Chatfield (2018) provides 10 commandments of critical thinking. We’ve adapted these specifically for Marjon students as the main things to concentrate on if you want to be a great critical thinker!
- Healthy scepticism over cynicism – being sceptical is the art of questioning and looking for evidence before committing to belief. Cynicism is an underlying negative outlook and belief that everybody is motivated by self-interest. The two are often confused, but scepticism is a useful tool for critical thinking; cynicism isn’t.
- If it’s worth including, say why – or in other words, why have you selected one piece of evidence over the multitude of other arguments out there?
- Be prepared to argue against your own beliefs – this can be tricky, particularly if you are arguing against something that contravenes your personal values. However, this is an excellent critical thinking skill, as the ability to see things from another perspective is a key element of a well-rounded argument.
- Know your limits – if you don’t know something, then state that it is unknown. Make it your business to find out more!
- Criticise, but don’t dismiss – remember that there’s a nice way to do things! You can criticise without being deliberately offensive or hurtful, so keep your tone academic and your language objective.
- Everything could be wrong – In academia, everything is open to challenge and further research. Never say something is proved or disproved; hedge your approximations.
- Seek critical balance with description – your assignments can’t be purely descriptive; but they can’t be purely critical either! Use description to contextualise your arguments and build a picture of the state of play for your reader.
- Don’t raise your voice, improve your argument – this is a quote from the Archbishop Desmond Tutu. In our assignments, it doesn’t matter how strongly we feel about something; we need to have evidence to back up our own assumptions. If more than one person is talking about something, then look at the underlying significance of this and use it to improve your argument.
- Beware frames of reference – frames of reference are always relative, and never absolute. Always consider the perspective of an argument; is it historical, social or political, as this will inevitably affect the argument being made. This also gives you another angle of critique for your argument.
- Correlation is not causality – remember that a similar trend between two elements does not automatically indicate a correlation. To suggest a cause, there must be a relationship between the elements; otherwise, it is simply coincidence!
Critical Processes & Models
There are a number of processes and models associated with critical thinking. It wouldn’t be helpful to list them all here, so we have selected a few that can help you make sense of your assignments and arguments across the course of your degree.
Bloom’s taxonomy is a hierarchy of skills that can increase our cognitive ability, including our critical thinking skills. The taxonomy differentiates between lower-order thinking skills (LOTS) and higher-order thinking skills (HOTS). Critical thinking skills span across the spectrum of LOTS and HOTS. You can read more about how the taxonomy can be useful for study here.
PEE stands for Point, Evidence, Evaluation and is an effective tool to guide your written assignments. This model encourages you to provide a brief descriptive background in order to contextualise your assignment, to provide evidence for the argument being made, and then to evaluate that evidence in light of its strengths, weaknesses and in comparison, to other evidence. Read more about PEE here.
Elements & Standards
The Foundation for Critical Thinking has an interactive model which considers the analysis and assessment of reasoning. It has been devised for application to real life scenarios and can be found here.
Further reading: The most useful critical thinking mental models to know about: https://www.wabisabilearning.com/blog/useful-critical-thinking-mental-models