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Usefulness of critical thinking in everyday life

Critical thinking is valued as a higher-order type of reasoning and a skill transversal to the educational organisms. We introduce some definitions suggested in the literature, and describe the cognitive functions responsible for critical thinking used in learning and problem solving situations.

We then present the most used assessment procedures, illustrating with instruments as well as programs and curricular planning implemented in the classroom to teach and develop critical thinking.

Finally, we highlight the importance of further investigation, in order to reach a convergence of theoretical and practical elements needed to define critical thinking. Critical thinking, intelligence, reasoning, transversal skills, adult cognition.

In an attempt to define and operationalize this construct in opposition to the psychometric tradition, Sternberg 2003 presents the concept usefulness of critical thinking in everyday life developing expertise, suggesting that intelligence refers to a developing potential, which results from the interaction between genetic factors and life contexts.

Such interaction provides individual differences in cognitive abilities and in the performance of daily situations. The psychometric approach has been pointed out as being excessively focused in the immutable and analytical aspects of intelligence, regardless of its changeable nature or the impact of people's experience.

This classic perspective has devoted little attention to the mechanisms inherent to the improvement of each individual's cognitive and resolutive efficiency in face of learning, practice or mere experience Sternberg, 1999, 2003.

This criticism suggests that there are cognitive abilities or even forms of intelligence that are of useful to individuals, both in their daily lives and in their line of work, that don't seem to have been valued by traditional instruments of intelligence assessment and that are also undervalued by the education system Almeida et al. We believe that one of these cognitive abilities claiming a deeper analysis is critical thinking. Critical thinking in today's information society In a social era characterized by a large amount of information, easily accessible and with which people see themselves confronted by at every moment, it is crucial to know how to apprehend the information that is essential and submit it to an appropriate treatment, whether it is to accept it as reliable and worthy of being processed, or whether it is to classify it as fallacious and disposable Halpern, 1999.

In this sense, and given the everlasting and swift social transformations, critical thinking stands out as a fundamental cognitive resource Halpern, 1998; Ku, 2009; Phan, 2010.

Importance of critical thinking

As a matter of fact, research in this area associates a higher degree of critical thinking to superior levels of control and proactivity in school education and daily life experience Carroll, 2005; Kuhn, 1999.

Specifically in the school context, critical thinking skills allow students to organize their learning, and also to supervise and evaluate their school tasks, which positively affects their academic performance Paul, 2005; Phan, 2010.

All these aspects illustrate the extreme relevance and the enduring topicality of critical thinking, whether it is in the most diverse daily situations or as a line of study that is important to deepen and better comprehend Bailin et al. Defining critical thinking But what can really be understood as critical thinking?

The conceptual diversity comes from the fact that critical thinking is studied in different scientific subjects and applied in multiple contexts Philley, 2005. In this sense, this area has benefited from the interest of researchers in the fields of Education, Psychology or Philosophy Phan, 2010; Yanchar et al. Seeking some level of convergence from the different definitions available in the literature, critical thinking can be defined as a more complex and significantly demanding logic form of higher-order reasoning Brady, 2008; Philley, 2005.

In terms of its operationalization, critical thinking presumes a repertoire of faculties: We can synthesize the dimensions that constitute critical thinking or the aspects that are implied in its definition by suggesting that this is a multifaceted cognitive construct, with an inductive, deductive and creative nature, comprising an heterogeneous set of skills and necessarily implying the motivation to use them Bailin et al.

This way, it implies a flexible and reflexive attitude, including the analysis, evaluation and correction of one's activity and progress towards the established goal, as well as the motivation to pursue that desired goal Halpern, 1998.

Therefore, its relevance to school learning situations is clear: The authors suggest that, more than the potential itself, the decisive element here is truly a proactive and motivated attitude. If the motivational component—which cultivates the application of theoretical and practical components—is absent, a strong knowledge about critical thinking skills and the mastery in their use will prove to be insufficient Facione, 2010; Halpern, 1999.

The motivational factor—emphasized by some authors as being the essential feature for the development of skill and success in school e. Halpern, 1999; Sternberg, 1999 —might help to understand the reason why some students' execution quality isn't compatible with their cognitive potential, assessed, for instance, with intelligence assessment tests.

This explains why some students, despite having potential, do not perform particularly well, and also why others less promising but more motivated perform better Facione, 2010.

Usefulness of critical thinking in everyday life last, critical thinking stands additionally on some level of creativity, which is accountable for the appetence to anticipate possible results, and also to produce and implement particular alternatives of action in each situation Bailin et al.

The deliberation of arguments that are divergent of one's own or the analysis of an argument accordingly to multiple perspectives are visible inthe person who reveals critical thinking Carroll, 2005as well as the acceptance of new ideas, and an inquisitive and interested search for accurate knowledge regarding the situation at hand Bailin et al. From the analysis of these three essential aspects of critical thinking emerges the possibility of it being the characterization of a fifth stage of cognitive development.

It is important to bear in mind that in his theory of cognitive development, Piaget 2008 claimed the existence of four stages in which such development occurred, from birth to late adolescence sensorimotor, preoperatory, concrete operations and formal operations.

In such a stage, it is assumed that knowledge isn't factual, but rather circumstantial and relative, strongly marked or dependent of the individual's idiosyncrasies and the specificities of the surrounding environment.

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This way, thought usefulness of critical thinking in everyday life the potential of being continually developed, which derives from the possibility of integrating disconnected types of knowledge that are susceptible of being reformulated in personal schemes of reality representation. In face of this, an equivalence of this type of thinking with the one we have been referring to as critical thinking is pondered, since both relate to a superior reasoning that presumes an inquisitive attitude fit for generating possible and adequate solutions to the processing of rather complex information and problem solving.

In conclusion, critical thinking appears to be a higher-order type of reasoning employing cognitive skills and directed by a motivational component in problem solving.

Accordingly to Bruine de Bruin et al. This allows us to anticipate a great variability amongst subjects, for each person adopts, in each situation and for the obtaining of a desired result, a line of action that is somehow distinctive. Recalling the old saying Rather be smart than intelligent, it is possible to unravel the popular wisdom it encloses: And such as the definition of critical thinking is imbued with disagreement, its assessment equally lacks convergence Brookfield, 1997.

On the one hand, there is a myriad of instruments to assess this construct, frequently indicted of lacking validity Allen et al. For instance, Colucciello 1999 identifies the absence of assessment instruments that are capable of simultaneously comprising the cognitive and motivational components of critical thinking. Ku 2009 presents the following critical thinking assessment instruments as the most wellknown: In fact, it grasps both cognitive and motivational components, thus offering a comprehensive multidimensional view of the construct.

To do so, it makes use of open-answer and multiple-choice questions, concerning daily problematic situations with which the subjects can easily relate to Ku, 2009. If we take a step back to the definition of critical thinking and recall its dimensions, authors generally presume that there are three main aspects composing this construct: Regarding the latter facet, usually referred to as critical thinking skills, which are associated to the strategies applied in order to attain a goal set a priori, some difficulties are usefulness of critical thinking in everyday life when wanting to try to identify which and how many are these skills.

Nevertheless, we find Halpern's 1998 suggestion more adequate, as it includes verbal reasoning, argument analysis, hypothesis testing, probability consideration, and decision making and problem solving. In the same way, Facione 2010 resorts to cognitive functions in order to put critical thinking skills into practice, considering such skills to be interpretation, analysis and evaluation, inference production, explanation and selfregulation; this enables us to assume the need for particular assessment exercises that are prone to capture the specificities of these functions.

One of the setbacks of assessing critical thinking appears to be the outcome of the nature of the construct itself: Likewise, it is noticeable that some authors neglect the effort of contextualizing their research at a theoretical level, often resulting in a quest for critical thinking assessment deprived of proper theoretical framing, that doesn't enable the comprehension and explanation of the construct under analysis Yanchar et al.

It is important that the attempts to assess critical thinking derive from previous conceptualizations and their clarification Brookfield, 1997; Yanchar et al. A criticism that is usually pointed at conventional intelligence assessment tests insinuates that these instruments disregard the role of the context to the quality of the subject's performance Almeida, 1994; Sternberg, 1999.

As a matter of fact, nowadays only a small number of authors defend the possibility of assessing the essence of intelligence without considering it, in part, as a product of the subject's learning experiences and their cultural contexts of life Almeida, 1994.

Daily life contexts have a meaningful impact on cognitive functioning, making it necessary to secure that the power of such circumstances is taken into consideration when assessing intelligence. In fact, people don't live in an aseptic environment, invulnerable to its stimuli.

From here derives the need to weigh the contextual variable when defining and assessing critical thinking Sternberg, 2003; Yanchar et al.

  • Some lessons from cognitive science;
  • Halpern, 1999; Sternberg, 1999 —might help to understand the reason why some students' execution quality isn't compatible with their cognitive potential, assessed, for instance, with intelligence assessment tests;
  • A more complex model for critical thinking that is relevant for physical education and involves using the socio-ecological perspective can be found in Gillespie and Culpan 2000 , pages 84—96.

In regard to the critical thinking assessment instrument's format, open-answer questions are described as being prone to a more efficient evaluation, when compared to the multiple-choice ones Ennis, 1993. The latter are useful to assess the cognitive dimension of the construct, but do not properly regard the motivational dimension; additionally, they restrain the expression of critical thinking, making it impossible to foresee how the subject will react in face of daily life challenges Ku, 2009.

Nonetheless, there can be anticipated one difficulty here: In conclusion, it can be inferred that a clear definition of what really is the structure of critical thinking is vital, and that the elaboration of valid and comprehensive assessment instruments is indispensable. However, besides its definition and assessment, it usefulness of critical thinking in everyday life necessary to additionally consider intervention on critical thinking and its skills or basic components.

This way, it matters to think over school settings, more specifically the guidelines that dictate the education system and teachers' practice, in order to examine how they stand about this topic inherent to cognition, learning processes and problem solving. Developing critical thinking The true mission of education is commonly described as usefulness of critical thinking in everyday life the promotion of thinking skills, critical natured thinking skills to be more precise Almeida, 1996; Barnes, 2005; Noddings, 2008; van Gelder, 2005.

This process occurs by using what they have learned along their university education years and from the knowledge they have acquired and that is demanded in their line of work Halpern, 1998; Ku, 2009.

Despite the importance conveyed by the education system about developing critical thinking skills, effective efforts to put such skills into practice and to promote their training hasn't been noticeable so far Noddings, 2008. To a certain extent, this may be produced by some unawareness usually revealed by teachers about what critical thinking is in fact and how it can be integrated in their teaching and evaluating methods Paul, 2005.

According to a few authors, there should be an intentional effort to go beyond the curriculum and to implement changes in each teacher's pedagogic method and in the education system itself, in aim to fully grasp critical thinking skills Kuhn, 1999; Paul, 2005. In dependence of the criticism made to traditional education methods and their excessive emphasis in data transmission, another one rises, upon which students are perceived as a passive receptacle of the knowledge offered by teachers Barnes, 2005; Brady, 2008.

By tradition, teachers are conceived as experts who must transmit their knowledge to students, whereas students are rewarded for memorizing information merely for testing situations, and not for elaborating their own ideas and developing a reasoning that is both open-minded and critical. As a consequence, students aren't very active learners: Ideally, the education system should permit each student's expansion in a number of curricular and cognitive areas, which is feasible by means of teaching the various thinking skills.

These are susceptible of improvement, with the possibility of being learned, internalized and independently applied by students in multiple circumstances, assisting them to think more efficiently when dealing with distinct real-life situations Halpern, 1998, 1999, 2006; Noddings, 2008.

This is possible because this type of reasoning supports the development of analytical, critical and decision making skills, which are useful on a daily and transversal basis, and increase learning and problem solving quality Bruine de Bruin et al.

In this context, the teacher's role is to guide students, allowing them an active and regulated part in their way to developing critical thinking Barnes, 2005; Paul, 2005.

Such a process encloses the theoretical, practical and motivational components of critical thinking: This way, critical thinking must be valued by education systems, in order to make propitious an environment in the class-room that allows and stimulates the adoption of a reflexive attitude towards the quality of one's thinking Colucciello, 1999. On the contrary, it emerges from the learning-teaching process, being gradually and deliberately acquired, and assuming a previous and symbiotic mastery of a set of basic skills, such as reading comprehension, argument analysis and production, or still, search for evidence to stand for a particular point of view Facione, 2010; van Gelder, 2005.

In concern to the binomial nature versus nurture, critical thinking definitely seems to belong to the scope of the second Brookfield, 1997considering that it relies on explicit, continued and persistent teaching Bailin et al. The perfecting of critical thinking requires time, for it is dependent of cognitive development Kuhn, 1999 and takes place with the appropriation of resources that allow the subject to give a more reflexive and efficient answer to circumstances Phan, 2010.

In this sense, the teacher should be aware of the students' beliefs regarding their skills, analyze how their thinking takes form, and support them to unravel and correct their thinking inaccuracies van Gelder, 2005. As a matter of fact, in aim of a deeper understanding of a particular dimension of psychological functioning, it is equally important to analyze both functional and deviant areas.

In other words, while trying to ascertain which skills are needed to become more efficient in task accomplishment, it is additionally necessary to discover if any cognitive errors are being made and preventing the fulfillment of one's full potential. In an initial phase, this type of thinking requires the subject to learn the theory underlying critical thinking and its specific concepts, which will endure the construction of a metacognitive knowledge base to guide one's activity Brady, 2008; Carroll, 2005.

Data about what and which are critical thinking skills is acquired—namely, comprehension, argument analysis, hypothesis testing, probability consideration, decision making and problem solving—, besides data about how and where they should be used Halpern, 1998; Kuhn, 1999.

In fact, critical thinking is, to some point, distinctive of the surrounding environment, considering that knowledge and skill are employed with deliberation and according to the specificities of contextual circumstances Bailin et al.

Besides comprising a conceptual understanding in order to emerge, critical thinking needs to be consolidated through training in the classroom and reinforced with examples of possible everyday situations in which such skills can be applied Ennis, 1993; van Gelder, 2005.

The real world must be given as a reference, as well as the decision making that occurs in face of challenges raised on a daily basis Allen et al. Underlying the capacity of transference is the facility to distance oneself from a superficial apprehension of the task at hand, searching instead for its basic structure and applying the previously developed skills Halpern, 1998, 1999. In short, what seems to be in cause here is the reuse of knowledge.

In a society where environmental issues are a hot topic and usefulness of critical thinking in everyday life included in the speech of worldwide great leaders, cultivating a green attitude—characterized by idea recycling and knowledge reuse—seems to be the great goal to be achieved.

Regardless of the assumptions exposed earlier, there is no particular tested model that can be presented as being effective in teaching critical thinking skills Allen et al. There has been some debate over whether critical thinking skills have a general nature, or instead, are specific to a subject or field of knowledge Brookfield, 1997; Kuhn, 1999.

On the one hand is presented the hypothesis of curricular infusion, where education is multidisciplinary and focused on teaching both contents of the program and critical thinking skills; on the other hand is the alternative of developing critical thinking in a specific subject, degree course or intervention program, specially designed to its promotion Allen et al.

Some authors consider the first as the most effective format, since the use of critical thinking is sensible to contextual variables; this way, linking different information of the same content, or from distinct areas of knowledge, is facilitated, making it easier to transfer such information to multiple contexts Bailin et al. Final considerations The production of knowledge occurs inexorably and at a vertiginous pace, making the ability to discriminate from the available mass of data the information usefulness of critical thinking in everyday life is relevant, reliable and reusable one of the key-skills to possess Halpern, 1998.

The path that makes the development of such an attitude and ability possible seems to be the one of critical thinking, understood as the capacity to make good decisions, i. In fact, to have and efficiently apply analytical and decision making skills may have a positive impact in people's quality of life Bruine de Bruin et al.