Critical Thinking


One definition of critical thinking is that it “is purposeful and reflective judgment about what to believe or what to do” (“Critical Thinking,” n.d.). In the Western tradition, Socrates is regarded as an early practitioner of critical thinking as manifested in his teaching practice and vision involving the use of probing questioning with respect to claims of knowledge (“A Brief History,” 2009).

Elements of critical thinking may be embedded within a variety of individual, organizational, cultural and societal philosophies and practices to varying degrees with or without explicit reference to definitions and concepts associated with critical thinking as reflected in the growing body of modern information on the subject. They are implicit within many realms of traditional Native American thought and practice. Some believe that increased attention to the elements, application and value of critical thinking in a variety of situations is of growing relevance.

Native American scholar Michael Yellow Bird (Yellow Bird, 2005, pp. 9-29) has written about critical thinking with specific reference to Native American circumstances and contexts, drawing from and applying elements of the work of other notable scholars such as Paulo Freire (Freire, 2003). He claims that critical thinking “[c]an be applied to numerous issues and situations facing tribal peoples and can systematically guide a community or organization through a rigorous, sound, and credible discovery process of the most effective approaches to almost every imaginable problem” and that it also “[i]s often reactionary, and […] must also be proactive, creative, constructive, and generative” (Yellow Bird, 2005, p. 15).

More information regarding the concepts, practice and significance of critical thinking (and problem solving) as related to academic success for Native American and Alaska Native students appears in The American Indian and Alaska Native Student’s Guide to College Success (CHiXapkaid (D. Michael Pavel) & Inglebret, 2007, pp. 93-109).


Critical Thinking Activities—The aforementioned chapter by Michael Yellow Bird’s comprises a succinct and useful overview of critical thinking including reference to its need definition, and some stages of and barriers to critical thinking. In the latter part of this chapter, Yellow Bird provides several activities that may be used to explore and foster the practice of critical thinking (e.g., to help assess the “truth” about where humans come from, the stages of critical thinking as related to its improvement, and groupthink assessment).

The Circle of Elements—Referred to variously as the Circle of Elements of Thought, the Circle of Elements of Reasoning or simply “the Circle,” this is an eight-sectioned diagrammatic representation of fundamental aspects of thinking and reasoning as developed and presented by representatives of the Foundation for Critical Thinking (Foundation for Critical, 2009; Nosich, 2009, pp. 49-88; “The Elements of Reasoning,” 2009). By simply referencing the circle, diagrams of which appear in the cited sources, it is argued that one may follow a variety of non-linear approaches to thinking and reasoning critically about virtually any topic. The circle includes the following elements: 1) point of view, 2) purpose, 3 question at issue, 4) information, 5) interpretation and inference, 6) concepts, 7) assumptions, and 8) implications and consequences. These elements are related to a set of intellectual standard (clearness, accuracy, relevance, etc.) said to be applicable across a variety of academic disciplines.

The SEE-I Method—This is a critical thinking tool for promoting critical thinking as well as a method for helping to assess student’s work. The acronym “SEE-I” stands for State (the concept or idea in a single sentence or two), Elaborate (on the concept in your own words), Exemplify (the concept by giving concrete examples of the concept), and Illustrate (the concept with a picture, diagram, metaphor, or an analogy). This process is described as an iterative, refining, and self-correcting method of clarification and understanding, which is amenable to small group work (Nosich, 2009, pp. 33-38; “SEE-I,” n.d.). It is applicable to a wide range of topics and situations. It is sometimes referred to as the S-E-X-I Paradigm, where “X” denotes “exemplify” and “I” refers to “illustrate or provide implications” (Fagan, 2003).

Assessment—There are elements of assessment inherent in critical thinking approaches to reasoning. It is reflective and metacognitive, involving thinking about one’s own thinking (Nosich, 2009, p. 3). Information regarding structured approaches to the assessment of students’ critical thinking is available from the Foundation for Critical Thinking website (“Structures for Student,” 2009). A simple rubric for student self-assessment of critical thinking is available from the Bellevue Community College website (“Critical Thinking Self,” 2003). An additional critical thinking assessment rubric may be found online at the Critical Thinking Assessment Project (Critical Thinking Assessment, n.d.).


A brief history of the idea of critical thinking. (2009). Foundation for Critical Thinking (library/articles). Retrieved September 10, 2009, from Foundation for Critical Thinking website: [Brief overview of the history of critical thinking and reference to some common denominators of critical thinking.]

CHiXapkaid (D. Michael Pavel), & Inglebret, E. (2007). Develop problem-solving and critical-thinking skills. In The American Indian and Alaska Native student’s guide to college success (pp. 93-109). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. [Includes details regarding problem solving, critical thinking, and their interrelationships with a focus on American Indian and Alaska Native college students. ISBN-10: 0313329583, ISBN-13: 978-0313329586]

Critical thinking assessment project. (n.d.). Retrieved September 2, 2009, from Department of Philosophy, California State University, Chico website: [Information on critical thinking competencies and assessment, including a self-assessment quiz.]

Critical thinking self assessment. (2003). Critical thinking & information literacy across the curriculum [online PDF file]. Retrieved September 11, 2009, from Bellevue Community College website: [Contains several online PDF files regarding critical thinking and related topics, including a simple critical thinking self-assessment rubric.]

Critical thinking. (n.d.). Wikipedia. Retrieved August 18, 2009, from Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. website: [Encyclopedic article with reference to dispositions, concepts and principles, classroom applications, the status of instruction in critical thinking and quotations.]

Fagan, S. (2003, September 30). A S-E-X-I paradigm for student responses. In Maricopa Learning Exchange. Retrieved from Maricopa Center for Learning and Instruction, Maricopa Community College website: [Loosely based on Richard Paul’s approach to critical thinking, the S-E-X-I acronym provides students with a brief framework for responding orally or in writing to a level beyond the merely superficial.]

Foundation for critical thinking. (2009). Retrieved August 18, 2009, from

Freire, P. (1993). Pedagogy of the oppressed (New Rev. 20th Anniversary ed.). New York: Continuum. [Examination of the struggle for justice and equity within the Brazilian educational system with a proposed new pedagogy to address issues related to colonial oppression. ISBN-10: 0-8264-0611-4, ISBN-13: 978-0826406118; Lummi Library: LB 880 .F73 P4313 1993]

Nosich, G. M. (2009). Learning to think things through: A guide to critical thinking across the curriculum (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education. (Original work published 2001) [This is a good introduction to the use of critical thinking strategies in the classroom, as it is concise and inexpensive enough to merit use as a secondary text in a range of disciplines. ISBN-10: 0-13-813242-9 ISBN-13: 978-0-13-813242-2]

SEE-I. (n.d.). Wikipedia. Retrieved August 18, 2009, from Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. website: [A concise introduction to the SEE-I method (aka S-E-X-I Paradigm) and its application. SEE-I: State, Elaborate, Exemplify, Illustrate.]

Structures for student self-assessment. (2009). Foundation for Critical Thinking (library/articles, higher education instruction). Retrieved September 10, 2009, from Foundation for Critical Thinking website: [Details regarding structured student self-assessment of critical thinking as related to writing, listening, speaking, reading and global self-assessment.]

The elements of reasoning and intellectual standards. (2009). Foundation for Critical Thinking (where to begin). Retrieved September 10, 2009, from Foundation for Critical Thinking website: [Includes diagrams and link to “Elements and Standards” online learning model.]

Yellow Bird, M. (2005). Tribal critical thinking centers. In For indigenous eyes only: A decolonization handbook (pp. 9-29). Santa Fe: School of American Research. [Overview of the need for critical thinking within Native American settings, the stages of critical thinking, barriers to critical thinking, and comments regarding the establishment and goals of tribal critical thinking centers. ISBN: 978-1-930618-6-3]


Critical thinking source. (2008). Center for Teaching and Learning. Retrieved September 12, 2009, from University of Minnesota website: [Essential points, annotated bibliography and additional resources on critical thinking.]

Index of articles. (2009). Foundation for Critical Thinking. Retrieved September 12, 2009, from [Index to articles on critical thinking including instruction strategies and articles for students.]

National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking. (2009). Foundation for Critical Thinking. Retrieved September 2, 2009, from Foundation for Critical Thinking website: [Information on the goals, founding principles, history and philosophy, elements of thought, universal intellectual standards, and valuable intellectual traits of a council of about 8,000 educators associated with the Foundation for Critical Thinking.]

WWW links to resources for teaching reasoning and critical thinking. (2006, January). Retrieved September 12, 2009, from Prince George Community College website: [List of Internet resources on critical thinking with corresponding URLs.

Submitted by Brain Compton, Sept. 2009


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