What Is Critical Thinking - And How Do We Teach It?
- Tuesday, February 02, 2010
Some children may question you at this point, asking for verification that what they are thinking is correct. Be open to their questions! They are working through the process of understanding a new concept and are trying to make sure they understand it correctly; their questions indicate that the process is working just like the noise from your coffee maker lets you know that your coffee is being perked. Questions are a central part of critical thinking. If a child is not allowed to ask questions, the habit of critical thinking can be stifled, and he may learn and memorize information incorrectly, which leads to faulty conclusions.
At this point, the child has gained a basic understanding of the concept and sometimes has memorized it, but he is not thinking yet, and he certainly is not practicing critical thinking. The child may be able to recite information and even use that information in the future, but the child is not fully aware of the concept yet and has not reached a final, logical conclusion. This is where the phrase "jumped to the wrong conclusion" comes from. The child has reached this point but stops and doesn't complete the final steps needed in order to formulate a logical, well-rounded conclusion. Instead, his conclusion is faulty or falls apart under questioning.
4. The mind analyzes the information. The child counts 2 apples, counts 2 more apples, and concludes that there are 4 apples. He may be examining, breaking down, inspecting, investigating, refining, exploring, reasoning, and more before he sees that 2 + 2 = 4. He is analyzing this information from all sides and angles. Mentally he begins to comprehend and memorize the information. It now becomes fact and makes logical sense.
5. The mind synthesizes the information. To synthesize is to use. Your body uses food and water to synthesize what the body needs: energy and building material. With critical thinking, the child will use the concept and information in a logical way. This is crucial because the child is demonstrating that he understands the concept fully.
Now take the child beyond the first example, that two apples plus two apples equals four apples. Test the child and see if he understands that two oranges plus two bananas equals four fruits. Two boys and two girls equals four children. At this step, the child understands the information and can use it in a logical and proper manner.
This is also where the famous "why" question comes in. If your child can explain why 2 + 2 = 4, he has mastered this area. Your questions will reveal if the child truly understands and is thinking logically. These questions—why, where, how, when, and what—allow the child to pull all the information together and head toward a final evaluation and a logical conclusion—one he can fully explain and defend with the use of facts and unbiased logical thought processing. Occasionally this step goes hand in hand with the applying and/or analyzing steps.
6. The mind evaluates the concept and information and then comes to a conclusion. The child has come full circle. Presented with information, the child carefully evaluated the information and reached a conclusion. The child understands that 2 + 2 will always result in a total of 4, regardless of what kinds of similar items are being counted. The child would be able to defend the conclusion that 2 + 2 = 4.
A Classic Illustration
A classic working example everyone can relate to can be found in the stories about Sherlock Holmes—the epitome of critical thought in action. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, in the introductory story about Sherlock Holmes, A Study in Scarlet, gives the perfect example of critical thinking when Sherlock Holmes first meets Dr. Watson. For those who are unaware of Doyle's classic tales, Dr. Watson and Sherlock Holmes meet and Holmes suddenly states (he does not ask, but rather states as a conclusion) that Dr. Watson has been in Afghanistan.
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