Library of Congress

TPS Quarterly

The Library of Congress > Teachers > TPS Program > Research and Current Thinking

For each issue, TPS partners submit summaries of and links to online resources—articles, research reports, Web sites, and white papers—that provide research and current thinking relating to the theme. This issue's Research & Current Thinking focuses on critical thinking.


“Improving Classroom Instruction: Understanding the Developmental Nature of Analyzing Primary Sources” (Karen Dutt-Doner, Catherine Cook-Cattone, and Susan Allen, Research in Middle Level Education) examines the abilities of 70 fifth and seventh grade students to complete individual and multiple primary source document analyses based on their current background knowledge. Findings indicate that, rather than relying on others to interpret history for them, engaging students with primary source documents exercises the critical-thinking skills needed to analyze and interpret historical documents. However, this can be a very challenging task for students at this level. After connecting the study’s results to current research, the article concludes with a set of practical suggestions.

“Reflective Thought, Critical Thinking” (S. Samuel Shermis, ERIC Digest) addresses the origin of reflective thought, the application of theories about reflective thought to classrooms, conflicts and issues, and a synthesis of the essential ideas related to reflective thought. The authors provide a list of reflective skills—from identifying the author’s conclusion to articulating one’s own values in a thoughtful way—that involve all levels of the Bloom Taxonomy.

“Strategies for Teaching Critical Thinking” (Bonnie Potts, ERIC/AE Digest) addresses the essential skills related to critical thinking: finding analogies and other kinds of relationships between pieces of information, determining the relevance and validity of information that could be used for structuring and solving problems, and finding and evaluating solutions or alternative ways of treating problems. The author presents several generally recognized “hallmarks” of teaching for critical thinking.

“Strategy List: 35 Dimensions of Critical Thought” (Foundation for Critical Thinking, The Critical Thinking Community) breaks down the global concept of critical thinking into 35 aspects or instructional strategies in three categories: affective strategies, cognitive strategies—macro-abilities, and cognitive strategies—and micro-skills. Within each category, several strategies are defined and rationale is provided for incorporating the strategies. The strategies are linked to lesson plans for K-12 classrooms.

“Taking Seriously the Teaching of Critical Thinking” (Roland Case and Ian Wright, Canadian Social Studies) argues that attempts to incorporate critical-thinking skills into social studies instruction have been negligible—“a goal and not a classroom reality.” It goes on to outline a framework for effectively helping students to become better thinkers. The model considers such pedagogical factors as background knowledge, habits of mind, and thinking strategies.

“Thinking Historically: Critical Engagement with the Past” (Linda Symcox, Social Studies Review) traces the changes in teaching historical thinking that arose from the recognized need to go beyond a focus on what students should learn to one that emphasizes how they should learn it. The author provides several examples that support the use of primary source materials in the K-12 classroom “…to develop students' capacity to make connections between specific events and larger social and political patterns, an ability increasingly necessary in today's evermore complex world.”