Critical, Creative and Reflective Practice: Sketch of a possible booklet

The small critical thinking guides of Richard Paul and Linda Elder have received wide circulation, but the Critical & Creative Thinking graduate program at UMass Boston has something distinctive to convey about supporting the development of critical thinking, as well as creative thinking and reflective practice. Thus this sketch of a possible booklet.

A small guide to Critical, Creative and Reflective Practice

Tools and Processes

In a sense subscribed to by all teachers, critical thinking means that students are bright and engaged, ask questions, and think about the course materials until they understand well established knowledge and competing approaches. This becomes more significant when students develop their own processes of active inquiry, which they can employ in new situations, beyond the bounds of our particular classes, indeed, beyond their time as students. My sense of critical thinking is, however, more specific; it depends on inquiry being informed by a strong sense of how things could be otherwise. I want students to see that they understand things better when they have placed established facts, theories, and practices in tension with alternatives. At this level, critical thinking should not depend on students rejecting conventional accounts, but they do have to move through uncertainty. Their knowledge is, at least for a time, destabilized; what has been established cannot be taken for granted. Students can no longer expect that if they just wait long enough the teacher will provide complete and tidy conclusions; instead they have to take a great deal of responsibility for their own learning. Anxieties inevitably arise for students when they have to respond to new situations knowing that the teacher will not act as the final arbiter of their success. A high level of critical thinking is possible when students explore such anxieties and gain the confidence to face uncertainty and ambiguity. To develop as a critical thinker is, then, like journeying into unfamiliar areas, which involves risk, opens up questions, creates more experiences than can be integrated at first, requires support, and yields personal and professional change. In a similar spirit, in Reflective Practice students take risks and experiment in putting ideas into practice, then take stock of the outcomes and revise their approaches accordingly. Creative Thinking is about generating alternative ideas, practices, and solutions, exploring ways to confront complex, messy, ambiguous problems, making new connections, and seeing how things could be otherwise—that is, formulating alternatives that can be held in tension with previous ideas and practices.

This booklet describes a range of tools and processes that provide space and support for students to develop as critical thinkers, creative thinkers, and reflective practitioners. The key challenge is to help people make knowledge and practice from insights and experience that they are not prepared, at first, to acknowledge. Each entry then raises some questions for further inquiry or discussion. The hope is that the booklet as a whole stimulates readers to grapple with issues they were not aware they faced and to generate questions beyond those any teacher presents. We invite readers to understand this booklet’s emphasis on the intra- and inter-personal by placing it in tension with philosophical formulations of teaching critical thinking that insist that students scrutinize the reasoning, assumptions, and evidence behind claims and adopt the connotations that the term “critical” often has with judgement and finding fault according to some standards.

See next post for possible Table of Contents.

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About Peter J. Taylor
Peter Taylor is a Professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston where he teaches and directs undergraduate and graduate programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society. His research and writing focuses on the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context, incl. Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement (U. Chicago Press, 2005) and Nature-nurture? No (2014, http://bit.ly/NNN2014). On reflective practice, see Taking Yourself Seriously: Processes of Research & Engagement (with J. Szteiter, 2012, http://bit.ly/TYS2012).

One Response to Critical, Creative and Reflective Practice: Sketch of a possible booklet

  1. Pingback: Critical, Creative and Reflective Practice: Contents of a possible booklet « Probe—Create Change—Reflect

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