Scriven and Paul begin to define critical thinking as ‘‘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 communication, as a guide to belief and action’’ (quoted in Foundation for Critical Thinking, 2009, para. 2).
Bloom (1956) offered one of the first comprehensive elaborations of these important skills. Since the conception of Bloom’s Taxonomy, his colleagues (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001) have carried on his work and developed a two-dimensional taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing student learning outcomes. The Knowledge Dimension identifies four types of knowledge: factual, conceptual, procedural, and metacognitive. The second aspect of Bloom’s Taxonomy, the Cognitive Process Dimension, outlines six ways of thinking (remember, understand, apply, analyze, evaluate, and create) and their many subprocesses.
For the purposes of this article, critical thinking is defined as the practice and development of an active, conscious, purposeful awareness of what one encounters both in the classroom and in the outside world. It is a kind of thinking and learning that demands an investment in personal and communal learning on the part of the student and teacher. Critical thinking does not discount the emotional or gut responses that everyone has. Rather, it complements and enters into dialogue with them so that reasoned judgments are possible.
Observing is the basic starting point of the sequence—so basic, in fact, that some teachers may not immediately consider it to be critical thinking at all. However, observing is critical thinking because it involves a fundamental level of analysis.