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Critical Thinking

In 1956, Benjamin Bloom led a group of educators who developed a way of describing thinking skills, which became known as Bloom’s Taxonomy. The categories have been updated to include verbs that describe cognitive actions associated with each level of thinking. Beginning with knowledge, the first level of thinking, and moving through to create, the highest order of thinking, these skills are helpful in identifying and evaluating the degree of difficulty and the depth of critical thinking.

For example, if your instructor asks you to evaluate a concept in an assignment, first you will have to understand and remember the material, describe or explain the details, apply that information to an example, analyze its components, and finally critique the concept.

The power of your thinking reflects the level of learning you have achieved. Before you begin to write, you need to think about and learn the material at several different levels.

Critical Thinking Skills
How much do you know about your own critical thinking skills? The next time you have an assignment, take a few minutes to ask yourself these questions to determine which critical thinking skills you have and can demonstrate in your work.

Can I repeat this information? Did I memorize it?

Can I explain what it means? Does it make sense to me? Do I know why this is important?

Is there an example I can give to tie this idea to a real-life situation? How does this information/theory/idea relate to my professional experiences?

Can I describe the components or sides to this issue or topic? Can I categorize the elements that relate to each side of this argument?

Can I critique this information on its intellectual merit? Do I know what is important and what is not important related to this topic?

Is there another way to think about or interpret this information? Can I generate a new idea by combining elements of the topic or applying the information to a new problem?

Critical thinking does not develop because you have been accepted to graduate school. It does not suddenly appear in your repertoire because you are older or more experienced. You have to be open minded, reflective, curious, and engaged in your work to be able to develop these thinking skills.

Critical Thinking Skills in Writing
Writing is a discipline that uses a complex set of skills, including critical thinking skills. Your instructors expect your work to reflect critical thinking and demonstrate your mastery of the content.

Ask yourself these questions during the development of your written assignments:
1. What is the purpose of my writing? Why am I writing this paper?
2. How can I organize my ideas to best communicate my thinking? Do the topics of my paper make sense for this assignment?
3. What important connections between ideas and real-world examples can I include in my paper?
4. Is there another way to interpret or think about this topic?
5. Have I organized my ideas with a logical beginning, middle, and conclusion?

Once you have written your first draft, review your work for evidence of critical thinking skills by asking the questions below. If you are lucky enough to find another person willing to read your work, ask him or her these questions:
1. Is it clear what the main ideas are in my paper?
2. Does the information in my paper develop in a logical way?
3. Do the words I use in my writing exemplify accuracy and precision?
4. Is my writing clear and concise?
5. Are my conclusions supported by information, facts, research, and theory?
6. Is there something missing from this paper that should be included?

Graduate-Level Thinking
Have you ever received a paper back from your instructor with a grade lower than you think you deserved?

Do you wonder what to do when you lose points for critical thinking in discussions or assignments?

These are the top reasons student work does not meet graduate level thinking expectations.

TIME: Beginning an assignment within hours of the due date is a sure way to sabotage your success. It takes time to read the preparatory material, think critically about the information, plan and write your first draft, and edit and polish your work. Leaving yourself without enough time makes it impossible to do your best work.

ORGANIZATION: Have a place where you can file your materials. As you find scholarly articles, keep them in an electronic or paper file clearly labeled. Make sure you have the assignment information including description, rubric or grading scale, and any other information your instructor has provided about the assignment. Create an outline for your work that serves as the guideline for your ideas and their logical development. Review your final paper with the grading expectations to make sure you did not leave out any important elements.

WRITING: If your writing contains too many errors, including grammar, language, and formatting errors, it will be difficult for an instructor to evaluate your ideas. Take note of the edits made on your papers each week. If you are still making the same errors in Week 7 that you made in Week 1, you appear to be unconcerned about improving your work. Consult grammar and writing sites and books for assistance.

DEPTH: Does your work barely scratch the surface of understanding and thinking about the topic? Is there too much general information and not enough critical evidence to demonstrate deep thinking? Evaluate your work for original interpretations based on the research and texts you have read. Demonstrate that you have something unique to contribute in your writing.

HONESTY: All graduate level work should be properly cited and referenced. It is important to know when to summarize, when to paraphrase, and when to quote to support your ideas. Once you have accounted for the work of others, make sure you include your own ideas, your own analysis, and your own evaluation of the information. Your written work should represent you and your thinking to anyone who reads your discussions and assignments.