Professors and employers communicate that they value students and employees who possess critical thinking skills. What exactly is this thinking process that has garnered so much attention? According to the Foundation for Critical Thinking (2011):
“Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action” (para. 3).
Given this definition, one can see how useful critical thinking would be for a student and for an employee.
How do we gain or develop critical thinking skills?
Some people seem to have the skills naturally, while others must work at honing them. Recently, an acquaintance confided that she has had to rethink her belief system over the years. She reflected and questioned many of her long-held beliefs, and found some of them to be unfounded. This is quite a statement, but this is a good example of someone who has put critical thinking skills to effective use in her personal life.
In academia, critical thinking skills are imperative for research papers. A student must collect scholarly data, analyze the data, and formulate his or her findings, forming scholarly validation and discussion and drawing conclusions. Some students do not feel self-confident enough to step outside of their comfort zone and make original conclusions, but this practice is empowering and expected!
In the workplace, an employee with critical thinking skills will be valuable in teamwork and in problem-solving. The same steps can be followed as with the research paper. A problem is identified, research is conducted and analyzed, a solid defense of a chosen position is formulated, and a solution (or conclusion) is found and discussed.
Critical thinking skills are important throughout life. Some middle and high schools are incorporating critical thinking instruction into various classes. Debates are an effective learning tool to develop these skills. Students must enter a debate prepared with data and defend their stance. Learning and practicing critical thinking skills can form the foundation for success in academia, the workplace, and in life.
Foundation for Critical Thinking. (2011). Defining critical thinking. Retrieved from http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/defining-critical-thinking/766