Understanding Critical Thinking
What is critical thinking and why is it very important? First, we need to define the word critical, it means two different things depending on the context it is used. It could mean a negative aspect of a thing or the important aspect of a subject or an idea.
Critical thinking does not only seek to understand the important matters of a subject or idea but to question the information and arguments you encounter in your studies. It is considered the key skill that every learner should learn to be able to think critically about the information being presented to them as well as to learn how to study with an open mind.
Importance of critical thinking in areas that involves:
- Data interpretation, understanding arguments, and identifying the significance of an assignment
- Drawing out well-thought and reasoned arguments in order to justify your own arguments and ideas.
- Combining your own ideas along with the ideas of other writers, researchers or theorists.
Model for Critical thinking
The key main ingredient to critical thinking is asking important questions. This process involves a three-stage model that can help you to properly understand, question , analyse and evaluate certain reading materials or topics.
Three – stage model involves:
- Description – in this stage you have to ask the basic questions starting with what, where, why and who in order to establish the background and context of a reading.
Example, in reading articles, you might want to start with the following questions:
- What is the article about?
- Who is the author?
- When is it written? Period of time it is written.
- Why is the article written? For what purpose?
For problem solving you might ask the following questions:
- What is the significance of the problem?
- Who are directly involve in this problem and who will get affected?
- When and where is this problem happening?
These questions will lead to a descriptive answer that will be very helpful in understanding the basic context and background of the article.
- Analysis – in this stage you will have to ask the “how?”, “why?” and “what if?” questions to identify the process, reasons and causes of the article.
- Why is the author using this theory?
- How is the theory used in the article?
- What other alternative theories can be applicable in the article other than what the author was using?
If dealing with a problem, use the following questions:
- What are the factors that contributing to the problem?
- How are these factors impact one another?
- What if factors contributing to the problem is altered?
The above questions will generate deeper thinking and analytical answers that is very valuable in breaking the article into parts, and in identifying the relationship between each part and to the whole idea of the article.
- Evaluation – in this stage you will ask questions such as So what? Or What’s next? These questions will allow you to identify the relevance and implication of the article as well as generate judgments and value of the article to your studies.
Example, you can ask the following questions:
- What do I think about this article?
- How can this article be helpful in my studies?
- What is the relevance of this article?
The three-stage model does not strictly follow the linear order, depending on the situation you can move back and forth between different stages or skip some stages and then go back to the other stages. Example, in reading a certain article you may first ask “What is this about?” then move straight to “ Does this article relate or relevant to my studies? The three-stage model is intended to encourage you to develop a critical approach on interpreting assignments, in creating arguments, evaluating sources for your studies and using data to formulate valuable questions that will be helpful in your research.
In selecting the right reading material for your study you need to take into consideration the following factors and ask yourself:
- Why am I choosing this material? Will it be beneficial for my presentation, assignment, or is it a pre-reading for a lecture or simply for getting any ideas that is related to my field of study?
- What do I already know and what will I get from the material that I am about to read? Make sure to point out specific facts, the general idea of the material as well as the author’s viewpoint.
It is important to note that you cannot read all the readings you can find on a certain topic, so make sure to select the quality material with the most reliable and current sources. Here are some main strategies you need to use when selecting the right material to read:
- Make an educated guess as to what the article is all about before reading it.
- Scan through the article quickly for keywords that would be beneficial to your study.
- Skim through your reading. Check the first and last line to get the gist of the whole text.
- Intensive reading on the important parts.
When you found an article that is directly relevant to your study, you need to read it slow and intensively. Use the critical thinking model to form a descriptive evaluation of the reading materials by asking questions and analyzing the content.
Question the relevance of the material to evaluate its significance to the information you need in your study by:
- Evaluating the writer’s point of view – check if the writer’s argument is clearly presented with a reliable source to back it up. You can ask yourself “Is it convincing enough, and does it reach a conclusion that it wanted to convey?”
- Take notes of important information – write down the essential points as you go along with your reading to help you organize and engage critically with your reading.
Your writing should show that you understand the subject matter comprehensively by demonstrating your analytical and critical approach on the topic. You should also keep your reader in mind and anticipate that they would be asking questions as they read your work. To make your writing credible you should select the right source, and be clear with your argument by:
- Using reliable evidence to support your argument – use the right evidence to support your position. Minimize the background and historical information and give clear interpretation of the facts and explain its significance, consequences, and implications of the argument you made.
- Difference between descriptive writing vs critical writing:
- In critical writing, it is not enough to state what happened but to identify the significance of it happening.
- Do not just explain the theory but instead show why the theory is relevant, point out its significance.
- Enumerating method is not enough, make sure to indicate why that certain method is appropriate to use.