This background summarises the evidence base from which the Critical and creative thinking capability’s introduction, organising elements and learning continuum have been developed. It draws on foundational and recent international and national research, as well as initiatives and programs that focus on critical and creative thinking across the curriculum.
Critical and creative thinking are variously characterised by theorists as dispositions (Tishman, Perkins and Jay; Ritchhart, Church and Morrison), taxonomies of skills (Bloom; Anderson, Krathwohl et al.), habits and frames of mind (Costa and Kallick; Gardner; de Bono), thinking strategies (Marzano, Pickering and Pollock), and philosophical inquiry (Lipman, Sharp and Oscanyan). Each of these approaches has informed the development of the Critical and creative thinking capability.
The capability is concerned with the encouragement of skills and learning dispositions or tendencies towards particular patterns of intellectual behaviour. These include being broad, flexible and adventurous thinkers, making plans and being strategic, demonstrating metacognition, and displaying intellectual perseverance and integrity. Students learn to skilfully and mindfully use thinking dispositions or ‘habits of mind’ such as risk taking and managing impulsivity (Costa and Kallick 2000) when confronted with problems to which solutions are not immediately apparent.
Both Gardner (1994) and Robinson (2009) emphasise that we need to understand and capitalise on the natural aptitudes, talents and passions of students – they may be highly visual, or think best when they are moving, or listening, or reading. Critical and creative thinking are fostered through opportunities to use dispositions such as broad and adventurous thinking, reflecting on possibilities, and metacognition (Perkins 1995), and can result from intellectual flexibility, open-mindedness, adaptability and a readiness to experiment with and clarify new questions and phenomena (Gardner 2009). Recent discoveries in neuroscience have furthered theories about thinking, the brain, perception and the link between cognition and emotions. Theorists believe that learning is enhanced when rich environments contain multiple stimuli, stressing the importance of engaging the mind’s natural curiosity through complex and meaningful challenges.
Educational taxonomies map sequences of skills and processes considered to be foundational and essential for learning. The most well known of these, developed by Bloom et al. (1956), divided educational objectives into domains where learning at the higher levels was dependent on having attained prerequisite knowledge and skills at lower levels. In 1967, Bruner and colleagues described the process of concept learning as an active process in which learners construct new concepts or ideas based on their knowledge.
The philosophical inquiry model, first applied to school education by Lipman, Sharp and Oscanyan (1980), has two major elements: critical and creative thinking, and forming a classroom environment called a ‘community of inquiry’, to support the development of thinking and discussion skills. This model places emphasis on possibilities and meanings, wondering, reasoning, rigour, logic, and using criteria for measuring the quality of thinking.
Lave and Wenger (1991) described ‘learning communities’ that value their collective competence and learn from each other. Through their notion of ‘authentic’ learning, the importance of engagement and linking student interests and preferred learning modes with classroom learning has emerged. Marzano, Pickering and Pollock (2001) identified the strategies most likely to improve student achievement across all content areas and grade levels. These include using non-linguistic representations and learning organisers, and generating and testing hypotheses.
In 2001, Anderson and Krathwohl changed Bloom’s cognitive process of ‘synthesis’ to ‘creativity’ and made it the highest level of intellectual functioning. They believed the ability to create required the production of an original idea or a product from a unique synthesis of discrete elements.
Twenty-first century learning theories emphasise the importance of supporting authentic and ubiquitous (anywhere, anyhow) learning, and providing students with opportunities, resources and spaces to develop their creative and critical thinking skills (Newton and Fisher 2009; McGuinness 1999, 2010). Gardner’s (2009) five ‘minds’ for the future – the disciplined, synthesising, creating, respectful and ethical minds – offers a helpful starting place. Learners need to develop the skills to analyse and respond to authentic situations through inquiry, imagination and innovation.
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