Critical and Creative Thinking

In the Australian Curriculum, students develop capability in critical and creative thinking as they learn to generate and evaluate knowledge, clarify concepts and ideas, seek possibilities, consider alternatives and solve problems. Critical and creative thinking involves students thinking broadly and deeply using skills, behaviours and dispositions such as reason, logic, resourcefulness, imagination and innovation in all learning areas at school and in their lives beyond school.

Thinking that is productive, purposeful and intentional is at the centre of effective learning. By applying a sequence of thinking skills, students develop an increasingly sophisticated understanding of the processes they can use whenever they encounter problems, unfamiliar information and new ideas. In addition, the progressive development of knowledge about thinking and the practice of using thinking strategies can increase students’ motivation for, and management of, their own learning. They become more confident and autonomous problem-solvers and thinkers.

Responding to the challenges of the twenty-first century – with its complex environmental, social and economic pressures – requires young people to be creative, innovative, enterprising and adaptable, with the motivation, confidence and skills to use critical and creative thinking purposefully.

This capability combines two types of thinking: critical thinking and creative thinking. Though the two are not interchangeable, they are strongly linked, bringing complementary dimensions to thinking and learning.

Critical thinking is at the core of most intellectual activity that involves students learning to recognise or develop an argument, use evidence in support of that argument, draw reasoned conclusions, and use information to solve problems. Examples of critical thinking skills are interpreting, analysing, evaluating, explaining, sequencing, reasoning, comparing, questioning, inferring, hypothesising, appraising, testing and generalising.

Creative thinking involves students learning to generate and apply new ideas in specific contexts, seeing existing situations in a new way, identifying alternative explanations, and seeing or making new links that generate a positive outcome. This includes combining parts to form something original, sifting and refining ideas to discover possibilities, constructing theories and objects, and acting on intuition. The products of creative endeavour can involve complex representations and images, investigations and performances, digital and computer-generated output, or occur as virtual reality.

Concept formation is the mental activity that helps us compare, contrast and classify ideas, objects, and events. Concept learning can be concrete or abstract and is closely allied with metacognition. What has been learnt can be applied to future examples. It underpins the organising elements.

Dispositions such as inquisitiveness, reasonableness, intellectual flexibility, open- and fair-mindedness, a readiness to try new ways of doing things and consider alternatives, and persistence promote and are enhanced by critical and creative thinking.

 This icon shows where Critical and Creative Thinking has been identified in learning area content descriptions and elaborations.

Key ideas

The key ideas for Critical and Creative Thinking are organised into four interrelated elements in the learning continuum, as shown in the figure below.

Inquiring – identifying, exploring and organising information and ideas

Organising elements for Critical and Creative Thinking 

The elements are not a taxonomy of thinking. Rather, each makes its own contribution to learning and needs to be explicitly and simultaneously developed.

This element involves students developing inquiry skills.

Students pose questions and identify and clarify information and ideas, and then organise and process information. They use questioning to investigate and analyse ideas and issues, make sense of and assess information and ideas, and collect, compare and evaluate information from a range of sources. In developing and acting with critical and creative thinking, students:

  • pose questions
  • identify and clarify information and ideas
  • organise and process information.
Learning Continuum

This element involves students creating ideas and actions, and considering and expanding on known actions and ideas.

Students imagine possibilities and connect ideas through considering alternatives, seeking solutions and putting ideas into action. They explore situations and generate alternatives to guide actions and experiment with and assess options and actions when seeking solutions. In developing and acting with critical and creative thinking, students:

  • imagine possibilities and connect ideas
  • consider alternatives
  • seek solutions and put ideas into action.
Learning Continuum

This element involves students reflecting on, adjusting and explaining their thinking and identifying the thinking behind choices, strategies and actions taken.

Students think about thinking (metacognition), reflect on actions and processes, and transfer knowledge into new contexts to create alternatives or open up possibilities. They apply knowledge gained in one context to clarify another. In developing and acting with critical and creative thinking, students:

  • think about thinking (metacognition)
  • reflect on processes
  • transfer knowledge into new contexts.
Learning Continuum

This element involves students analysing, synthesising and evaluating the reasoning and procedures used to find solutions, evaluate and justify results or inform courses of action.

Students identify, consider and assess the logic and reasoning behind choices. They differentiate components of decisions made and actions taken and assess ideas, methods and outcomes against criteria. In developing and acting with critical and creative thinking, students:

  • apply logic and reasoning
  • draw conclusions and design a course of action
  • evaluate procedures and outcomes.
Learning Continuum

The imparting of knowledge (content) and the development of thinking skills are accepted today as primary purposes of education. The explicit teaching and embedding of critical and creative thinking throughout the learning areas encourages students to engage in higher order thinking. By using logic and imagination, and by reflecting on how they best tackle issues, tasks and challenges, students are increasingly able to select from a range of thinking strategies and use them selectively and spontaneously in an increasing range of learning contexts.

Activities that foster critical and creative thinking should include both independent and collaborative tasks, and entail some sort of transition or tension between ways of thinking. They should be challenging and engaging, and contain approaches that are within the ability range of the learners, but also challenge them to think logically, reason, be open-minded, seek alternatives, tolerate ambiguity, inquire into possibilities, be innovative risk-takers and use their imagination.

Critical and creative thinking can be encouraged simultaneously through activities that integrate reason, logic, imagination and innovation; for example, focusing on a topic in a logical, analytical way for some time, sorting out conflicting claims, weighing evidence, thinking through possible solutions, and then, following reflection and perhaps a burst of creative energy, coming up with innovative and considered responses. Critical and creative thinking are communicative processes that develop flexibility and precision. Communication is integral to each of the thinking processes. By sharing thinking, visualisation and innovation, and by giving and receiving effective feedback, students learn to value the diversity of learning and communication styles.

The learning area or subject with the highest proportion of content descriptions tagged with Critical and Creative Thinking is placed first in the list.

F-6/7 Humanities and Social Sciences (HASS)

In the F–6/7 Australian Curriculum: Humanities and Social Sciences, students develop critical and creative thinking capability as they learn how to build discipline-specific knowledge about history, geography, civics and citizenship, and economics and business. Students learn and practise critical and creative thinking as they pose questions, research, analyse, evaluate and communicate information, concepts and ideas.

Students identify, explore and determine questions to clarify social issues and events, and apply reasoning, interpretation and analytical skills to data and information. Critical thinking is essential to the historical inquiry process because it requires the ability to question sources, interpret the past from incomplete documentation, assess reliability when selecting information from resources, and develop an argument using evidence. Students develop critical thinking through geographical investigations that help them think logically when evaluating and using evidence, testing explanations, analysing arguments and making decisions, and when thinking deeply about questions that do not have straightforward answers. Students learn to critically evaluate texts about people, places, events, processes and issues, including consumer and financial, for shades of meaning, feeling and opinion, by identifying subjective language, bias, fact and opinion, and how language and images can be used to manipulate meaning. They develop civic knowledge by considering multiple perspectives and alternatives, and reflecting on actions, values and attitudes, thus informing their decision-making and the strategies they choose to negotiate and resolve differences.

Students develop creative thinking through the examination of social, political, legal, civic, environmental and economic issues, past and present, that that are contested, do not have obvious or straightforward answers, and that require problem-solving and innovative solutions. Creative thinking is important in developing creative questions, speculation and interpretations during inquiry. Students are encouraged to be curious and imaginative in investigations and fieldwork, and to explore relevant imaginative texts.

Critical and creative thinking is essential for imagining probable, possible and preferred futures in relation to social, environmental, economic and civic sustainability and issues. Students think creatively about appropriate courses of action and develop plans for personal and collective action. They develop enterprising behaviours and capabilities to imagine possibilities, consider alternatives, test hypotheses, and seek and create innovative solutions, and think creatively about the impact of issues on their own lives and the lives of others.

7-10 History

In the Australian Curriculum: History, critical thinking is essential to the historical inquiry process because it requires the ability to question sources, interpret the past from incomplete documentation, develop an argument using evidence, and assess reliability when selecting information from resources. Creative thinking is important in developing new interpretations to explain aspects of the past that are contested or not well understood.

7-10 Geography

In the Australian Curriculum: Geography, students develop critical and creative thinking as they investigate geographical information, concepts and ideas through inquiry-based learning. They develop and practise critical and creative thinking by using strategies that help them think logically when evaluating and using evidence, testing explanations, analysing arguments and making decisions, and when thinking deeply about questions that do not have straightforward answers. Students learn the value and process of developing creative questions and the importance of speculation. Students are encouraged to be curious and imaginative in investigations and fieldwork. The geography curriculum also stimulates students to think creatively about the ways that the places and spaces they use might be better designed, and about possible, probable and preferable futures.

7-10 Civics and Citizenship

In the Australian Curriculum: Civics and Citizenship, students develop critical thinking skills in their investigation of Australia’s democratic system of government. They learn to apply decision-making processes and use strategies to negotiate and resolve differences. Students develop critical and creative thinking through the examination of political, legal and social issues that do not have obvious or straightforward answers and that require problem-solving and innovative solutions. Students consider multiple perspectives and alternatives, think creatively about appropriate courses of action and develop plans for action. The Australian Curriculum: Civics and Citizenship stimulates students to think creatively about the impact of civic issues on their own lives and the lives of others, and to consider how these issues might be addressed.

7-10 Economics and Business

In the Australian Curriculum: Economics and Business, students develop their critical and creative thinking as they identify, explore and determine questions to clarify economics and business issues and/or events and apply reasoning, interpretation and analytical skills to data and/or information. They develop enterprising behaviours and capabilities to imagine possibilities, consider alternatives, test hypotheses, and seek and create innovative solutions to economics and business issues and/or events.

The Arts

In the Australian Curriculum: The Arts, critical and creative thinking is integral to making and responding to artworks. In creating artworks, students draw on their curiosity, imagination and thinking skills to pose questions and explore ideas, spaces, materials and technologies. They consider possibilities and make choices that assist them to take risks and express their ideas, concepts, thoughts and feelings creatively. They consider and analyse the motivations, intentions and possible influencing factors and biases that may be evident in artworks they make to which they respond. They offer and receive effective feedback about past and present artworks and performances, and communicate and share their thinking, visualisation and innovations to a variety of audiences.

Technologies 

In the Australian Curriculum: Technologies, students develop capability in critical and creative thinking as they imagine, generate, develop and critically evaluate ideas. They develop reasoning and the capacity for abstraction through challenging problems that do not have straightforward solutions. Students analyse problems, refine concepts and reflect on the decision-making process by engaging in systems, design and computational thinking. They identify, explore and clarify technologies information and use that knowledge in a range of situations.

Students think critically and creatively about possible, probable and preferred futures. They consider how data, information, systems, materials, tools and equipment (past and present) impact on our lives, and how these elements might be better designed and managed. Experimenting, drawing, modelling, designing and working with digital tools, equipment and software helps students to build their visual and spatial thinking and to create solutions, products, services and environments.

Health and Physical Education 

In the Australian Curriculum: Health and Physical Education (HPE), students develop their ability to think logically, critically and creatively in response to a range of health and physical education issues, ideas and challenges. They learn how to critically evaluate evidence related to the learning area and the broad range of associated media and other messages to creatively generate and explore original alternatives and possibilities. In the HPE curriculum, students’ critical and creative thinking skills are developed through learning experiences that encourage them to pose questions and seek solutions to health issues by exploring and designing appropriate strategies to promote and advocate personal, social and community health and wellbeing. Students also use critical thinking to examine their own beliefs and challenge societal factors that negatively influence their own and others’ identity, health and wellbeing.

The Australian Curriculum: Health and Physical Education also provides learning opportunities that support creative thinking through dance making, games creation and technique refinement. Students develop understanding of the processes associated with creating movement and reflect on their body’s responses and their feelings about these movement experiences. Including a critical inquiry approach is one of the five propositions that have shaped the HPE curriculum.

English

Critical and creative thinking are essential to developing analytical and evaluative skills and understandings in the Australian Curriculum: English. Students use critical and creative thinking through listening to, reading, viewing, creating and presenting texts, interacting with others, and when they recreate and experiment with literature, and discuss the aesthetic or social value of texts. Through close analysis of text and through reading, viewing and listening, students critically analyse the opinions, points of view and unstated assumptions embedded in texts. In discussion, students develop critical thinking as they share personal responses and express preferences for specific texts, state and justify their points of view and respond to the views of others.

In creating their own written, visual and multimodal texts, students also explore the influence or impact of subjective language, feeling and opinion on the interpretation of text. Students also use and develop their creative thinking capability when they consider the innovations made by authors, imagine possibilities, plan, explore and create ideas for imaginative texts based on real or imagined events. Students explore the creative possibilities of the English language to represent novel ideas.

Languages

Learning in the Australian Curriculum: Languages enables students to interact with people and ideas from diverse backgrounds and perspectives, which enhances critical thinking and reflection, and encourages creative, divergent and imaginative thinking. By learning to notice, connect, compare and analyse aspects of the target language, students develop critical, analytical and problem-solving skills.

Mathematics

In the Australian Curriculum: Mathematics, students develop critical and creative thinking as they learn to generate and evaluate knowledge, ideas and possibilities, and use them when seeking solutions. Engaging students in reasoning and thinking about solutions to problems and the strategies needed to find these solutions are core parts of the Australian Curriculum: Mathematics.

Students are encouraged to be critical thinkers when justifying their choice of a calculation strategy or identifying relevant questions during a statistical investigation. They are encouraged to look for alternative ways to approach mathematical problems; for example, identifying when a problem is similar to a previous one, drawing diagrams or simplifying a problem to control some variables.

Science

In the Australian Curriculum: Science, students develop capability in critical and creative thinking as they learn to generate and evaluate knowledge, ideas and possibilities, and use them when seeking new pathways or solutions. In the science learning area, critical and creative thinking are embedded in the skills of posing questions, making predictions, speculating, solving problems through investigation, making evidence-based decisions, and analysing and evaluating evidence. Students develop understandings of concepts through active inquiry that involves planning and selecting appropriate information, evaluating sources of information to formulate conclusions and to critically reflect on their own and the collective process.

Creative thinking enables the development of ideas that are new to the individual, and this is intrinsic to the development of scientific understanding. Scientific inquiry promotes critical and creative thinking by encouraging flexibility and open-mindedness as students speculate about their observations of the world and the ability to use and design new processes to achieve this. Students’ conceptual understanding becomes more sophisticated as they actively acquire an increasingly scientific view of their world and the ability to examine it from new perspectives.

Work Studies

In the Australian Curriculum: Work Studies, Years 9–10, students develop an ability to think logically, critically and creatively in relation to concepts of work and workplaces contexts. These capabilities are developed through an emphasis on critical thinking processes that encourage students to question assumptions and empower them to create their own understanding of work and personal and workplace learning.

Students’ creative thinking skills are developed and practised through learning opportunities that encourage innovative, entrepreneurial and project-based activities, supporting creative responses to workplace, professional and industrial problems. Students also learn to respond to strategic and problem-based challenges using creative thinking. For example, a student could evaluate possible job scenarios based on local labour market data and personal capabilities.