Strategies To Develop Critical Thinking Matrix

Edward de Bono

Of one thing we can be sure: The quality of our life will be determined by the quality of our thinking.


The Keys to Becoming a Critical Thinker

Each of us tends to perceive and understand the problems, events, and circumstances of our lives somewhat differently. In fact, we believe that our understanding of reality is built upon the foundations of our perceptions. This is however only one half of the picture.

Our perception of reality is actually built upon the foundations of our filtering mechanisms, which tend to interpret how we perceive the problems, events, and circumstances of our lives as a result of the thoughts, beliefs, habitual behaviors and emotions we tend to cultivate on a daily basis.

Becoming an outstanding critical thinker has more to do with a state-of-mind rather than a specific set of tools, techniques or strategies you have at your disposal. It is this state-of-mind that will help you to overcome the obstacles and challenges you face on a daily basis. Moreover, it is exactly this state-of-mind that will help you pierce through the veil of filters coloring your understanding of reality. As a result, you will be better prepared to deal with the problems, challenges, and obstacles that are impeding your progress as you make your way towards the attainment of your goals and objectives.

Our discussion today will delve into the mind of an outstanding critical thinker. We will first break down the essential qualities of critical thinking, after which we will delve into the critical thinking process and analyze the different types of perspectives that critical thinkers adopt into their everyday thinking routine. And finally, we will explore a variety of questions that are essential to a critical thinker’s habitual thought process as they work their way through a problem.

This article post is part of the Effective Thinking series of IQ Matrix maps that are designed to help you successfully deal with the problems and challenges confronting your reality. Topics within this series include:

• Part 1:Strategic Questions
• Part 2:Creative Thinking
• Part 3:Problem Solving
• Part 4:Critical Thinking
• Part 5:Six Thinking Hats


A Critical Thinker’s Indispensable Traits

Becoming an outstanding critical thinker requires the cultivation of a number of key traits and qualities that will help instill a specific set of habitual thoughts and patterns of behavior that are essential when working through life’s daily problems.

Definition of Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is the process of critically judging the validity of information while using a specific set of criteria that help you to better understand your outcomes, thereby enabling you to make better and more educated decisions about the problems confronting your reality.

The better critical thinker you become, the more effective your decisions will become, and the more likely you are to achieve your goals and objectives.

Advantages of Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is an essential habitual thought process that is imperative to cultivate and grow on a daily basis. Without it, we will struggle to make sense of reality. However, with it, we will open new doors of understanding about the events and circumstances of our lives.

Here is a break down of the advantages of critical thought:

Expands Perspective and Possibilities

Critical thinking allows us to see things from unique perspectives that under normal circumstances we might not have been aware of.

By learning to ask the right kinds of questions in order to break down each angle and avenue for new answers, we expand the possibilities of the reality we find ourselves in. With this unique outlook, we are better able to reach new solutions and find the answers that will help us to overcome our problems and challenges.

Identifies Hidden Facts and Assumptions

Many events and circumstances are riddled with hidden facts that we do not recognize and therefore we tend to make assumptions and uneducated guesses.

By learning to ask the right kinds of critical questions, you will unveil that which is hidden from view. You will, therefore, have a greater array of information to work with in order to reach effective conclusions about the circumstances confronting your reality.

Builds Confidence, Knowledge, and Understanding

Asking the right kinds of critical questions helps us to gain new knowledge, perspective, and understanding about the state of our current life circumstances. As a result of acquiring this knowledge, we gain the confidence we need to overcome the obstacles standing in our way.

Helps with Problem Solving and Creativity

Effective critical thinking goes hand-in-hand with problem solving and creativity.

When you think critically about a problem, you essentially open the floodgates to new insights, encouraging deeper and more creative thought about your circumstances and predicament.

Each of these three methods will help you gain perspective about your life, and will lead you to the answers you have been searching for.


The Mindset of a Critical Thinker

An outstanding critical thinker’s mindset may seem complex at first, and somewhat difficult to understand. Yet, their habitual thought process is built upon simple patterns of thinking that piece information together from a detached and unemotional perspective.

An outstanding critical thinker sees everything as part of an all-encompassing canvas that needs to be understood in its entirety before all the answers can be revealed. It is these insights that allow them to make effective decisions that further help them overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles confronting their reality.

Ability to Distinguish Between Pieces of Information

An outstanding critical thinker has the ability to distinguish between different chunks or pieces of information that appear to be very similar on the surface.

They understand that if they make quick judgments or assumptions about information, that they may misinterpret their circumstances. As a result, they always attempt to separate distinguishing fragments of conflicting pieces of information in order to gain the widest perspective of the events and circumstances confronting their reality.

They consciously and consistently distinguish facts from opinions, causes from effects, and ideas from assumptions. These distinguishing characteristics allow them to better understand the world from a completely unbiased and reflective perspective.

Ability to Identify Patterns and Connections

When we take information in through our senses, we naturally tend to categorize and segregate it accordingly in a way that will promote a greater sense of understanding and awareness. We then categorically try and make sense of this information based on our understanding of the patterns evident within it.

An outstanding critical thinker will tend to identify a greater array of patterns within a piece of information when compared to the rest of the population. As a result, they are better able to make the necessary connections and associations with existing memories, which helps them to gather insights that others are simply not aware of. This is, in fact, a primary quality that separates a genius from everybody else.

Ability to Analyze Information

An outstanding critical thinker always thinks about information from an analytic perspective. They are constantly questioning, ordering and comparing different pieces of information, which helps trigger new insights and understandings that enable them to find suitable answers to the most difficult challenges.


Characteristics of a Critical Thinker

An outstanding critical thinker has a set of character traits that are essential for effective and efficient thought. These traits help them to think more proficiently about the problems they are confronted with. As a result, they are able to gather unexpected insights and understandings that help improve their decision-making abilities.

Open Minded

An outstanding critical thinker is always open-minded to all possibilities, interpretations, and perspectives. They understand that unless they keep an open mind at all times, that they may essentially miss important cues and pieces of information that will provide them with new insights and understandings to successfully overcome the problems confronting their reality.

Has Flexibility of Thought

An outstanding critical thinker understands that a flexible and fluid thought process is required at all times in order to successfully gain new insights and perspectives about events and circumstances.

They are fully aware that there are always a variety of ways to look at a situation, and that there are an endless amount of possibilities and perspectives available to them at any one moment in time. They, therefore, maintain their flexible nature and change course with their thinking, decision making, and actions whenever an opportunity presents itself to move them forward in a more proficient way.


The Vocabulary of a Critical Thinker

An outstanding critical thinker’s vocabulary is focused on breaking down the problems and circumstances from a multitude of angles and perspectives. Their words help bring clarity and understanding to situations that at first may seem foggy and misdirected.

The following is a list of words that outstanding critical thinkers use to formulate questions to the problems confronting their reality:

Meaning, Reasons, Example, Prejudice, Evidence, Reliability, Viewpoint, Credibility, Explanation, Consequences, Assumptions,and Relevance.

Each of these words can be formulated into insightful and thought-provoking questions that will help you to break down any problem or situation from a critical perspective.


Critical Thinking Process for Problem Solving

The critical thinking process for problem-solving will help you to gain a wider perspective of the events and circumstances of your life. These insights will stimulate new ideas that will help you to find solutions that would not have been possible when using standard patterns of thinking.

As you progress through this section you will discover a simple step-by-step process of critical thought that will improve your ability to overcome the obstacles and challenges confronting your reality in the most efficient and effective way. You will also be presented with some key insights and perspectives of the critical thinking process that will become indispensable to your growth as a critical thinker.


Steps for Effective Critical Thinking

The following is one of several methods of critical thought that will help you to break down your problems most effectively.

As you follow these steps, it is important to reflect back on the critical thinking traits we discussed above. This is relevant because without these traits you will struggle to establish the patterns of thinking that are required to successfully work your way through this process.

Knowledge

Your first step is to tune-in to your past memories, knowledge, and understanding of this problem or a similar challenge you previously experienced. Recall how you dealt with this circumstance — identifying the exact approach you took. You are essentially trying to bring forth useful insights and experiences from your past into the present moment.

Here are some questions to get you started:

What past experiences could be useful with assisting me here?

What could I use from my past that would effectively help me here?

How is this relevant to my current circumstances and problem?

Why did these tactics work for me in the past?

Who helped me in the past, and how can they assist me in the present?

Why is all this important? And how can capitalize on it?

Comprehension

Your goal here is to demonstrate your understanding of your current problem or predicament.

You must gather thorough objective insights about the events and circumstances that are manifesting within your reality. This is best achieved through a process of organizing, comparing, translating and interpreting your predicament from a variety of perspectives. This is in fact where the outstanding critical thinker distinguishes between facts and opinions, between causes and effects, and between ideas and assumptions.

Here are some questions to get you started:

What is really going on here?

How could I look at this problem from a variety of different perspectives?

How does this problem compare with my past experience and understanding?

Application

Your goal here is to take a look at hypothetical solutions to your problem. This is best achieved through the process of applying your acquired knowledge and by using the insights you gained from the previous two steps in a unique way.

We discuss many of these strategies throughout the creative thinking and problem-solving process. If you haven’t done so already, then have a read through them to further your understanding of this step.

Before proceeding to the questions, it is important to clarify that the key here is to only flex your understanding about the potential solutions that may be possible. It’s all about possibilities, and not so much about probabilities. Which is why you must keep a flexible approach and gain as clear of a perspective about your circumstances as is possible.

Here are some questions to get you started:

What if…?

How would I best use…?

What examples, techniques, objects and tools can I find that could further assist me here?

What approach could I use that would expand the possibilities here?

What would result if I did…?

Analysis

Now that you have loosened your mind through the process of formulating hypothetical solutions, you are now free to enter the examination stage, where you break the information and knowledge you have gathered into chunks, that will help you to reach effective explanations for the motives or causes of this problem. By fully understanding the causes, you will be better prepared to critically examine the concrete solutions within the synthesis stage.

This is the moment where the outstanding critical thinker analyzes all the information they have collected through a means of comparing, ordering and via intensive questioning tactics.

Here are some questions to get you started:

How is this related to…?

What is the relationship between…?

What distinctions can I make between…?

What are the possible causes that triggered this problem in the first place?

What possible conclusions can be drawn from this?

What evidence can I find to back up these conclusions?

What other ideas can justify this?

What new possibilities does this bring to mind?

Synthesis

Now that you have a rough idea of the potential solutions and have pinpointed the causes that led to the formation of this problem, you are finally ready to synthesize and compile all this information in a way that will help you gain unique insights into the potential solutions to your problem.

This is where the outstanding critical thinker begins their search for patterns and connections between pieces of information — helping them to reach new insights and answers that may not have been evident before.

Here are some questions to get you started:

What possible changes could I make to solve this effectively?

How would I potentially improve…?

What would happen if…?

How could I potentially change…?

What could be done to minimize this problem?

Suppose I could… What would I do?

What could I construct that would change…?

What is the best potential solution for this problem?

How would I test the potential consequences of these outcomes?

Evaluation

Within the final stage of this critical thinking process, you must be prepared to defend and test the validity of the solutions you brought forward throughout the synthesis stage.

Spend time developing a set of criteria that you will use to evaluate the potential solutions to your problem. Without this criteria, you will struggle to find the answers you are after.

Here are some questions to get you started:

How could I prove or disprove the advantages of choosing this method to overcome my problem?

How could I evaluate this more thoroughly? What new insights could I gain?

How could I be certain of the potential outcomes?

How can I justify that this is the ideal and correct solution? How could I argue against this?

What solution would I choose if…?


Critical Thinking Perspectives

An outstanding critical thinker perceives the world from a vastly different perspective than the average person. They naturally see things that others don’t because they are not afraid to ask the difficult questions that will help to open their mind and expand their habitual processes of thinking. As a result, they gain better insights and are therefore able to reach more effective decisions quickly.

The following is a list of methods that critical thinkers use to analyze the problems they are confronted with. Each step of this analysis process allows them to dig ever deeper into the underlying factors of a problem, and thusly enables them to gain a wider perspective of the events and circumstances.

Facts vs. Opinion Analysis

An outstanding critical thinker understands and immediately picks up on the differences between facts and opinions.

They realize that opinions are based on feelings, suggestions and future predictions. On the other hand, facts are built upon evidence, past events and upon variables that can easily be proven and measured.

They fully realize that the best way to work through their problems is to base their understanding upon concrete facts that will help them reach effective solutions to their circumstances.

  • Fact-based words: “Has… Was… Is…”
  • Opinion based words: “Could… Should… Might… Possibly… Potentially…”

Definitive vs. Indefinitive Analysis

An outstanding critical thinker takes time to analyze each and every circumstance from a definitive and indefinite perspective.

They understand that they must be very careful not to jump to any rushed conclusions or make unnecessary assumptions about the events and circumstances they are experiencing. Yet at the same time, they fully realize the importance of bringing forth all the possible assumptions that could be made when dealing with this particular problem. As a result, this conscious assumption awareness leads them to the answers they are searching for.

Here are some questions that will help you to break through the assumptions that may be hindering your understanding of your problems:

What can I directly observe?

What could potentially be misinterpreted here?

What is another explanation for this?

Reliable vs. Unreliable Analysis

An outstanding critical thinker takes time to judge whether or not a certain perspective or piece of information is reliable or unreliable. They fully understand that if they are unable to identify the reliability of something, that this could throw them off the beaten track, thereby hindering their ability to overcome their problems.

Here are some questions that will help you break down the reliability of the perspectives you have taken:

Can this perspective be justified?

Where is the evidence for this?

What is it about this that doesn’t quite compute?

Relevant vs. Irrelevant Analysis

An outstanding critical thinker does not waste their time on irrelevant perspectives or pieces of information. They fully know that focusing on irrelevant information and perspectives will lead them to a dead-end that could essentially exacerbate their problems even further. As a result, they zero-in on the most relevant information, perspectives and solutions that will help them to successfully overcome the obstacles and challenges standing in their way.

Here are some questions that will help you to identify the relevance and irrelevance of the perspectives you have taken:

Is this really relevant to the outcome I seek to attain?

Is this really relevant to the solutions I hope to realize?

What is most relevant to my outcome, and what should I focus my attention on?

What is not relevant to my outcome at all?


Critical Thinker’s Questioning Tactics

Outstanding critical thinking rests upon the quality of questions we tend to ask ourselves on a daily basis.

Our problems have an amazing and all-encompassing power when we fail to control and understand their fickle ways. However, through the process of asking effective critical questions, we gain new insights that open the doors to a greater sense of control, helping us reach better solutions to our problematic circumstances.

Within this section, we will focus on a simple questioning process that will force you to think more critically about the problems and circumstances in your life.

Seek Clarification

Whenever first confronted with a problem it is paramount that you immediately seek to clarify what exactly is going on from a variety of different angles and perspectives.

Your goal is to immediately question yourself and others about the problem, identifying the potential causes, reasons, meanings and possible solutions that need to be pieced together.

Here are some questions you should ask yourself or ask others about the problem:

What do you mean when you say…?

Why do you say that?

Could you give me an example of why this is the case?

Can you provide reasons for your perspective and the stance you have taken?

Could you explain that further?

What other possible factors could have triggered this problem?

What else could this mean?

Why is this important?

Can you restate that another way?

Breakdown Assumptions

Once you have thoroughly clarified the problem, your next step is to break down all the possible assumptions that may be coloring your perception of reality. This is achieved by questioning possible misunderstandings or misleading conclusions that have been made.

Here are some questions you should ask yourself or ask others about the problem:

Could this potentially be a simple overlooked assumption?

How can you justify this statement?

Why do you think your assumptions hold here?

Why can’t you conclude that?

How can you break this down another way?

Probe Different Points of View

Once you have identified and broken down the possible assumptions that you or others might be making, you are now ready to probe for different points-of-view or perspectives that will help you to understand the problem from a variety of unique angles.

Here are some questions you should ask yourself or ask others about the problem:

What would someone who disagrees with you say?

Does anyone see this another way? How exactly?

Why have you approached the issue from this perspective?

Have you considered the opposite point-of-view?

What are some other points-of-view?

How are other points-of-view justified?

Probe for Evidence

Having obtained a variety of perspectives and points-of-view, your next step is to begin questioning the validity of these perspectives.

A few words of warning: If you do not validate these perspectives accurately, they may lead you down the wrong path, and you will, therefore, fail to find an effective solution to your problem.

Here are some questions you should ask yourself or ask others about the problem:

What are your reasons for saying that?

Could you explain your reasons further?

How do you know that’s true?

How does that apply here in this particular situation?

Why did you say that?

Are these reasons adequate?

Probe for Potential Consequences

The final step of this critical questioning process is to question the possible solutions and implications of the outcomes and perspectives you have reached.

Here are some questions you should ask yourself or ask others about this problem:

When you say… are you implying that…?

What effect will that have in the short and long-term?

If this is the case, then what else must follow?

What are the possible consequences of this decision?

Is this the only solution that is available, or is there another alternative?


Concluding Thoughts

Critical thinking is more than just a way of processing, organizing and validating chunks of information, it is, in fact, a lifestyle that we must cultivate and adapt into our habitual patterns of thought and behavior in order to break through the obstacles confronting our lives.

Many of us may very well ignore the critical thinking process and continue to go about our daily lives accepting reality as it appears to be from our limited perspective.

We accept that problems exist, we accept that circumstances will not go our way, and we accept that disappointment awaits us around the corner. This act of acceptance breeds lazy habitual patterns of thinking, acting and decision making, that lock us away into a never-changing inflexible world. We struggle to find answers because we lack the necessary habits of thought that will allow us to expand our understanding and perspective of our circumstances. And as a result, we fail to find the solutions that will awaken our critical thinker from within.

The solution is to begin transforming our perspective through the meticulous process of asking effective questions that will help us to expand our understanding and awareness of our own reality. Cultivate these critical thinking questions, practice them, work through them, and bring them forth into your daily patterns of thinking and behaving, and you will progressively become an outstanding critical thinker.


Time to Assimilate these Concepts

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With Implications for Instruction

Linda Elder with Richard Paul

Though most teachers aspire to make critical thinking a primary objective of their instruction, most also do not realize that, to develop as thinkers, students must pass through stages of development in critical thinking. That is, most teachers are unaware of the levels of intellectual development that people go through as they improve as thinkers. We believe that significant gains in the intellectual quality of student work will not be achieved except to the degree that teachers recognize that skilled critical thinking develops, only when properly cultivated, and only through predictable stages.

In this paper we shall set out a stage theory based on the nearly twenty years of research of the Center for Critical Thinking and explain some of the theory’s implications for instruction. We shall be brief, concise, and to the point in our explanation with minimal theoretical elaboration. Furthermore, we believe that the “practicality” of the theory we explain here is best tested in the classroom and in everyday life. The reader should be expressly aware that we are approaching the human mind exclusively from an intellectual standpoint — not from a psychological standpoint. Each stage of intellectual development will be explained in terms of the following variables:

  1. Defining Feature
  2. Principal Challenge
  3. Knowledge of Thinking
  4. Skill in Thinking
  5. Relevant Intellectual Traits
  6. Some Implications for Instruction

Due to space limitations, we have made no attempt to be exhaustive with respect to any stage, nor to answer the many questions that might be raised concerning the development, reliability or validity of the stages. The basic intention is to provide a practical organizer for teachers interested in using a conceptual map to guide student thinking through developmental stages in the process of becoming critical thinkers. Once the stages are explained, and stage-specific recommendations are given, we close with some global implications for instruction.

We make the following assumptions: (1) that there are predictable stages through which every person who develops as a critical thinker passes, (2) that passage from one stage to the next is dependent upon a necessary level of commitment on the part of an individual to develop as a critical thinker, is not automatic, and is unlikely to take place “subconsciously,” (3) that success in instruction is deeply connected to the intellectual quality of student learning, and (4) that regression is possible in development.

Before moving to the stages themselves, a brief overview of what we mean by critical thinking is in order. Our working definition is as follows: We define critical thinking as:

the ability and disposition to improve one’s thinking by systematically subjecting it to intellectual self-assessment.

It is important to recognize that on this view, persons are critical thinkers, in the fullest sense of the term, only if they display this ability and disposition in all, or most, of the dimensions of their lives (e.g. as a parent, citizen, consumer, lover, friend, learner, and professional). We exclude from our concept of the critical thinker those who think critically in only one dimension of their lives. We do so because the quality of one’s life is dependent upon high quality reasoning in all domains of one’s life, not simply in one dimension.

The stages we will lay out are as follows:

Stage One: The Unreflective Thinker
Stage Two: The Challenged Thinker
Stage Three: The Beginning Thinker
Stage Four: The Practicing Thinker
Stage Five: The Advanced Thinker
Stage Six: The Accomplished Thinker

Stage One: The Unreflective Thinker

Defining Feature: Unreflective thinkers are largely unaware of the determining role that thinking is playing in their lives and of the many ways that problems in thinking are causing problems in their lives. Unreflective thinkers lack the ability to explicitly assess their thinking and improve it thereby.

Knowledge of Thinking: Unreflective thinkers lack the knowledge that high quality thinking requires regular practice in taking thinking apart, accurately assessing it, and actively improving it. In fact, unreflective thinkers are largely unaware of thinking as such, hence fail to recognize thinking as involving concepts, assumptions, inferences, implications, points of view, etc. Unreflective thinkers are largely unaware of the appropriate standards for the assessment of thinking: clarity, accuracy, precision, relevance, logicalness, etc.

Skill in Thinking: Unreflective thinkers may have developed a variety of skills in thinking without being aware of them. However, these skills are inconsistently applied because of the lack of self-monitoring of thought. Prejudices and misconceptions often undermine the quality of thought of the unreflective thinker.

Some Implications for Instruction: We must recognize that in the present mode of instruction it is perfectly possible for students to graduate from high school, or even college, and still be largely unreflective thinkers. Though all students think, most students are largely unaware of how their thinking is structured or how to assess or improve it. Thus when they experience problems in thinking, they lack the skills to identify and “fix” these problems. Most teachers do not seem to be aware of how unaware most students are of their thinking. Little is being done at present to help students "discover" their thinking. This emphasis needs shifting.

Stage Two: The Challenged Thinker

Defining Features: Thinkers move to the “challenged” stage when they become initially aware of the determining role that thinking is playing in their lives, and of the fact that problems in their thinking are causing them serious and significant problems.

Principal Challenge: To become initially aware of the determining role of thinking in one’s life and of basic problems that come from poor thinking.

Knowledge of Thinking: Challenged thinkers, unlike unreflective thinkers are becoming aware of thinking as such. They are becoming aware, at some level, that high quality thinking requires deliberate reflective thinking about thinking (in order to improve thinking). They recognize that their thinking is often flawed, although they are not able to identify many of these flaws. Challenged thinkers may develop an initial awareness of thinking as involving concepts, assumptions, inferences, implications, points of view, etc., and as involving standards for the assessment of thinking: clarity, accuracy, precision, relevance, logicalness, etc., though they have only an initial grasp of these standards and what it would take to internalize them. Challenged thinkers also develop some understanding of the role of self-deception in thinking, though their understanding is limited. At this stage the thinker develops some reflective awareness of how thinking operates for good or ill.

Skill in Thinking: Most challenged thinkers have very limited skills in thinking. However like unreflective thinkers, they may have developed a variety of skills in thinking without being aware of them, and these skills may (ironically) serve as barriers to development. At this stage thinkers with some implicit critical thinking abilities may more easily deceive themselves into believing that their thinking is better than it actually is, making it more difficult to recognize the problems inherent in poor thinking. To accept the challenge at this level requires that thinkers gain insight into the fact that whatever intellectual skills they have are inconsistently applied across the domains of their lives.

Relevant Intellectual Trait: The fundamental intellectual trait at this stage is intellectual humility, in order to see that problems are inherent in one’s thinking.

Some Implications for Instruction: We must recognize the importance of challenging our students — in a supportive way — to recognize both that they are thinkers and that their thinking often goes awry. We must lead class discussions about thinking. We must explicitly model thinking (e.g., thinking aloud through a problem). We must design classroom activities that explicitly require students to think about their thinking. We must have students examine both poor and sound thinking, talking about the differences. We must introduce students to the parts of thinking and the intellectual standards necessary to assess thinking. We must introduce the idea of intellectual humility to students; that is, the idea of becoming aware of our own ignorance. Perhaps children can best understand the importance of this idea through their concept of the "know-it-all," which comes closest to their recognition of the need to be intellectually humble.

Stage Three: The Beginning Thinker

Defining Feature: Those who move to the beginning thinker stage are actively taking up the challenge to begin to take explicit command of their thinking across multiple domains of their lives. Thinkers at this stage recognize that they have basic problems in their thinking and make initial attempts to better understand how they can take charge of and improve it. Based on this initial understanding, beginning thinkers begin to modify some of their thinking, but have limited insight into deeper levels of the trouble inherent in their thinking. Most importantly, they lack a systematic plan for improving their thinking, hence their efforts are hit and miss.

Principal Challenge: To begin to see the importance of developing as a thinker. To begin to seek ways to develop as a thinker and to make an intellectual commitment to that end.

Knowledge of Thinking: Beginning thinkers, unlike challenged thinkers are becoming aware not only of thinking as such, but also of the role in thinking of concepts, assumptions, inferences, implications, points of view, etc. Beginning thinkers are also at some beginning stage of recognizing not only that there are standards for the assessment of thinking: clarity, accuracy, precision, relevance, logicalness, etc., but also that one needs to internalize them and thus begin using them deliberately in thinking. They have a beginning understanding of the role of egocentric thinking in human life.

Skill in Thinking: Beginning thinkers are able to appreciate a critique of their powers of thought. Beginning thinkers have enough skill in thinking to begin to monitor their own thoughts, though as “beginners” they are sporadic in that monitoring. They are beginning to recognize egocentric thinking in themselves and others.

Relevant Intellectual Traits: The key intellectual trait required at this stage is some degree of intellectual humility in beginning to recognize the problems inherent in thinking. In addition, thinkers must have some degree of intellectual confidence in reason, a trait which provides the impetus to take up the challenge and begin the process of active development as critical thinkers, despite limited understanding of what it means to do high quality reasoning. In addition, beginning thinkers have enough intellectual perseverance to struggle with serious problems in thinking while yet lacking a clear solution to those problems (in other words, at this stage thinkers are recognizing more and more problems in their thinking but have not yet discovered how to systematize their efforts to solve them).

Some Implications for Instruction: Once we have persuaded most of our students that much of their thinking — left to itself — is flawed and that they, like all of us, are capable of improving as thinkers, we must teach in such a way as to help them to see that we all need to regularly practice good thinking to become good thinkers. Here we can use sporting analogies and analogies from other skill areas. Most students already know that you can get good in a sport only if you regularly practice. We must not only look for opportunities to encourage them to think well, we must help them to begin to understand what it is to develop good HABITS of thinking. What do we need to do regularly in order to read well? What must we do regularly and habitually if we are to listen well? What must we do regularly and habitually if we are to write well. What must we do regularly and habitually if we are to learn well? We must recognize that students are not only creatures of habit, but like the rest of us, they are largely unaware of the habits they are developing. They are largely unaware of what it is to develop good habits (in general), let alone good habits of thinking. If our students are truly “beginning” thinkers, they will be receptive to the importance of developing sound habits of thought. We must emphasize the importance of beginning to take charge of the parts of thinking and applying intellectual standards to thinking. We must teach students to begin to recognize their native egocentrism when it is operating in their thinking.

Stage Four: The Practicing Thinker

Defining Feature: Thinkers at this stage have a sense of the habits they need to develop to take charge of their thinking. They not only recognize that problems exist in their thinking, but they also recognize the need to attack these problems globally and systematically. Based on their sense of the need to practice regularly, they are actively analyzing their thinking in a number of domains. However, since practicing thinkers are only beginning to approach the improvement of their thinking in a systematic way, they still have limited insight into deeper levels of thought, and thus into deeper levels of the problems embedded in thinking.

Principal Challenge: To begin to develop awareness of the need for systematic practice in thinking.

Knowledge of Thinking: Practicing thinkers, unlike beginning thinkers are becoming knowledgeable of what it would take to systematically monitor the role in their thinking of concepts, assumptions, inferences, implications, points of view, etc. Practicing thinkers are also becoming knowledgeable of what it would take to regularly assess their thinking for clarity, accuracy, precision, relevance, logicalness, etc. Practicing thinkers recognize the need for systematicity of critical thinking and deep internalization into habits. They clearly recognize the natural tendency of the human mind to engage in egocentric thinking and self-deception.

Skill in Thinking: Practicing thinkers have enough skill in thinking to critique their own plan for systematic practice, and to construct a realistic critique of their powers of thought. Furthermore, practicing thinkers have enough skill to begin to regularly monitor their own thoughts. Thus they can effectively articulate the strengths and weaknesses in their thinking. Practicing thinkers can often recognize their own egocentric thinking as well as egocentric thinking on the part of others. Furthermore practicing thinkers actively monitor their thinking to eliminate egocentric thinking, although they are often unsuccessful.

Relevant Intellectual Traits: The key intellectual trait required to move to this stage is intellectual perseverance. This characteristic provides the impetus for developing a realistic plan for systematic practice (with a view to taking greater command of one’s thinking). Furthermore, thinkers at this stage have the intellectual humility required to realize that thinking in all the domains of their lives must be subject to scrutiny, as they begin to approach the improvement of their thinking in a systematic way.

Some Implications for Instruction: What are the basic features of thinking that students must command to effectively become practicing thinkers? What do they need to do to take charge of their thinking intellectually, with respect to any content? We must teach in such a way that students come to understand the power in knowing that whenever humans reason, they have no choice but to use certain predictable structures of thought: that thinking is inevitably driven by the questions, that we seek answers to questions for some purpose, that to answer questions, we need information, that to use information we must interpret it (i.e., by making inferences), and that our inferences, in turn, are based on assumptions, and have implications, all of which involves ideas or concepts within some point of view. We must teach in such a way as to require students to regularly deal explicitly with these structures (more on these structure presently).

Students should now be developing the habit — whenever they are trying to figure something out — of focusing on: purpose, question, information, inferences, assumptions, concepts, point of view, and implications. The result of this emphasis in instruction is that students begin to see connections between all the subject matter they are learning. In studying history, they learn to focus on historical purposes and questions. When studying math, they clarify and analyze mathematical goals and problems. When studying literature, they reflect upon literary purposes and questions. They notice themselves making historical, mathematical, and literary assumptions. They notice themselves tracing historical, mathematical, and literary implications. Recognizing the "moves" one makes in thinking well is an essential part of becoming a practicing thinker.

Students should be encouraged to routinely catch themselves thinking both egocentrically and sociocentrically. They should understand, for example, that most of the problems they experience in learning result from a natural desire to avoid confusion and frustration, and that their inability to understand another person’s point of view is often caused by their tendency to see the world exclusively within their own egocentric point of view.

Stage Five: The Advanced Thinker

Defining Feature: Thinkers at this stage have now established good habits of thought which are “paying off.” Based on these habits, advanced thinkers not only actively analyze their thinking in all the significant domains of their lives, but also have significant insight into problems at deeper levels of thought. While advanced thinkers are able to think well across the important dimensions of their lives, they are not yet able to think at a consistently high level across all of these dimensions. Advanced thinkers have good general command over their egocentric nature. They continually strive to be fair-minded. Of course, they sometimes lapse into egocentrism and reason in a one-sided way.

Principal Challenge: To begin to develop depth of understanding not only of the need for systematic practice in thinking, but also insight into deep levels of problems in thought: consistent recognition, for example, of egocentric and sociocentric thought in one’s thinking, ability to identify areas of significant ignorance and prejudice, and ability to actually develop new fundamental habits of thought based on deep values to which one has committed oneself.

Knowledge of Thinking: Advanced thinkers are actively and successfully engaged in systematically monitoring the role in their thinking of concepts, assumptions, inferences, implications, points of view, etc., and hence have excellent knowledge of that enterprise. Advanced thinkers are also knowledgeable of what it takes to regularly assess their thinking for clarity, accuracy, precision, relevance, logicalness, etc. Advanced thinkers value the deep and systematic internalization of critical thinking into their daily habits. Advanced thinkers have keen insight into the role of egocentrism and sociocentrism in thinking, as well as the relationship between thoughts, feelings and desires.

They have a deep understanding of the powerful role that thinking plays in the quality of their lives. They understand that egocentric thinking will always play a role in their thinking, but that they can control the power that egocentrism has over their thinking and their lives.

Skill in Thinking: Advanced thinkers regularly critique their own plan for systematic practice, and improve it thereby. Practicing thinkers regularly monitor their own thoughts. They insightfully articulate the strengths and weaknesses in their thinking. They possess outstanding knowledge of the qualities of their thinking. Advanced thinkers are consistently able to identify when their thinking is driven by their native egocentrism; and they effectively use a number of strategies to reduce the power of their egocentric thoughts.

Relevant Intellectual Traits: The key intellectual trait required at this stage is a high degree of intellectual humility in recognizing egocentric and sociocentric thought in one’s life as well as areas of significant ignorance and prejudice. In addition the thinker at this level needs: a) the intellectual insight and perseverance to actually develop new fundamental habits of thought based on deep values to which one has committed oneself, b) the intellectual integrity to recognize areas of inconsistency and contradiction in one’s life, c) the intellectual empathy necessary to put oneself in the place of others in order to genuinely understand them, d) the intellectual courage to face and fairly address ideas, beliefs, or viewpoints toward which one has strong negative emotions, e) the fair-mindedness necessary to approach all viewpoints without prejudice, without reference to one’s own feelings or vested interests. In the advanced thinker these traits are emerging, but may not be manifested at the highest level or in the deepest dimensions of thought.

Some Implications for Instruction: For the foreseeable future most of our students will not become advanced thinkers — if at all — until college or beyond. Nevertheless, it is important that they learn what it would be to become an advanced thinker. It is important that they see it as an important goal. We can help students move in this direction by fostering their awareness of egocentrism and sociocentrism in their thinking, by leading discussions on intellectual perseverance, intellectual integrity, intellectual empathy, intellectual courage, and fair-mindedness. If we can graduate students who are practicing thinkers, we will have achieved a major break-through in schooling. However intelligent our graduates may be, most of them are largely unreflective as thinkers, and are unaware of the disciplined habits of thought they need to develop to grow intellectually as a thinker.

Stage Six: The Accomplished Thinker

Defining Feature: Accomplished thinkers not only have systematically taken charge of their thinking, but are also continually monitoring, revising, and re-thinking strategies for continual improvement of their thinking. They have deeply internalized the basic skills of thought, so that critical thinking is, for them, both conscious and highly intuitive. As Piaget would put it, they regularly raise their thinking to the level of conscious realization. Through extensive experience and practice in engaging in self-assessment, accomplished thinkers are not only actively analyzing their thinking in all the significant domains of their lives, but are also continually developing new insights into problems at deeper levels of thought. Accomplished thinkers are deeply committed to fair-minded thinking, and have a high level of, but not perfect, control over their egocentric nature.

Principal Challenge: To make the highest levels of critical thinking intuitive in every domain of one’s life. To internalize highly effective critical thinking in an interdisciplinary and practical way.

Knowledge of Thinking: Accomplished thinkers are not only actively and successfully engaged in systematically monitoring the role in their thinking of concepts, assumptions, inferences, implications, points of view, etc., but are also regularly improving that practice. Accomplished thinkers have not only a high degree of knowledge of thinking, but a high degree of practical insight as well. Accomplished thinkers intuitively assess their thinking for clarity, accuracy, precision, relevance, logicalness, etc. Accomplished thinkers have deep insights into the systematic internalization of critical thinking into their habits. Accomplished thinkers deeply understand the role that egocentric and sociocentric thinking plays in the lives of human beings, as well as the complex relationship between thoughts, emotions, drives and behavior.

Skill in Thinking: Accomplished thinkers regularly, effectively, and insightfully critique their own use of thinking in their lives, and improve it thereby. Accomplished thinkers consistently monitor their own thoughts. They effectively and insightfully articulate the strengths and weaknesses inherent in their thinking. Their knowledge of the qualities of their thinking is outstanding. Although, as humans they know they will always be fallible (because they must always battle their egocentrism, to some extent), they consistently perform effectively in every domain of their lives. People of good sense seek out master thinkers, for they recognize and value the ability of master thinkers to think through complex issues with judgment and insight.

Relevant Intellectual Traits: Naturally inherent in master thinkers are all the essential intellectual characteristics, deeply integrated. Accomplished thinkers have a high degree of intellectual humility, intellectual integrity, intellectual perseverance, intellectual courage, intellectual empathy, intellectual autonomy, intellectual responsibility and fair-mindedness. Egocentric and sociocentric thought is quite uncommon in the accomplished thinker, especially with respect to matters of importance. There is a high degree of integration of basic values, beliefs, desires, emotions, and action.

Some implications for Instruction: For the foreseeable future the vast majority of our students will never become accomplished thinkers — any more than most high school basketball players will develop the skills or abilities of a professional basketball player or student writers the writing skills of a published novelist. Nevertheless, it is important that they learn what it would be to become an accomplished thinker. It is important that they see it as a real possibility, if practicing skills of thinking becomes a characteristic of how they use their minds day to day.

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