What Critical Thinking Is & How It Could Be Used for EL4221

During the course of the semester, one of the constant demands of this module is your exercise of what is known as critical thinking. As some of you may have an inadequate understanding of what it is, it may be useful to go through some of its characteristics. Firstly, critical thinking does not necessarily involve criticism, or passing judgment on something that is inadequate, wrong, hypocritical, etc.  The kind if training that you may have for doing critical discourse analysis may not always be relevant to it. Another term that could be used for critical thinking is higher-level thinking, which does not create the confusion of the need to critique something, but which suffers from the vagueness of what is meant by ʻhigher-levelʼ.

What then, are the characteristics of critical thinking? It may be helpful here to make use of the categories of what is known as the cognitive domain in Benjamin Bloom's taxonomy of the three types of learning. There are several web pages dealing with Bloom's taxonomy, such as that found in Wikipedia, or the pages written by Donald Clark and Linda Dunegan. Here are the six categories, beginning with the lowest level of thinking, to the highest level:

1) Knowledge
2) Comprehension
3) Application
4) Analysis
5) Synthesis
6) Evaluation

I won't draw out the details of the above, as they have been done in the pages indicated by the links above. What is clear is that critical thinking does not involve the lowest level of thinking: knowledge, whereas the line drawn between what is and what is not critical thinking varies from scholar to scholar, or from educator to educator. To some scholars, critical thinking is limited to 4 to 6 of the above, whereas to others, it is 3 to 6 of the above, and some even include approaches to thinking at level 2. What is clear is that critical thinking is not involved in simple memory or rote work, or in merely understanding something.

To clarify matters and make the model more relevant for contemporary thinking on education, the levels of cognitive knowledge have been revised by one of Bloom's students, Lorin Anderson, who has the following categories (details are available on Dunegan's page)

1) Remembering
2) Understanding
3) Applying
4) Analyzing
5) Evaluating
6) Creating

Generally, we should draw the line of demarcation between 2 and 3: 1 and 2 for non-critical or lower-level thinking, and 3 to 6 for critical or higher-level thinking. However, the line of demarcation is not rigid, and in fact, critical thinking crucially depends on lower-level thinking: without lower-level thinking to support it, critical thinking is not only empty, but cannot exist as such. In other words, without facts and the understanding of concepts and contexts, critical thinking cannot even begin to work.

For a more specific discussion of the ways that critical thinking can be deployed for this module, take a look at Critical Thinking And Your Assessment.

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