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Secondary school teachers’ conceptions of critical thinking in British Columbia and Japan : a comparative study Howe, Edward Ronald

Abstract

Critical thinking has received much attention among educators, yet remains largely undeveloped in traditional teacher-centred classrooms. Critical thinking is used in at least three major contexts: (1) the media and general public, (2) teacher pedagogy, and (3) academic discourse. Critical thinking must be better understood by individuals within all three levels. The purposes of this study were (1) to obtain an overall sense of what secondary school teachers believed critical thinking to entail; (2) to compare and contrast B.C. and Japanese secondary teachers' conceptions of critical thinking; (3) to investigate the nature of B.C. and Japanese secondary teachers' conceptions of critical thinking with respect to gender, age, teaching experience and subject taught; and (4) to determine whether critical thinking is a significant part of B.C. and Japanese teaching and the curriculum at the secondary level. Over 150 secondary teachers from B.C. and Japan were asked to (1) sort through 50 potential definers denoting possible attributes of critical thinking; (2) rank the 10 most significant to critical thinking; and (3) answer a questionnaire about the nature of critical thinking. The quantitative data, effectively reduced through factor analysis, yielded a five factor solution: Scientific Reasoning, Cognitive Strategizing, Conscientious Judgements, Relevance, and Intellectual Engagement. B.C. teachers conceptualized critical thinking through Cognitive Strategizing and Relevance, while Japanese teachers favoured Conscientious Judgements and Intellectual Engagement. From a synthesis of quantitative and qualitative data from teachers surveyed as well as expert opinion, critical thinking was found to be a process in which an individual is actively engaged in analyzing, reasoning, questioning, and creatively searching for alternatives in an effort to solve a problem or to make a decision or judgement. Teachers indicated that critical thinking was not rote memorization, demonstrating factual knowledge, comprehension or application. It was more than following a given algorithm or set of procedures. While over half the teachers surveyed indicated critical thinking was part of the curriculum and their teaching, many were unable to articulate how to teach it effectively. There were significant differences in teachers' conceptions of critical thinking. Culture accounted for more differences than gender, age, teaching experience, subject area, or the teaching of critical thinking. Using discriminant analysis, 27 definers distinguished between B.C. and Japanese teachers. While B.C. teachers tended to choose "Decision making," "Problem solving," "Divergent thinking," "Metacognitive skills," "Higher order thinking," "Deductive reasoning," and "Identifying/removing bias," Japanese teachers tended to chose "Fairness," "Adequacy," "Objective," "Consistency," "Completeness," Precision," and "Specificity." Over 96 percent of the teachers were correctly classified by culture. Further research is necessary on how to teach critical thinking across the curriculum and successfully integrate it with B.C. and Japanese educational reforms in areas such as curriculum development and teacher training. Critical thinking is a Western expression, yet the concept is not confined to the West. The author proposes the use of a new term for critical thinking with less emphasis on "critical" and more emphasis on "thinking"—kangaeru chikara or "powerful thinking" better encompasses the nature of critical thinking as it is conceived by B.C. and Japan's teachers. Teacher training must incorporate powerful thinking and teachers must model critical thinking, for any effort to reform the structure or organization of education ultimately depends on the effectiveness of the teacher.

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