From the cognitive scientist’s point of view, the mental activities that are typically called critical thinking are actually a subset of three types of thinking: reasoning, making judgments and decisions, and problem solving. I say that critical thinking is a subset of these because we think in these ways all the time, but only sometimes in a critical way. Deciding to read this article, for example, is not critical thinking. But carefully weighing the evidence it presents in order to decide whether or not to believe what it says is. Critical reasoning, decision making, and problem solving—which, for brevity’s sake, I will refer to as critical thinking—have three key features: effectiveness, novelty, and self-direction. Critical thinking is effective in that it avoids common pitfalls, such as seeing only one side of an issue, discounting new evidence that disconfirms your ideas, reasoning from passion rather than logic, failing to support statements with evidence, and so on. Critical thinking is novel in that you don’t simply remember a solution or a situation that is similar enough to guide you. For example, solving a complex but familiar physics problem by applying a multi-step algorithm isn’t critical thinking because you are really drawing on memory to solve the problem. But devising a new algorithm is critical thinking. Critical thinking is self-directed in that the thinker must be calling the shots: We wouldn’t give a student much credit for critical thinking if the teacher were prompting each step he took.
Please note that while this research was done in the area of adult basic education, the conclusions in the report clearly indicated that, “There is very little difference between the characteristics needed by the adult basic education teacher and the effective teacher in any other setting.” This is especially true given the high numbers of underprepared students who are now showing up at college.
In 1966 Frank C. Pearce, Ph.D., prepared a report on the “needed qualities” of the ideal adult education teacher. In that report he wrote:
The teacher’s foremost concern must be the adult student, and his effectiveness in this concern must be judged on his ability to help the student to develop and maintain self-confidence. The ideal teacher could be described as people oriented, more interested in people than things, more interested in individuality than conformity, and more interested in finding solutions than in following rules. He would be considered a mature, integrated personality that had chosen his own role and relationship to society and coveted for everyone else the same privilege.
The seven characteristics identified by Pearce were (ranked in their order of importance):
The reports conclusions were:
The characteristics needed by an ideal basic education teacher have a variety of component parts. They are similar to the parts of a mosaic where some parts can be taught while others are more readily acquired through the process of maturation. Moreover, the need for these characteristics will occur at varying degrees on both horizontal and vertical planes within the mosaic. This produces an overlapping condition where one essential quality is dependent upon each of the other qualities.
It is unlikely that any given instructor could possess all of the characteristics needed in teaching adults basic education. A balance, however, among members of the staff can be achieved.
The attributes needed by the effective teacher are derived from a single goal — the ability to help the student to develop and maintain self-confidence. The essential attributes to reach this goal in order of their importance were: Understanding, Flexibility, Patience, Practicality, Humor, Creativity, and Preparation.
Understanding that reflects the inherent worth of every individual, emphasizing active involvement in student problems rather than sympathy leads to a learning climate where the student feels he is an integral an needed part. This is the foremost requirement for the effective adult basic education teacher.
There is very little difference between the characteristics needed by the adult basic education teacher and the effective teacher in any other setting. On the other hand, they must be present in the basic education setting, while teachers in other programs may not possess such characteristics and the programs still manage to survive.
Frank C. Pearce. “Basic Education Teachers: Seven Needed Qualities.” Adult Division, Modesto Junior College, Yosemite Junior College District, Modesto, California. September 1966.