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Critical Thinking 4 Step Process

On a daily basis, we face problems and situations that should be evaluated and solved, and we are challenged to understand different perspectives to think about these situations. Most of us are building our cognitive thinking based on previous similar situations or experiences. However, this may not guarantee a better solution for a problem, as our decision may be affected by emotions, non-prioritized facts, or other external influences that reflect on the final decision. Therefore, critical thinking tends to build a rational, open-mined process that depends on information and empirical evidence.

The National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking defines critical thinking as an “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.” The process tends to help us judge and evaluate situations based on understanding the related data, analyze it, build a clear understanding of the problem, choose the proper solution, and take actions based on the established solution.

The critical thinking process prevents our minds from jumping directly to conclusions. Instead, it guides the mind through logical steps that tend to widen the range of perspectives, accept findings, put aside personal biases, and consider reasonable possibilities. This can be achieved through six steps: knowledge, comprehension, application, analyze, synthesis, and take action. Below is a brief description of each step and how to implement them.

Step 1: Knowledge

For every problem, clear vision puts us on the right path to solve it. This step identifies the argument or the problem that needs to be solved. Questions should be asked to acquire a deep understanding about the problem. In some cases, there is no actual problem, thus no need to move forward with other steps in the critical thinking model. The questions in this stage should be open-ended to allow the chance to discuss and explore main reasons. At this stage, two main questions need to be addressed: What is the problem? And why do we need to solve it?

Step 2: Comprehension

Once the problem is identified, the next step is to understand the situation and the facts aligned with it. The data is collected about the problem using any of the research methods that can be adopted depending on the problem, the type of the data available, and the deadline required to solve it.

Step 3: Application

This step continues the previous one to complete the understanding of different facts and resources required to solve the problem by building a linkage between the information and resources. Mind maps can be used to analyze the situation, build a relation between it and the core problem, and determine the best way to move forward.

Step 4: Analyze

Once the information is collected and linkages are built between it the main problems, the situation is analyzed in order to identify the situation, the strong points, the weak points, and the challenges faced while solving the problem. The priorities are set for the main causes and determine how they can be addressed in the solution. One of the commonly used tools that can be deployed to analyze the problem and the circumstances around it is the cause effect diagram, which divides the problem from its causes and aims to identify the different causes and categorize them based on their type and impact on the problem.

Step 5: Synthesis

In this stage, once the problem is fully analyzed and all the related information is considered, a decision should be formed about how to solve the problem and the initial routes to follow to take this decision into action. If there are number of solutions, they should be evaluated and prioritized in order to find the most advantageous solution. One of the tools that contribute choosing the problem solution is the SWOT analysis that tends to identify the solution’s strength, weakness, opportunity, and threats.

Step 6: Take Action

The final step is to build an evaluation about the problem that can be put into action. The result of critical thinking should be transferred into action steps. If the decision involves a specific project or team, a plan of action could be implemented to ensure that the solution is adopted and executed as planned.

The critical thinking method can be adopted to replace emotions and perusal biases when trying to think about a situation or a problem. The time for adopting critical thinking varies based on the problem; it may take few minutes to number of days. The advantage of deploying critical thinking is that it contributes to widening our perspectives about situations and broadening our thinking possibilities. However, these steps should be translated into a plan of action that ensures that the decided resolution is well achieved and integrated between all the involved bodies.

4 Easy Steps for Critical Thinking

Any rookie or veteran educator is challenged by the task of having students become critical thinkers. If I am honest, I have struggled with teaching or integrating critical thinking concepts. Most days I am just happy the students read the text or even remembered the work we did the week prior to the class. One of the simplest forms of integrating critical thinking has been to ask my students the ubiquitous ‘why’ that we educators like to respond with or ‘tell me more’. On some days, I am super impressed; on other days I question my existence!

As a great admirer of leadership, the guru Ken Blanchard, and his philosophy of ‘all of us are smarter than one of us’ I knew this is something I needed to develop. As a start, I took an exceptional class in spring 2016 by the legendary Stephen Brookfield called ‘Developing Critical Thinkers’. The four steps he described in his ‘Critical Thinking Process’ have been very helpful for me in my teaching and as an engaged citizen. Once internalized watching news, reading articles, and even conversations are impossible without applying it. So here we they are:

Identify Assumptions: whoever is writing or speaking is sharing based off of the individual’s worldview or ideology. Here is an example of an assumption, ‘if I praise my students for doing good work, this will encourage them to continue’. While this could be true, it could also cause a ‘fixed mindset’ rather than a ‘growth mindset in some kids. Another very popular assumption is ‘if I teach my students in a circle they are more likely to be engaged.

Assess Grounds-Evidence, Accuracy & Validity: this involves a sort of self-interrogation. Where am I getting these ideas from? Family, the folks with whom I socialize, schooling, religion, the media? Who are the ‘experts’ informing my intelligence? Were their assumptions based on valid research or just their experience? An example of this would be that boys require more discipline than girls or parents of students in urban areas are not interested in their children’s education.

Take Alternative Perspectives: This is the proverbial, ‘walk a mile in someone’s shoes’. Many times I try to imagine what my students’ day was like before they came to my class. Did they take the overcrowded NYC subway, get into a fight with a parent or sibling, are they worried about approval from peers? What is the perspective of their parents, school administrators’ future educators? We try to see things through the lens of the other person. An example of a great practical way of doing this in the classroom is to ask your students to bring in sunglasses and switch sun glasses to role-play their peers.

Take Informed Action: The final step of the process is making a decision based on our now researched assumptions. This involves some reflection on the preceding three steps and making a calculated judgement.

So there we are folks! I have found that Brookfield’s critical thinking process is easy and practical. I hope this was able to help someone as it did for me. If anything you can definitely impress a group by saying, hmmm… what are your assumptions based on?

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