Critical Thinking Revisited

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Photo A. McKenzie

When I last posted about critical thinking I thought I knew what critical thinking was all about: critical thinking = knowing how to think. Now as I think about what I thought I knew about thinking I realize that perhaps I hadn’t thought about it deeply enough.

Definitions of critical thinking, I have discovered, are not clearly defined and are often quite long. This one, for example: “the ability to analyze and evaluate information” (para 1, Duron, Limbach & Waugh, 2006) is brief but doesn’t encompass the full range of the complexity of critical thinking or address how critical thinking is related to problem solving.

Critical thinking requires “. . . reasoning, making judgments and decisions, and problem solving” (Willingham, 2007, page 11). It requires us to have effective metacognitive skills to be able to be able to look honestly at one’s own biases, judgements and assumptions, to be open to new ideas and new perspectives and to be flexible to list a few (Characteristics of Strong Critical Thinkers, 2013). 

It also requires us to have a strong understanding and knowledge base in the area that we are required to critically think. For example, when my laptop starts misbehaving the extent of my critical thinking skills to solve the problem is to turn it off and reboot it. If the problem continues beyond that I am at a loss. When I encounter a problem with a clinical situation in the hospital (provided it is in maternity or another area I have knowledge in) I am able to pull on 25 years of experience and knowledge to help me determine the problem, apply a strategy to solve the problem, reflect on its effectiveness and autocorrect if the problem persists or is not fully resolved. The key here though is that I need to continually monitor that the judgements and assumptions I am making are accurate.

The Pearson’s RED Critical Thinking Model distils critical thinking to 3 key areas. While I like the simplicity of the model, I think it is important to be able to fully appreciate what is involved with each of the three steps.

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So how can I help students to engage in critical thinking? More specifically, how can I help RNs new to perinatal nursing engage in critical thinking?

First, I can teach strategies that that will help students be able to apply critical thinking skills. These would include:

  • having them look at their assumptions and beliefs about the issue;
  • having them look at how they are understanding the issue – are they interpreting the issue based on what they think they know about it or are they trying to understand all of the nuances of the issue;
  • looking at the issue through multiple perspectives;
  • applying their knowledge of what they know about the issue;
  • coming up with solutions and assess them for their potential effectiveness;
  • applying metacognitive strategies throughout the process.

Furthermore, it is important for students “. . . to avoid biases that most of us are prey to when we think, such as settling on the first conclusion that seems reasonable, only seeking evidence that confirms one’s beliefs, ignoring countervailing evidence, overconfidence, and others”(Willingham. D.T. 2007 page 13).

To make this happen, I can use case studies but instead of going through them as a group with me leading the discussion I can have students read through a case study presented on a power point and then have the students break off into pairs to critically think through it on their own. Using this approach increases the success of being able to develop the student’s critical thinking skills (Wardlow, L., n.d)

Here is a link to a wonderful infographic  made by one of my colleagues about how the ‘Chunk and Chew’ instructional strategy can be used for this purpose.

Willingham (2007) stated: “. . . teaching students to think critically probably lies in small part in showing them new ways of thinking, and in large part in enabling them to deploy the right type of thinking at the right time” (page 15).

My job as an instructor is to help RNs new to perinatal nursing have a greater chance of deploying the right type of thinking at the right time by having them understand the principles of critical thinking, ensuring they have a knowledge base in perinatal nursing, presenting case studies using the chunk and chew instructional strategy and having them apply critical thinking to the case studies that the group can then assess for effectiveness.



Characteristics of Strong Critical Thinkers (2013) Insight Assessment Measuring Thinking Worldwide Retrieved from:

 Duron, R., Limbach, B., & Waugh, W., (2006) Critical Thinking Framework For Any Discipline International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education Volume 17, Number 2, 160-166. Retrieved from:

Jones, R., (2013) The Instructor’s Challenge: Moving Students beyond Opinions to Critical Thinking Faculty Focus Higher Ed Teaching Strategies from Magna Publications. Retrieved from

Pearson’s RED Critical Thinking Model (2016) Think Watson Pearson Education, Inc. Retrieved from Retrieved from:

Wardlow, L., (n.d) Insights From Research on How Best to Teach Critical Thinking Skills Teaching in a Digital Age Always Learning Pearson Research and Innovation Network Retrieved from:

Willingham. D.T. (2007) Critical Thinking Why Is It So Hard to Teach? American Educator American Federation of Teachers. Retrieved from: