Creative & Critical Thinking - Combining creative and critical thinking

Learning at DCU

Creative & Critical Thinking

Combining creative and critical thinking

Both creative thinking and critical thinking skills are valuable and neither is superior. In fact, it has been shown that when either is omitted during the problem solving process, effectiveness declines. For example you could focus on a subject in a logical, analytical way for some time, sorting out conflicting claims, weighing evidence, thinking through possible solutions. Then, while daydreaming, or distracting the mind, but still holding the same problem lightly 'at the back of the mind', you may have a burst of creative energy and arrive at an 'Aha' moment
– even though you were not trying so hard to find the answer. However, the daydream on its own did not achieve anything.

In 1956 Benjamin Bloom and a group of educational psychologists developed six levels of intellectual behaviour important in learning. These ranged from the simple to the more complex as follows, with number 1 being the simplest form of thinking.

  1. Knowledge (you demonstrate knowledge - things are memorised without necessarily having a full understanding e.g. listing, labelling, identifying, defining….)
  2. Understanding (you understand information enough to describe it in your own words e.g. explaining, summarising, describing, illustrating…..)
  3. Application (you find some practical use for the information and use it to solve problems e.g. using, applying, solving…
  4. Analysis (you break complex ideas into parts and see how the parts work together e.g. analysing, categorising, seeing patterns, comparing, contrasting, separating, (re)organising parts…..)
  5. Synthesis (you make connections with things you already know e.g. creating, designing, inventing, developing, hypothesising…..)
  6. Evaluation (you judge something's worth e.g. judging, recommending, convincing, critiquing, justifying…..)

Synthesis and evaluation pyramid 1 These are often represented as a pyramid as follows:
In a revision of this work, it was suggested by some analysts that 'synthesis' and 'evaluation' should be placed at the same levels of difficulty.  In 2001, a former student of Bloom's and others revised the taxonomy.  The result was a change in terms to better reflect the nature of the thinking required by each category as shown in the diagram below.

Synthesis and evaluation pyramid 2 We can see that synthesis or creation equates with creative thinking and that evaluation or evaluating can be equated with critical thinking. While creative and critical thinking are key elements of university life, it is important not to feel intimidated by the complex combination of skills required: instead, try to make your learning an adventure in exploration! Both are higher order thinking skills and you will develop both gradually over time. It might be an idea to refer to Bloom's classification of cognitive levels, as outlined above, from time to time to check the progression of your thinking.

End of Unit: Action

To consolidate your learning from this unit it might be an idea to write a reflective summary in your learning journal (See unit, 'Reflective learning: keeping a reflective learning journal'). A lot of strategies to improve your creative and critical thinking skills were presented in this unit. Choose three strategies which you think would make a difference for you now and make a conscious decision to apply these in your learning from today. Record your progress. You could then choose and apply three more, and so on.

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