critical thinking skills and kolb pattern


Critical thinking is so central to sound
reasoning that it deserves special attention. No
doubt, you have encountered this term
previously, but what does it mean? The
tradition of critical thinking goes back at least
2,500 years to the time of Socrates who established the importance of evidence, questioning, and
analysis utilizing “Socratic questioning.” Since then, many others (including Plato, Aristotle,
Thomas Aquinas, Francis Bacon, Descartes, and Kant, just to name a few) have contributed to
the development of tools for critical thought. Many scientists (e.g., Newton, Boyle, and Darwin
18 Wirth & Perkins - Learning to Learn
are a few notable examples) have applied the tools of critical thinking to develop new models of
our natural world. The methods of critical thought are by no means limited to thinking in
science, but have also been applied in virtually all other disciplines. 

They involve both cognitive
and affective components.
As with other terms introduced in this document, let us start with a definition. Scriven and
Paul suggested the following definition to the National Council for Excellence in Critical
Thinking (
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

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.
Note that the beginning of this definition emphasizes that critical thinking must be “actively and
skillfully” applied. The essential elements of reasoning that should be employed in all thinking,
regardless of discipline, are given in Table 4. Additionally, intellectual standards (e.g., clarity,
accuracy, precision, relevance, depth, breadth, logic, significance, and fairness) and traits (e.g.,
intellectual integrity, intellectual humility, confidence in reason, intellectual perseverance,
fairmindedness, intellectual courage, intellectual empathy, and intellectual autonomy) should
also be applied to thinking to ensure quality (

 Stated another way, critical thinking is thinking that assesses itself. It examines the elements
of thought and is based on intellectual values that transcend the frame of reference of the thinker
and the subject matter, purpose, implications, and consequences of the thinking. Scriven and
Paul also note that critical thinking has two components: 1) a set of skills to process and generate
information, and 2) the habit of using those skills to guide behavior. In other words, its not
sufficient to have the skills for critical thinking, you also need to employ them. In another
document from the National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking, Paul and Elder (2004)
argue that there are two essential dimensions of thinking that students need to master: 1) be able
to identify the “parts” of their thinking, and 2) be able to assess their use of those parts in

Paul and Elder (2004) suggest the following elements of critical thinking:
• All reasoning has a purpose
• All reasoning is an attempt to figure something out, to settle some question, to solve
some problem
• All reasoning is based on assumptions
• All reasoning is done from some point of view
• All reasoning is based on data, information, and evidence
Wirth & Perkins - Learning to Learn 19
• All reasoning is expressed through, and shaped by, concepts and ideas
• All reasoning contains inferences by which we draw conclusions and give meaning
• All reasoning leads somewhere, has implications and consequences
The elements of one’s reasoning can be assessed using standards such as clarity, precision,
accuracy, relevance, depth, breadth, logic, and significance. It is important to regularly monitor
your thinking for flawed intellectual standards such as “it must be true because:” “I believe it;”
“we believe it;” “I want to believe it;” “I have always believed it;”

 “it is easier to believe it than
to understand it;” “or because it is in my vested interest to believe it” (see It should be clear from the above
discussion, and the guidelines in Table 4, that questioning is the key to sound reasoning.
Questions define the path of our thinking, they determine the evidence that we seek, and they
lead us to new levels of understanding. Never stop asking questions!
Intentional thought about one’s own thinking (metacognition) is generally regarded as an
essential component of successful thinkers and learners. Studies show “experts” constantly
Table 4. Guidelines for developing elements of reasoning (modified from Paul & Elder,
Elements of Reasoning Guidelines
Purpose or Motivation
Choose significant and realistic purposes; state you purpose clearly;
distinguish your purpose from related purposes; periodically check that
your purpose is still valid
Question or Problem
Clearly and precisely state the question

; reformulate the question
several different ways to clarify its meaning and scope; identify if the
question has one right answer, is a matter of opinion, or requires
reasoning from more than one point of view
Assumptions Clearly identify your assumptions and determine if they are justifiable;
consider how the assumptions are shaping your point of view
Point of View
Clearly identify your point of view; seek other points of view and
identify their strengths and weaknesses; seek an open-minded
evaluation of all points of view
Data, Information, Evidence
Restrict your claims to those supported by the data that you have;
search for evidence that opposes you position as well as supports it;
make sure that all information is clear, accurate, and relevant to the
question; make sure that you have gathered sufficient information to
address the question at hand
Concepts and Ideas Identify key concepts and explain them clearly; consider alternative
concepts; make sure you are using concepts with care and precision
Inferences and Conclusions Infer only what the evidence implies; check inferences for internal
consistency; identify assumption with lead you to your inferences
Implications and Consequences
Trace the implications and consequences that follow from you
reasoning; search for negative as well as positive implications; consider
all possible consequences
20 Wirth & Perkins - Learning to Learn
I went to a bookstore and asked the saleswoman,

 “Where’s the self-help section?”
She said if she told me, it would defeat the
George Carlin
A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the
moment a single man contemplates it,
bearing within him the image of a cathedral
Antoine de Saint Exupèry
monitor their understanding and progress
during problem solving. Critically, their
metacognitive skills allow them to decide
when their current level of understanding is
not adequate. This type of planning, selfmonitoring, self-regulation, and self
assessment not only includes general knowledge about cognitive processes and strategies, but
also appropriate conditions for use of those strategies, and general self-knowledge. 

suggests that metacognitive skills cannot be taught out of context. In other words, one can’t just
take a course on metacognition. You need to learn it and apply it within the context of
disciplinary content. As you are learn, you should engage in constant questioning (e.g., What am
I trying to accomplish? What is the best strategy for learning? How is my progress? Did I
succeed?). This sort of self-monitoring and reflection not only leads to deeper and more
effective learning, but also lays the groundwork for being a self-directing learner.

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