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Critical and Creative Thinking

By yusyaila Jan 21, 2013 4132 Words



What is thinking? Basically, thinking is one way for human to practice the act or exercise their intellectual or process of thought. In other way, thinking can also mean as a way of reasoning and judgment. In easier words, thinking is the active process by which human develops by understandings of us, others and our world. The process of thinking enables us to solve problems, interpret information, make sense of our feelings and attitudes, discuss important issues, establish beliefs, and work toward the completion of goals. Thinking is an essential component in our life as a human being.

As saying by Bill Beattie goes,
“The aim of education should be to teach us rather how to think, than what to think - rather to improve our minds, so as to enable us to think for ourselves, than to load the memory with thoughts of other men.” Thinking can be derived in two ways, critical thinking and also creative thinking. Critical thinking is active and purposeful thinking about how we arrive at our understandings of everything in this world and selecting those modes of thinking which are most successful in clarifying and enhancing our understanding. Critical thinking is self-guided, self-disciplined thinking which attempts to reason at the highest level of quality in a fair-minded way. People who think critically in a consistent manner attempt to live rationally, reasonably, and empathically.

“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character - that is the goal of true education.” - Martin Luther King, Jr.

Critical thinking is an exceptional mode of thinking about any subject, content, or problem - in which the thinker improves the quality of his or her thinking by skilfully taking charge of the structures inherent in thinking and imposing intellectual standards upon them.

Creative thinking is a way of looking at problems or situations from a fresh perspective that suggests unusual solutions which may look unsettling at first but eventually become useful and brilliant. Creative thinking can be inspired both by an unstructured process such as brainstorming, and by a structured process such as lateral thinking (higher order thinking). A simple definition of creativity is the ability to imagine or invent something new. However, creativity is not the ability to create out of nothing, but the ability to generate new ideas by combining, changing, or reapplying existing ideas. Some creative ideas are surprising and brilliant, while others are just simple, good, practical ideas that no one seems to have thought of yet.

"Creative thinking is not a talent; it is a skill that can be learnt. It empowers people by adding strength to their natural abilities which improves teamwork, productivity and where appropriate profits." — Edward de Bono

Creative thinking is the process which we use when we come up with a new idea. It is the merging of ideas which have not been merged before. Brainstorming is one form of creative thinking: it works by merging someone else's ideas with your own to create a new one. You are using the ideas of others as a stimulus for your own. This creative thinking process can be accidental or deliberate.

“It is the function of creative people to perceive the relations between thoughts, or things or forms of expression that may seem utterly different, and to combine them into some new forms, the power to connect the seemingly in connected.” – William Plomer

The importance of critical and creative thinking is undeniable. In order to comply with the National Education Philosophy; which emphasize on the development of a whole-rounded individuals and capable of taking challenges, CCTS is very crucial and important to be nurtured in every students or individual.


I have been working as a contract teacher for 3 years in two different schools. Throughout those 3 years, I have been teaching Mathematics for one year and teaching English Language for about 2 years. As far as I can remember, during my contract as an English teacher, CCTS was not being implemented and in fact, I don’t even know the importance of critical and creative thinking skills that have to be highlighted and implemented to the students.

But, I realize that the Literature Component that currently being taught in school is very suitable and able to nurture CCTS in students. This is because, it promotes students to think of the situation, analyse the current situation and interpret what is going to happen in the future. Besides, some of the literature components such as poems make students think something outside of the ordinary and be creative to play with the words and also the meaning of the sentences.

I remember from my previous course on Literature Component during my contract teacher is that, the awareness as to the need to cultivate CCTS among students in Malaysia has been an issue of concern to many. Malachi Edwin (1992) stated that literature in English besides developing reading skills will also help develop students’ critical thinking skills. He adds that these skills will in turn provide students opportunities to understand themselves and their fellow human beings better. In line with Malachi Edwin’s view on the potentials of literature and its role in the cultivation of CCTS, the present research is aimed at using literature as the base through which CCTS can be promoted effectively.

Literature in English has been chosen from the many subjects offered in the Malaysian curriculum for two reasons. Firstly, literature in English can be seen to cut across the various subjects in the curriculum as the contents of literary texts are so diverse that they incorporate social, political, scientific, technological, medical and all other areas of life. Secondly it is an undeniable fact that literature plays an important role in our present curriculum since it is now being taught to students from Form 1 to Form 5 as a component of the English Language syllabus. There is no doubt that the very nature of the subject which requires analysis, solving problems and interpretation can encourages critical and creative thinking.

In English Language, other syllabus that are currently being taught such as grammar, reading comprehension and others would not make student to fully use their thinking process. As the knowledge is something that you can remember and it is basically a skill that u can achieve. It is strongly believe that learners can only become proficient language users if they, besides using the language and knowing the meaning, could display creative and critical thinking through the language (Kamarul Kabilan, 2000). This suggests that the learners must be creative in their production of ideas, and critically support them with logical and rational explanation, details and particulars and also examples.

For me, as a teacher, it is essential for us to recognise the subject in our curriculum before we can understand and trying to teach students or cultivating CCTS in studying literature. The role of literature in English in the Malaysian curriculum has gone through tremendous changes. Before this, literature components that have been taught in school are just simple to know about the story and how to answer the examination. Most of the students or even teacher do not know that the literature components is actually a powerful tool that can be used to instil critical and creative thinking in students.

The English language syllabus for Form Four states clearly a number of objectives of the curriculum but the objective which is of relevance to the present study is Objective Number Three as quoted below:

‘listen to, view, read and respond to different texts, and express ideas, opinions, thoughts and feelings imaginatively and creatively in spoken and written form’. (Huraian Sukatan Pelajaran, Ting IV. KPM, 2003)


There are basically three reasons why CCTS is quite difficult to be implemented in school. They are: 1) Teachers themselves, 2) Students background, and 3) School Authority.

First, during my contract with the school, I have never been exposed to CCTS. I don’t even know the existence of CCTS in school. The first time I heard about CCTS is when all English teacher was sent to short courses on Literature Component in 2009. Besides that, I have never know about the training in CCTS and the school never emphasize and put interest in getting the teacher trained in CCTS.

Even though the teachers has been sent to the courses on the implementation of CCTS in Literature Component, we have no idea on how to implement the CCTS and still lacking in the idea to teach CCTS in class. We basically have the basic idea of CCTS but the problem is, we do not know how to implement the skills in teaching the language. Besides that, teachers have a lot of responsible rather than teaching students. There is lots of clerical work that should be done. This is somehow can interrupt teachers focus in giving all out in class. Teachers were given work out of their scope. There is too much administrative work and teaching subjects they were not trained for.

In Malaysian education context, teachers play huge role in teaching and learning. They determine and direct the content, activities and processes of teaching and learning in classrooms. It is the teachers who decide on the aims, goals, and strategies of teaching to be implemented in classrooms. Unfortunately, not all teachers have the same idea about teaching. It is not only the students who need to think and act creatively and critically but the teacher should also do the same. When I was thinking about the Set Induction for my lesson, I had been challenged to think of a set induction that I had never use or seen before. In making the students interested to what the lesson are going to be for that day, I have been using songs, drama or even quotes from famous celebrities for my induction set.

Secondly, the education system should teach students to be great thinkers, not followers. Unfortunately, it did not work out that well. This might be happening because of the student’s background. Sometimes, the family is not very helpful in ensuring the successfulness of one student. Parents also play an important role in providing encouragement for children to learn. Encouragement and incentives such as praise and prizes should be given to kids if they get good results. The education of the child is the collective responsibility of the family members. The education of the children in a family is the collective responsibility of all family members.

The student will become a good thinker and they should be able to master critical and creative thinking. As such, they should be trained with activities that have been focused and aimed to produce a high intellect thinker. Unfortunately, not all students are interested because they fail to see the importance of thinking skills or even learning English. In short they do not know why they need to learn English. One way to solve this problem is, we as a teachers have to give a reason and rational in learning English. I have to do this, because students nowadays always want to know or have rewards when they do things, including studying.

Thirdly, the school authority can also become a problem for teacher to implement the CCTS. The task given to teachers by the school authority sometimes can take teachers time and energy. Besides that, the teachers need to comply with the syllabus that they had to finish in the given time. This is sometimes can become a challenge for teacher to spend time in conducting critical and creative thinking in class.

Even when I was a teacher, I have some difficulties in finishing the syllabus on time, especially Literature Component. When teaching Literature Component, I need to take some extra time to let the students think about the story or poems. Some students do not know how to interpret the information from the poem. This is actually quite hard for teacher to teach the students the thinking skills when there is no enough time. Thinking skills is not something that the teacher can teach over night, but it takes some time to do it.


Every problem must have a cure. In order for CCTS to be fully implemented and useful in school system, all the teachers need to be exposed to any new invention in general and 'thinking skills' specifically as well as how to incorporate them in the lessons, such as through videos, workshops, talks, and others. Besides that, continuous development must be carried out from time to time as 'refresher' course for the teachers. This is because, teacher are just like another human being that always forgets and tend to be careless.

Apart from that, teachers need to be aware of the importance of thinking skills so that it will be carried out in the classroom more and can be fully utilised on classroom. Furthermore, the questions asked in the classrooms will determine the 'thinking' that the pupils are doing, so teachers need to be exposed and nurtured to have and apply questions and questioning technique that will elicit thinking.

Teachers should also know the activity that will be done in classroom. The activity should be able to get students to observe the texts particularly literature components carefully and critically, to draw upon their vocabulary and to think creatively and critically about the material given.

Besides training and preparing teacher to be critical and creative, problem-based learning (PBL) can also be one of the methods that can be used to challenge students to learn how to think. Students will work cooperatively in groups to find solutions to real world problems and more importantly, to develop skills to become self-directed learners. Here, the goal of problem-based learning is viewed as learning for capability rather than learning for the sake of acquiring knowledge. Students develop critical thinking abilities by constantly relating what ideas they generate and to what they want to do with the information (Gallagher, 1997).

In an activity like problem solving, both kinds of thinking are significant to us. First, we must examine and study the problem; then we must create potential solutions; next we must pick and implement the best solution; and finally, we must assess the efficiency of the solution. As you can see, this process reveals an alternation between the two kinds of thinking, critical and creative. In practice, both kinds of thinking operate together much of the time and are not really independent of each other.

Furthermore, for me, as a teacher we have to think aloud in front of our students. Let them hear what are we thinking and puzzling our way slowly through problems in the subject. I have tried to think aloud in class in front of my students, and they show a good response. Especially, when they say that they never think the way that I thought and surprise to hear my thought. But, when doing this, the teacher should voice our thinking slowly and clearly, so the students able to hear them and response to them.

In Critical and Creative Thinking Skills class, I have learned about Socratic questioning. Now I know that as a teacher, we have to regularly question our students Socratically. Such as, investigating various dimensions of their thinking: their purpose, their evidence, reasons, data, their claims, beliefs, interpretations, deductions, conclusions, the implications and consequences of their thought, their response to alternative thinking from contrasting points of view, and others.


Creative and critical thinking skills should not be taught separately as an isolated entity, but embedded in the subject matter and woven into the curriculum. Due to this, the present educational system in Malaysia no longer put emphasis on the 3Rs but rather stressed critical thinking skills, scientific skills as well as technological skills in the schools’ curriculum.

It is in fact possible to do creative and critical thinking activity often, in any English language class. However, being stuck in the curriculum system as in Malaysia, with the exam-oriented teaching and learning in school, I tend to predict that CCTS will be quite hard to be fully implemented in school. However, with the fresh English curriculum introduced by the Ministry of Education starting from year 2010, I really expect that students will be further exposed with new ways of teaching and learning in English.

It was stated that the change of the curriculum involves the language art and grammar components with focus on fun learning as well as the ability converse in Standard English, with emphasis on pronunciation and phonics (Ministry of Education, 2009). If the changes are actually applied and assessments are made on the result, I am certain that we can do better in enlightening the teaching and learning of English in Malaysia and at the same time produce students who are able to think critically and creatively in any situations.


Beyer, B. (1987). “Practical Strategies for the Teaching of Thinking.” Boston: Ally and Bacon Inc.

Kamarul Kabilan ( 2000) .Creative and Critical Thinking in language Classroom.The internet TESL Journal, Vol. VI, No. 6, June 2000 retrieved 16th April 2010 from

Moore,K.D. (2005). Effective instructional strategies: from theory to practice. California: Sage Publications Inc

Nurliza Othman (2002) Thinking Skills; A motivational Factor in ELT. Jurnal Pendidikan IPBA (2) 5 2002 ; 101-109

White, R.V. (1995) .New Ways in Teaching Writing. USA : Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages ,Inc


Appendix 1


~ Not spoon fed ... PBL students have to think hard, ask questions and just “do”.

Malaysians have long lamented the country’s education system for not encouraging critical and creative thinking among the students, but this may change if the project-based learning programme (PBL) mooted by the Special Innovation Unit (UNIK) under the Prime Minister’s Office takes off nationwide. PBL aims to develop creative and critical thinking among Malaysian students as a foundation before they go into the “real world”, according to Tan Shu Hiong, the UNIK officer heading PBL.   The long shot is that it will lead to the creation of wealth for the country as “innovation is essential for the development of the country’s economy,” says Tan. He explains that UNIK was set up in August last year by the Prime Minister to create wealth for the country through innovation and for sustainable living. “There has been a lot of talk, especially over the last couple of years about putting critical and creative thinking into the school system, but it has never actually been done,” Tan says.  PBL is one endeavour to encourage students to think critically and creatively. This way, UNIK believes a bank of ideas will be created by students in the future from which innovations can be developed and marketed. “Innovation is essential for the development of the country’s economy,” Tan reiterates and adds, “but in order for innovation to be sustainable, you need to have the right people with the right skills. And the chief skills needed for innovation are thinking skills.”  Tan is convinced that nurturing critical and creative thinking needs to begin at the primary school level, and that’s why the pilot project was undertaken at SJK (C) Sungai Way. “People are always talking about the quality of Malaysian graduates – they aren’t able to think critically and creatively. This problem does not stem from the universities, but from the school system,” he says.   Althaus ... incredibly passionate about getting students to think.| Already, the pilot project has yielded positive results and UNIK is studying the possibility of implementing the programme in other schools.  How is PBL conducted and how effective has it been?

PBL facilitator at SJK (C) Sungai Way Michele Lebibi Althaus explains that students are given projects to undertake, using ordinary materials such as toothpicks, paper and batteries to complete them.  “We do not tell the students what to do, or how to do it. We just explain the challenge and they have to figure out the rest on their own. They have no books to refer to or guidelines to follow. All they have are their thinking skills, the ability to ask the right questions and a little bit of ingenuity,” she says.  This fits right into PBL’s ethos since its main thrust is problem- and project-based learning.  Tan adds, “In the context of PBL, problems and projects are one and the same. We present a problem to the students and tell them to solve it. But we do not tell them what to do or give them any answers. They just learn by doing. “There is a saying, ‘Tell me and I will forget. Show me and I may remember. Involve me and I will understand’. This is the concept PBL is based upon.” Althaus, who has been teaching for more than 10 years both overseas and in Malaysia, is a key figure in building and developing the PBL programme’s content and syllabus. “We took her in because she has all these ideas and is incredibly passionate about getting students to think,” comments Tan. Althaus had been working at a school in Bangkok which uses PBL in the classroom before bringing it to Malaysia. “PBL combines problem-solving skills and opportunities for students to engage in creative thinking and exploration” she says and adds that she has developed PBL for UNIK to specifically contain innovative skill.  Althaus’ passion for PBL is compelling and she shares a story she once heard that inspired her to get involved in the programme. The story tells of a 15-year-old Malawian boy, named William Kamkwamba, who wanted to study Science at one of Malawi’s top boarding schools, but he had to quit school because his family could not afford the fee. Undeterred, he continued going to the village library where one day, he read about windmills in a book called Using Energy. William decided to build a windmill so that his family could have electricity and running water. The villagers had never heard of windmills and pooh-poohed his idea. William used blue gum trees, bicycle parts and materials collected at a local scrap yard, built a working windmill and silenced his critics.  “I thought it was a great example of an individual’s ability to change his community and improve the lives of those around him,” Althaus enthuses. The 41 SJK (C) Sungai Way Std 5 and 6 students undergoing the weekly PBL programme may not have changed their community (not yet, though), but there are visible signs of personal change since they started on the 12-week programme on March 21.  “They are more open now and they ask questions more confidently. But most of all, we find that they are exhibiting all sorts of hidden potential,” observes school headmistress Lee Kim Moi. “Of course, their parents are very happy.” Althaus adds, “At first, the students were afraid to speak up or make mistakes. They were also afraid to put their ideas on paper unless they (the answers) were perfect. But now they appear more confident and we have also seen an improvement in the generation of ideas and asking questions.” Chong ... Mine is a “dancer robot” because I like to dance.| To prove this, Althaus calls out a PBL participant, Chong Mei Ling. The 12-year-old has just made something that she calls “dancer robot”, a creation that she pieced together all by herself using a metal pot, a small motor wired to an AA battery and decorative paper. Though visibly shy, Chong confidently shows off her colourful creation to the class. “This is my robot. I have made a skirt for it so that it looks like a dancer because I like to dance,” she says in Mandarin. Althaus thanks her in English.  “What was the reason for the robot challenge, do you remember?” she asks the class.  Several hands shoot up at once. “So that we can know what we are good at,” quips a boy sitting at the corner of the class. “That’s correct. You’re all good at something,” Althaus reminds them encouragingly. She then proceeds to talk to them about their next challenge: designing a chair to aid an elderly person. Seeing how successful PBL is at SJK (C) Sungai Way, will the programme take off nationwide?  “We will assess the pilot programme before deciding when and how to implement it in other schools and on other levels,” Tan replies. “Well, I hope it continues,” Althaus quickly says. Appendix 2

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