Teaching for Critical Thinking

Teaching for Critical Thinking

Stephen Brookfield (University of St. Thomas, Minneapolis, MN, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/javet.2013010101


This article reviews the core process of critical thinking – hunting assumptions – and explains how this process differs according to the context of what is being taught and the different intellectual traditions that inform teachers’ own backgrounds. It outlines a basic protocol of critical thinking as a learning process that focuses on uncovering and checking assumptions, exploring alternative perspectives, and taking informed actions as a result. Three different categories of assumptions – paradigmatic, prescriptive, and causal – are defined, and the teaching methods and approaches that most help students to think critically are explored. The article examines in detail the fact that critical thinking is best experienced as a social learning process, and how important it is for teachers to model the process for students.
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Although I use the term critical thinking to refer to the general process of hunting and checking assumptions it is not an unequivocal concept, understood in the same way by all who speak or write the term. In fact it is a contested idea. How the term is used reflects the ideology of the user and her disciplinary background. In fact there are at least four distinct intellectual traditions shaping understandings of critical thinking and these differ substantially, perhaps explaining why so many efforts to teach critical thinking across the curriculum fail so dismally. In rough order of their prominence in the discourse of critical thinking these traditions are (1) analytic philosophy and logic, (2) natural science, (3) pragmatism, and (4) critical theory.

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