THE IMPORTANCE OF CRITICAL THINKING IN THE LEARNING PROCESS – EVALUATION OF ARGUMENTS ‘Many people find it difficult to order their thoughts in a logical, consistent and reasoned way’ [Cottrell, Stella. 2005, 1]. This statement holds much truth as many students find this to be their position to begin with, however through the reading of academic texts regarding reflection, students will find they are able to gradually develop what are called critical thinking skills. Critical thinking is a useful skill that is important when attempting to understand, comprehend and develop one’s position on information that is presented to them.
Kathryn Pavlovich discusses the use of critical thinking when writing her paper on ‘The development of reflective practice through student journals’ [Pavlovich, Kathryn. 2007, 281-295] which we will touch on in this essay. Critical thinking is something that is becoming more important to academic tutors as it gives students the ability to think carefully about how they respond to tasks at hand. Many universities are now encouraging students to use the critical thinking process as part of their assessments especially those in the business sector.
At this point you may be asking how critical thinking works. The answer is this, when one uses critical thinking they are able to evaluate arguments set before them and to create their own viewpoints for the arguments. There are a few different forms of critical thinking that a student can use. One form of critical thinking is the use of reflection such as journals or diary entries. Reflection is a valuable tool as it helps develop students’ self-awareness and their ability to carefully consider different ideas.
Using reflection as part of the critical thinking process, students are able to develop a stronger understanding of the subject they are responding to and this reflection can help them arrive at the best possible answer to the subject. So we can see that reflection is very important in the critical thinking process. Throughout her paper, Pavlovich discusses four dimensions that are important in the reflection process. The first dimension is that of experience. Pavlovich advises that ‘experience acts as the context for personal learning’ [Pavlovich, Kathryn. 007, 283]. Experience can sometimes be very valuable when one is critically thinking about any arguments presented before them, as it gives them an opportunity to learn why they respond in such a way towards certain arguments. They are also able to draw on previous knowledge and facts which can be helpful when formulating their argument or responding to one. If students learn to deepen their understanding of the experiences they have been through they are able to foster critical thinking skills that will help them as they respond to arguments.
The second dimension is that of ‘mental activity that reviews the experience’ [Pavlovich, Kathryn. 2007, 283]. The way this dimension works is by encouraging students to look more in depth at the experience they have been reflecting on. The student reviews their experience and is able to better state their position in an argument based on these experiences. Pavlovich continues on to the third dimension which is a continuation from the second dimension. The third dimension is the untangling of emotion by careful consideration of one’s experiences.
The student reflects on their experiences and work through the emotions that come with that experience. Stella Cottrell reminds us that ‘reflection is associated with a striving after the truth; it is through reflection that we can come to acknowledge things we find difficult to admit in the normal course of events’ [Cottrell, Stella. 2003, 173]. Once a student has considered their experiences and removed all emotional discomfort they are able to critically think of solutions or responses to arguments as they are not caught up emotionally with the subject.
The last dimension listed is ‘that of taking action to change behavior as a consequence of this contemplation of experience’ [Pavlovich, Kathryn. 2007, 284]. At this point, the student will have reflected on their experiences, separated the emotion from the experience and then as a result of their contemplation they will change their behavior based on the self-awareness they have developed. The student can then take action by implementing the insight they obtained through reflection, they can apply this insight at work, in their studies or as a part of personal development.
This fourth dimension is important to student’s response to arguments as they have now arrived at a point of action. They are able to act upon the thoughts that they had during the critical thinking process through reflection. By understanding the four dimensions of the reflective process the student is able to accurately apply themselves to critically thinking through the use of reflection. This process can be very usefully to students when responding to university arguments, as through reflection the student can develop a sounder response to an argument.
It is vital for students to follow this process when responding to academic questions as they will need to demonstrate to their tutors, examiners or lecturers that they understand the subject that they have been requested to respond to. If students are not able to examine the subject that has been assigned to them, they may find it tough to respond to the subject appropriately which in turn could result in the student going on a tangent and writing about something which has nothing to do with the subject they have been requested to respond to.
Not only does critically thinking benefit a student by allowing them to respond to the subject in depth and correctly, there are other benefits too. Stella Cottrell lists another benefit of critically thinking before responding to a subject as enabling ‘you to direct your reading to the most relevant material and to save time by reading more efficiently’ [Cottrell, Stella. 2005, 37]. Students are able to pinpoint exactly what the subject is and they won’t be wasting time looking at irrelevant reading material.
In conclusion, critical thinking is an under-used skill that students should be encouraged to use more in their studies, work and personal development. Although reflection is only one part of the critical thinking process it is a vital part as it gives students the opportunity to draw on their experiences (not their opinions) when thinking about how to respond to the subject matter. Once a student understands the four dimensions of the reflective process they are able to use the dimensions of this process when developing arguments.
The student is then able to accurately pinpoint the information required and demonstrate their understanding of this information through well supported arguments. References: • Pavlovich, Kathryn. 2007. The development of practice through student journals. Higher Education Research and Development. • Cottrell, Stella. 2003. Skills for Success: The Personal Development Planning Handbook. Basingstoke, England. Palgrave MacMillan. • Cottrell, Stella. 2005. Critical Thinking Skills: Developing Effective Analysis and Argument. Basingstoke, England. Palgrave MacMillan.