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EDTC 6535 – Critical Thinking and Problem Solving

November 3, 2010

All – I apologize for the tardiness of this posting – this is the third time that I have attempted to post since last week, but I finally have my computer in working order.

If there’s one term that I have encountered time and time again during my career – both as a student and a teacher – it is “critical thinking.” I have repeatedly heard students, colleagues, educators, administrators, professors and parents talk about, discuss, question and praise the use of critical thinking in an educational setting. I have always been interested in this concept: the use of critical thinking in the classroom. The more I considered this, the more I realized that most people don’t understand what critical thinking really is. It’s not something that you can “use” in a classroom. Rather, it’s a concept that needs to be encouraged and nurtured in our students.

Critical thinking is a complicated idea, as the readings for this week illustrated. While through the definition of critical thinking on, I came across the following definition:

“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. In its exemplary form, it is based on universal intellectual values that transcend subject matter divisions: clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence, good reasons, depth, breadth, and fairness.” (

These lines jumped out at me for two reasons:

1 – The descriptors in the first sentence (conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating) are straight out of Bloom’s Taxonomy , an idea that has been beaten into my head since I started taking coursework in education.

2 – The descriptors in the second sentence (clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence, good reasons, depth, breadth, and fairness) proved to me once more that critical thinking is truly a universal concept.

Bloom’s Taxonomy – to clarify – is a hierarchy of human thinking skills.

As defined by TeacherVision:

According to Bloom’s Taxonomy, human thinking skills can be broken down into the following six categories.

  1. Knowledge: remembering or recalling appropriate, previously learned information to draw out factual (usually right or wrong) answers. Use words and phrases such as: how many, when, where, list, define, tell, describe, identify, etc., to draw out factual answers, testing students’ recall and recognition.
  2. Comprehension: grasping or understanding the meaning of informational materials. Use words such as: describe, explain, estimate, predict, identify, differentiate, etc., to encourage students to translate, interpret, and extrapolate.
  3. Application: applying previously learned information (or knowledge) to new and unfamiliar situations. Use words such as: demonstrate, apply, illustrate, show, solve, examine, classify, experiment, etc., to encourage students to apply knowledge to situations that are new and unfamiliar.
  4. Analysis: breaking down information into parts, or examining (and trying to understand the organizational structure of) information. Use words and phrases such as: what are the differences, analyze, explain, compare, separate, classify, arrange, etc., to encourage students to break information down into parts.
  5. Synthesis: applying prior knowledge and skills to combine elements into a pattern not clearly there before. Use words and phrases such as: combine, rearrange, substitute, create, design, invent, what if, etc., to encourage students to combine elements into a pattern that’s new.
  6. Evaluation: judging or deciding according to some set of criteria, without real right or wrong answers. Use words such as: assess, decide, measure, select, explain, conclude, compare, summarize, etc., to encourage students to make judgements according to a set of criteria.


As you can see, numbers three, four, five and six in the above definition align with’s definition.

As a teacher, this connection is telling me that, in order to get my students to learn, use and develop their critical thinking skills, I have to teach and encourage them to not only know and comprehend information, but apply, analyze, synthesize and evaluate that information as well. A good start on that journey is to apply the levels of questioning often associated with Bloom’s taxonomy; rather than asking comprehension questions, ask questions that encourage evaluation or synthesis, etc.

But how do we get students to go beyond merely answering questions?

My school district has recently adopted a framework for learning known as “Quad D”, or the Rigor/Relevance Framework.

See more about quad d here:

To summarize – quad d encourages the use of critical thinking, but structured in a way so that it applies to real-world situations. Think of it as a graph, with Bloom’s Taxonomy on the Y-axis (vertical), and means of application on the x-axis (horizontal). The more critical thinking that you encourage, the further up the y-axis you go. At the same time, the more applicable certain learning is to real-world situations, the further right on the horizontal you go. The goal is to encourage thinking and learning that is further up both axes – in doing so the students will not only be thinking critically, but learning how to apply their skills to the real-world, outside of school.

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