This article provides an outline of the practical steps involved
in developing a curriculum to promote critical and creative
thinking, what I will refer to as a thinking curriculum. The
approach presented is the result of more than three years
of applied curriculum development work in promoting thinking.
While the main emphasis has been in the area of higher technical
education, the framework is sufficiently transferable to all
curriculum areas where thinking is essential to effective
I want to first emphasise that curriculum planningwhether
primarily focused on developing competence in thinking or
otherwisemust fully align the central components of
learning outcomes, instructional methods and assessment. For
example, the instructional methods must be those most suitable
for developing the types of learning indicated in the learning
outcomes. Similarly the assessment methods must assess the
content knowledge, cognitive processes and other attributes
defined by the learning outcomes.
The following are the key steps in designing a curriculum
to promote critical and creative thinking. All steps must
be thoroughly planned, but it is not essential to conduct
the development process in a linear manner.
Step1: Identify a valid and operational model of thinking
There is no shortage of models and theories of thinking
(e.g. Marzano, 1988; Perkins, 1985; Swartz & Parks, 1994).
Indeed, it could be argued that the plethora of perspectives
and terminology confuse rather than aid educational planning
and, in particular, teaching. However, without a clear conception
of what we mean by thinking, it is unlikely that we will plan,
teach or assess it systematically.
For summary purposes in this article, thinking can be usefully
conceived in terms of the following interrelated types of
thinking represented in the table below:
|Types of Thinking
many possible options
evaluating and revising own thinking
components and relationships in a system
|· Generating a variety of types
of possible options
||· Comparing and contrasting options
|· Generating originality in possible
||· Making inferences and interpre-tations
||· Evaluating the relative worth
These types of thinking are essentially the cognitive components
of problem solving. Problem solving is typically the well-orchestrated
use of these types of thinking. As problems become more complicated
and open-ended, greater is the range of types of thinking
involved as well as the competence level in using them.
Whatever model or framework of thinking you employ, it must
be clearly understandable to the stakeholders involved and
practical in application. I have seen many approaches to promoting
thinking fail for the simple reason that the framework and
terminology is simply too complicated and not understood by
practising teachers who have to implement it in their everyday
Step 2: Identify the types of thinking to be incorporated
in the learning outcomes
Learning outcomes (objectives) identify what a student should
be able to do as a result of a course of study. If objectives
are largely written in terms of define, list,
state or describe, then there is little
opportunity to promote thinking into the curriculum.
In order to identify the types of thinking to be incorporated
in the learning outcomes, it is necessary to firstly identify
the real-world tasks that students would be expected to do
on successful completion of that particular curriculum (typically
a module). In other words, there needs to be a refocusing
of the curriculum in broad competency terms.
From this basis, you can focus attention on how the content
of a module actually translates into real-world applications.
Having done so, you can then identify the types of thinking
that underpins competence in these activities. In order to
achieve this, a useful technique is to ask the following question:
How would a highly competent person think in the effective
execution of this activity?
For example, in a business law module, it might be expected
that students would be able to predict possible legal
outcomes in the event of a breach of contract. Consequently,
the following types of thinking are important in competent
task performance for this module:
- Analyse the components of a contract.
- Compare and contrast the expected and actual behaviour
- Make inferences and interpretations concerning the behaviour.
- Evaluate the possibility of specific outcomes.
In using this approach, you can identify the types of thinking
that are naturally part of effective learning (i.e. actual
competence in real-world performance). These can then be written
as learning outcomes.
Step 3: Identify the key areas of subject content
In a thinking curriculum, emphasis should be on knowledge
which focuses on the key concepts, models and principles essential
for providing understanding of the topic being taught and
meeting the learning outcomes. Knowledge becomes a resource
to be used for purposes of meaningful application.
Step 4: Identify instructional methods and learning tasks
to promote thinking
This is perhaps the most straightforward step to plan, but
can be difficult to apply in practice. We have moved a long
way towards understanding the important components of the
pedagogy essential for promoting thinking and meaningful learning.
As Marzano (1992, p. 2) points out that: Over the past
3 decades, we have amassed enough research and theory about
learning to derive a truly learning based model of instruction.
Most apparent is the recognition that thinking is an active
process, which requires a pedagogy that is interactive and
collaborative. A wide range of active learning methods and
techniques are, therefore, essential for developing students
thinking. These require a high level of teaching competence.
Step 5: Design authentic assessment items to assess types
Assessment is fundamentally important in terms of affecting
what and how students learn. As Ramsden (1992) stresses:
From our students point of view, assessment always
defines the actual curriculum... Assessment sends messages
about the standard and amount of work required, and what
aspects of the syllabus are most important. (pp. 1878)
A thinking curriculum must give strong emphasis to the assessment
of the types of thinking stated in the learning outcomes.
A variety of methods (including multiple-choice questions)
can be effectively employed to assess thinking. However, thinking
is most authentically assessed through activities that require
students to display specific types of thinking in applied
For example, performance tests, projects, case studies, presentations,
simulations and workplace assessment can be effectively used
for assessing thinking. These more authentic forms of assessment
will direct both the learning process for students as well
as the instructional focus for teachers. In this way, as Perkins
(1992, p. 176) suggests, Teaching, learning, and assessment
merge into one seamless enterprise.
In this short article, I have only been able to provide
a key point summary of the main steps involved in designing
a curriculum to promote critical and creative thinking. However,
I hope that it communicates the essential curriculum development
process involved. Finally, I must emphasise that any curriculum
offering only becomes alive to students in the learning environment
of the school or college. The act of teaching and the ethos
that contextualises learning are paramount in the thinking
Marzano, R.J. (1988). Dimensions of Thinking: A Framework
for Curriculum and Instruction. ASCD: Alexandria, VA.
Marzano, R.J. (1992). A Different Kind of Classroom.
Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Perkins, D.N. (September 1985). What Creative Thinking
Is. Educational Leadership. Vol. 42, No. 1, pp.
Perkins, D.N. (1992). Smart Schools. London: The Free
Ramsden, P. (1992). Learning to Teach in Higher Education.
Swartz, R.J. & Parks, S. (1994). Infusing Critical
and Creative Thinking into Content Instruction. Pacific
Grove, CA: Critical Thinking Press & Software.