About the Author
Fiona Hall is an award leader for the BA in Education within the School of Education at Staffordshire University. She has more than 20 years’ experience of working within primary, further and higher education. She has also been involved in teacher training in further education, undertaking teacher observations. Her current research interests are situated in the exploration of teaching assistant practice in schools. Fiona has co-authored Supporting Primary Teaching and Learning.
Lynn Machin is Award Leader and Senior Lecturer within the School of Education at Staffordshire University. She has over 20 years’ experience of teaching in post-14 education. Lynn has had a variety of roles within initial teacher education (ITE) including developing and writing the modules that make up the suite of qualifications within ITE in the FE and Skills Sector.
Sandra Murray is a lecturer within the School of Education at Staffordshire University. Sandra, having taught for many years in a further education college, has a wide range of experience supporting and teaching teachers in the further education sector and has been teaching on Initial Teacher Education programmes since 2006. Her particular research interest is inspirational and outstanding teaching. She has written and co-authored several books for teachers within further education, including A Complete Guide to the Level 5 Diploma in Education and Training and A Complete Guide to the Level 4 Certificate in Education and Training.
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Thinking critically to become a high achieving practitioner
Critical thinking (CT) is a key component of your personal, professional and academic development. It features prominently in the some of the UK's teachers' standards as well as being explicitly highlighted in the QAA's definition of undergraduate education studies courses:
Essentially, education studies is concerned with understanding how people develop and learn throughout their lives, and the nature of knowledge and critical engagement with ways of knowing and understanding.
(QAA, 2015, p 6)
Moon (2008), however, highlights numerous contrasting definitions of the term within academia with Moore (2013) finding seven differing interpretations within one HE institution alone. Furthermore, Higgins (2014) questions its importance in relation to other thinking skills such as creativity, as well as how it should be developed and applied. This chapter outlines key definitions, approaches and limitations of CT while also highlighting expectations within professional and academic standards. Your ability to develop a consistently critical stance towards information has a major influence on your professional career and personal journey through life.
Principles of critical thinking
The importance of critical thinking
Recently, phrases such as 'post-truth' and 'fake news' have risen to prominence following the Brexit and American presidential campaigns, where demonstrably false claims were repeatedly made for electoral gain (Peters, 2017). When challenged over these, responses related to having rights to voice differing opinions, oxymoronically defined as 'alternative facts', or representing the true voice of the people over educated elites. Thus Michael Gove dismissed the evaluations of numerous renowned authorities by declaring: I think the people of this country have had enough of experts (Sky News, 2016), a casual dismissal of evidence and expertise that raises the question of what value he saw in his previous role as Secretary of State for Education. Indeed, reflecting on the rising popularity of anti-intellectual culture, Hoffman (2016) cites several surveys demonstrating declining public awareness of key scientific issues as evidence of a breakdown in informed public policy discourse. Peters argues in-depth research and analysis therefore face direct threats from the speed and reach of social media:
It's not so much that facts are futile, it's just that they take a while to collect and marshal into a knock-down argument. By the time the facts are gathered the media moment has passed, the headline has been grabbed, and the lie can be modified, apologised for or replaced by another.
(Peters, 2017, p 3)
Regardless of the extent to which current affairs genuinely represent a new paradigm, such events illustrate the importance of CT as a necessary means of examining, substantiating or challenging the basis of decisions that affect our everyday lives. Challenging lies, ignorant, ill-informed or maliciously twisted information is not being part of an 'intellectual elite', but a crucial part of being an academic (Hoffman, 2016), professional employee and constructive citizen within society (Facione, 2015). It is important to remember that the point of researching evidence should not be to unwaveringly support your personal viewpoints or predispositions, but to challenge, and in all likelihood change, your own opinions and understandings. By being better informed, you can unearth your own prejudices and misunderstandings, thereby improving your own comprehension of, and contribution to, the world.
Moore's (2013) study of literature and academics' understandings of CT found a consensus regarding its importance, but no such agreement regarding its definition or implementation approaches. There is even dispute regarding whether it should be considered an unchanging set of principles, context-dependent or limited within subject areas. Regarding the first view of CT, the American Philosophical Association formed an expert consensus that has been subsequently frequently cited:
The ideal critical thinker is habitually inquisitive, well-informed, trustful of reason, open-minded, flexible, fair-minded in evaluation, honest in facing personal biases, prudent in making judgments, willing to reconsider, clear about issues, orderly in complex matters, diligent in seeking relevant information, reasonable in the selection of criteria, focused in inquiry, and persistent in seeking results which are as precise as the subject and the circumstances of inquiry permit.
(American Philosophical Association, 1990, cited in Facione, 2015, p 27)
Although recognising differing approaches to CT, Elder and Paul (2010) take the idea of defining underlying principles further, developing Universal Intellectual Standards: clarity, accuracy, precision, relevance, depth, breadth, logic, significance and fairness, which underpin thought processes and intellectual traits or virtues. Vaughn (2015) further advocates the value of a systematic, process-based approach with distinct procedures and methods, although Mulnix (2012) warns that this alone is insufficient, urging repeated practice to embed and continually develop CT ability. Countering the above viewpoints, Willingham's research (2008) emphasises the importance of in-depth subject knowledge as a precursor to CT, arguing that limited outcomes of generic skills development programmes evidence his view that CT skills are discipline specific and lack transferability. Clinchy (1993, cited in Moore, 2013), considers that CT depends on the context that it will be applied in, requiring either separate knowing, a dispassionate approach to evaluating evidence, or connected knowing, where the focus is on insight from individuals and groups. Barnett (1997, cited in Moore, 2013) also favours differing modes depending on its purpose: subject competence, practical knowledge, political engagement and strategic thinking.
While there is disagreement regarding whether and how CT should be defined and taught, there are some common aspects that can help us to identify CT and how we may apply it to our personal and professional lives.
Sourcing and analysing information
* Having a clear focus to your investigation.
* Acquiring relevant information from multiple sources.
* Systematically organising evidence.
* Identifying key themes and inferring meaningful connections.
* Comparing and contrasting differing evidence.
* Evaluating the quality of evidence.
* Reflecting on and potentially amending your original focus.
Forming and using judgements
* Making a fair, transparent and reflexive judgement based on the available evidence.
* Transparently acknowledging personal influences and interests that may influence your judgement as well as how you have sought to overcome/limit this impact.
* Clearly articulating your judgement, its scope and limitations.
* Acting on your judgement.
* Developing or changing your judgement when new evidence emerges.
Mulnix (2012) and Moore (2013) additionally found that some academics view a key purpose of CT being to challenge established hierarchies. However, Mulnix (2012) demonstrates that such an approach contradicts the underlying purpose of CT being to seek out truths as far as possible. Indeed, a key purpose of seeking evidence should not be to reaffirm your existing understandings (and prejudices), but to challenge and even change them.
Sourcing and analysing information
Initiating critical thought processes requires identifying key questions to answer, although these may develop based on new understanding throughout your investigation. This enables discernment of relevant information against interesting but irrelevant information. A critical thinker does not accept without evaluation the first piece of information they find. Information literacy is therefore vital; being able to identify and draw from a range of authoritative sources while retaining a keen and sceptical eye for underlying biases and agendas in any source (Facione, 2015). This means not just accepting a single point of view, however authoritative, but trying to find different sources of information on the chosen subject. All sources have some form of underlying bias, which to a greater or lesser extent may influence its findings and credibility. Furthermore, your personal experiences and viewpoints affect how you select, evaluate and interpret what you read. An ability to think reflexively to understand these influences can help you challenge your own assumptions and prejudices through open engagement with evidence (Mulnix, 2012). Given the array of information available and the need to investigate and note the voracity of differing sources; organisational ability based on sound background knowledge is a vital aspect of CT, according to Willingham (2008). This requires interpretation to help filter and categorise information as well as analytical skills to understand relationships between differing concepts and data. Indeed, Mulnix (2012) argues that inferencing ability is the underpinning skill of CT upon which all other related skills are dependent.
While ascertaining a truly objective standpoint may be untenable given these issues, this does not mean we should not stop striving to achieve as close to this goal as possible. Just because every source has some form of bias, this does mean that all sources are therefore equally valid. So, although in a democracy people's right to voice an opinion within the boundaries of the law should be respected, it does not therefore follow that we should have equal respect for all views and certainly not regard all views as being equally truthful or credible. Furthermore, objective understanding of an event is not necessarily somewhere in the middle of two contrasting viewpoints (Facione, 2015). Thus, the use of emotive anecdotes, however eloquently articulated, do not constitute reliable evidence, nor substantiate grandiose claims. Where demonstrable facts have been ignored, misinterpreted or selectively highlighted, or anecdotes used in place of substantive evidence, this shows that the source lacks credibility. In the case of an authoritative source, such an approach used would additionally suggest a lack of personal integrity. Opinions emanating from such work, as with all sources, should therefore be dispassionately challenged through use of robust and credible evidence (Hoffman, 2016). Therefore, when forming an opinion, what you should be seeking is articulation of the weight of robustly evidenced credible research.
Quantity by no means equals quality and with the internet, whatever information we are seeking, an overwhelming amount of data is available within seconds, generating too many sources to individually investigate. Digital literacy is therefore vital when performing internet searches; the first few sources may be present due to financial incentives being paid to the search engine provider rather than the voracity of their information. Similarly, other sources heading the queue may be present on the grounds of their popularity rather than the quality of the resource. Popularity is no guarantee of accuracy; Moon (2008) highlights Janis' concept of 'groupthink', where social compliance negates individuals' ability to think independently or question the underlying assumptions of the group:
The more amiability and spirit de corps among the members of a policy-making in-group, the greater is the danger that independent critical thinking will be replaced by groupthink which is likely to lead to irrational and dehumanising actions directed against out-groups.
(Janis, 1982, p 13, in Moon, 2008, p 9)
Similarly, within online media, 'echo chambers', or 'bubble worlds', where groups of likeminded individuals repeat and develop similar viewpoints, reinforce prejudices as they do not access robust evidence that may contradict their ever deeper engrained worldview (Peters, 2017). Additionally, glossy reports, often from commercial organisations or politically motivated think-tanks, may be easy to read, offering logical sounding solutions, but these are rarely peer-reviewed, meaning that evidence could be withheld, misused or misinterpreted to support the organisation's underlying agenda (Hoffman, 2016). Although peer-reviewed academic journal articles should reflect a higher academic standard if from a reputable journal, scepticism should be retained. If a view is based on experience, the long-term reflections of a recognised authority within a field of knowledge may have credibility. However, Hoffman(2016) warns that when academics speak beyond their field of knowledge within their professional capacity (rather than expressing a democratic right of voicing personal opinions) they damage their overall credibility. Furthermore, bias in scope of research, implementation and analysis, 'cherry picking' of selective data to support an argument as well as under or misrepresentation of conflicting evidence are all possible misuses of research (see Chapter 9). Even if you have obtained robust evidence about an issue, consider whether any elements of data are missing that will inform you of additional study needs. Additionally, research findings only ever represent the author's interpretation at the time of publication; subsequent academic study may substantiate, develop or challenge findings. Finally, for all sources, Moon (2008) highlights the need to identify explicit or implicit intentions of authors as well as consider how their context may have influenced approaches, scope and findings.
Forming and using judgements
People perceive truths in the face of contrary evidence due to personal circumstances, prejudices, motivations and beliefs; attempting to acknowledge how this influences your understanding is an important aspect of CT as it helps you understand the limitations of your judgement (Piro and Anderson, 2015). Piro and Anderson (2015) therefore note that collaborative approaches may help to question and challenge personal assumptions, though there remains the danger of 'groupthink' if using close colleagues.
Hoffman (2016) warns against critical investigations as an intellectual pursuit, arguing that a crucial role of an academic is to engage in public discourse to publicise findings to help create evidence-based change as an antidote to ill-informed opinion:
Academic and scientific communities have been ineffective or disengaged in explaining the state and gravity of scientific findings ... For the benefit of society's ability to make wise decisions and for the benefit of the academy's ability to remain relevant, the academic community needs to accept its role in public engagement.
(Hoffman, 2016, p 4)
However, Hoffman (2016) warns that presentation opens the critical thinker to criticisms of methods and findings. Where supported by relevant evidence, criticisms should not be viewed as failure but an opportunity to change judgement on the grounds of new evidence. This is not always easy; where hard work, personal values and professional reputation are at stake, admitting mistakes or omissions is difficult. However, to use evidence sparingly solely for the purpose of supporting your viewpoint or dismissing the claims of others is tantamount to dishonesty, regardless of how eloquently the argument is presented. It is therefore important not to overstate claims; ensure findings are well-supported by evidence and the investigation's limitations are clear. Admitting that findings are inconclusive or unsupportive of an issue are valid; evidence showing the necessity for further research or ceasing ineffective practice should be considered equally important to conclusions that advocate new approaches. Ultimately, Moon (2008) concludes that CT must provide evidence to inform ensuing action. Hoffman concurs, arguing that such evidence should actively inform open public debate:
The engaged scholar must recognize the extent to which discourse is inherently a dialogue rather than a monologue, a conversation requiring mutual respect and appreciation for the expertise of all sides. In order to succeed, academics need to accept that they do not have a monopoly on knowledge and expertise, and that engagement is a two-way learning process. This is a model of engagement based on service that entails reaching out to the community and making the effort to discover what issues matter to them, what they need to know or what help they need so that we can collectively address these issues.
(Hoffman, 2016, p 10)
Excerpted from "A Concise Guide to Education Studies"
Copyright © 2017 Duncan Hindmarch, Fiona Hall, Lynn Machin and Sandra Murray.
Excerpted by permission of Critical Publishing Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Meet the authors x
Chapter links to the QAA Subject Benchmark Statements: Education Studies xi
The aim of this book 1
Who should read this book? 1
Content and structure 1
1 Thinking critically to become a high achieving practitioner 4
Subject expertise links 5
Principles of critical thinking 6
Critical thinking and professional practice 11
Limitations of critical thinking 14
Summary of key points 14
Check your understanding 15
Taking it further 15
2 The historical context of English education (1988-the present) 17
Subject expertise links 18
An overview of key education policies 19
The national curriculum and standardisation of practices 22
Key educational policy drivers 24
Who controls education? 26
Competition and change to initial teacher education 27
Evaluating social mobility strategies 28
Summary of key points 30
Check your understanding 30
Taking it further 30
3 Current approaches to teaching, learning and assessment 34
Subject expertise links 35
Effective teaching and learning 36
Personalised learning 39
Planning and preparation 40
Core skills and specialisms 41
Summary of key points 45
Check your understanding 45
Taking it further 45
4 Perspectives on safeguarding and behaviour strategies 49
Subject expertise links 50
Preventing radicalisation and terrorism 53
Summary of key points 59
Check your understanding 59
Taking it further 60
5 Inclusion, equality and special educational needs 63
Subject expertise links 64
The history of inclusion, equality and SEND 65
The importance of social mobility 68
Inclusion in the classroom and beyond 71
Summary of key points 72
Check your understanding 72
Taking it further 73
6 Leadership, management, teamwork and quality 76
Subject expertise links 77
Educational structures 78
Leadership and management 80
Effective teamwork 84
Accountability and quality assurance 85
Summary of key points 87
Check your understanding 87
Taking it further 88
7 Adult, family and community education 91
Subject expertise links 92
Adult education 92
Comparing formal and informal education approaches 94
Policies and practices to promote lifelong learning outside the school system 95
Community education 98
Family education 98
Prison and offender education 99
Educating the elderly 100
Summary of key points 101
Check your understanding 101
Taking it further 102
8 Comparative education: learning from other countries 104
Subject expertise links 105
Key approaches to comparative education 105
Comparative education: rationale and criticisms 108
Summary of key points 113
Check your understanding 114
Taking it further 114
9 Making a difference: practitioner-led research 117
Subject expertise links 118
What is research? 119
Research paradigms 121
Using literature and theoretical frameworks 121
The research question or hypothesis 122
Research methodologies 123
Research methods and tools 124
Ethical issues in research 127
Data analysts and findings 129
Summary of key points 131
Check your understanding 131
Taking it further 131
10 Looking to the future: education technology 133
Subject expertise links 134
The historical context of technology in education 135
Education technology pedagogy 136
Education technology, inclusion and social mobility 138
E-safety and data protection 138
Education technology developments 139
Summary of key points 142
Check your understanding 142
Taking it further 143
Glossary of acronyms 146