Daniel Willingham, ‘Critical Thinking: Why is it so hard to teach?’, American Educator, Summer 2005

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Willingham defines critical thinking as ‘seeing both sides of an issue, being open to new evidence that disconfirms your ideas, reasoning dispassionately, demanding that claims be backed by evidence, deducing and inferring conclusions from available facts, solving problems, and so forth.’  He points out that there are also ‘specific types of critical thinking that are characteristic of different subject matter: That’s what we mean when we refer to “thinking like a scientist” or “thinking like a historian”.

Willingham argues that where people who have taught critical thinking have gone wrong is in assuming that if the students had been taught the skills in one context they would automatically be able to transfer those skills to all other relevant contexts.  In fact, students don’t, and normally can’t, do this because they lack the necessary background knowledge.  For example, if I asked one of Year 12 historians studying Louis XIV to consider…

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