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Critical Thinking


Critical thinking is a term used to describe the thinking skills that higher education hopes its students will learn and extend during their college years. There are multiple definitions and resources on critical thinking that are drawn from multiple models. This page provides annotated references to a few of them.

American Association of Learning in Undergraduate Education Valid Assessment of Learning in Higher Education (VALUE) Rubrics

The VALUE project, part of the Liberal Education and America's Promise (LEAP) initiative, gathered an advisory board of researchers and campus leaders knowledgeable about research and evidence of student learning to develop a set of key learning outcomes and a set of rubrics for each.

The Critical Thinking VALUE rubric is based on the following definition:
"Critical thinking is a habit of mind characterized by the comprehensive exploration of issues, ideas, artifacts, and events before accepting or formulating an opinion or conclusion." The rubric contains the following dimensions:

  • Explanation of issues
  • Evidence
  • Influence of context and assumptions
  • Student's position
  • Conclusion and related outcomes

The rubric was designed to be applicable to multiple disciplines and a variety of learning activities.

Note: the VALUE rubrics web site has other rubrics that some might incorporate into a critical thinking model such as inquiry and analysis, quantitative literacy, information literacy, problem solving, and more.

Center for Critical Thinking

The Critical Thinking Community is comprised of the two organizations: The Center for Critical Thinking and Moral Critique and the Foundation for Critical Thinking. Their goal is to "promote essential change in education and society through the cultivation of fair-minded critical thinking." Drs. Richard Paul and Linda Elder are central figures in this community and authors of many publications which can be purchased through the web site bookstore.

Dr. Paul's concept of critical thinking has five dimensions (see The Essential Dimensions of Critical Thinking, midway down the page):

  1. analysis of thought
  2. assessment of thought
  3. dispositions of thought
  4. skills and abilities of thought
  5. obstacles or barriers to critical thought

It is also metacognitive in that the goal is to develop how we think. The model applies standards (clarity, accuracy, relevance, and so on) to elements (purposes, questions, information, and so on) to promote intellectual traits (humility, autonomy, integrity, and so on). See the Elements and Standards Online Learning Model, an interactive diagram (mouse over parts of the page to get points to consider for each standard and questions to consider for each element).

The site contains a page of categorized links to free articles which include articles on fundamentals, higher education instruction, for students on how to study, learn, and read and more.
Registering (which is free) provides access to further materials, such as streaming videos of presentations.


"WolcottLynch conducts research, offers consulting services, and develops innovative and practical educational resources for enhancing and assessing critical thinking, professional problem solving, and other higher-order thinking skills."

The work of WolcottLynch is based on King & Kitchener's Reflective Judgment Model. King & Kitchener engaged in over 20 years of cross-sectional and longitutindal research with over 1700 participants (172 high school; 996 traditional-age college; 196 graduate students). Based on this research, they constructed a model with three developmental periods (prereflective, quasi-reflective, and reflective reasoning) and seven stages.

In their book, Developing Reflective Judgment, King & Kitchener state that traditional models of critical thinking (inductive/deductive and inquiry-based) fail to take into account that "epistemic assumptions (assumptions about knowledge) play a central role in recognizing a problematic situation." (King & Kitchener 1994, p. 9) Epistemic assumptions are central to this model.

King & Kitchener note that most traditional-age college students are at stages 3 and 4, straddling developmental periods 1 and 2: prereflective and quasi-reflective reasoning. Wolcott's work is concrete, facilitating its use in the college classroom.

From the Educator Resources page:

Steps for Better Thinking (pdf)
(Graphic: steps correspond to stages 3-7 of King & Kitchener's model.)

Steps for Better Thinking Performance Patterns (pdf)
(Table with same stages as steps graphic above. Includes overall problem approach, major improvements over previous stage; common weaknesses for each stage)

Templates for Designing Assignment Questions (pdf)
(Provides sample prompts for weaknesses of each stage.)

Wolcott also has a College Faculty Handbook with a separate set of appendices which are well worth reading. See the site to email her for the latest versions.


Page updated: 28-Sep-2011

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