arguments?
Are the evidence and arguments sound?
Use mind maps to clarify your conceptualisation
|From: Chaffee (1997)|
Ask yourself key questions. Eg:
What are the alternatives?
What are the advantages and disadvantages of each alternative?
Absorb yourself in the task
Allow time for ideas to incubate
Seize on ideas when they emerge and follow them through
Beware of the voice of judgement
Create positive voices and visualisations
From De Bono (1978)
Examination of Table 4 shows that, similar to the skills lists, while there is some cross-over between the strategies that students can use in developing their critical and creative thinking abilities, there are also strategies unique to each type, once again emphasising the need to vary opportunities to develop a wide range of skills in students.
How do the skills and strategies relate to processes? Marzano et al (1988) define processes as involving a complex set of skills used to achieve an end goal. Many of the major assignment tasks set at the tertiary level would fit such a definition - whether they require, for instance, critical review of the literature, development of a system, evaluation of a real world situation or any combination or permutation of such tasks. These involve many skills which require relevant strategies for their successful execution. And, because of their complexity, such processes themselves require strategies to deal with the complex relationships required in using the relevant skills. These strategies might include the use of specific steps, the decomposition of the task into sub-goals or the application of learning gleaned through the tackling of another similar task (Nickerson, 1994).
But is it enough to teach thinking skills separately from content? Applying critical and creative approaches to content allows students to deeply engage with the knowledge they are learning. This ability to deeply engage with knowledge results in deeper understanding (Biggs & Moore, 1993; Paul, 1992), which would need to be the aim of any tertiary course.
Unfortunately, an assumption that could be made by teaching such skills separately, is that they can be developed separately from content. Research has shown, however, that as knowledge is better understood so the ability to solve problems, apply knowledge, develop one's own arguments and find problems within the domain improves (Ericsson & Hastie, 1994; Bransford et al, 1990).
Hence, there would appear to be an interdependent, cyclical, self-improving relationship between critical and creative thinking and depth of knowledge. As one engages with material through critical and creative approaches so depth of knowledge increases and as depth of knowledge increases so the ability to evaluate and generate ideas improves. This is why both critical and creative thinking need to be incorporated across the curriculum.
Bransford, J.D. & Stein, B.S. (1993). The IDEAL problem solver. (2nd ed) New York: W.H. Freeman and Company.
Bransford, J.D.; Vye, N.; Kinzer, C.; Risko, V. (1990). Teaching thinking and content knowledge. In: B.F. Jones L. Idol (Eds), Dimensions of thinking and cognitive instruction. Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.
Chaffee, J. (1997). Thinking critically. (5th ed) Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.
De Bono, E. (1978). Teaching thinking. Middlesex, Penguin Books Ltd.
Ennis, R.H. (1987). A taxonomy of critical thinking dispositions and abilities. In: J.B. Baron & R.J. Sternberg (Eds), Teaching thinking skills: Theory and practice. New York: W. H. Freeman and Company.
Ericsson, K.A. & Hastie, R. (1994). Contemporary approaches to the study of thinking and problem solving. In: R.J. Sternberg (Ed), Thinking and problem solving. (2nd ed) San Diego: Academic Press.
Lubart, Y. (1994). Creativity. In: R.J. Sternberg (Ed), Thinking and problem solving. San Diego: Academic Press.
Marzano, R.J.; Brandt, R.S.; Hughes, C.S.; Jones, B.F.; Presseisen, B.Z.; Rankin, R.C.; Suhor, C. (1988). Dimensions of thinking: a framework for curriculum and instruction. Alexandria: The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Nickerson, R.S.(1990). Dimensions of thinking: a critique. In: B.F. Jones L. Idol (Eds), Dimensions of thinking and cognitive instruction. Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.
Nickerson, R.S. (1994). The teaching of thinking and problem solving. In R.J. Sternberg (Ed), Thinking and problem solving. (2nd ed) San Diego: Academic Press.
Oxman-Michelli (1992). Critical thinking as "critical spirit". Resource Publication Series 4 No. 7. Montclair: Montclair State College. Institute for Critical Thinking . ED 357 006
Paul, R. (1992). Critical thinking: What every person needs to survive in a rapidly changing world. (Revised 2nd ed) Santa Rosa: The Foundation for Critical Thinking.
Ruggiero, V.R. (1988). Teaching thinking across the curriculum. New York: Harper & Row Publishers.
Scriven, M. & Paul, R. (1996). Defining Critical Thinking. http://www.sonoma.edu/CThink/University/univclass/Defining.nclk [24 Jan 1999]
|Please cite as: Vardi, I. (1999). Critical and creative thinking: How can it be fostered and developed at the tertiary level? In K. Martin, N. Stanley and N. Davison (Eds), Teaching in the Disciplines/ Learning in Context, 455-461. Proceedings of the 8th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, The University of Western Australia, February 1999. Perth: UWA. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf1999/vardi.html|