Critical thinking is recognized as an essential knowledge and skill for the preparation of our future professionals (see, e.g., ASHA, 2015). Instructors can help students develop these skills by explaining why critical thinking is important, providing opportunities to learn and practice the components of critical thinking, and implementing instructional strategies that can help students become better thinkers.
Why Is Critical Thinking Important?
We often ask our students to think critically, but we rarely tell them why it is an important part of their academic and clinical knowledge and skills. Reasons that might help them appreciate its importance include the following (Finn, Brundage, & DiLollo, 2016):
- All of us, including helping professionals, are prone to cognitive biases that result in erroneous beliefs and making poor decision making, and critical thinking helps to minimize those biases.
- Future practitioners will face an ever-evolving and expanding clinical knowledge base, and critical thinking will help them evaluate the quality of that knowledge.
- The caliber of clinical decisions is at the core of evidence-based practice, and critical thinking is a foundational skill for ensuring the quality of those decisions.
- Interprofessional education practice and collaboration practice will be an important part of students’ clinical practice, and critical thinking is recognized as a core competency for engaging in that practice (Interprofessional Education Collaborative Expert Panel, 2011)
What Is Critical Thinking?
Instructors should not assume that students understand critical thinking in the same way that their instructors do. Finn et al. (2016) suggested that the following definition of critical thinking—originally proposed by Wade, Tavris, and Garry (2014)—serve as an instructional definition for students: “Critical thinking is the ability and willingness to assess claims and make objective judgments on the basis of well-supported reasons and evidence rather than emotion and anecdote” (Wade et al., 2014, p. 6).
This definition, with some instructor elaboration, can help students understand that (a) critical thinking is practiced intentionally and requires evaluating claims of others; and (b) some reasons are better than others for supporting their clinical knowledge and decisions, especially when engaging in evidence-based practice. Dwyer (2017) further specifies three main components of critical thinking that students need to learn and practice: (a) argument analysis, (b) thinking dispositions, and (c) knowledge of cognitive biases.