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An Introduction to Critical thinking

Elain Batenhorst
University of Nebraska at Kearney

In recent years, we have witnessed intelligent students who learn by rote, memorizational methods but will not, and do not, have the ability to delve below the surface.  If they run into a brick wall, they crumple and fall instead of looking for alternatives to the situation.

The purpose for critical thinking training with the tutors is to teach them good thinking strategies to assist themselves as well as their tutees.  It is important to open their minds to be good critical thinkers before they can use critical thinking procedures with their tutees.  We should concentrate on teaching students how to think instead of teaching them what to think.

We begin the session with, “What comes to your mind when you hear the word thinking?”  The word thinking can be used in many different ways.  Dictionaries tell us that the word thinking means more than nineteen different mental operations.  Boostrom (1992) cited that in the broadest sense, thinking consists of whatever goes on in your head.

Chaffee (1988) countered with, “Thinking is the extraordinary process we use every waking moment to make sense of our world and our lives” (p. 2).  His conclusions of the thinking process are used to continue the session on thinking.  They are as follows:

  • THINKING IS AN ACTIVE PROCESS.  When we try to solve a problem, reach a goal, understand information, or make sense of someone, we are actively using our minds to figure out the situation.
  • THINKING IS DIRECTED TOWARD A PURPOSE.  The purpose may be to solve that problem, reach that goal, understand that information or make sense of someone.
  • THINKING IS AN ORGANIZED PROCESS.  Thinking effectively has an order or organization.  There are certain steps to take to solve that problem, reach that goal, to understand that information or to make sense of someone.
  • THINKING CAN BE DEVELOPED AND IMPROVED.  During our lifetimes, we develop thinking through use, by becoming aware of the thinking process, and by practicing.  Thinking can be developed and improved through guidance and practice. (p. 25-26)

A good thinker is one who goes beyond the first plausible answer. Are there some other possibilities? What other way can I think of this situation? To open the tutor’s minds to the way their tutees may operate, we use Costa’s (1991) list of how ineffective thinkers behave.

1. Ineffective thinkers are impulsive, often jumping to conclusions. Everything is speed and speed is what we want! You get a headache, take a Tylenol, within seconds the headache is gone. Can’t get a girlfriend, try Ultrabright, right away women are swarming all over you. Neighbors don’t like you, use Listerine and the next minute they are in your hot tub. We live in a world where speed is important. When working with tutees we need to remember “wait time.” Give them time to think of the answer. Too often we ask a question, pause, and then answer our own question.

2. Ineffective thinkers give up quickly, if they are unsuccessful in solving a problem on the first or second try. Encourage students to persist with tasks, to stick it out.

3. Ineffective thinkers are inflexible in approaching thinking tasks. The following example points out that each of us have our own concepts and that often the direction our thinking is going is not necessarily the direction the tutee is going. Close your eyes and imagine that it is a very hot summer day, you have just purchased an ice cream cone that is dripping down your hand. Brainstorm what you feel? What kind of ice cream did you choose? There will be as many different answers as tutors in the room.

4. Ineffective thinkers use imprecise language: They said … who said? Everybody did … who exactly is everybody? Cherrios are more nutritious … more than what? It is better … better than what? Things go better with Coke … what things, better than what? Which kind of Coke are we talking about … diet, caffeine free, regular, cherry, classic? It is significant for the tutors to speak precisely and to clarify what they mean as well as showing the tutees the importance of precise language!

5. Ineffective thinkers often plunge into a thinking task without   planning what to do. They generally do not have any organizational strategies.

6. Ineffective thinkers fail to check their work for accuracy. Point out there is the never-ending need for accuracy. We don’t always have to be 100% accurate, but there are times when it is critical. If a surgeon was not sure where he or she should cut, what would happen? The disaster of the Challenger is a classic example of inaccuracy.

7. Ineffective thinkers are reluctant to secure as much data as possible. Many students are happy with one example instead of trying to find others to enhance their projects.

8. Ineffective thinkers skip steps in executing a thinking task and then are unable to backtrack to see where they have made mistakes.

9. Ineffective thinkers are unable to engage in a line of reasoning. “Because” is a big word in their vocabularies but beyond that they cannot continue to explain their thinking.

10. Ineffective thinkers are often incapable of launching a thinking task. Often our students haven’t the slightest idea where to begin or there is a fear of failure. It is important to point out the main objective is to get started. If it isn’t the right direction, we can change courses.

Making the tutors aware of their thinking process helps them to realize the thinking abilities of their tutees as well as themselves. After the opening session, other sessions will be designed to work with assumptions, inferences, evaluations, reasoning and problem solving to use throughout the year.