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Pedagogical tools to develop critical thinking.


Faculties in college and university programs strive to graduate individuals who are experienced and adept in critical thinking. This article discusses the value of three pedagogical ped·a·gog·ic   also ped·a·gog·i·cal
1. Of, relating to, or characteristic of pedagogy.

2. Characterized by pedantic formality: a haughty, pedagogic manner.
 tools for developing students' critical thinking skills. The authors suggest learning journals, book critiques, and persuasive essay assignments can provide students with opportunities to reflect upon and synthesize To create a whole or complete unit from parts or components. See synthesis.  information, to adopt a position or view about an issue based on valid, carefully considered evidence, and to communicate clearly their position to others in a persuasive manner.


College and university programs are continually con·tin·u·al  
1. Recurring regularly or frequently: the continual need to pay the mortgage.

 striving to graduate individuals who are experienced and adept in critical thinking (Brown & Meuti, 1999; Halpern & Riggio, 1996). Barnes (2005) notes that most colleges in the country now feature critical thinking as an essential component of successful college experiences. Students must be able to think critically about an issue, communicate persuasively per·sua·sive  
Tending or having the power to persuade: a persuasive argument.

 their point of view, synthesize information from divergent di·ver·gent  
1. Drawing apart from a common point; diverging.

2. Departing from convention.

3. Differing from another: a divergent opinion.

 sources, and substantiate To establish the existence or truth of a particular fact through the use of competent evidence; to verify.

For example, an Eyewitness might be called by a party to a lawsuit to substantiate that party's testimony.
 their recommendations and actions. With these goals in mind, college and university professors seek to design courses of study which will encourage students to think independently and which will develop students who are able to support empirically and experientially their conclusions, recommendations, and actions. A continuing challenge for many educators is translating the philosophical desire and the empirical support for critical thinking into pragmatic, pedagogical practice. Given this challenge, the purpose of this paper is to discuss three pedagogical tools which support the development of critical thinking skills.

In this paper, a framework for critical thinking will first be presented. Following the discussion of the skills and dispositions of critical thinking, the authors will present three pedagogical tools currently used in higher education higher education

Study beyond the level of secondary education. Institutions of higher education include not only colleges and universities but also professional schools in such fields as law, theology, medicine, business, music, and art.
 courses to promote critical thinking: Learning Journals, Book Critiques, and Persuasive Essays.

Critical Thinking Defined

There are several models and definitions for critical thinking; however, implicit in Adj. 1. implicit in - in the nature of something though not readily apparent; "shortcomings inherent in our approach"; "an underlying meaning"
underlying, inherent
 each is the need for students to skillfully skill·ful  
1. Possessing or exercising skill; expert. See Synonyms at proficient.

2. Characterized by, exhibiting, or requiring skill.
 analyze and assess the quality of their thinking based on careful consideration of personal beliefs, knowledge, and understandings (Dewey, 1909, 1997; Elder & Paul, 2002). The process of critical thinking encourages students to realize everything is not as it may seem to be on the surface; therefore, maintaining a healthy skepticism skepticism (skĕp`tĭsĭzəm) [Gr.,=to reflect], philosophic position holding that the possibility of knowledge is limited either because of the limitations of the mind or because of the inaccessibility of its object.  and suspending judgment is foundational (Burback, Matkin, Fritz fritz  
n. Informal
A condition in which something does not work properly: Our television is on the fritz.

[Perhaps from German Fritz
, 2004; Dewey, 1997). Learners engaging in critical thinking must also provide explanations of the conceptual and methodological considerations upon which their judgment is based (Facione, 1998).

For this article, the critical thinking elements developed by Richard Paul This article's grammar usage needs improvement. Please edit this article in accordance with Wikipedia's . , director of the National Council on Excellence in Critical Thinking (NCECT), will be used as a framework in discussing the merits of learning journals, persuasive essays, and book reviews as sound pedagogical tools for developing critical thinking skills. The NCECT model was selected due to its strong historical and theoretical base, it is based on universal intellectual values that transcend subject matter divisions, and the emphasis on the ability for excellence in critical thinking to be systematically cultivated cultivated,
n in herbal medicine, used to describe plants that are commercially farmed rather than collected from the wild.
 (Foundation for Critical Thinking This article or section is written like an .
Please help [ rewrite this article] from a neutral point of view.
Mark blatant advertising for , using .
, 2004). According to according to
1. As stated or indicated by; on the authority of: according to historians.

2. In keeping with: according to instructions.

 NCECT, critical thinking focuses on a set of skills and attitudes that assist students in skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information that is generated through reflection, observation, experience, reasoning, or communication (Foundation for Critical Thinking, 2004). Good critical thinkers clearly formulate formulate /for·mu·late/ (for´mu-lat)
1. to state in the form of a formula.

2. to prepare in accordance with a prescribed or specified method.
 vital questions and problems, gather and assess relevant information, come to well-reasoned conclusions, test their conclusions against relevant criteria and standards, think open-mindedly, communicate effectively, and are self-directed and self-disciplined (Browne & Freeman, 2000; Elder & Paul, 2002).

Critical Thinking Can Be Learned

According to Browne & Freeman (2000) critical thinking is a mental habit, which involves examining and testing propositions. Implicit in their definition is the assumption that critical thinking is not something in which humans naturally engage. The assumption is supported by an early study by Logan (1976), in which 874 social science students scored low in their ability to recognize uncritical and unsound unsound

said of an animal, usually a horse, which has been examined for soundness and found to be unsatisfactory.
 thinking. In 1982, Keeley, Browne, & Kreutzer kreu·zer or kreut·zer  
Any of several small coins of low value formerly used in Austria and Germany.

[German, from Middle High German kriuzer, from kriuze,
 supported Logan's study and indicated that college seniors outperformed freshman; however, they still exhibited major deficiencies in critical thinking skills.

Critical thinking, in order to become a mental habit as Broadbear (2003) asserts, assumes that individuals can, with instruction and practice, improve their critical thinking capacity. To assess critical thinking and reflection skills, Langer (2002) undertook a study using dialogue journals. The degree of student self-reflection increased as the instructor provided more written feedback on journal entries. When engaging in critical thinking, students must find reasonable, supportive evidence to support their ideas and positions. Instructors can assist students in learning how to seek multiple sources of information and multiple perspectives and to approach their critical thinking topic from multiple points of view (Browne, & Freeman, 2000). Reed and Kromrey (2001) conducted a study to assess the effectiveness of infusing Paul's critical thinking model into a one-semester, U.S. History community college course. Results indicated students in the experimental group performed significantly higher in historical thinking and general critical thinking skills. In Burbank, Matkin, and Fritz's study (2004) students in an introductory leadership course significantly increased their critical thinking skills in the areas of deduction deduction, in logic, form of inference such that the conclusion must be true if the premises are true. For example, if we know that all men have two legs and that John is a man, it is then logical to deduce that John has two legs. , interpretation, and total critical thinking skills. Systematic instruction in critical thinking skills improved undergraduate students' abilities to evaluate and understand research-based publications (Tremblay, Kenneth, and Downey's study, 2004).

It is evident within the literature that critical thinking can be encouraged through the use of tools and lessons which provide a structure for the systematic development of student thinking. Learning Journals, Book Critiques, and Persuasive Writing Persuasive writing is used to convince the reader of the writer’s argument. This may involve persuading the reader to perform an action, or simply consist of an argument convincing the reader of the writer’s point of view.  are three tools which educators can use to infuse in·fuse
1. To steep or soak without boiling in order to extract soluble elements or active principles.

2. To introduce a solution into the body through a vein for therapeutic purposes.
 the practice of critical thinking throughout course curriculum.

Learning Journals

While journaling is not a new practice, the research and discussion of its use within college and university management disciplines is sparse sparse - A sparse matrix (or vector, or array) is one in which most of the elements are zero. If storage space is more important than access speed, it may be preferable to store a sparse matrix as a list of (index, value) pairs or use some kind of hash scheme or associative memory.  (Jarvis, 2001). However, where journaling has been studied in higher education, its value for student learning is asserted. Moon's research (1999, p.188) identified several valuable purposes for journals including:

* To deepen deep·en  
tr. & intr.v. deep·ened, deep·en·ing, deep·ens
To make or become deep or deeper.


to make or become deeper or more intense

Verb 1.
 the quality of learning, in the form of critical thinking of developing a questioning attitude;

* To enable learners to understand their own learning process;

* To increase active involvement in learning and personal ownership of learning

Referring back to NCECT's framework, learning journals can assist students in clearly conceptualizing questions that arise as they reflect upon and reason through the concepts and opinions presented during class sessions and during field based experiences. Barclay (1996) found that participants who did well journaling also did well on their exams. She also found that while journaling may suit reflective Refers to light hitting an opaque surface such as a printed page or mirror and bouncing back. See reflective media and reflective LCD.  learning styles more than other styles, individuals with all types of learning styles could benefit. McCrindle & Christensen (1995) found in their study of forty undergraduate biology students that the group of twenty that were required to keep a learning journal performed significantly better than the control group on the course final exam Noun 1. final exam - an examination administered at the end of an academic term
final examination, final

exam, examination, test - a set of questions or exercises evaluating skill or knowledge; "when the test was stolen the professor had to make a new set of
. They noted the same group also showed more sophisticated conceptions of learning and greater awareness of cognitive strategies. Students in the study who kept a journal commented they felt journaling helped them learn more in the course.

Journaling has also been identified with improving students' metacognition Metacognition refers to thinking about cognition (memory, perception, calculation, association, etc.) itself or to think/reason about one's own thinking. Types of knowledge . Metacognition is the knowledge and awareness of one's own cognitive processes Cognitive processes
Thought processes (i.e., reasoning, perception, judgment, memory).

Mentioned in: Psychosocial Disorders
 and the ability to actively control and manage those processes (McCrindle & Christensen, 1995). The NCECT framework refers to these processes as self-corrective, selfdirected, self-monitored thinking (Foundation for Critical Thinking, 2004). Loo's (2002) research study of undergraduate management research students yielded some interesting excerpts from students:

"I like the idea of a learning journal because I get to see my thoughts in black and white, which is what I know I need." (NCECT's conceptualizing)

"I do agree that learning journals are a powerful tool in helping students become more effective learners through reflective thinking about their learning experiences." (NCECT's Analyzing/Evaluating)

"This learning journal has helped me to be a more effective learner through critical reflective thinking about my learning experience." (NCECT's Analyzing/Synthesizing/ Evaluating)

While different educators will emphasize various aspects of a journal assignment, one common aspect is likely to be the desire for journal entries to contain student reflection (Boud & Walker, 1998; de Acosta, 1995). Through reading student reflections, the educator can ascertain the ways in which students are conceptualizing course information, student reasoning skills, and students' adeptness a·dept  
Very skilled. See Synonyms at proficient.

A highly skilled person; an expert: "The adepts in Washington mean to give rather than to take" Lewis H. Lapham.
 with applying and synthesizing information within the course. Langer (2002) studied the use of dialogue journals for adult non-traditional students Non-traditional student is an American English term referring to students at higher education institutions (undergraduate college or university) who generally fall into two categories:
 in a computer course. Results indicated that, though the non-traditional students were more skeptical about using the learning journals, they were more likely to use them as study tools.

An important finding from the research of Spalding & Wilson (2002) suggests careful consideration be given as educators prepare to introduce journaling in their management courses. The study found that because journaling is new to so many students in terms of a college assignment, many are unclear as to the expectations. The researchers noted that many students in their classes remarked when handing in the journal "I hope this is what you want" (p. 1393). In our courses, guidelines guidelines, a set of standards, criteria, or specifications to be used or followed in the performance of certain tasks.
 are provided for students regarding the aspects of critical thinking that are to be included in their learning journal entries. Rubric RUBRIC, civil law. The title or inscription of any law or statute, because the copyists formerly drew and painted the title of laws and statutes rubro colore, in red letters. Ayl. Pand. B. 1, t. 8; Diet. do Juris. h.t.  components require students to demonstrate: consistent and regular journaling, analyzing and evaluating questions and assumptions concerning personal and professional development, application of course competencies within real world contexts, and inclusion of a comprehensive 3-5 year development plan which is linked to insights gained throughout the journal assignment.

Book Critiques

Book critiques are another set of tools that instructors can use to encourage higher education students to think and reflect upon that which they read. Book critiques require students to think critically, to reflect, and to provide their own conclusions about the merit of a book that is relevant to a particular course topic. To write effective critiques, students must clearly communicate the ways in which the book supports or does not support the major competencies covered in the course. Students gather and assess relevant information from the text and from other sources in order to come to well-reasoned conclusions regarding the book's merit. The assignment emphasis is on assisting students to reflect and to critically analyze the material presented within the book and to compare and contrast the information with what

has been learned in the course, in other courses, and/or within his/her own experiential ex·pe·ri·en·tial  
Relating to or derived from experience.

 understanding of the topics being studied within the selected text. Book critiques require that the students focus on discussing the treatment of stated topics within the book rather than the topic itself. Students must clearly state a thesis regarding the value of the book for the course, then support the thesis statement A thesis statement is a focused selection of text that can be anywhere from just one sentence to a few pages in size that clearly delineates the argument that will be taken in a proposed paper to be written.  with material from the text as well as other professional literature. We find this requires students to engage in self-disciplined, selfmonitored, and self-corrective thinking, which are important aspects of critical thinking as presented in the NCECT framework. Books can be placed on a selection list by the instructor, can be student generated, of can become a collaborative effort between instructor and students. Students receive guidelines and rubrics which include specific criteria for grading.

Persuasive Essays

Persuasive essays are another area in which research at the college and university levels is limited. In persuasive or argumentative Controversial; subject to argument.

Pleading in which a point relied upon is not set out, but merely implied, is often labeled argumentative. Pleading that contains arguments that should be saved for trial, in addition to allegations establishing a Cause of Action or
 writing, the writer attempts to convince others to agree with the argument, conclusions, and viewpoints presented. Skills in persuasive writing that are supported by the NCECT critical thinking framework include: conceptualizing the problem to be solved (Dewey, 1997); making inferences and drawing conclusions based on information not always readily apparent (Facione, 1998); selecting critical facts and details which are supported by empirical and experiential evidence rather than personal opinion (Facione, 1990); and controlling one's emotions while presenting one's position (NCECT's self-monitoring and self-discipline).

Writing cogent COGENT - COmpiler and GENeralized Translator  persuasive essays requires that the writer clearly formulate his/her position, gather information that clearly supports that position as well as consider relevant information that supports opposing viewpoints, and evaluate and test conclusions against relevant criteria and standards. The writer must also be fully away of his/her own assumptions and the assumptions of potential readers (Elder & Paul, 2002). To facilitate these aspects of critical thinking, many education programs include persuasive essays as a means to integrate critical thinking with course content. Students taking our courses are taught to use persuasive writing as a means to communicate their own critical analyses of course content and to critically analyze examples of persuasive writing. Grading rubrics provided to students for persuasive writing essays include points for conceptualizing and clearly stating a thesis, organizing and demonstrating logical progression of ideas, basing evidence in scholarly research and practitioner literature, and following the proper format for the paper.

Impact of these Pedagogical Tools on Student Learning

While we have just begun collecting survey data from students on the impact of these three pedagogical tools, the preliminary findings are encouraging. A survey question for each of the three tools was developed using a five-point Likert scale Likert scale A subjective scoring system that allows a person being surveyed to quantify likes and preferences on a 5-point scale, with 1 being the least important, relevant, interesting, most ho-hum, or other, and 5 being most excellent, yeehah important, etc  which asked students to rate to what extent they agreed with the following statement: "The [specific tool] assignment was challenging and helped me learn." Data has been collected from five small graduate classes that used one or more of the tools in the course.

Survey Results

The Journal assignment was challenging and helped me learn (n=29): Strongly Disagree: 0, Disagree: 4, Neutral: 0, Agree: 16, Strongly Agree: 9. Mean Rating= 4.0/5.0

The Book Critique assignment was challenging and helped me learn (n=10): Strongly Disagree: 0, Disagree: 0, Neutral: 2 (20%), Agree: 2(20%), Strongly Agree: 6 (60%). Mean Rating= 4.4/5.0

The Persuasive Essay assignment was challenging and helped me learn (n=48): Strongly Disagree: 1 (3.4%), Disagree: 1 (3.4%), Neutral: 0, Agree: 23 (48%), Strongly Agree: 23 (48%). Mean Rating= 4.4/5.0


Throughout our educational careers in special education and human resources The fancy word for "people." The human resources department within an organization, years ago known as the "personnel department," manages the administrative aspects of the employees.  respectively, we have each experimented with various methods of incorporating the teaching of critical thinking skills into our lessons and instructional routines. The pedagogical tools discussed in this paper, Learning Journals, Book Critiques, and Persuasive Essays have preliminary support for being effective techniques in accomplishing the goal of teaching critical thinking skills and developing skillful skill·ful  
1. Possessing or exercising skill; expert. See Synonyms at proficient.

2. Characterized by, exhibiting, or requiring skill.
 learners and thinkers. Our experiences indicate that the use of these tools can, with guidance, enhance students' ability to reflect upon and synthesize information, to adopt a position based on valid, carefully considered evidence and to clearly communicate their position to others in a persuasive manner.

While each of these pedagogical tools has been educationally valuable, a further benefit may be derived through a combination of all three as a unified process The Unified Software Development Process or Unified Process is a popular iterative and incremental software development process framework. The best-known and extensively documented refinement of the Unified Process is the Rational Unified Process or RUP. . When thoughtfully constructed, the use of the Learning Journal, Book Critiques, and Persuasive Essay in concert may lead to a more in-depth learning experience, resulting in a broader conception and deeper understanding of the complexities of the issue being studied. The utilization of the Learning Journal provides students with the opportunity to carefully reflect on their personal perspective regarding the issue at hand. Students must consider their personal experiences in relation to the issue, carefully analyze their personal biases, and assess their personal beliefs and assumptions about the issue. They are provided the opportunity to assess the validity of their beliefs and biases in light of thoughtful consideration of the information and evidence revealed during their studies. This self reflection is further enhanced by the use of the Book Critique. The Book Critique provides students with additional information and, often times, with alternative perspectives about the issue being studied. This additional information may provide the student with further support of the student's view point, or it may persuade the student to modify or adapt his/her position. This clarity of thought allows students to select evidence that most strongly supports their positions and to more clearly communicate their position through carefully constructed Persuasive Essays.

It is our hope that this article will stimulate an interest in including one or more of these pedagogical tools into class syllabi syl·la·bi  
A plural of syllabus.
 as college and university faculty consciously choose to include the teaching of critical thinking skills as a vital part of their curriculum.


Barclay, J. (1996). Learning from experience with learning logs. Journal of Management Development, 15(6), 28-43.

Barnes, C.H. (2005). Critical thinking revisited: Its past, present, and future. New Directions for Community Colleges, 130, 5-30.

Brown, M.N., & Meuti, M.D. (1999). Teaching how to teach critical thinking. College Student Journal, 33(2), 162-170.

Browne, M.N. & Freeman, K. (2000). Distinguishing features of critical thinking classrooms. Teaching in Higher Education, 5(3), 301-310.

Boud D., & Walker, D. (1998). Promoting reflection in professional courses: The challenge of context. Studies in Higher Education, 23, 191-207.

Broadbear, J.T. (2003). Essential elements of lessons designed to promote critical thinking. The Journal of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning The SoTL movement
The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL; pronounced so'.tl or S O T and L) is a growing movement in post-secondary education.
, 3(3), 1-8.

Burbach, M. E., Matkin, G.S., & Fritz, S.M. (2004). Teaching critical thinking in an introductory leadership course utilizing active learning strategies: A confirmatory study. College Student Journal, 38(3), 482-494.

de Acosta, M. (1995). Journal writing in service-learning: Lessons from a mentoring project. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 2, 141-149.

Dewey, J. (1997). How we think. New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of
: Houghton Mifflin Houghton Mifflin Company is a leading educational publisher in the United States. The company's headquarters is located in Boston's Back Bay. It publishes textbooks, instructional technology materials, assessments, reference works, and fiction and non-fiction for both young readers . (Original work published 1909).

Elder, L. & Paul, R. (2002). Critical thinking: Distinguishing between inference (logic) inference - The logical process by which new facts are derived from known facts by the application of inference rules.

See also symbolic inference, type inference.
 and assumptions.

Journal of Developmental Education, 25(3), 34-35.

Facione, P. A. (1990). Executive summary--critical thinking. A statement of expert consensus for purposes of educational assessment and instruction. Millbrae, CA: California Academic Press

Facione, P.A. (1998). Critical thinking: What it is and why ir counts. California Academic Press.

Foundation for Critical Thinking (2004). Defining critical thinking: A statement by Michael Scriven Michael Scriven (born 1928[1]) is a British-born academic, with a first degree in mathematics and a doctorate in philosophy[2]. He has made significant contributions in the fields of philosophy, psychology, critical thinking, and, most notably, evaluation.  and Richard Paul for the national council for excellence in critical thinking. Retrieved from: April 23, 2005.

Halpern, D.F., & Riggio, H.R. (1996). Thinking critically about critical thinking. Mahweh, N J: Erlbaum.

Jarvis, P. (2001). Journal writing in higher education. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education continuing education: see adult education.
continuing education
 or adult education

Any form of learning provided for adults. In the U.S. the University of Wisconsin was the first academic institution to offer such programs (1904).
, 90, 79-86.

Keeley, S.M., Browne, M.N., & Kreutzer, J.S. (1982). A comparison of freshmen and seniors on general and specific essay tests of critical thinking. Research in Higher Education, 17(2), 139-154

Langer, A. M. (2002). Reflecting on practice: Using learning journals in higher and continuing education, Teaching in Higher Education, 7(3), 337-351.

Logan, G.H. (1976). Do sociologists teach students to think more critically? Teaching Sociology Teaching Sociology (TS) is an academic journal in the field of sociology, published quarterly ( January, April, July, October) by American Sociological Association. Teaching Sociology publishes articles, notes, and reviews intended to be helpful to the discipline's teachers. , 4(l), 29-48.

Loo, R. (2002). Journaling: A learning tool for project management training and teambuilding. Project Management Institute 2002, 33(4), 61-66.

McCrindle, A. R. & Christensen, C. A. (1995). The impact of learning journals on metacognitive and cognitive processes and learning performance. Learning and Instruction, 5, 167-185

Moon, J. (1999). Learning journals: A handbook for academics, students and professional development. London: Kogan Page.

Reed, J. H. & Kromrey, J. D. (2001). Teaching critical thinking in a community college history course: Empirical evidence from infusing paul's model. College Student Journal, 35(2), 201-216.

Spalding, E., & Wilson, A. (2002). Demystifying reflection: A study of pedagogical strategies that encourage reflective journal writing. Teachers College Record, 104 (7), 13931421.

Tremblay, Jr., Kenneth, R., & Downey, E. P. (2004). Identifying and evaluating research-based publications: Enhancing undergraduate student critical thinking skills. Education, 124(4), 734-740.

Pamela Vesely, Ed.D., Western Carolina University з The university's academic structure is composed of four undergraduate colleges:
Applied Sciences
Arts and Sciences
Education and Allied Professions
Honors College
Graduate School.
, NC

John Sherlock A Macintosh utility starting with Version 8.5 of the operating system that provides a common facility for searching the local hard disk, the local network and the Internet. , Ed.D., Western Carolina University, NC

Vesely, Ed.D. is Assistant Professor of Special Education and Sherlock, Ed.D. is Assistant Professor in Human Resources, in the College of Education and Allied Professions.
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Author:Sherlock, John
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
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Date:Dec 22, 2005
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