While described as a purposeful and goal-directed activity that involves reasoned and reflective thought processes (Halpern 2003), what are the important attributes associated with this complex capability? Three broad approaches to understanding critical thinking are evident in literature: philosophy, psychology, and education (Lai 2011). Based on a review of this literature, we initially identified and sorted the common attributes associated with critical thinking into thematic groups or components. Tables 5.1, 5.2, and 5.3 present a consolidated summary of processes and attributes associated with critical thinking skills, disposition, and knowledge, respectively (where a V indicates the process or attribute mentioned).
Fleshing out this material sourced from literature into a conceptual framework was an iterative process. The first stage involved identifying and synthesizing the many descriptive elements in literature. Terms and attributes highlighted in each description were coded and analyzed progressively, with some terms merged when their described meanings were regarded to be very similar. It was clear from the outset that much of the literature described critical thinking from the perspective of skills or as a combination of disposition and skills. A third large thematic group was initially called "other items." It was subsequently labeled knowledge. This third group encompassed intellectual development (Kurfiss 1988)—an important determining factor to thinking critically—as well as general and context-specific knowledge, and experience that itself spans items such as experiential learning, life experience, the age of thinker, personal exposure, and maturity.
The follow-on stage in the process toward devising a conceptual framework was to recode all descriptive attributes and items identified based on the three thematic groups identified, with subset labels used to categorize items that looked interesting or that appeared repeatedly. This process served to confirm the thematic labels and articulate the primary subset items illustrated within each thematic group. Importantly, the process also revealed the seemingly limited attention given to critical thinking performance. The next section outlines and discusses the operational framework. It is followed by a review of some challenges to performance, that is, to being a consistent and effective critical thinker in actual practice, in either the classroom or the workplace.