Bouton, Deborah

Thinking Critically About Critical Thinking in the Community College Classroom: An Examination of the Beliefs of Exemplary Instructors

The purpose of this study is to explore how exemplary community college instructors describe their beliefs about critical thinking and how they attempt to foster its development in their students. Situated in both constructivist learning theory and theories of action, the study examines how participants make meaning of critical thinking, and how their beliefs are reflected in their teaching practices. In this multiple case study, the author employs semistructured interviews, videotaped class observations, and course documents to provide insight into the perceptions and experiences of exemplary instructors. Through a cross-case analysis of data, the author delineates elements of common understanding about teaching for critical thinking.

This research demonstrates that the relationship between an instructor’s ability to articulate her understanding of critical thinking and her capacity to teach for critical thinking is not as straightforward as some research would suggest. The tacit understandings that these exemplary instructors bring to the classroom provides a valuable framework for their teaching practice. There are commonalities in how participants conceptualize critical thinking, even though their understandings tend to be a product of personal learning and practice rather than adherence to a particular theoretical perspective. The common elements in how they understand critical thinking include the ability to: 1) see underlying connections in seemingly disparate subjects; 2) value multiple perspectives; 3) exercise prudent skepticism; and, 4) articulate and defend a position with credible evidence.

The educational goals that these instructors establish for students show remarkable similarities, in that they reflect the understandings these instructors articulate about the nature of critical thinking. Participants want their students to expand their worldview, question assumptions, articulate defensible positions, and construct a personal understanding of the content. Instructors believe that they can best foster these skills by assuming a facilitative role. Not only do these instructors talk about the importance of critical thinking in the classroom, they put their beliefs into practice. That is, their teaching practices reflect the values they espouse.