Steps towards integrating thinking

What is Thinking?

  • Thinking is a mental process
  • Thinking skills are the intellectual skills such as the skills of memorizing and recalling facts and information, clarifying, making analysis, generating ideas, making decisions, problem solving, and planning.
  • Different authors of thinking skills have proposed different models and approaches in teaching thinking skills.

Higher-Order Thinking

  • Involves transformation of information and ideas
  • Transformation = combine facts and ideas, synthesis, generalize, explain, hypothesis or arrived at some conclusion
  • Manipulating information and ideas in order to allow students to solve problems, gain understanding and discover new meaning
  • Engage in the construction of knowledge

Critical thinking

  • interpreting, testing, judging, testifying, critiquing, concluding, speculating, disputing, evaluating, deciding.

Creative thinking

  • hypothesizing, designing, reconstructing, creating, modifying, developing, imagining, brainstorming, generating, solving, devising.

Analytical thinking

  • comparing, contrasting, relating, choosing, determining, interviewing, indentifying, combining, categorizing, researching, experimenting, specifying, deducing.

Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy



Generating new ideas, products, or ways of viewing things

Designing, constructing, planning, producing, inventing


Justifying a decision or course of action

Checking, hypothesizing, critiquing, experimenting, judging


Breaking information into parts to explore understandings and relationships

comparing, organizing, deconstructing, interrogating, finding


Using information in another familiar situation

implementing, carrying out, using, executing


Explaining ideas or concepts

interpreting, summarizing, paraphrasing, classifying, explaining


Recalling information

recognizing, listing, describing, retrieving, naming, finding


Friendship Forever!

[rockyou id=107110852&w=426&h=319]


“Direct Teaching” is a structured approach to teaching which involves a high level of interactivity. It is not seen as the single best model, but one of several approaches. This paper complements other parts of the Learning and Teaching Toolkit which deal with other approaches, such as independent learning.
The term “Direct Teaching” can also be used in a looser way to describe a teaching style which is strongly teacher-directed and involves ‘direct’ communication with a pupil, group of pupils or class. In the late 1990s, HMI in Scotland began to re-emphasise the importance of direct teaching in reaction to a sterile worksheet based approach. This should not be seen as an argument for unrelieved ‘top down’ whole class teaching.

Points Arising from Research

  • The Direct Teaching approach is particularly effective in the teaching of skills rather than knowledge.
  • The teacher needs a very good level of knowledge and understanding of the topic and a very easy control of the ideas.


Key Elements of Direct Teaching

The Madeline Hunter model:

Hunter is associated with the following teaching system, which emphasises modelling, guided practice and then independent practice.

There are 7 stages:

  1. Establish the objectives of the teaching

  2. Draw the pupils into the topic (referred to as the “anticipatory set” and sometimes placed first in order here)

  3. Make expectations and assessment standards clear to pupils

  4. Teach the topic:

  1. Deliver the input

  2. Provide modelling/demonstrations

  3. Give directions for pupils

  4. Check for pupils’ understanding (See Toolkit section on Questioning)

  1. Give guided practice in the task

  2. Draw teacher-controlled work to a close

  3. Provide independent practice

Reflection and Discussion

To what extent do you use Direct Teaching approaches in your classroom?

Do you use or could you use a very structured, “scripted” approach?

Are some curricular areas more suited to such approaches?

Some Activities Relating To the Issue of Direct Teaching

Key element



Some examples and suggestions

The Madeline Hunter Model

This process is highly structured or “scripted”

Most teachers feel comfortable with the idea of direct teaching. However, it can be seen as a process which must follow closely a clear set of “rules”. Consider how your own teaching matches this pattern. Are there some elements of your teaching which are more suited to the approach than others? “Script” a 7-stage approach for a specific topic (bearing in mind the flexibility which it offers).

Other interpretations of the process

Three different descriptions

Consider some elements of your course and reflect on how your delivery of them matches the various patterns. Is there scope for rethinking any aspects?

Effective instruction and explanation

Use good examples which seem relevant to pupils’ lives

Consider the ways in which you explain things to pupils. Can you build in any illustrations which are more closely related to pupils’ lives? Perhaps you could ask them to come up with such examples themselves.

Some reservations

Decontextualising the skills will improve potential for transfer

It is important to teach skills in context. How, then, can we ensure that pupils will be able to transfer them to other contexts – in other curricular areas and out-of-school contexts? Consider how you might adapt teaching to ensure that key skills can more easily be transferred. Having a look at Bloom’s Taxonomy may help.

Resources from:

Direct Teaching: Learning and Teaching should be Inclusive and Enjoyable



Throughout history, philosophers, politicians, educators and many others have been concerned with the art and science of astute thinking. Some identify the spirit of inquiry and dialogue that characterized the golden age of ancient Greece as the beginning of this interest. Others point to the Age of Enlightenment, with its emphasis on rationality and progress (Presseisen 1986, p. 6).

In the twentieth century, the ability to engage in careful, reflective thought has been viewed in various ways: as a fundamental characteristic of an educated person, as a requirement for responsible citizenship in a democratic society, and, more recently, as an employability skill for an increasingly wide range of jobs.

Deborah Gough’s words quoted at the beginning of this report typify the current viewpoint in education about the importance of teaching today’s students to think critically and creatively. Virtually all writers on this subject discuss thinking skills in connection with the two related phenomena of modern technology and fast-paced change. Robinson, for example, states in her 1987 practicum report:

Teaching children to become effective thinkers is increasingly recognized as an immediate goal of education….If students are to function successfully in a highly technical society, then they must be equipped with lifelong learning and thinking skills necessary to acquire and process information in an ever-changing world (p. 16).

Beyth-Marom, et al. (1987) underscore this point, characterizing thinking skills as means to making good choices:

Thinking skills are necessary tools in a society characterized by rapid change, many alternatives of actions, and numerous individual and collective choices and decisions (p. 216).

The societal factors that create a need for well developed thinking skills are only part of the story, however. Another reason that educators, employers, and others call for more and better thinking skills instruction in schools is that American young people, in general, do not exhibit an impressive level of skill in critical or creative thinking. The following observation from Norris’s 1985 review is typical:

Critical thinking ability is not widespread. Most students do not score well on tests that measure ability to recognize assumptions, evaluate arguments, and appraise inferences (p. 44).

Likewise, Robinson notes that:

While the importance of cognitive development has become widespread, students’ performance on measures of higher-order thinking ability has displayed a critical need for students to develop the skills and attitudes of effective thinking (p. 13).

There is yet another major force behind the call for improved thinking skills instruction. Educators are now generally agreed that it is in fact possible to increase students’ creative and critical thinking capacities through instruction and practice. Ristow (1988) notes that, in the past, these capacities have often been regarded as:

a fluke of nature, a genetic
predisposition….qualities [that] are either possessed or not possessed by their owner and that education can do very little to develop these qualities (p. 44).

Ristow then goes on to say:

However, a great deal of the research currently being reported indicates that the direct teaching of creative skills can produce better, more creative thinkers.

Presseisen makes this point even more forcefully, asserting that:

The most basic premise in the current thinking skills movement is the notion that students CAN learn to think better if schools concentrate on teaching them HOW to do so (p. 17).


Thinking skills. Critical thinking. Creative thinking. Higher-order thinking. Those who take an interest in this field of study soon realize that they cannot go tossing off these terms in a casual manner, since there are no universal agreements as to their precise meanings.

CRITICAL THINKING, for example, has been variously defined as:

  • Reflective and reasonable thinking that is focused on deciding what to believe or do (Robert Ennis, quoted in Presseisen, p. 24)
  • The disposition to provide evidence in support of one’s conclusions and to request evidence from others before accepting their conclusions (Hudgins and Edelman 1986, p. 333)
  • The process of determining the authenticity, accuracy and worth of information or knowledge claims (Beyer 1985, p. 276).

Beyer goes on to say that “critical thinking has two important dimensions. It is both a frame of mind and a number of specific mental operations” (p. 271). Norris (1985) agrees, stating that:

Having a critical spirit is as important as thinking critically. The critical spirit requires one to think critically about all aspects of life, to think critically about one’s own thinking, and to act on the basis of what one has considered when using critical thinking skills (p. 44).

Lists of alternative definitions could also be generated for other terminology commonly used in the thinking skills literature. In an attempt to come to terms with these definitional differences, Alvino, in his 1990 “Glossary of Thinking-Skills Terms,” offers a set of definitions which are widely—though not universally—accepted by theorists and program developers. For purposes of the present report, these definitions are applicable. They include:

  • BLOOM’S TAXONOMY. Popular instructional model developed by the prominent educator Benjamin Bloom. It categorizes thinking skills from the concrete to the abstract—knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, evaluation. The last three are considered HIGHER-ORDER skills.
  • COGNITION. The mental operations involved in thinking; the biological/neurological processes of the brain that facilitate thought.
  • CREATIVE THINKING. A novel way of seeing or doing things that is characterized by four components— FLUENCY (generating many ideas), FLEXIBILITY (shifting perspective easily), ORIGINALITY (conceiving of something new), and ELABORATION (building on other ideas).
  • CRITICAL THINKING. The process of determining the authenticity, accuracy, or value of something; characterized by the ability to seek reasons and alternatives, perceive the total situation, and change one’s view based on evidence. Also called “logical” thinking and “analytical” thinking.
  • INFUSION. Integrating thinking skills instruction into the regular curriculum; infused programs are commonly contrasted to SEPARATE programs, which teach thinking skills as a curriculum in itself.
  • METACOGNITION. The process of planning, assessing, and monitoring one’s own thinking; the pinnacle of mental functioning.
  • THINKING SKILLS. The set of basic and advanced skills and subskills that govern a person’s mental processes. These skills consist of knowledge, dispositions, and cognitive and metacognitive operations.
  • TRANSFER. The ability to apply thinking skills taught separately to any subject (p. 50).

The Thinking Skills Research

This summary is based on a review of 56 documents. Thirty-three of these are reports of research studies or reviews and are cited, with annotations, in the Key References section of the bibliography. Twenty-three are descriptive, theoretical, or guidelines documents or are concerned with research in areas other than the effectiveness of programs and practices. These reports are itemized in the General References.

Of the 33 key documents, 22 are research studies or evaluations, and 11 are reviews or syntheses of research. Subjects of these investigations include: general (or unspecified) student populations – 12 reports, elementary students – 9, secondary students – 9, and both secondary and postsecondary students – 3. The research involved regular, gifted, EMR, and Chapter 1 student populations; a representative range of racial/ethnic groups; and a balance of urban, suburban, and rural settings. Only three of the reports deal with student populations outside the United States. Five of the reports have teachers as well as students as their subjects.

The effects of many individual practices and whole programs were investigated. Many reports looked at the effects of instruction in various clusters of higher order thinking skills, including analysis, synthesis, and evaluation, together with the related skills and subskills of making predictions, making inferences, self-questioning and other metacognitive functions, formulating hypotheses, drawing conclusions, elaborating, solving problems, making decisions, identifying assumptions, determining bias, recognizing logical inconsistencies, and others.

Other reports looked at specific instructional practices, such as tutoring, using thinking skills software programs, and using advance organizers. Five were concerned with the effects of training teachers to conduct thinking skills instruction. The full thinking skills programs investigated by the research are discussed in the section on findings.

Outcome areas were likewise numerous, including student achievement as measured by assessments in the areas of reading comprehension, mathematics, general science, biology, physics, chemistry, art, social studies, and geography. Other outcome areas studied include SAT scores, commercial and locally developed higher-order thinking skills test scores, IQ test scores, and behavioral outcomes such as engaged time/level of participation. Research studies addressing effects on student attitudes or self-concepts were insufficient to allow for any general conclusions.


Findings emerging from the thinking skills research reviewed in preparation for this report include:

  • Providing students instruction in thinking skills is important for several reasons:
    • These skills are necessary for people to have in our rapidly changing, technologically oriented world.
    • Students, in general, do not have well-developed thinking skills.
    • Although many people once believed that we are born either with or without creative and critical thinking abilities, research has shown that these skills are teachable and learn-able.
  • Instruction in thinking skills promotes intellectual growth and fosters academic achievement gains.
  • Research supports providing instruction in a variety of specific creative and critical thinking skills, study techniques, and metacognitive skills.
  • Instructional approaches found to promote thinking skill development include redirection, probing, and reinforcement; asking higher-order questions during classroom discussions, and lengthening wait-time during classroom questioning.
  • Computer-assisted instruction is positively related to intellectual growth and achievement gains.
  • Many commercially available thinking skills instructional programs have been shown to bring about improvements in students’ performance on intelligence and achievement tests.
  • Training teachers to teach thinking skills is associated with student achievement gains.
  • In addition to program content, classroom practices, and teacher training, the success of thinking skills instruction is also dependent upon other factors, such as administrative support and appropriate match between the students and the instructional approach selected.
  • Neither infused thinking skills instruction nor separate curricula is inherently superior to the other; both can lead to improved student performance, and elements of both are often used together, with beneficial results.
  • Student performance has been shown to improve as a result of both direct teaching and inferential learning of thinking skills. Again, some programs have successfully combined these approaches.
  • Because thinking skills instruction requires large amounts of time in order to be effective, administrative support and schoolwide commitment are necessary for program success.
  • It is especially important to establish and maintain a positive, stimulating, encouraging classroom climate for thinking skills instruction, so that students will feel free to experiment with new ideas and approaches.

In both school settings and in the world outside of school, it is crucial for people to have “skills in questioning, analyzing, comparing, contrasting, and evaluating so that [they] will not become addicted to being told what to think and do” (Freseman 1990, p. 26). Putting into practice the findings from the thinking skills research can help schools to teach these skills and students to gain and use them.

Resources from:

School Improvement Research Series (SIRS)

Kathleen Cotton


We need thoughtful learning. We need schools that…focus not just on schooling memories but on schooling minds….. We need ‘a literacy of thoughtfulness’. We need educational settings with ‘thinking-centred’ learning, where students learn by thinking through what they are learning about. (Perkins 1992: 7)

More than ever before, schools are aware that they need to work ‘smarter’ rather than ‘harder’ for two fundamental, common-sense reasons.


1. The daily demands on teachers mean that there is very little energy left at the end of the day to work any harder!

2. We are well aware that dealing with current living and working conditions requires thinking skills and problem-solving abilities, so that we can become smarter at coping with the increasing complexities that bombard us.


Theoretical background to the model of problem-solving and thinking skills used throughout this text

In the mid-1980s, Belle Wallace and Harvey B. Adams surveyed the main thinking-skills packages that were already published and they visited key areas in the world where there were major thinking skills projects in operation.

Then, adopting an electric approach that embraced the most successful elements of the range of thinking skills projects they had evaluated, they conducted an action research project with groups of disadvantaged learners and their teachers over and intensive period of ten years.

Strategies and methodologies were trialled, evaluated and reflected upon by the researchers, the participating teachers, a group of educational psychologists and, importantly, the pupils.

The key to the success of the action research project lay in the quality of the reflection, consequent rethinking and trialling of the thinking skills and problem-solving strategies being used.

This process culminated in the publications of TASC: Thinking Actively in a Social Context (Wallace and Adams 1993), which sets out a generic framework for the development of a thinking and problem-solving curriculum.


The major tenets of TASC (extended from Wallace 2000)

1. THINKING – is not static, makes us human/humane, can be developed

All pupils are open to change and development. The mind is the powerhouse for growth.

2. ACTIVELY – Learners must be involved, empowered, and motivated

All pupils need to feel that they have ownership of their learning. They need to see the purpose of what they do.

3. SOCIAL – In a climate of interaction, sharing, and cooperation.

The powerful message of sharing and cooperating is that socially and emotionally we are all inter-dependent.

4. CONTEXT – Needs to be relevant, linked with real life, and culturally meaningful.

Pupils learn best when they can identify with issues close to their own lives.


Understanding the theory that informs the base of TASC

One of the most important strengths of a good teacher is a high level of emotional intelligence, which allows us to make decisions that are ‘intuitive’ and ‘feelings based’: but we need to defend those decisions with sound educational theory.

Hence it is important to understand the two most important theories about how children best learn, which together form the underlying rationale from with TASC developed.


How can we help children to learn? (Vygotsky’s ‘Development of Higher Psychological Processes’)

1. Make concept maps or webs

  • Fit the jigsaw pieced together

  • Paint the big picture

  • Show the connections

  • Make it all hang together

  • Make common sense of it

  • Draw flow diagrams

2. Negotiate meaning

  • Start from the level of children’s language

  • Encourage children to rephrase in their own words

  • Allow time for discussion

  • Let children explain to each other

  • Work on communication skills

3. Use extended language

  • Introduce ‘new’ language when children understand

  • Use everyday experiences to introduce technical or abstract terms

  • Give lots of examples to illustrate meaning

  • Build an ocean of language around an idea

4. Link all new learning with previous learning

  • Dig for fragments in the memory

  • Recall past experiences

  • Put context of learning into real-life issues

  • Draw mindmaps to link previous learning with new learning

  • Give reasons for new learning


Although all the stages of the TASC Problem-solving Wheel are important, there are four critical stages:


Ø Gather and organise This stage is important because learners need to bring what they already know into their working memory ready for ‘thinking, repair and extension’. This process also provides an excellent tool for assessing prior learning and enables teachers to better differentiate the learning tasks that are set.

Ø Identify Many learners get lost and lose sight of the task they are undertaking, so it is important that learners explain to each other, in their own words, the purpose of the task. It is equally important that they know and understand the criteria they will use for the evaluation of their work.

Ø Evaluate Learners need to be trained in the skill of evaluation, and they need to see examples of ‘good’ and ‘excellent’ work which clearly show evidence of the criteria they are working towards. Drafts as well as finished work need to be kept and valued as a means of showing that other pupils didn’t get it right first time; also, drafts are good reminders of ‘starting points’ which can then be compared with ‘finishing points’.

Ø Learn from experience This is a key learning point – the final reflective stage when learners crystallise and consolidate what they have learned. This is the route to the retention and transference of skills and knowledge across the curriculum. Yet it is the stage that is most commonly omitted because teachers come to the end of the lesson and the bell rings!




Resources from:

‘Teaching Thinking Skills Across the Middle Years’

A practical approach for children aged 9-14

Edited by:

Belle Wallace

Richard Bentley


Language acquisition is the process of learning a native or a second language. The acquisition of native languages is studied primarily by developmental psychologists and psycholinguists. Although how children learn to speak is not perfectly understood, most explanations involve both the observation that children copy what they hear and the inference that human beings have a natural aptitude for understanding grammar. While children usually learn the sounds and vocabulary of their native language through imitation, grammar is seldom taught to them explicitly; that they nonetheless rapidly acquire the ability to speak grammatically supports the theory advanced by Noam Chomsky and other proponents of transformational grammar. According to this view, children are able to learn the superficial grammar of a particular language because all intelligible languages are founded on a deep structure of grammatical rules that are universal and that correspond to an innate capacity of the human brain. Stages in the acquisition of a native language can be measured by the increasing complexity and originality of a child’s utterances. Children at first may overgeneralize grammatical rules and say, for example, goed (meaning went), a form they are unlikely to have heard, suggesting that they have intuited or deduced complex grammatical rules (here, how to conjugate regular verbs) and failed only to learn exceptions that cannot be predicted from a knowledge of the grammar alone. The acquisition of second or foreign languages is studied primarily by applied linguists. People learning a second language pass through some of the same stages, including overgeneralization, as do children learning their native language. However, people rarely become as fluent in a second language as in their native tongue. Some linguists see the earliest years of childhood as a critical period, after which the brain loses much of its facility for assimilating new languages. Most traditional methods for learning a second language involve some systematic approach to the analysis and comprehension of grammar as well as to the memorization of vocabulary. The cognitive approach, increasingly favored by experts in language acquisition, emphasizes extemporaneous conversation, immersion, and other techniques intended to simulate the environment in which most people acquire their native language as children.
Education Encyclopedia: Language Acquisition
Almost every human child succeeds in learning language. As a result, people often tend to take the process of language learning for granted. To many, language seems like a basic instinct, as simple as breathing or blinking. But language is not simple at all; in fact it is the most complex skill that a human being will ever master. That nearly all people succeed in learning this complex skill demonstrates how well language has adapted to human nature. In a very real sense, language is the complete expression of what it means to be human.
Linguists in the tradition of Noam Chomsky tend to think of language as having a universal core from which individual languages select out a particular configuration of features, parameters, and settings. As a result, they see language as an instinct that is driven by specifically human evolutionary adaptations. In their view, language resides in a unique mental organ that has been given as a “special gift” to the human species. This mental organ contains rules, constraints, and other structures that can be specified by linguistic analysis.
Psychologists and those linguists who reject the Chomskyan approach often view language learning from a very different perspective. To the psychologist, language acquisition is a window on the operation of the human mind. The patterns of language emerge not from a unique instinct but from the operation of general processes of evolution and cognition. For researchers who accept this emergentist approach, the goal of language acquisition studies is to understand how regularities in linguistic form emerge from the operation of low-level physical, neural, and social processes. Before considering the current state of the dialog between the view of language as a hard-wired instinct and the view of language as an emergent process, it will be useful to review a few basic facts about the shape of language acquisition and some of the methods that are used to study it.
The Basic Components of Human Language
Human language involves both receptive and productive use. Receptive language use occurs during the comprehension or understanding of words and sentences. Productive language use involves idea generation and the articulation of words in speech. Both reception and production utilize the four basic structural components of language:
  1. Phonology: The system of the sound segments that humans use to build up words. Each language has a different set of these segments or phonemes, and children quickly come to recognize and then produce the speech segments that are characteristic of their native
  2. Semantics: The system of meanings that are expressed by words and phrases. In order to serve as a means of communication between people, words must have a shared or conventional meaning. Picking out the correct meaning for each new word is a major learning task for children.
  3. Grammar: The system of rules by which words and phrases are arranged to make meaningful statements. Children need to learn how to use the ordering of words to mark grammatical functions such as subject or direct object.
  4. Pragmatics: The system of patterns that determine how humans can use language in particular social settings for particular conversational purposes. Children learn that conversations customarily begin with a greeting, require turn taking, and concern a shared topic. They come to adjust the content of their communications to match their listener’s interests, knowledge, and language ability.
These four basic systems can be extended and elaborated when humans use language for special purposes, such as for poetry, song, legal documents, or scientific discourse. The literate control of language constructs additional complex social, cognitive, and linguistic structures that are built on top of the four basic structural components.
Methods for Studying Language Acquisition
The methods used to study language development are mostly quite straightforward. The primary method involves simply recording and transcribing what children say. This method can be applied even from birth. Tape recordings become particularly interesting, however, when the child begins systematic babbling and the first productions of words. Using videotape, researchers can link up the child’s use of verbal means with their use of gesture and nonlinguistic cries to draw attention to their desires and interests.
Methods for studying comprehension are a bit more complicated. During the first year, researchers can habituate the infant to some pattern of sounds and then suddenly change that pattern to see if the infant notices the difference. From about nine months onward, children can be shown pictures of toys along with their names, and then researchers can measure whether the children prefer these pictures to some unnamed distracter pictures. Later on, children can be asked to answer questions, repeat sentences, or make judgments about grammar. Researchers can also study children by asking their parents to report about them. Parents can record the times when their children first use a given sound or word or first make some basic types of child errors. Each of these methods has different goals, and each also has unique possibilities and pitfalls associated with it. Having obtained a set of data from children or their parents, researchers next need to group these data into measures of particular types of language skills, such as vocabulary, sentences, concepts, or conversational abilities.
Phases in Language Development
William James (1890) described the world of the newborn as a “blooming, buzzing confusion.” It is now known, however, that, on the auditory level at least, the newborn’s world is remarkably well structured. The cochlea (in the inner ear) and the auditory nerve (which connects the inner ear with the brain) provide extensive preprocessing of signals for pitch and intensity. In the 1970s and 1980s, researchers discovered that human infants were specifically adapted at birth to perceive contrasts in sounds such as that between /p/and /b/, as in the words pit and bit. Subsequent research showed that even chinchillas are capable of making this distinction. This suggests that much of the basic structure of the infant’s auditory world can be attributed to fundamental processes in the mammalian ear. Moreover, there is evidence that some of these early perceptual abilities are lost as the infant begins to acquire the distinctions actually used by the native language. Beyond this basic level of auditory processing, it appears that infants have a remarkable capacity to record and store sequences of auditory events. It is as if the infant has a tape recorder in the brain’s auditory cortex that records input sounds, replays them, and accustoms the ear to their patterns.
Children tend to produce their first words sometime between nine and twelve months. One-year-olds have about 5 words in their vocabulary on average, although individual children may have none or as many as thirty; by two years of age, average vocabulary size is more than 150 words, with a range among individual children from as few as 10 to as many as 450 words. Children possess a vocabulary of about 14,000 words by six years of age; adults have an estimated average of 40,000 words in their working vocabulary at age forty. In order to achieve such a vocabulary, a child must learn to say at least a few new words each day from birth.
One of the best predictors of a child’s vocabulary development is the amount and diversity of input the child receives. Researchers have found that verbal input can be as great as three times more available in educated families than in less educated families. These facts have led educators to suspect that basic and pervasive differences in the level of social support for language learning lie at the root of many learning problems in the later school years. Social interaction (quality of attachment; parent responsiveness, involvement, sensitivity, and control style) and general intellectual climate (providing enriching toys, reading books, encouraging attention to surroundings) predict developing language competence in children as well. Relatively uneducated and economically disadvantaged mothers talk less frequently to their children compared with more educated and affluent mothers, and correspondingly, children of less educated and less affluent mothers produce less speech. Socioeconomic status relates to both child vocabulary and to maternal vocabulary. Middle-class mothers expose their children to a richer vocabulary, with longer sentences and a greater number of word roots.
Whereas vocabulary development is marked by spectacular individual variation, the development of grammatical and syntactic skills is highly stable across children. Children’s early one-word utterances do not yet trigger the need for syntactic patterns, because they are still only one-word long. By the middle of the second year, when children’s vocabularies grow to between 50 and 100 words, they begin to combine words in what has been termed “telegraphic speech.” Utterances typical of this period include forms such as “where Mommy,” “my shoe,” “dolly chair,” and “all gone banana.”
At this same time, children are busy learning to adjust their language to suit their audience and the situation. Learning the pragmatic social skills related to language is an ongoing process. Parents go to great efforts to teach their children to say “please” and “thank you” when needed, to be deferential in speaking to adults, to remember to issue an appropriate greeting when they meet someone, and not to interrupt when others are speaking. Children fine-tune their language skills to maintain conversations, tell stories, ask or argue for favors, or tattle on their classmates. Early on, they also begin to acquire the meta-linguistic skills involved in thinking and making judgments about language.
As children move on to higher stages of language development and the acquisition of literacy, they depend increasingly on broader social institutions. They depend on Sunday school teachers for knowledge about Biblical language, prophets, and the geography of the Holy Land. They attend to science teachers to gain vocabulary and understandings about friction, molecular structures, the circulatory system, and DNA. They rely on peers to understand the language of the streets, verbal dueling, and the use of language for courtship. They rely on the media for role models, fantasies, and stereotypes. When they enter the workplace, they will rely on their coworkers to develop a literate understanding of work procedures, union rules, and methods for furthering their status. By reading to their children, telling stories, and engaging in supportive dialogs, parents set the stage for their children’s entry into the world of literature and schooling. Here, again, the parent and teacher must teach by displaying examples of the execution and generation of a wide variety of detailed literate practices, ranging from learning to write through outlines to taking notes in lectures.
Special Gift or Emergence?
Having briefly covered the methods used to study language acquisition and the basic phases in development, it is now possible to return to this question: Is language development best characterized as the use of a “special gift” or as an emergent result of various cognitive, neural, physiological, and social pressures? There are good arguments in favor of each position.
The special gift position views language as an instinct. People are often overpowered by the “urge to speak.” Young children must feel this urge when they interact with others and have not yet learned how to use words correctly. It is important to recognize, however, that crickets, birds, snakes, and many other species can be possessed by a similar urge to produce audible chirps, songs, and rattling. In themselves, these urges do not amount to a special gift for language learning. Better evidence for the special gift comes from the study of children who have been cut off from communication by cruel parents, ancient Pharaohs, or accidents of nature. The special gift position holds that, if the special gift for language is not exercised by some early age, perhaps six or seven, it will be lost forever. None of the isolation experiments that have been conducted, however, can be viewed as providing good evidence for this claim. In many cases, the children are isolated because they are brain-injured. In other cases, the isolation itself produces brain injury. In a few cases, children as old as six to eight years of age have successfully acquired language even after isolation. Thus, the most that can be concluded from these experiments is that it is unlikely that the special gift expires before age eight.
The second form of evidence in favor of the notion of a special gift comes from the observation that children are able to learn some grammatical structures without apparent guidance from the input. The argumentation involved here is sometimes rather subtle. For example, Chomsky noted that children would never produce “Is the boy who next in line is tall?” as a question deriving from the sentence “The boy who is next in line is tall.” Instead, they will inevitably produce the question as, “Is the boy who is next in line tall?” That children always know which of the forms of the verb is to move to the front of the sentence, even without ever having heard such a sentence from their parents, indicates to Chomsky that language must be a special gift.
Although the details of Chomsky’s argument are controversial, his basic insight here seems solid. There are some aspects of language that seem so fundamental that humans hardly need to learn them. Nevertheless, the specific structures examined by linguistic theory involve only a small set of core grammatical features. When looking more generally at the full shape of the systems of lexicon, phonology, pragmatics, and discourse, much greater individual variation in terms of overall language proficiency appears.
To explain these differences, it is necessary to view language learning as emerging from multiple sources of support. One source of support is the universal concept all humans have about what language can be. A second source of support is input from parents and peers. This input is most effective when it directly elaborates or expands on things the child has already said. For example, if the child says “Mommy go store,” the parent can expand the child’s production by saying “Yes, Mommy is going to the store.” From expansions of this type, children can learn a wide variety of grammatical and lexical patterns. A third source of support is the brain itself. Through elaborate connections among auditory, vocal, relational, and memory areas, humans are able to store linguistic patterns and experiences for later processing. A fourth source of support are the generalizations that people produce when they systematize and extend language patterns. Recognizing that English verbs tend to produce their past tense by adding the suffix -ed, children can produce over-generalizations such as “goed” or “runned.” Although these overgeneralizations are errors, they represent the productive use of linguistic creativity.
Individual children will vary markedly in the extent to which they can rely on these additional sources of support. Children of immigrant families will be forced to acquire the language of the new country not from their parents, but from others. Children with hearing impairments or the temporary impairments brought on by otitis media (ear infections) will have relatively less support for language learning from clear auditory input. Blind children will have good auditory support but relatively less support from visual cues. Children with differing patterns of brain lesions may have preserved auditory abilities, but impaired ability to control speech. Alternatively, other children will have only a few minor impairments to their short-term memory that affect the learning of new words.
Because language is based on such a wide variety of alternative cognitive skills, children can often compensate for deficits in one area by emphasizing their skills in another area. The case of Helen Keller is perhaps the best such example of compensation. Although Keller had lost both her hearing and her vision, she was able to learn words by observing how her guardian traced out patterns of letters in her hand. In this way, even when some of the normal supports are removed, children can still learn language. The basic uses of language are heavily over-determined by this rich system of multiple supports. As a child moves away from the basic uses of language into the more refined areas of literacy and specific genres, progress can slow. In these later periods, language is still supported by multiple sources, but each of the supports grows weaker, and progress toward the full competency required in the modern workplace is less inevitable.
See J. C. Richards, Error Analysis: Perspectives on Second Language Acquisition (1974); R. Andersen, ed., New Dimensions in Second Language Acquisition Research (1981); D. W. Carroll, Psychology of Language (1986); A. Radford, Syntactic Theory and the Acquisition of English Syntax (1990).
Aslin, Richard N.; Pisoni, D. B.; Hennessey, B. L.; and Perey, A. J. 1981. “Discrimination of Voice Onset Time by Human Infants: New Findings and Implications for the Effects of Early Experience.” Child Development 52:1135 – 1145.
Chomsky, Noam. 1982. Some Concepts and Consequences of the Theory of Government and Binding. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Fenson, Larry, et al. 1994. Variability in Early Communication Development. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Fletcher, Paul, and MacWhinney, Brian, eds. 1995. The Handbook of Child Language. Oxford: Blackwell.
Hart, Betty, and Risley, Todd R. 1995. Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children. Baltimore: Brookes.
Huttenlocher, Janellen; Haight, W.; Bryk, Anthony; Seltzer, M.; and Lyons, T. 1991. “Early Vocabulary Growth: Relation to Language Input and Gender.” Developmental Psychology 27:236 – 248.
James, William. 1890. The Principles of Psychology. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
Keil, Frank C. 1989. Concepts, Kinds, and Cognitive Development. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Lenneberg, Eric H. 1967. Biological Foundations of Language. New York: Wiley.
MaCWhinney, Brian. 2000. The CHILDES Project: Tools for Analyzing Talk. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
McCarthy, D. 1954. “Manual of Child Psychology.” In Language Development in Children, ed. L. Carmichael. New York: Wiley.
Piatelli-Palmarini, Massimo. 1980. Language and Learning: The Debate between Jean Piaget and Noam Chomsky. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Pinker, Steven. 1994. The Language Instinct. New York: Morrow.
Saffran, Jenny; Aslin, Richard; and Newport, Elissa. 1996. “Statistical Learning by Eight-Month-Old Infants.” Science 274:1926 – 1928.
Templin, Mildred. 1957. Certain Language Skills in Children. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
VAN Ijzendoorn, Marinus H.; Dijkstra, J.; and Bus, A. G. 1995. “Attachment, Intelligence, and Language: A Meta-analysis.” Social Development 4:115 – 128.
Werker, Janet F. 1995. “Exploring Developmental Changes in Cross-Language Speech Perception.” In An Invitation to Cognitive Science, Vol.1: Language, ed. Lila Gleitman and Mark Liberman. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Critical Thinking Skills

What is Critical Thinking?

Critical = Evaluative
To avoid misunderstanding, this page begins by explaining what it isn’t: critical thinking is not necessarily being “critical” and negative. In fact, it would be more accurate to call it evaluative thinking. The result of evaluation can range from positive to negative, from acceptance to rejection or anything in-between. Yes, critical evaluation can produce a glowing recommendation. On this page, for example, the quotes and links — which are recommended, but (as with all sources of information) should be used with an attitude of “critical thinking” evaluation — are the result of my own critical thinking.
In PRODUCTIVE THINKING SKILLS you generate ideas (by creativity) and evaluate ideas (by criticality). Although creativity occurs first in the process, in this website the areas are reversed, with critical thinking before creative thinking. Why? Because I think critical thinking is more important, since wise evaluation can prevent “creativity plus enthusiasm” from converting questionable ideas into unwise action.

Here are two brief definitions of what it is: Critical thinking is “reasonably and reflectively deciding what to believe or do.” … Critical thinking means making reasoned judgments. Basically, it is using criteria to judge the quality of something, from cooking to a conclusion of a research paper. In essence, critical thinking is a disciplined manner of thought that a person uses to assess the validity of something: a statement, news story, argument, research, etc. { from Ennis, and Beyer-paraphrased }
A page that is brief yet rich in ideas, and is worth reading carefully, is Defining Critical Thinking by Michael Scriven & Richard Paul. You can read Our Concept of Critical Thinking from The Critical Thinking Community which offers a comprehensive Library of Articles for you to explore.
Barbara Fowler has selected 19 brief definitions of critical thinking from a variety of sources.

Characteristics of Critical Thinkers

For a quick overview, read Characteristics of Critical Thinking which begins with “What is Critical Thinking?” and continues with: Characteristics of Critical Thinking, Why We Should Teach Critical Thinking, and Teaching Strategies to Help Promote Critical Thinking Skills.
Linda Elder and Richard Paul describe Valuable Intellectual Traits (Intellectual Humility, Courage, Empathy, Integrity, Perseverance, Faith In Reason, and Fairmindedness) and Universal Intellectual Standards (Clarity, Accuracy, Precision, Relevance, Depth, Breadth, and Logic).
For a more comprehensive overview, use 35 Dimensions of Critical Thought as a launching pad to read 35 pages with brief, clear descriptions of Affective Strategies, Cognitive Strategies (Macro-Abilities), and Cognitive Strategies (Micro-Skills).
An effective thinker must be willing to think and able to think. These requirements — for disposition (be willing) and skill (be able) — are described in the pages above, and with more detail in a series of papers by Peter Facione, Noreen Facione, Carol Giancarlo, and Joanne Gainen. I suggest The Motivation to Think in Working and Learning and Professional Judgment and the Disposition Toward Critical Thinking — or you can read the abstracts to see what looks interesting. { All of these are in the website of, which offers many resources for improving and assessing thinking skills including the “what & why” paper and “expert consensus” below. }

Why should we teach Critical Thinking?

As explained in the pages above, critical thinking is essential for effective functioning in the modern world.
In an essay that “takes a Socratic approach to defining critical thinking and identifying its value in one’s personal, professional, educational, and civic life,” Peter Facione (a dean at Santa Clara University, and founder of Insight Assessment) discusses “what and why” in Critical Thinking: What It Is and Why It Counts and concludes with a consensus statement (of experts in the field) about critical thinking and the ideal critical thinker:
“We understand critical thinking to be purposeful, self-regulatory judgment which results in interpretation, analysis, evaluation, and inference, as well as explanation of the evidential, conceptual, methodological, criteriological, or contextual considerations upon which that judgment is based. [Since this includes almost all types of logical reasoning,] CT is essential as a tool of inquiry. As such, CT is a liberating force in education and a powerful resource in one’s personal and civic life. While not synonymous with good thinking, CT is a pervasive and self-rectifying human phenomenon. The ideal critical thinker is habitually inquisitive, well-informed, trustful of reason, open-minded, flexible, fair-minded in evaluation, honest in facing personal biases, prudent in making judgments, willing to reconsider, clear about issues, orderly in complex matters, diligent in seeking relevant information, reasonable in the selection of criteria, focused in inquiry, and persistent in seeking results which are as precise as the subject and the circumstances of inquiry permit. Thus, educating good critical thinkers means working toward this ideal. It combines developing CT skills with nurturing those dispositions which consistently yield useful insights and which are the basis of a rational and democratic society.” {you can read the “Delphi Report” consensus statement, The Executive Summary for Critical Thinking: A Statement of Expert Consensus for Purposes of Educational Assessment and Instruction, excerpts & entire report }

Education in critical thinking offers an alternative to a drift toward postmodern relativism, by emphasizing that we can “distinguish between facts and opinions or personal feelings, judgments and inferences, inductive and deductive arguments, and the objective and subjective.” {MCC General Education Initiatives} Critical thinking encourages us to recognize that our “rationally justifiable confidence” in a claim can span a wide range, from feelings to fact and everything in between. Three Categories of Questions explains why, because students don’t recognize questions involving “reasoned judgment” (which are neither fact nor opinion), they “fail to see the difference between offering legitimate reasons and evidence in support of a view and simply asserting the view as true.” And you can “view book samples” for The Art of Asking Essential Questions (with samples).

Critical Thinking in Education

LEARNING Critical Thinking — Educating Yourself
If you want to learn, you can use tutorials about
The Logic of Critical Thinking. (from Hong Kong, San Jose, and Kansas City!)

TEACHING Critical Thinking — Activities & Strategies

In order to teach thinking, we need instruction that encourages thinking. One useful approach is Socratic Teaching. (also, Six Types of Socratic Questions)
ERIC Digests offers excellent introductory summary/overviews — How Can We Teach Critical Thinking? & Promoting Critical Thinking in the Classroom & Strategies for Teaching Critical Thinking — plus methods for teaching critical thinking in the contexts of environmental education & literature & television & adult ESL. { All except “adult ESL” were written between 1989 and 1994, so they’re not up-to-date, but most principles for “teaching critical thinking” were discovered/invented before 1989 and are still relevant today. } And ERIC has a wide range of resources, letting you search for research & other information about thinking skills (critical thinking, evaluative thinking, decision making, …) and much more.
Useful ideas about critical thinking and education are in Critical Thinking by Design (Joanne Kurfiss) and Critical Thinking: Basic Questions and Answers (Richard Paul). For a broad overview, A Brief History of the Idea of Critical Thinking.
The Center for Critical Thinking (led by Richard Paul) offers a links-page for its pages about thinking skills education in College & K-12 and more; although each page is in an age-range category, most pages are useful for teachers (and students) at all levels. How is critical thinking relevant for business? — here is a discussion. The Center for Critical Thinking describes research about critical thinking in colleges. Insight Assessment (described earlier in this page) offers other options for the assessment of critical thinking. And eventually there will be “critical thinking activities” in the area for TEACHING ACTIVITIES.
The Center for Critical Thinking (cited above and throughout this page) provides lots of useful information, but there are many other good web resources. For example, the “logic” section below describes Critical Thinking Web (with online tutorials), Mission Critical (offered by San Jose State University), and Critical Thinking Across the Curriculum (by Longview Community College); and Peter Facione (past president of the American Conference of Academic Deans) has written 26 Case Studies for Conversation and Reflection for academic deans and department chairs.
Critical Thinking on the Web offers links to many interesting, useful resources about critical thinking in a WIDE variety of areas, for teaching & tutorials and more. It’s run by Tim van Gelder, whose specialty is Argument Mapping — overview & tutorial & links-page.

The Role of Critical Thinking in Education and Life

All proponents of thinking skills (critical, creative,…) emphasize the relevance of thinking for life. For example, the Critical Thinking Community says, “Critical thinking is the art of taking charge of your own mind. Its value is simple: if we can take charge of our own minds, we can take charge of our lives.”
In another page, they describe the centrality of thinking, and a common educational problem:
“Critical thinking is not an isolated goal unrelated to other important goals in education. Rather, it is a seminal goal which, done well, simultaneously facilitates a rainbow of other ends. It is best conceived, therefore, as the hub around which all other educational ends cluster. For example, as students learn to think more critically, they become more proficient at historical, scientific, and mathematical thinking. Finally, they develop skills, abilities, and values crucial to success in everyday life. …
Recent research suggests that critical thinking is not typically an intrinsic part of instruction at any level. Students come without training in it, while faculty tend to take it for granted as an automatic by-product of their teaching. Yet without critical thinking systematically designed into instruction, learning is transitory and superficial.”

The Logic of Critical Thinking

The essence of critical thinking is logic, and logical evaluation — by using reality checks and quality checks — is the essence of Scientific Method and Design Method.

This section features three excellent websites that will help you learn the fundamentals of good logic and bad logic. { These sites were developed for college students and teachers, but with suitable adjustments they are also useful for K-12 because logic is logic, for the young and old. But in the future, we’ll be looking for websites that are specifically designed for younger students, that introduce logical principles in a way that is simple and fun. }

  • Critical Thinking Web offers tutorials about Logic, Fallacies, Argument Analysis, Venn Diagrams, Scientific Reasoning, and much more. You can begin exploring with their sitemap. It’s run by Joe Lau & Jonathan Chan from the University of Hong Kong & Baptist University of Hong Kong.


  • Mission: Critical (from San Jose State University in California’s Silicon Valley) has a well organized Main Menu with information and activities in three areas — The Basics, Analysis of Arguments, Fallacies and Non-Rational Persuasion — and you can explore their Home Page.
  • Critical Thinking Across the Curriculum (from Longview Community College in Kansas City) aims for “an application of logical concepts to the analysis of everyday reasoning and problem-solving.”

The main content is in six pages: Critical Thinking Core Concepts (supplemented by Truth Tables), Informal Fallacies (which are interesting because they make a direct connection with everyday experience); Facts, Opinions and Reasoned Judgements; Statistical Arguments; Charts & Graphs and Visual Trickery.
You can also explore other pages, starting with the Home Page and moving on to the Table of Contents which provides an overview of topics in the six main pages and also has links to other pages about teaching, software, and deduction, plus resources for critical thinking in specific disciplines (psychology, philosophy, law, political science, english, music, math, automotive, office systems, nursing, writing, and reading), and more.

And you can learn about a variety of Logical Fallacies that include circular reasoning and strawman arguments.

The Ethics of Critical Thinking

Peter Facione describes a limitation that occurs with all types of thinking:
A person can be good at critical thinking, meaning that the person can have the appropriate dispositions and be adept at the cognitive processes, while still not being a good (in the moral sense) critical thinker. For example, a person can be adept at developing arguments and then, unethically, use this skill to mislead and exploit a gullible person, perpetrate a fraud, or deliberately confuse and confound, and frustrate a project.
The experts were faced with an interesting problem. Some, a minority, would prefer to think that critical thinking, by its very nature, is inconsistent with the kinds of unethical and deliberately counterproductive examples given. They find it hard to imagine a person who was good at critical thinking not also being good in the broader personal and social sense. In other words, if a person were “really” a “good critical thinker” in the procedural sense and if the person had all the appropriate dispositions, then the person simply would not do those kinds of exploitive and aggravating things.
The large majority, however, hold the opposite judgment. They are firm in the view that good critical thinking has nothing to do with… any given set of ethical values or social mores. The majority of experts maintain that critical thinking conceived of as we have described it above, is, regrettably, not inconsistent with its unethical use. A tool, an approach to situations, these can go either way, ethically speaking, depending on the character, integrity, and principles of the persons who possess them. So, in the final analysis the majority of experts maintained that “it is an inappropriate use of the term to deny that someone is engaged in critical thinking on the grounds that one disapproves ethically of what the person is doing. What critical thinking means, why it is of value, and the ethics of its use are best regarded as three distinct concerns.”
{ from Critical Thinking: What It Is and Why It Counts }

Richard Paul describes two beneficial dispositions that are encouraged (but not guaranteed) by critical thinking education:
“Fairminded thinkers take into account the interests of everyone affected by the problem and proposed solutions. They are more committed to finding the best solution than to getting their way.” And a critical thinker “has confidence that, in the long run, one’s own higher interests and those of humankind at large will be best served by giving the freest play to reason,… despite the deep-seated obstacles in the native character of the human mind and in society as we know it.”

Yes, reason is useful, it is noble and desirable, it should be highly valued and carefully developed. But we should keep things in perspective, regarding what reason can accomplish. Probably most of us will agree with Paul (about the value of critical thinking) but also with the majority of experts, who conclude that becoming skilled at critical thinking does not guarantee that this powerful tool will always be used for the benefit of others. { What are the relationships between Critical Thinking and Worldviews? }


Resources from “Critical Thinking & Problem Solving Skills