Exploring the attributes of critical thinking: A conceptual basis

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Many teaching methods used in nursing education to enhance critical thinking focus on teaching students how to directly apply knowledge; a technically rational approach. While seemingly effective at enhancing students' critical thinking abilities in structured learning situations, these methods don't prepare students to operationalize critical thinking to manage the complexities that actually exist in practice. The work of contemporary educational theorists Paulo Freire, Donald Schon, Chris Argyris, Jack Mezirow, Stephen Brookfield, and Robert Tennyson all share similar perspectives on thinking in practice and the use of reflection to achieve a coherence of understanding. Their perspectives provide insight on how educators can shift from a means-end approach to operationalizing thinking in practice. The author identifies four attributes of critical thinking in practice evidenced in these views, followed by a discussion of specific educational strategies that reflect these attributes, and operationalize a critical thinking process in nursing practice to achieve a coherence of understanding.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number9
JournalInternational Journal of Nursing Education Scholarship
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Critical Thinking
  • Nursing Education
  • Nursing Pract
  • Reflective Practice


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