The Paul-Elder Critical Thinking Framework

One of the goals of dental education is to encourage, develop, and foster the critical thinking abilities of students.1 The framework can be incorporated into didactic courses and in the clinical setting to foster critical thinking in students. If a student understands how to learn, there is no limit to the amount and type of knowledge the student can obtain throughout their lifetime. Rote memorization of information will only get a student through the first level of Bloom’s taxonomy. If a student can only recall information, they will not only fail to grow as a person or a thinker but it will also limit them in their interactions with future patients.2,8 Critical thinking gives those who use it the tools to make inquiries and to learn in any situation with patients, thereby allowing the practice of patient-centered care.2

Critical thinking is a disciplined and intentional process of thinking. It incorporates conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing and/or evaluating information that a person acquires from various sources.5 Sources can include things that a person observes, things that a person experiences daily, things a person reflects upon, or information that a person gets from conversations that they have had throughout the day. By applying the “higher order” of thinking when evaluating the information, a person becomes more adept at solving problems and coming to conclusions or solutions that are well-reasoned.5 Ultimately, a dental professional practiced and competent in critical thinking is better able to communicate effectively without judging others while determining solutions to complex problems, such as an oral health problem. Students can practice these skills to prepare for their future in dentistry.

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