CULTIVATING THE CRITICAL AND CREATIVE THINKING ABILITIES IN THE EDUCATIONAL PROCESS

cercetător dr. Marinela Rusu Institutul „Gh. Zane”, Iaşi

We can say that critical and creative thinking are interrelated and complementary aspects of thinking, especially when comes to propelling the complex process of problem-solving. Almost all of the thinking, which we undertake contains some critical and some creative aspects. For example, when we try to solve real life problems we move back and forth several times between creative and critical reflection as we develop solutions or weigh the consequences of any one solution. It is important, therefore, that any attempts to improve thinking abilities pay attention to both critical and creative aspects of thinking.

The term critical thinking has become so prevalent in philosophy, psychology and education that it has become a ‘buzzword’. For instance, critical thinking prominently shapes goals in education, whether among curriculum developers, education researchers, parents, or employers. Norris (1985) stated in his ‘Synthesis of Research on Critical Thinking’, that critical thinking should be an educational ideal and not just an educational option. Such a claim necessitates that students have a “moral right” to be taught how to think critically. In other words, one’s education is not complete unless one has learned how to think critically. However, the concept of critical thinking is not new. It dates back at least to Socrates, and it has been a focus of educational reform movements throughout history. Of all the kinds of thinking that one can possibly identify, none has drawn greater attention from the educational community than critical thinking. An understanding of the meaning of critical thinking is important because the concept can be vague and elusive. Brookfield (1987) asserted that critical thinking is a way of life,which can be seen in the context of, for example, one’s relationships, work activities, and political involvements. Brookfield defined critical thinking as more than just the skills of logical analysis. Rather, critical thinking involves uncovering assumptions underlying the habitual ways of thinking and acting, and then being ready to think and act differently in light of the new-found insights. Paul (1995), a critical thinking guru, defined what it means to be a well-educated person in relation to critical thinking. He postulated that a student who applies critical thinking skills is one who often asks probing questions, seeks to figure out the logic of things, examines assumptions, analyses concepts, tests implications, and consequences. The current critical thinking movement can be traced back to 1962 with Ennis’ landmark article, ‘A Concept of Critical Thinking’. Ennis’ initial conception of critical thinking focused on the correct assessment of statements based on criteria. It focused on the quality of the products of critical thinking, rather than the process. Specifically, 12 aspects of critical thinking have been identified (Ennis, 1962) and they refer, mainly to the capacity of judging whether: 1) grasping the meaning of a statement; 1

2) there is ambiguity in a line of reasoning; 3) certain statements contradict each other; 4) a conclusion follows necessarily; 5) a statement is specific enough; 6) a statement is actually the application of a certain principle; 7) an observation statement is reliable; 8) an inductive conclusion is warranted; 9) the problem has been identified; 10) something is an assumption; 11) a definition is adequate; and 12) a statement made by an alleged authority is acceptable. These ’quality-of-product-based’ conceptions of critical thinking were redefined approximately 20 years later, incorporating a process of reasonable and reflective thinking, and focused on deciding what to believe or do (Ennis, 1989; Norris and Ennis, 1989). Ennis’ new definition of critical thinking consists of three major parts. First, critical thinking starts as a problem-solving process in a context of interacting with the world and other people. Second, it continues as a reasoning process, informed by background knowledge and previously acceptable conclusions, and it results in drawing a number of inferences through induction, deduction, and value judging. Finally, the critical thinking process ends in a decision about what to do or believe. Ennis’ new conception of critical thinking revolves around the ideas of general thinking skills, and dispositions toward critical thinking. Ennis’ taxonomy of general critical thinking skills can be summarized into five main aspects: 1) Elementary clarification; 2) Basic support; 3) Inference; 4) Advanced clarification; and 5) Strategies and tactics. Operating in the background of these critical thinking abilities are the elements of clarity and critical thinking dispositions. These critical thinking dispositions define the “critical spirit” of the thinker, and such critical spirit is what motivates the thinker to apply critical thinking skills to his or her own thinking. Swartz and Reagan (1998), like Ennis, also adopted the definition of critical thinking as the evaluation of reasoning and argument as reasonable, reflective thinking directed at deciding what to believe or do. These critical thinking skills, according to Swartz and Reagan, are frequently needed in our personal and professional life and they fall into two categories: (1) Skills related to basic information that we get from a variety of sources—such as determining the accuracy and reliability of sources, and (2) Skills related to making inferences by which we draw conclusions that we do not verify directly from information offered as evidence to support them. Discussing the mental processes of critical thinking without mentioning one’s disposition (i.e., willingness or inclination) toward it would be an incomplete endeavor. Critical thinking dispositions refer to one’s tendencies toward critical thinking behavior such as seeking clarity and being inquisitive. Ennis (1989) also defined a critical thinking disposition in terms of the ‘critical spirit,’ which is a tendency to do something given certain conditions. Ennis argued that individuals must either have formed habits to use certain abilities, or overtly think and choose to use the abilities they possessed. A person with an ability to think critically under certain conditions will do so, only if so disposed. In a similar spirit, Peter and Noreen Facione, authors of the California Critical Thinking Dispositions Inventory (CCTDI), defined critical thinking dispositions as a constellation of attitudes, intellectual virtues, and habits of mind (Facione and Facione, 1994). We can say that Siegel’s theory (1985) about critical thinking fundamented in a decisively way the concept of attitudes and dispositions. He suggested that a critical thinker is one who is appropriately moved by reasons. The thinker has a propensity or disposition to believe and act in accordance with reasons, and the ability to assess the force of reasons in many contexts. In other words, tapping into the purposes behind a certain action, and the willingness to explore those purposes 2

and means to reach the ends is more crucial than possessing the technical and mechanical critical thinking skills and yet be unsure of the direction to be taken. McPeck (1981) considered the critical thinking not only like an opportunity. He suggested that critical thinking could be defined as ’a propensity and skill to engage in an activity with reflective scepticism’ (p. 8). Paul (1993) defined critical thinking as ’disciplined self-directed thinking, which exemplifies the perfections of thinking appropriate to a particular mode or domain of thinking’ (p. 33). Beyer (1990) had a similar conception of critical thinking, defining it as a ‘willingness’ (a predisposition) and an ability to scrutinise and evaluate thinking to determine truth, accuracy, or worth, and to construct logical arguments to justify claims or assertions. Beyer’s theory of critical thinking includes dispositions, criteria, argument, reasoning, and point of view. From the above-mentioned conceptualization, to think critically means to suspend judgment, maintain a healthy scepticism and exercise an open mind. Further, all these definitions of critical thinking (Beyer, 1990; Glaser, 1941; McPeck, 1981; Norris and Ennis, 1989; Paul, 1993; Swartz and Reagan, 1998) seem to have one main theme in common, i.e., critical thinking is a mental process that seeks to clarify as well as evaluate the action and activity that one encounters in life. The mental processes of clarification and evaluation are essential in the problem-solving and decision-making processes, which encompasses our entire daily activities. One idea is interesting here, that critical thinking cannot be negative or wrong. One misconception people possess is to confuse critical thinking with the sharing of opinions and being out-spoken. For example, asking someone for their opinion on national healthcare policy, a response such as ‘we need better than what we had’ without any elaboration does not reflect on critical thinking ability. One with critical thinking ability should be able to state an opinion that is supported by strong reasoning and backing. Likewise, in a classroom context, if students are asked to express an opinion, they are not necessarily being pushed to think critically. Critical thinking is not necessary being ‘critical’ and negative about everything. The process of critical reasoning should produce positive and improved results. In other words, the process of critical thinking should not merely stop at pointing out weaknesses but also providing alternative to the current state of the situation. Critical thinking is a mental activity which is not directly visible as a process. As such, the process of measuring critical thinking poses a great challenge to the experts in the field. One approach to tap into the development or changes in the quality of one’s critical thinking skill is through assessing the outcomes produced by the skill. Some of the more prominent standardized critical thinking tests, which have been widely used are: the Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal (Watson and Glaser, 1980)—aimed at grades 9 through adulthood; the Cornell Critical Thinking Test (Ennis and Millman, 1985)—aimed at grades 4 through 14; the Ennis-Weir Critical Thinking Essay Test (Ennis and Weir, 1985)—aimed at grades 7 through college; and the California Critical Thinking Test (Facione and Facione, 1994)s—aimed at college level students. Critical thinking and the ability to think critically have become part of the educators’ language. Professionals in every field, including education, business, engineering, nursing, journalism, the military or public service rely on critical thinking, together with their knowledge of their field, to make good decisions ‘in dealing with tactical, strategic, clinical, leadership, communication, economic, or design problems’. This is because critical thinking serves as a dynamic tool for learning as well as for problem-solving and decision making processes. If we talk about the creative thinking, we could say together with Albert Rothenberg the following:’The problem of creativity is beset with mysticism, confused definitions, value judgments, psychoanalytic admonitions, and the crushing weight of philosophical speculation dating from ancient times.’ Like critical thinking, creative thinking is also a complex, multifaceted, and multi-dimensional cognitive ability. When the term ‘creative’ is mentioned, it inevitably evokes other related terms such ‘creativity,’ ‘creative thinking,’ ‘creativity methods,’ ‘creative thinking techniques,’ and ‘creative thinking skill.’ Creativity is often used to denote a more universal conception of creativeness. It is often described in terms of three main components: ability, attitude, and process (Harris, 2001).

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Everyone has a certain level of ability to create, but it is with the right attitude and proper skill or process that he/she arrives at a creative product. This conception of creativity is synonymous to creative thinking. All the other terms which deal with skills, methods, and techniques come under the process component of creativity/creative thinking. Creativity or creative thinking is often defined as a parallel construct of intelligence but differs from intelligence in that it is not restricted to cognitive or intellectual functioning or behavior. Creativity is concerned with a complex mix of motivational conditions, personality factors, environmental conditions, chance factors, and even products; all contribute towards new and original ideas. It is a complex cognitive activity which involves creating something new or original (Feldhusen, 2002). Something is usually judged to be creative if it is “new” to society that is making the judgment, and if it is “useful”, or otherwise admirable. We do not count all things, which are new to be “creative,” they have to posses some kind of quality or esthetic beauty or usefulness. Creative thinking covers skills of flexibility, originality, elaboration, brainstorming, modification, associate thinking, attribute listing, metaphorical thinking, and so on. Some researchers take creative thinking to mean individualised cognition (Finke, Ward and Smith, 1992) which improves the likelihood of new, useful and unique thoughts occurring, involving elements of insight and invention. In short, creativity (or creativeness) is a mental process involving the generation of new ideas or concepts, or new associations between existing ideas or concepts. Several signs of creativity that indicate when creative learning occurs can be some of the folowing elements: 1. sensing problems or difficulty, 2. making guesses or hypotheses about the problem, 3. evaluating the hypotheses and possibly revising them, and 4. communicating the results. An important goal of education is to help students learn how to think more productively by combining critical thinking that aids ideas evaluation, and creative thinking that facilitates ideas generation. Both modes of thinking are essential for a well-rounded productive thinker. The link between critical and creative thinking is an interesting one. Critical and creative thinking are often seen as opposites or dichotomous; critical thinker is considered serious, analytical, and impersonal, whereas creative thinker is viewed as one who is wild, unstructured, and sometimes eccentric. The critical thinking model, historically much older than the creative model, is frequently referred to by people in business, education, and professional vocations when they argue that schools should teach students to think. The strength of this model is that it covers in depth the requirements of logic and the analysis of ideas. Perhaps because of the thoroughness of its treatment of complex matters, the critical thinking model has tended to ignore creative thinking. In addition, the critical thinking model often makes students see thinking as a negative and reactive enterprise, thereby limiting their competency to finding fault with existing ideas rather than producing better ideas, and criticizing other people’s arguments while ignoring the flaws in their own. In fact, criticizing one’s own behavior is perhaps even more fundamental than criticizing that of others. But it seems that the real scenario is that many students become adept at finding fallacies in other people’s arguments, sometimes so much so that their approach has been termed a ‘fallacy frenzy’. On the other hand, they often regard their own arguments as above criticism. Ruggiero (1988) argue that critical thinking and creative thinking advocates have not only tolerated the gulf between their approaches, but they have also often widened the gulf by attacking each other’s approach. Some creative thinking advocates blame the neglect of creativity on society’s emphasis on reasoning, and critical thinking advocates respond by likening creative thinking instruction to game playing. This unfortunate squabbling among scholars and educators has its

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counterpart in popular literature, with its sideshow terminology of ‘left-brain people’ and ‘right-brain people’. The larger truth is that both critical thinking and creative thinking have been neglected, that both are needed for solving problems and resolving issues, and that each benefits from the other. Critical thinking saves creative thinking from pursuing novelty for its own sake, while creative thinking prevents critical thinking from being merely reactive and negative. These arguments call for the teaching of thinking ‘holistically’; that is, we should keep a balance in dealing with critical and creative thinking, for focusing too much on one will make us an unbalanced person. So, the most appropriate model is a holistic model approach, which incorporates the principles and strategies of both critical and creating thinking. Such a holistic model, if carefully and properly designed, offers at least two important advantages: 1) A holistic model embraces both the production and the evaluation of ideas and presents students withone coherent, sequential approach to productive thinking. 2) A holistic thinking model fits a broader range of thinking processes (e.g.,decision-making, problem-solving, etc.) than does a creative model or a critical model, as all the processes of the former will require the thinker to be open-minded, reflective, and resourceful in obtaining information; careful in formulating interpretation; and logical in performing reasoning tasks (Ruggiero, 1988). An example of a holistic model approach can be found in Robert Swartz’s conception of what constitutes a skilful thinker (Swartz, 1991; Swartz and Reagan, 1998; Swartz, Fischer and Parks, 1998). According to this model, the skilful thinker is able to produce effective problem solution and sound decision. Thinking skill, according to Swartz, is the mental process that could assist us to consider various factors to find the best solution to problems and make well-founded decisions. Swartz, Fischer and Parks (1998) postulated that these thinking skills fall into three main categories: 1) skills at clarifying ideas; 2) skills at generating ideas — which consists of creative thinking skills; and 3) skills at assessing the reasonableness of ideas — which consists of critical thinking skills. These types of skilful thinking form the core important thinking skills that cut across various disciplinary areas. All these thinking skills will then be orchestrated to assist in producing the best solution to problems and making well-founded decisions. Swartz acknowledged that people are thinking all the time but “it is ordinary thinking done well that is our goal when we teach thinking” (Swartz, Fischer and Parks, 1998, p. 2). For instance, when one encounters a problem, he/she will first of all need to clarify and understand the actual problem situation, taking into consideration the actual context and constraints involved. These activities will call upon thinking skills for clarifying ideas. Next, one will need to put on the creative ’thinking cap’ to generate various ideas and alternatives solutions. At the same time, it is also important to suspend judgments so that unusual solutions can be thoroughly explored. This is a stage where critical thinking is crucial. As the process unfolds, it reveals an alternation between the two kinds of thinking, critical and creative. In practice, both kinds of thinking operate together most of the time and are not really independent of each other. Torrance (1962) once said that ’creative thinking appears to be important, even in jobs which appear to be quite routine.’ Usually creativity is manifested in one’s power to break away from the usual sequence of thought into altogether different pattern of thought. It is only then we can expect our results (problem solution) to be different or new or original. Albert Einstein once said that ’there is nothing that is a more certain sign of insanity than to do the same thing over and over and expect the results to be different.’ How true! It is unrealistic to expect our routine thinking methods to produce creative problem solution. To break away from the routine means to move away from the familiar patterns toward a divergent approach in problem5

solving. However, merely breaking away from routine and ‘thinking out of the box’ alone is not sufficient to produce appropriate and effective solutions.We need critical thinking to analyse and evaluate the potential ideas and solutions. Only then, we can be more certain of the usefulness and appropriateness of out solutions. In conclusion, we can say that critical and creative thinking are interrelated and complementary aspects of thinking, especially when comes to propelling the complex process of problem-solving. Almost all of the thinking, which we undertake contains some critical and some creative aspects. For example, when we try to solve real life problems we move back and forth several times between creative and critical reflection as we develop solutions or weigh the consequences of any one solution. It is important, therefore, that any attempts to improve thinking abilities pay attention to both critical and creative aspects of thinking. As aptly put forth by Sternberg (2004), critical thinking is important, but as a complement to, not as a substitute for, creative thinking. He went on further to suggest that people need to not only critique others’ ideas, but to generate their own ideas. In doing so, we will be operating in a more conducive psycpsychological and mental state for creative problem-solving.

References: Brookfield, SD (1987), Developing Critical Thinker: Challenging Adults to Explore Alternative Ways of Thinking and Acting. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Ennis, RH (1962), A concept of critical thinking. Harvard Educational Review, 32, 81–111. Ennis, RH (1989), Critical thinking and subject specificity: clarification and needed research. Educational Researcher, 13, 13–16. Feldhusen, JF (2002), Creativity: the knowledge base and children. High Ability Studies, 13, 179–183. Feldhusen, JF and Goh, BE (1995), Assessing and accessing creativity: An integrative review of theory, research, and development, Creativity Research Journal, 8, 231–247. Harris, R (2001), Introduction of Creative Thinking. Available at: http://www.virtualsalt. com/crebook1.htm. McPeck, JE (1981), Critical Thinking and Education. Great Britain: Maartin Robertson & Company Ltd. Norris, SP (1985), Synthesis of research on critical thinking. Educational Leadership, 42, 40–45. Norris, SP and Ennis, RH (1989), Evaluating Critical Thinking. Pacific Grove, CA: Critical Thinking Press & Software. Paul, R (1993), Critical Thinking: What Every Person Needs to Survive in a Rapidly Changing World. Santa Rosa, CA: Foundation for Critical Thinking. Perkins, DN (1988), Creativity and the quest for mechanism. In RJ Sternberg and EE Smith (eds.), The Psychology of Human Thought, p. 309–336. New York: Cambridge University Press. Siew-Lang Kong, Runco, MA and Chand, I (1995), Cognition and creativity. Educational Psychological Review, 7, 243–267. Siegel, H (1988), Education Reason: Rationality, Critical Thinking and Education. NY: Routledge. Swartz, RJ (1991), Infusing the teaching of thinking into content instruction. In AL Costa (ed.), Developing Minds: A Resource Book for Teaching Thinking, Revised Edition, Vol. 1, 177–184. Alexandria, Virginia: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

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