College Success Tip #9
Critical Thinking
 
What is critical thinking? 
In Becoming a Critical Thinker, Sherry Diestler defines a critical thinker as “someone who uses specific criteria to evaluate reasoning and make decisions.”  In other words, someone who thinks critically does not accept information at face value.  He or she approaches information with the intent to determine accuracy, validity, and logic before deciding that the information is usable.  In a democracy, people need to develop the ability to see through propaganda and think critically in order to participate in the economic and political processes as responsible citizens.
 
Why is critical thinking important? 
Thinking that is not critical is partial, uninformed, biased, distorted, or prejudiced, but critical thinking produces high quality papers, work, and lives. 
 
Examples of elements of critical thinking
In The Community College Experience, Amy Baldwin offers six critical thinking steps to solve any problem:
  1. Clearly identify the problem.
  2. Brainstorm possible solutions to the problem.
  3. Evaluate the viability of each solution.
  4. Make a list of pros and cons of each solution.
  5. Choose the solution that potentially works the best.
  6. Evaluate the solution after it is in place. 
In Becoming a Master Student, Dave Ellis provides some suggestions for becoming a critical thinker:
  1. Be willing to say, “I don’t know.”
  2. Define your terms.
  3. Practice tolerance.
  4. Understand before criticizing.
  5. Watch for hot spots (topics that provoke strong opinions and feelings).
  6. Consider the source.
  7. Seek out alternative views.
  8. Ask questions.
  9. Look for at least three answers.
  10. Lay your ideas on the table for open inquiry. 
  11. Write about it.
  12. Accept your changing perspective. 
  13. Combine perspectives.
 
Tips for critical thinking
In Becoming a Master Student, Dave Ellis reveals six common mistakes in logic:
  1. Jump to conclusions.
  2. Attack the person.
  3. Appeal to authority.
  4. Point to a false cause.
  5. Think in all-or-nothing terms.
  6. Base arguments on emotion.
Benjamin Bloom developed a theory of learning called Bloom’s Taxonomy, which identifies six levels of thinking, with Level 6 being high.  As we think at the higher levels, we are thinking critically. 
 
Level 1
Knowledge
Define, list, describe, identify, show, name, quote
Level 2
Comprehension
Explain, describe, summarize, differentiate, discuss, interpret
Level 3
Application
Illustrate, use the information, apply, demonstrate, show, solve, classify, discover
Level 4
Analysis
Breakdown, distinguish,  infer, prioritize, order, justify, classify, arrange, divide
Level 5
Synthesis
Integrate, modify, rearrange, substitute, plan, create, design, invent, incorporate,
Level 6
Evaluate
Decide, rank, test, measure, recommend, support, conclude, compare, appraise, defend
 
Internal links
Critical Thinking Courses
Note that only English 102 and 103 are accepted for the critical thinking requirement in the UC system.  The other courses listed below are accepted for the critical thinking requirement in the CSU system.
  • Communication Studies 225
  • English 102
  • English 103
  • Philosophy 106
  • Philosophy 205
  • Philosophy 230
  • Sociology 108
External links
The Foundation for Critical Thinking offers 35 dimensions of critical thought
 
Sources:
  1. The Community College Experience by Amy Baldwin (Pearson/Prentice Hall, 2005).
  2. Cornerstone: Building on Your Best, 4th Ed., by Robert M. Sherfield, Rhonda J. Montgomery, and Patricia G. Moody (Pearson/Prentice Hall, 2005).
  3. Becoming a Master Student, 10th Ed., by Dave Ellis (Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003).
  4.  Study Guides and Strategies, http://www.studygs.net/index.htm.
  5. Dartmouth’s Academic Skills Center, http://www.dartmouth.edu/~acskills/success/index.html.
  6. Critical Thinking: Concepts and Tools by Richard Paul and Linda Elder (The Foundation for Critical Thinking, 2006).