Willingham, How Do Cognitive Scientists Define Critical Thinking?

This passage is from an inset box in a larger article by Daniel T. Willingham called “Critical Thinking: Why Is It So Hard To Teach?” (American Educator, Summer 2007). The full article is available here: http://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/periodicals/Crit_Thinking.pdf

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.

The Ideal Teacher of Adult Students – Seven Characteristics

Seven Logo

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):

  1. Understanding
  2. Flexibility
  3. Patience
  4. Practicality
  5. Humor
  6. Creativity
  7. Preparation

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.

The full report is available from ERIC here.

Smith, First-Day Questions for the Learner-Centered Classroom 

First-Day Questions for the Learner-Centered Classroom 

Smith, Gary A. “First-Day Questions for the Learner-Centered Classroom.” The National Teaching and Learning Forum, vol. 17, no. 5 (September 2008): 1-4.

Smith, of the Office of Support for Effective Teaching at University of New Mexico, has written a useful article on things that can be done on the first day of a class in a learner centered class to get student “buy-in” and and set the groundwork for the semester to come.

The articles is available here.

Or, here: Smith (2008) First Day Questions for the Learner-Centered Classroom.

Learning Colleges and Educational Change: An Interview with Terry O’Banion

The Spring 2003 edition (Volume 14, number 2) of the Office of Community College Research and Leadership at University of Illinois at Champaign’s Update: On Research and Leadership contains an interview with Terry O’Banion, President Emeritus of the League of Innovation in the Community College.  The article is a great distillation of his thought on the “learning college” and community colleges in general.

The interview is available here.

eBook – Educating the Net Generation

Net Gen eBook Icon

The Net Generation has grown up with information technology. The aptitudes, attitudes, expectations, and learning styles of Net Gen students reflect the environment in which they were raised—one that is decidedly different from that which existed when faculty and administrators were growing up.

This collection explores the Net Gen and the implications for institutions in areas such as teaching, service, learning space design, faculty development, and curriculum. Contributions by educators and students are included.

The ebook is available for free from  EDUCAUSE here.  Or, you can view the website to see individual chapter here.

Mark Prensky, Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants

Marc Prensky

Marc Prensky, “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants.”  One the Horizon, volume 9, number 5 (October 2001).


Marc Prensky, “Digital Native, Digital Immigrants, Part II: Do they REally Think Differently?”  One the Horizon, volume 9, number 6 (December 2001)

Marc Prensky’s original articles on the concepts of digital natives and digital immigrants from On the Horizon.

The full articles are available on his website here and here.