An Exploration of Japanese Students’ Concept and Application of Critical Thinking in Academic Writing

  • First Online: 10 March 2018

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  • Leigh Yohei Bennett 5  

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A key requirement to successful academic writing is the demonstration of critical thought, and in the West, it is a central criterion in distinguishing novice from expert writers. Yet the concept is difficult to define, identify and implement. This is especially the case for students from a non-Western background where knowledge telling is valued more than knowledge transforming, and therefore such students suffer when attempting to effectively implement critical thought into their essays. Universities emphasise “critical thinking” along with the expectation that students develop a Western mode of argument with the understanding that students will apply this to their discipline-specific courses. However, post-EAP learners often continue to struggle in grasping not only the meaning of critical thinking, but more importantly, how it is demonstrated in argumentative writing. Overall, the importance of the argumentative essay for the Japanese EAP student cannot be undermined. It is also vital to investigate how students’ understanding of argumentation develops during their academic careers.

This study used in-depth semi-structured interviews with three Japanese undergraduate students to explore their understanding of and challenges with critical thinking as well as questions pertaining to their personal development as critical thinkers. The findings suggest the three participants’ understanding as to what critical thinking involves was initially confused and uncertain but was clarified through repeated written assessments, feedback from faculty and other educational support systems. The results also revealed that their cultural and linguistic backgrounds were not deemed as a deterrent to displaying critical thought. While subject knowledge and acquiring a “workable balance between self and sources” (Groom, 2000, p. 65, as cited in Wingate 2012 ) proved to be obstacles, all participants revealed that they learned to analyse articles, evaluate and synthesise sources, include relevant evidence in arguments and tailor a structured text. The results of the research suggest that a more direct approach in the instruction of critical thinking in writing is required.

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Appendix A: Semi-structured Interview Guide

Summary of participant’s academic writing experience during EAP course.

Description of criteria and features of academic writing in English compared to that of Japanese.

Understanding of critical thinking in academic writing.

Difficulties with academic writing and presenting argument(s).

Development in critical thinking post-EAP:

Strategies employed.

Tutor feedback and/or support from peers.

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Bennett, L.Y. (2018). An Exploration of Japanese Students’ Concept and Application of Critical Thinking in Academic Writing. In: Ruegg, R., Williams, C. (eds) Teaching English for Academic Purposes (EAP) in Japan. English Language Education, vol 14. Springer, Singapore.

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    Recently, the necessity of critical thinking (CT) education has been noted in various areas, and the number of studies related to CT education in Japan has been steadily increasing.  Therefore, this article highlights pertinent issues in these studies by reviewing recent theoretical and practical studies regarding CT educations conducted in Japan.  Practical studies, the focus of this article, are classified based on the purpose of CT educations (such as the development of academic literacy or of citizenship literacy) as well as on the manner of education, such as the “general approach” (in which students learn critical thinking through separate critical thinking courses), or the “immersion approach” (in which students learn critical thinking by immersing themselves in the existing subject-matter areas).  The findings confirm that CT education is conducted for various purposes and by various methods.  In addition, this article provides several suggestions for further CT practices and studies by elucidating the importance of the purpose of teaching and the suitability of the outcome evaluation.     Key Words : critical thinking, education, higher-order literacy, instructional approach, evaluation

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  • Original article
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  • Published: 22 September 2017

The language deficit: a comparison of the critical thinking skills of Asian students in first and second language contexts

  • David Rear 1 , 2  

Asian-Pacific Journal of Second and Foreign Language Education volume  2 , Article number:  13 ( 2017 ) Cite this article

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With a growing number of Asian students attending Western universities, the difficulties they seem to face in adapting to a new academic environment has provoked much discussion amongst educators, particularly with regard to the critical thinking (CT) skills. Many educators have claimed that, as a result of their cultural and educational backgrounds, Asian students lack the CT skills essential for academic tasks such as essay writing and debates. Other researchers, however, have argued this is due simply to the disadvantages of carrying out studies in a foreign language. In fact, there have been surprisingly few studies directly comparing Asian students’ CT skills in their first compared to their second languages. Those that have been done have tended to employ standardised CT tests which, in their discrete, short-answer format, do not accurately reflect the tasks students carry out in university courses. In this study, therefore, two classes of Japanese university students, all with TOEFL scores high enough to enter Western universities, were asked to carry out an oral and written debate, one class in Japanese and the other in English. Evaluations of their performances by independent raters revealed stark differences between the two classes in their ability to construct and deconstruct arguments, find logical inconsistencies and express themselves clearly and persuasively.


In the midst of a rapidly changing world, critical thinking has become one of the key attributes demanded of students in higher education. It has long been contended that for East Asian students studying at Western universities, the ability to think critically has proved particularly challenging, given the differing character of their educational and cultural backgrounds (Ballard & Clanchy, 1991 ; Atikinson, 1997; Ellwood, 2000 ; Davies, 2013 ; Shaheen, 2016 ). Paton ( 2005 , p. 1) has observed: ‘In an oft-heard expression of exasperation, academics in Australia claim that Chinese students do not partake naturally in critical thinking because of a perception of mere rote learning and the lack of overt participation in classroom discussions.’ Moore ( 2011 , p. 12) adds that the ‘simple binary of critical and non-critical educational cultures persists as a powerful image in our universities.’

Many researchers have argued, however, that such judgements do not adequately take into account the impact on academic performance of language ability (Lun et al., 2010 ; Paton, 2011 ). When Asian students have been tested in their first language, in critical thinking as well as other more traditional disciplines, they tend to score highly (Floyd, 2011 ; OECD, 2014 ). This phenomenon has sometimes been referred to as the ‘Asian paradox’ (Biggs, 1996 ).

One weakness of these studies, however, is that they have tended to employ standardised critical thinking tests, which differ in fundamental respects from the tasks students are required to carry out at university. Candidates are presented with small discrete items, which test their ability to spot logical flaws, make inferences, draw conclusions, identify weak arguments and so on. While these are all important components of critical thinking, they do not require students to create a well-reasoned argument from scratch. In academic essays and debates, students must interpret a question, gather relevant information from primary and secondary sources, analyse and synthesise the information, and from there develop a strong and original argument. One can question, therefore, whether the tests employed in previous studies actually assess what educators are talking about when they discuss the lack of CT skills in East Asian students.

This study aims, therefore, to examine the impact of language on the kind of tasks international students are required to carry out in real-life university courses. Two classes of sixteen Japanese students at a private university in Tokyo were asked to prepare and perform a debate, one class in Japanese and the other class in English. The debate consisted of three speeches: a constructive speech, which required the kind of skills employed in constructing an academic essay; a cross-examination speech and a refutation speech, both of which reflect the demands of carrying out a class discussion. All the students taught in English possessed TOEFL scores sufficient to attend most universities in the U.S., the U.K., Australia, or New Zealand. Transcripts were made of the debates, with all Japanese work translated into English. Then three raters based at universities outside of Japan were asked to evaluate the debate transcripts using criteria based on the taxonomy of critical thinking drawn up by Facione ( 1990 ). They were not told the purpose of the study. The results of the study offer important insights into the impact of language on critical thinking, albeit from a small sample size.

In order to explain the rationale and background of the study, the paper will begin by outlining previous examinations of the critical thinking skills of Asian students, highlighting the inconclusiveness of many of these studies. From there, it will describe the study itself, explaining how the debates were carried out by the students and then evaluated by the raters. The paper will conclude with a discussion of the results and their significance for educators of international students in Western universities.

Critical thinking and Asian students

In describing her experience of teaching an ethnographic culture course to Japanese students at the University of Technology in Sydney, Ellwood ( 2000 , p. 4) claimed that the students ‘fit the stereotypes of being passive and non-participatory, with little ability in the type of critical enquiry which is so valued by the western academy.’ Leaving aside the specific circumstances of the course and its students, Ellwood’s complaint is not untypical of educators working with East Asian students in English-language contexts. The argument is that the respectful, Confucian cultural values instilled in Asian societies and the exam-driven, teacher-centred nature of their education systems work against producing students with the kind of critical thinking skills required by Western higher education. Gieve ( 1998 , p. 128) has said that inculcating Asian students into Western learning environments ‘may require a wholesale reorientation of students’ cultural norms, values, beliefs and attitudes.’

Considering the importance of this issue both for international Asian learners and the insitutions responsible for nurturing them, there has been surprisingly little empirical research into whether these claims are valid or not. Of the studies that have been made, the vast majority deal not with the critical thinking skills of Asian learners but with their dispositions and attitudes towards using them. These studies of CT dispositions have revealed a somewhat mixed picture. On the one hand, studies of preservice teachers in the USA and China by McBride et al. ( 2002 ) and of Hong Kong Chinese and Australian nursing students by Tiwari et al. ( 2003 ) found that the Chinese sample scored significantly lower on the California Critical Thinking Disposition Inventory scale than their Western counterparts, indicating that the Chinese students might be less motivated to use critical thinking. On the other hand, however, studies by Jones ( 2005 ), Paton ( 2011 ) and Manalo et al. ( 2013 ) found few or no differences between Asian and Western students in their learning dispositions. After interviewing Chinese students about critical thinking, Paton ( 2011 , p. 36) concluded that ‘the depth and variety of thought shown in the students’ responses indicate a remarkable level of critical thinking, which would seem to belie the strident claims by those such as Atkinson ( 1997 ) that critical thinking is the preserve of Western culture’.

Comparisons of the critical thinking skills, rather than dispositions, of Asian and Western learners are few and far between. Some of them have been carried out in English or with significant selective bias, which has made it difficult to gain a true picture of CT abilities. A comparison between local students and international Asian students at a university in New Zealand by Lun et al. ( 2010 ) found that Asian students gained lower scores on the Halpern Critical Thinking Assessment using Everyday Situations (HCTAES), but they surmised that this was mainly a consequence of the test being carried out in the students’ second language. In a study by Hau et al. ( 2006 ), Chinese students in Hong Kong actually scored higher than American university students on the HCTAES, but the authors argued this was because the Hong Kong Chinese sample was recruited from a more selective institution than that of the American sample.

When Asian students have been tested in their first language, their results have often been superior to those of learners from other parts of the world. In the largest-scale test of comparative academic ability, conducted by the OECD, students from East Asia not only came out on top in the traditional subjects of maths, science and literacy, they also occupied the top four places in a newly-developed problem-solving test. The OECD described pupils who excelled in the test as ‘quick learners, highly inquisitive and able to solve unstructured problems in unfamiliar contexts’ (OECD, 2014 , p. 44). Moreoever, a recent study conducted at Stanford University found that Chinese freshmen in computer science and engineering programmes had critical thinking skills, including the ability to identify assumptions, test hypotheses and draw relationships between variables, that were around two or three years ahead of their peers in the United States and Russia (Hernandez, 2016 ). Floyd ( 2011 ), meanwhile, tested Chinese speakers with the Watson Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal and observed that scores were significantly higher when they did the test in their native language than in English.

So, does this mean that claims about Asian students lacking CT skills are false? Can the difficulties they reportedly face at Western universities be blamed purely on the disadvantages of studying in a second language? Previous studies may seem to suggest this is the case. However, there is a significant drawback to all of these studies. That is that the standardised tests they employ to evaluate critical thinking skills – such as PISA, Watson-Glaser, and HCTAES – do not adequately replicate the kind of academic tasks students must carry out in their studies at universities. The PISA test, for example, assesses pupils’ ability to devise strategies for tackling unfamiliar problems, from working out the quickest travel time across a city to dealing with a new digital device. These problems are often of a mathematical or statistical nature, involving the application of calculation techniques to real-life problems. The HCTAES test and the Watson Glaser test, meanwhile, present candidates with short, discrete items from which they must deduce logical inferences or evaluate on the basis of strength and soundness of argument. Candidates choose the most appropriate response from a set of multiple-choice options.

While the skills assessed by such tests are all components of critical thinking, as conceptualised by researchers such as Facione ( 1990 ) and Ennis ( 1987 ), they do not require candidates to create a well-reasoned argument from scratch. In most non-scientific academic fields, students are expected to compose long-form argumentative essays or participate in academic debates. They are required to research information independently from a variety of sources, synthesise that information logically and present it in an original and persuasive form. This is quite different from evaluating a short item of given information and choosing from a set of multiple-choice responses. Students in East Asia are well-practised in multiple-choice examinations of many kinds and it does not seem surprising, given the high standards of education in the region, that they generally score well in such tests.

When educators in Western universities discuss the lack of CT skills in international Asian students, they are usually referring to their ability to compose argumentative essays or participate in academic discussions. There is indeed evidence that Asian students gain far less practice at these tasks in school than their counterparts in the West due to the focus on fact-based examinations (Shaheen, 2016 ). Mulvey ( 2016 ), for example, reported that out of 300 students surveyed over six years in two universities in Japan, not a single student had written an argumentative essay in either Japanese or English at high school. Chinese education, too, tends to be teacher-centred with large class sizes and few opportunities for student discussion. Memorisation of known facts takes precedence over the composition of original arguments.

This study, then, seeks to shed light on two crucial questions related to the debate over Asian students and critical thinking in English-language contexts: (1) To what extent do Japanese university students display critical thinking skills in the composition of long-form arguments? (2) What effect does language have on student performance in such tasks? In the following sections, the design, implementation and results of the study will be discussed.

The study took place at a large private university in Tokyo. Two classes of sixteen first-year students were taught for one period a week in a one-semester course by the author, one class in Japanese and the other in English. The English class possessed TOEFL iBT scores ranging from 74 to 92, and most would go on to study abroad for at least one year before graduation. None of the students had had any prior experience with debates in either English or Japanese and received training during the course only in the proper format of a debate performance. For four weeks during their respective courses, the students of both classes were required to prepare and perform an academic debate based on the following theme: ‘Violent video games lead to violent behaviour.’ This theme was chosen because it would force the students to engage with various kinds of source material and data, both quantitative and qualitative, forcing them to distinguish between reliable and unreliable evidence, an important component of critical thinking. Although it was regrettable that students could not be given a choice of debate topics, it was considered important to limit the degree of variability between each group.

The students carried out the debates in groups of four, with two members speaking in favour of the proposition and two against. Despite the variability in TOEFL scores amongst the sixteen students of the English class, the groups were not segregated by proficiency. With such a small sample size, any attempt to generalise about the relationship between specific degree of language proficiency and performance in the debates would have been flawed. The aim of the study was more modest: to compare the impact that language choice as a whole had on the critical thinking skills of the students.

A slightly simplified version of the Lincoln-Douglas was chosen as the format for the debates, with six speeches in total as follows:

1) Affirmative constructive speech (6 min)

Cross-examination of Affirmative by Negative (2 min)

Negative constructive speech (6 min)

Cross-examination of Negative by Affirmative (2 min)

Affirmative rebuttal (2 min)

Negative rebuttal (2 min)

The students were given three weeks to prepare the debates to allow them sufficient time to collect and analyse relevant data. It was considered important to give the English class the same amount of preparation time as the Japanese class, despite the handicap of language, as this more closely mirrored the situation international students face when studying abroad. In total, there would be eight debates, four in English and four in Japanese, each one lasting for approximately twenty minutes. The debates were carried out within single ninety-minute class periods.

Evaluation was carried out by three independent raters teaching at three different Australian universities. The raters were experienced lecturers of liberal arts courses, who regularly engaged students in seminar discussions and used argumentative essays as their primary form of assessment. They were given transcripts of the eight debates, with the Japanese debates translated into English. The English debates were corrected for grammatical and lexical errors beforehand in an attempt to ameliorate (if not eliminate entirely) biases that might arise from imperfect English, while the Japanese speeches were back-translated from the English back into Japanese to help ensure the accuracy and reliability of the translations. The raters were not told the rationale or focus of the study.

The evaluation factors were informed by the commonly accepted taxonomies of critical thinking skills put forward by Ennis ( 1987 ), Facione ( 1990 ) and others. The taxonomy of Facione ( 1990 ) was considered most practical for use in this study (Table  1 ):

This taxonomy was adapted to produce an evaluation framework for each of the three types of speeches produced in the debates. The evaluation factors were tested for inter-rater reliability during a pilot study until a final framework was established (Table  2 ):

Each factor was evaluated with a Likert scale for quality from 1 to 5 as follows: 1 = very poor, 2 = poor, 3 = acceptable, 4 = good, 5 = very good. The raters were also asked to provide written comments about each speech both for each group and each class as a whole. For the sake of brevity, only the whole class comments are recorded in the section below.

Results and discussion

Before the responses of the three raters were analysed for comparative purposes, they were subjected to inter-rater consistency analysis using the Krippendorff alpha statistic. The inter-rater reliability was found to be 0.73 for the Japanese debate with an average pairwise percentage agreement of 84.8% and 0.692 with an average pairwise percentage agreement of 78.9% for the English debates. No ratings differed from another by more than one point on the Likert scale.

The results themselves revealed significant differences between the ratings of the Japanese debate and those of the English debate. For the sake of clarity, each of the three types of speeches (constructive, cross-examination and rebuttal) will be examined in turn:

Constructive speeches

The aim of the constructive speech in a debate is to lay out within a logical and formal structure the major arguments of one’s case. While in official debate contests, contestants will be given little time to prepare their arguments, the students on this course had three weeks in which to consider and research their case. It was assumed that this extra time would allow them to base their arguments on solid, verifiable evidence taken from reputable sources, all key ingredients of what are considered to be critical thinking skills. Since the students had time to prepare their speeches, it was hypothesised that, of all the three types of speeches, this would be the one least affected by language deficit.

Having transcribed the sixteen speeches made by the students into written form (four affirmative and four negative in English and in Japanese), with the Japanese speeches translated into English, they were given to the three raters along with the rating rubric. The raters scored them as follows (Table  3 ):

The raters’ specific comments on the Japanese constructive speeches were as follows:

Rater A: On the whole, the constructive speeches displayed clear evidence of critical thinking. They possessed persuasive and logical argumentative frameworks which were supported by sufficient evidence of a generally trustworthy nature.

Rater B: While there were certain weaknesses in the constructive speeches, most notably the failure to adequately clarify the key terms of the debate, they were generally well-constructed with at least three major points backed up by reliable and data-based evidence.

Rater C: There were no significant weaknesses in the constructive speeches, though at times they could have employed a greater variety of source material. Their cases were explained coherently with a sophisticated level of expression and a clear demarkation between argument and support.

They commented on the English constructive speeches in the following way:

Rater A: While the speakers made an attempt to engage with the topic in a logical manner, their arguments lacked both sophistication and depth. There was an over-reliance on just one or two sources and a failure to argue their case persuasively.

Rater B: The speeches on the whole were rather poorly-constructed. They made an attempt to construct their arguments in a logical and coherent framework, but they failed to present sufficient evidence to support their points. At times, it was not clear what arguments they were trying to make.

Rater C: Although one or two of the speeches offered a persuasive argument, there was generally a lack of depth to the points made and the evidence brought out in support. It seemed the speakers had based their case on only a few sources, which contributed to the overall impression of under-preparation and superficiality.

Both the ratings and the comments reveal significant differences in the quality of the speeches in Japanese and English. While both sets of students attempted to organise their constructive speeches in a logical structure, those in Japanese possessed greater depth and persuasive strength with a wider range of strong, supportive evidence. This was reflected in the bibliography which the students were asked to provide at the end of their speeches. The Japanese speeches listed, on average, 5.5 separate sources consisting mainly of academic journal papers and serious newspaper articles written in Japanese. The English speeches, on the other hand, had only 3.3 sources on average. They included a mixture of Japanese and English material, but what was notable was that the sources of both languages included a number of references that would normally be considered unreliable in academic work, including blog posts and websites of unverifiable origin.

While the students were reminded of the importance of choosing trustworthy sources at the beginning of the course, it seemed that the effort of preparing and performing a debate in a second language affected their ability to judge the reliability of their source material. One possible reason for this is that the kind of sources considered acceptable in academic work tend to be longer and more complex than other forms of material available online. In a second language, it is both harder to assimilate complex material or, if the material is in the student’s first language, to translate or summarise it effectively into the second language. This would explain why students who carried out the debate in English tended to choose shorter and easier sources both in English and in Japanese.

One weakness the raters found in both the English and the Japanese speeches was the failure of the students to adequately clarify the significance and meaning of the debate’s key terms. This includes, for example, defining the terms ‘violent video games’ and ‘violent behaviour’ as well as the connotations of the verb ‘lead to’. This may be regarded as a weakness in critical thinking skills. The importance of clarifying terms was not made explicit to the students before the debate, and their general failure to do so may be a reflection of their lack of experience in this form of academic task.

Cross-examination speeches

Unlike the constructive speeches, the students had very little time to prepare the cross-examination speeches. A cross-examination speech requires the debater to understand and analyse the arguments made by the other side as they are being given, and from there to point out specific flaws and weaknesses. It is a challenging task even for a native speaker experienced in debate, and it was felt that, if the English language speakers did prove to be at a disadvantage, it would be particularly evident in the cross-examination speeches (Table  4 ).

Along with their numerical evaluations, the raters made comments on the Japanese speeches as follows:

Rater A: The speakers were able, on the whole, to pick out the main arguments of their opponents and find something to counter-argue about them. Although they did miss some counter-claims, their cross-examination speeches were logically constructed and clearly explained.

Rater B: The cross-examination speeches were not as sharp and well-supported as the constructive speeches, but since the students had no time to prepare for them, this is to be expected. I found the students picked out most (if not all) of the obvious counter-arguments and explained them with some clarity.

Rater C: As I was reading through the constructive speeches, I found myself searching for the kind of weaknesses I would point out in a cross-examination speech. The speakers impressed me, on several occasions, by finding exactly the same flaws I myself had, be they argumentative points that had natural counter-arguments or more specific weaknesses in the evidence the opposition had used.

The comments on the English cross-examination speeches went as follows:

Rater A: These speeches were largely disappointing. The speakers failed to show a clear understanding of their opponents’ arguments and, consequently, were unable to make convincing counter-arguments. Several of the speakers were scarcely able to carry out any cross-examination at all. Their speeches had little content other than a very basic summary of their opponents’ case along with weak unsupported statements, such as ‘We don’t agree’.

Rater B: The speakers were barely able to make what we could really call a cross-examination. When they did attempt to point out weaknesses in their opponents’ argument, there was a mechanical nature to their points e.g. ‘the evidence they presented was old’. While this may have been true to some extent, it did not show an engagement with the substance of the arguments.

Rater C: The speakers seemed to struggle to comprehend their opponents’ points. Even though the constructive speeches themselves were rather weak and should have been easy to counter-argue, there was very little attempt to truly cross-examine them. Some counter-arguments were extremely weak e.g. ‘We don’t agree with this idea.’

The evaluations of the raters largely confirmed the proposition that cross-examination speeches were more challenging for the two sets of students but particularly so for the students working in a second language. They seemed to have trouble assimilating the arguments given by the opposition in their constructive speeches and were, therefore, unable to produce any convincing counter-arguments. This was evident simply in the length of the speeches they were able to produce within the alloted time of two minutes. While the Japanese speeches contained an average of 312 words (when translated into English), the English speeches had just 122 words. Much of the allotted time was wasted with hesitations and pauses as the speakers struggled to compose a meaningful response.

As the raters mentioned, the counterpoints that were made in the English speeches tended to have little persuasive power. Three of the speeches contained statements such as ‘We don’t agree with this’ or ‘This argument is not strong’ without any clear explanation of the reason. Two others posed the questions ‘Is this true?’ and ‘Can we say this?’ but failed to provide any grounds on which to base them. This contrasted with the Japanese speeches in which, on the whole, the cross-examination was carried out on a systematic point-by-point basis in which the opponents’ arguments were briefly summarised and then questioned on a specific basis. This is not to say that the Japanese cross-examinations were without problems. At times, the speakers missed certain inconsistencies in their opponents’ constructive speeches which were noticed by the researcher and the raters. However, considering the students’ inexperience with debate, this is perhaps to be expected.

Refutation speeches

The aim of a refutation speech is to answer the doubts and questions raised by the opposition in the cross-examination speech and from there to re-state one’s own case in persuasive terms. As with the cross-examination speeches, the students had to compose the refutation speeches on the spot, and thus the English speakers were at a significant disadvantage compared to their Japanese counterparts. The three raters evaluated this last round of speeches as follows (Table  5 ):

The raters made comments on the Japanese speeches as follows:

Rater A: The refutations were the weakest of the three speeches. Although the speakers made an attempt to tackle the points made during the cross-examination, they did so only to a mediocre level. Only occasionally did they successfully refute their opponents’ points.

Rater B: The speakers seemed to lack a clear strategy for making these speeches. They tended to repeat their opponents’ cross-examination points without effectively providing counter-arguments, other than repeating their own original arguments.

Rater C: The speakers managed to re-state their own arguments with reasonable success, but they failed to substantially refute their opponents’ cross-examination. Without access to fresh evidence, they were often unable to find ways of answering their opponents’ points.

For the English speeches, the raters made the following comments:

Rater A: The speakers made little attempt to engage with their opponents’ cross-examination, though part of the reason for this may be that the cross-examination speeches themselves were unclear. Rather than refute, they mainly repeated the same arguments made in their constructive speeches.

Rater B: These speeches added little to the debate. The speakers simply repeated their main arguments again, though with less clarity and persuasive power.

Rater C: Since the cross-examination speeches were of low quality, it was not surprising that the refutation speeches would be too since it was not clear what points the speakers had to refute. The speeches mainly consisted of a repetition of the constructive speeches.

The refutation speeches proved to be the weakest of the three types of speeches in the debate, both in English and in Japanese. For the English speeches, the students were not able to compose anything that could truly be regarded as a refutation. As Raters A and C commented, this was partly due to the fact that the cross-examination speeches often failed to make any clear points that could be refuted. But, even taking that into consideration, the students made little attempt to engage with any of the cross-examination points, using the refutation speeches purely to summarise their constructive speeches. To some extent, this was also true of the Japanese speeches. In Japanese, the speakers did acknowledge their opponents’ arguments, but they were not often able to refute them persuasively. This may reflect the students’ lack of experience with debate and its conventions. With no time to prepare material for counter-arguments, debaters are forced to think on their feet, a task that requires practice as well as skill.

Where the Japanese speeches were superior to the English ones was in the length, clarity and coherence of their arguments. In the allotted two minutes, the Japanese speakers produced 346 words on average compared to 103 words for the English speakers. They organised their speeches into a point-by-point format, while the English speeches tended to be vague and hesitant in structure and content. It appeared as though the English speakers’ minds were so preoccupied with finding the appropriate words to say, there was little mental space available for a proper consideration of argument and counter-argument.


This paper has compared the performance of two classes of Japanese university students in an academic debate, with one class performing the debate in their native language and the other in English. The rationale for the study was that debate is a more accurate reflection of the kind of tasks international students face when they enter higher education in the West. The constructive speeches, which the students were given three weeks to prepare for, required them to seek out reliable sources, research relevant information and synthesise it into a clear logical argument. In terms of critical thinking (if not mode of discourse), it was similar, therefore, to the skills required for academic essay writing, a staple of most non-scientific disciplines at university. The cross-examination and refutation speeches, on the other hand, reflected the type of spontaneous thinking required for class discussions, in which students are forced to make and defend arguments before their teachers and peers. It was hypothesised that, given the absence of preparation time, the cross-examination and refutation speeches would be more adversely affected by language than the constructive speeches.

The study found that, despite the English proficiency levels of the students being equivalent to those required for entrance to Western universities, language proved to be a considerable handicap when it came to performance. In all three speeches of the debates, the English speakers were given significantly lower evaluations by the three raters than the Japanese speakers. While comments for the Japanese debates were generally positive in tone, acknowledging the students’ use of several aspects of critical thinking, those for the English debates pointed out serious weaknesses in argument, depth and explanation. As the following figure makes clear, all of the four groups in the Japanese class significantly outperformed those of the English class (Fig.  1 ).

Mean ratings for each type of speech by group

What, specifically, did language seem to have the most significant adverse effect upon? In terms of the constructive speeches, the students presenting in English made an attempt to compose a coherent case, but their arguments lacked depth and sophistication. They relied on fewer sources than the Japanese speakers, which led them to produce arguments that were not supported by convincing evidence. For instance, three of the four English groups presenting on the affirmative side of the debate made the argument that there have been real-life examples of violent video games leading to violent behaviour. However, they provided only one or two specific incidents as support and, furthermore, failed to interrogate these incidents sufficiently to demonstrate that video games were indeed a significant factor. The Japanese speakers making a similar point, on the other hand, presented statistics from a research study that detailed how many cases over a period of a decade were found to be linked to video games and included testimony from a psychologist in specific examples.

There was also a difference in the type of sources used by the two sets of students. Of the 44 references included by the eight groups presenting in Japanese, 37 were from what would be regarded as reliable sources, including non-fiction academic books (5), academic papers (19), serious newspaper articles (8) and online articles written by identifiable experts (5). All of the sources were written in Japanese. Of the 26 references listed by the English students, on the other hand, only 14 came from reliable sources. The non-reliable sources consisted of online articles of unknown or non-expert authorship. Significantly, while 11 of the 14 reliable sources were written in Japanese, 9 of the 12 unreliable sources were written in English. The majority of these 9 English sources were short in length, less than 800 words on average. The students were either unable to properly distinguish between reliable and unreliable information in English, or they were intimidated by the greater length and complexity of the more serious sources and, therefore, tempted to choose those that were simpler and shorter without an adequate consideration of their worth.

The cross-examination and rebuttal speeches were evaluated lower than the constructive speeches in both Japanese and English, reflecting the greater difficulty of composing arguments without adequate preparation time. Somewhat contrary to expectations, the evaluation gap between the Japanese and English speeches was generally similar for the two spontaneous speeches and the constructive speeches (though the rebuttal speech had the highest average gap of 1.89). Nevertheless, both the ratings and the raters’ comments illustrate the generally low quality of the spontaneous English speeches. While the raters praised the Japanese speeches for managing to pick out most, if not all, of the salient points in the cross-examinations and for at least attempting to refute their opponents’ cross-examination, they noted that the English speeches contained barely any attempt to explicate a clear and logical argument. With frequent hesitations as well as repetitions, they were less than half the length of the Japanese speeches and lacked both structure and content.

It seems that in carrying out the spontaneous speeches in particular, the students speaking in English may have suffered from what has been termed ‘cognitive overload’ (Paas et al., 2003 ). According to cognitive overload theory, the amount of information that can be stored and processed in the working memory is limited. Language processing requires the use of cognitive resources in working memory, as does the application of critical thinking skills. If a considerable amount of those resources are expended on utilising a foreign language, there may not be adequate resources remaining for th satisfactory execution of critical thinking (Cook, 1993 ; Koda, 2005 ; Campbell et al., 2007 ). Cognitive overload has been used as an explanation for lower cognitive performance in other studies involving a second language. Takano and Noda ( 1993 ), for example, observed that speakers of Japanese performed less well on a calculation task when they carried it out in English rather than in Japanese, while native speakers of English did less well when doing the task in Japanese. Manalo and Uesaka ( 2012 ) showed that students were less able to use diagrams when presenting information in a second language. In this study, it was found that for the cross-examination and rebuttal speeches in particular, the students simply did not have the mental capacity to cope with the demands of the task and the language at the same time, resulting in a significantly impaired performance.

Cognitive overload theory helps to explain why East Asian students seem to struggle to display adequate critical thinking skills during courses at Western institutions. This paper has shown, albeit with a very limited sample of students in one particular context, that Japanese students do have a capacity for critical thinking in their own language. While the purpose of the study was not to compare the skills of Asian and Western students, the debates conducted in Japanese were evaluated relatively highly by Western tertiary-level educators, who were purposefully kept unaware of the parameters of the study. This suggests that many of the problems faced by Asian students overseas may be attributable to the handicap of language. This does not mean, of course, that they do not need to be taught both the importance of critical thinking and how it can be put into practice in their academic work. However, it does suggest that we ought to be wary of making sweeping judgements about Asian students and their supposed incapacity for critical thought. Above all, we should be sensitive to the significant challenges posed by carrying out linguistically-demanding tasks, such as essay writing, debate and discussion, in a second language.

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David Rear is an associate professor at the Faculty of Science and Technology at Chuo University, Tokyo. He teaches courses on critical thinking, intercultural awareness and global studies and conducts research in critical thinking and critical discourse analysis. His most recent publication is a chapter on the teaching of critical thinking in Essential Competencies for English Medium University Teaching edited by Ruth Breeze and Carmen Guinda, published by Springer. He has also recently been published in Critical Policy Studies, Asia Pacific Journal of Education, Contemporary Japan and Asian Business & Management. In addition, he has published several critical reading textbooks for university students in Japan. Some of his publications may be viewed at his profile:

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Rear, D. The language deficit: a comparison of the critical thinking skills of Asian students in first and second language contexts. Asian. J. Second. Foreign. Lang. Educ. 2 , 13 (2017).

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The dilemma of critical thinking: Conformism and non-conformism in Japanese education policy

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Critical Thinking in Translation/クリティカルシンキング – 批判的思考

Critical thinking is an interesting word when it appears in translation. It is commonly referred to as one of the key skills needed to prepare children for the 21st century, which seemed like such a long way away, but now happens to be nearly eighteen percent over. For this reason, we are no longer just preparing children for the 21st Century. We are living it and should actually be preparing for the 22nd Century.

As part of this preparation for a rapidly changing world, we send our children to school to learn, but learn what? They learn content that is divided roughly into academic disciplines, but as a parent, it is not so much what your child is learning that should interest you, as most of it can be Googled, rather you should be interested in what they can do with that content. How does it help them to come to understand their world?

Above the subject-based content, there is a set of skills that are encountered across all subject areas. One of those is critical thinking. Critical thinking skills help to ensure that you are sensitive to the intentions behind the different information that bombards you. In its English form, the term does not have a negative connotation, yet in its Japanese form, the meaning of critical thinking does not translate so smoothly. It seems that this slight problem of translation is causing mixed-feelings in the Japanese school system with moves to bring a more critical perspective into approaches to teaching and learning in Japanese classrooms. 

Critical thinking is not about finding something wrong, or inherently bad. We understand that the basis of communication is intention and interpretation. Developing critical thinking skills is about discerning oftentimes subtle intentions in messages that may not be readily apparent. The portrayal of body image in the media is an example of one of these types of messages. Communication in all its forms is intentional to a degree, but messages are interpreted in many different ways by the audience, so if our children are going to understand their world they need to be able to think critically. As a number of Japanese schools embrace the International Baccalaureate programs, teachers and school administrators may need to revise their understanding of critical thinking and shift their deeply embedded styles of teaching and learning.

Critical thinking skills allow children to discern intent and form more independent ideas. The process does, however, necessitate students challenging the content they are exposed to, questioning the texts they use and the words of their teachers. Of course, more didactic teaching methods and content-driven, memory-based approaches to teaching and learning will not foster critical thinking. The question that confronts us is how far will school systems be willing to bend and shift in order to develop these all-important critical thinking skills? Do we really want our children to be able to question the world? If so, our school systems have some work to do.

クリティカルシンキング – 批判的思考





(Originally published in Mamanpere , 2017)

March 25, 2004    • Philosophy • East vs. West

Japanese Critical Thinking

In his article entitled, “Critical Thinking in Japanese L2 Writing: Rethinking Tired Constructs,” Paul Stapleton discusses what he perceives as a new movement in Japan toward a more Western way of critical thinking. Although the speculative conclusions he draws from his research may hold some truths, what drew my attention was his process of investigation that a priori implies the conclusions, allowing himself in effect to pat himself on the back for the results he achieved.

Although I found his article interesting, I could not help noticing the Western screen through which Stapleton views Japanese culture. He asked 70 Japanese college students to fill out a nine-item questionnaire in which answers were scored on a scale of 1 (agree) to 5 (disagree). Although he took careful measures to avoid biases, they are for the most part cosmetic and irrelevant in comparison to the more fundamental biases of his entire approach.

Each question in his questionnaire is highly abstract and is devoid of any specific context, and it delimits an aspect of thought in order to seek its essence, which is a typical Western move. Those who are familiar with the philosophies of Ludwig Wittgenstein and Jacques Derrida would see that such a strategy would create more problems than it would solve. Wittgenstein devoted most of his life to untangling the philosophical confusions that the West had created for itself. His method was to put our thoughts back into spatiotemporal contexts. Derrida’s strategy for the same problem was to use the Western deductive thinking on itself to prove its untenable position. Applying some of their techniques, I will analyze Stapleton’s questionnaire.

“When I write a report, it is important to state my opinion clearly, even if the topic is controversial.”

By Western standards, traditional Japanese rhetorical styles do not come across “clearly”. (See these brief descriptions of Japanese rhetorical styles. ) They often shy away from stating their conclusions clearly, leaving the readers to draw their own. I do agree that their desire to maintain harmony, not to rock the boat, partially motivates them to employ these styles, but more importantly, it is necessitated by their fundamental belief in the multiplicity of truth. Any logical arguments that leave no room for multiple interpretations are often called “Herikutsu” which means something to the effect of “twisted logic” or “convenient logic,” implying that they are naive. (As I grew up in Japan, I had always hated this word since the adults would use it against me repeatedly to dismiss my logical arguments. Now that I am older, I have a better appreciation of this word.)

In the West, what constitutes a good “report” is clearly defined, and not many would argue. In Japan, this assumption cannot be made. An Eastern equivalent of this question would be something like this:

“When I write a report, it is important that I do not rely solely on logic to deduce a simplistic answer.”

If this question were to be asked in a Japanese writing class, I would imagine that more students would tend to agree. In the original question, the adverb, “clearly” is the key term. Disagreement would imply “unclearly” which is an explicitly negative term. In my Eastern version, the adjective, “simplistic” is the determining term. Since the statement negates this implicitly negative term, it invites more agreements.

Being a people of an interdependent society, the Japanese developed skills for assessing the appropriateness of situations and relations. When a question is devoid of any real-life context, it loses its meaning for most Japanese. Westerners typically seek an unchanging essence in every delimited object. Easterners tend to expect a constant change in everything. If you ask an Easterner such a clearly Western question, he would naturally think like a Westerner in order to be relevant to the question and to the circumstance, especially if it is given in an English writing class, as this one was. Being relevant and appropriate is one of their favorite preoccupations even if it means being logically inconsistent.

In order for the Japanese to see any real meaning in the questions, they must be put into more specific contexts than “When writing a report.” It is too abstract of a circumstance. For instance:

“At a funeral for your co-worker who has passed in a car accident, it is important to clearly state my opinion about the deceased’s negative personality, even if it is controversial.”

Although the vast majority agreed with Stapleton’s original question (only one person giving a 4 and none giving a 5), I would imagine that the vast majority would give a 5 to my more contextualized version of the same question. Obviously, this example is quite extreme, but from this, we can see the possibilities of various degrees in between.

Here is another question:

“When I write a report, it is important to agree with the teacher.”

Again, the answer Stapleton seeks is obvious. The majority responded with a 4 to this. Let’s recontextualize this one as well:

“On my first day of a class to learn a new computer program, it is important to agree with the teacher.”

To this, I would imagine that the answers would be closer to the opposite. After all, why should I disagree on my first day with my teacher to whom I paid tuition for his authority on the subject?

Another question from Stapleton’s questionnaire:

“When I write a report, it is not important to mention the opinion of those who disagree with me as long as I write my own opinion clearly.”

If the opposing opinion is well-known to everyone, or if I am responding to a specific opposing opinion (e.g. to an opinion expressed by President Bush), then this is true. Why should I repeat?

And so on. It is always possible to graft a circumstance to an abstract statement and produce different meanings and answers. An abstract situation such as writing a report in an English class is not sufficient to determine the pattern of Japanese thinking. This is a blind spot of Western thinking which believes in an unchanging truth behind every logical proposition. His questions are so reductive that they crave reductive answers. Japanese students are smart enough to see the answers he is looking for because they are essentially rhetorical questions.

However, this is not to say that his speculation is wrong about the Japanese youth adopting Western rhetorical styles. This may very well be true. The problem I see, however, is the reductive, simplistic strategy he employs. In terms of Yin and Yang, the East is passive whereas the West is active. The East, therefore, is more feminine, and the West, more masculine. In this sense, understanding the East should be as multidimensional as understanding women, which is not easy for men to do.

Imagine a male researcher trying to understand women in which he employs a simplistic questionnaire like Stapleton’s. From a statistical analysis of the results, he draws a conclusion that suggests a new way of treating women. Doesn’t this sound too presumptuous, to think that any meaningful aspect of women could be understood in such a simplistic manner?

Here is another problem I see in Stapleton’s argument.

To assert one’s own identity and independence is an inherent trait of youth. As we get older, this egotistical tendency slowly fades, and we learn to use critical thinking more appropriately. For this reason, testing only college students would not yield meaningful results, unless we have results from the same test conducted 50 years ago. Just because they show signs of voicing their individuality does not mean that those signs will stick with them as they grow older.

He also speaks about the Japanese educational system as if it encourages censorship or suppression.

“...the act of giving a course evaluation form to learners serves as notice to them that they have a voice to be heard, a voice that until recently was not encouraged to ‘speak’. These changes, of course, are not confined only to course evaluations. Rather, they are giving notice to learners that they do indeed have an individual voice, which can be used when expressing their opinions in a variety of situations.”

There is a reason beyond the facade why Japanese society does not “encourage” voicing of opinions. He assumes, with a stereotypical Western perspective of the East, that it is about conformity and hierarchical authority. While I agree that those factors do play a role, a more relevant reason is entirely overlooked in Stapleton’s analysis. Just as studying religion is imperative to understanding the Western psychological makeup, it is also important to take into consideration the fundamental philosophy of Japanese culture, which is reflected in Zen Buddhism.

While the West tries to foster a healthy ego in a person, the East tries to efface it. What appears to Stapleton as a form of suppression is actually a silent encouragement of youth’s dissent. There are many Zen anecdotes where the disciples challenge their masters with thoughts that are typically Western. Here is an example:

As a Zen master and his disciple were crossing a bridge, the latter cleverly figured out a way to measure the depth of the river. He then challenged his master to also come up with a solution. The master then simply pushed his disciple over the bridge. The latter achieved his Satori while he was soaked in the cold water.

Japanese do not show their affection the way Americans do. Their way is much more understated and subtle. Just because they do not hug and kiss their kids every day, does not mean they love their kids any less. By the same token, just because they do not “encourage” their kids outwardly, does not mean that they are suppressing them.

Here is another example of Stapleton’s statement that reveals his Western-centric thinking:

“The former reflects a move away from rote-learning towards creative and critical writing...”

Here he implies that the Japanese way of writing is uncreative and uncritical. To be more precise, it should say, “...towards what the West would consider creative and critical.” The focus of Western creativity is generally on the breaking of rules, as it is reflected in expressions like “thinking outside the box”. While there is nothing wrong with this, this way of being creative takes the focus away from what the creator learns for himself in the process, and encourages him to break rules for its own sake. The product of creativity becomes more important than what the creator gains from the experience; a typical Logocentrism of the West where product/result is superior to process. Westerners, therefore, fail to see any creativity in repetition, or “rote”, where no rules are broken. Japanese express their creativity through predetermined forms and rules, as you can see in Haiku. This allows them to focus on the process of being creative, not so much on the product of it. If you focus too much on the unique/original facade of your product, your focus on the process is compromised.

As for being “critical”, the Western idea of it is to be critical of others. The Eastern idea of being critical is to be self-critical. This manifests clearly in the number of lawsuits filed in each country. Just because the Japanese do not logically criticize others does not mean that they are not being critical. In order to live in harmony with others, they have acquired a natural tendency to be self-critical. Because of this, it is true that they rarely encounter situations that call for analytic or forensic skills. But this should not be taken as a lack of “critical” thinking.

Also, just because the Japanese embrace some Western ways of thinking does not mean that they are “moving towards” it as he describes. If I were to notice the West embracing some Eastern ways of doing things, I would not be so audacious as to describe the West to be moving towards Eastern ways. “Move towards” implies a linear progression, which is typical of Western thinking. The East is inherently multifarious. Things rarely move in one direction. It is more likely that Stapleton is projecting his own Western prejudice.

As a concluding remark, Stapleton says:

“This suggests that teachers no longer need to hesitate to introduce critical thinking and deductive rhetorical writing styles to Japanese learners, or perhaps any other group of Asian learners who have been characterized as collectivist, non-critical thinkers.”

There is no reason why we must shy away from teaching anything. The problem I see here is that he sees, as most Westerners do, cultural progression to be linear and singular. I am afraid that he is suggesting Japanese students “move away” from the traditional Eastern way of thinking, which would be quite unfortunate. It is to anyone’s advantage to acquire different ways of thinking. What would be beneficial for Japanese students is to encourage them to employ multiple styles of thinking, not to see one to be superior to the others, and not to be so blindly attached to one.

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critical thinking in japan

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critical thinking in japan

At NIC, the faculty and staff are committed to a pursuit of excellence in our programs. Deeply rooted in this pursuit is the belief that every student counts. Students are not addressed in masses but rather as individuals who are unique in every aspect. Unfortunately, the present system of education in Japan does not focus on individual expression, critical thinking, or creativity. In Japan, the responsibility for one's education lies with the teacher, not with the student. This tends to make what one learns an external, passive activity, which encourages students to study only to do well on tests rather than for the joy of learning and discovery. However, at NIC we understand that to succeed in a university is to truly experience the new culture, individual expression, critical thinking and creativity, which are essential.

critical thinking in japan

At NIC, we feel that Japanese students are as capable of learning this style as anyone else. It is only a matter of training with a focus on change. This learning is fostered in our program and it thus becomes an integral part of everything that we attempt to accomplish here. We believe one's character and personal growth are strongly affected by the learning process through which young adults can discover themselves, cultivate a spirit of discovery, and develop elf-confidence.

NIC is advocating total education not only by acquiring knowledge, but also by developing thinking skills and an understanding of and concern for others. Derived from this philosophy, the purpose of NIC then is to encourage change in the student's outlook in order to help all of our students adopt a more global perspective in life. Such a person then becomes truly bicultural, broad-minded, and serves as a cultural ambassador. Because we at NIC are so committed to a pursuit of excellence, our students achieve an impressive amount of success abroad in the various colleges and universities in our consortium.

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Warren Berger

A Crash Course in Critical Thinking

What you need to know—and read—about one of the essential skills needed today..

Posted April 8, 2024 | Reviewed by Michelle Quirk

  • In research for "A More Beautiful Question," I did a deep dive into the current crisis in critical thinking.
  • Many people may think of themselves as critical thinkers, but they actually are not.
  • Here is a series of questions you can ask yourself to try to ensure that you are thinking critically.

Conspiracy theories. Inability to distinguish facts from falsehoods. Widespread confusion about who and what to believe.

These are some of the hallmarks of the current crisis in critical thinking—which just might be the issue of our times. Because if people aren’t willing or able to think critically as they choose potential leaders, they’re apt to choose bad ones. And if they can’t judge whether the information they’re receiving is sound, they may follow faulty advice while ignoring recommendations that are science-based and solid (and perhaps life-saving).

Moreover, as a society, if we can’t think critically about the many serious challenges we face, it becomes more difficult to agree on what those challenges are—much less solve them.

On a personal level, critical thinking can enable you to make better everyday decisions. It can help you make sense of an increasingly complex and confusing world.

In the new expanded edition of my book A More Beautiful Question ( AMBQ ), I took a deep dive into critical thinking. Here are a few key things I learned.

First off, before you can get better at critical thinking, you should understand what it is. It’s not just about being a skeptic. When thinking critically, we are thoughtfully reasoning, evaluating, and making decisions based on evidence and logic. And—perhaps most important—while doing this, a critical thinker always strives to be open-minded and fair-minded . That’s not easy: It demands that you constantly question your assumptions and biases and that you always remain open to considering opposing views.

In today’s polarized environment, many people think of themselves as critical thinkers simply because they ask skeptical questions—often directed at, say, certain government policies or ideas espoused by those on the “other side” of the political divide. The problem is, they may not be asking these questions with an open mind or a willingness to fairly consider opposing views.

When people do this, they’re engaging in “weak-sense critical thinking”—a term popularized by the late Richard Paul, a co-founder of The Foundation for Critical Thinking . “Weak-sense critical thinking” means applying the tools and practices of critical thinking—questioning, investigating, evaluating—but with the sole purpose of confirming one’s own bias or serving an agenda.

In AMBQ , I lay out a series of questions you can ask yourself to try to ensure that you’re thinking critically. Here are some of the questions to consider:

  • Why do I believe what I believe?
  • Are my views based on evidence?
  • Have I fairly and thoughtfully considered differing viewpoints?
  • Am I truly open to changing my mind?

Of course, becoming a better critical thinker is not as simple as just asking yourself a few questions. Critical thinking is a habit of mind that must be developed and strengthened over time. In effect, you must train yourself to think in a manner that is more effortful, aware, grounded, and balanced.

For those interested in giving themselves a crash course in critical thinking—something I did myself, as I was working on my book—I thought it might be helpful to share a list of some of the books that have shaped my own thinking on this subject. As a self-interested author, I naturally would suggest that you start with the new 10th-anniversary edition of A More Beautiful Question , but beyond that, here are the top eight critical-thinking books I’d recommend.

The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark , by Carl Sagan

This book simply must top the list, because the late scientist and author Carl Sagan continues to be such a bright shining light in the critical thinking universe. Chapter 12 includes the details on Sagan’s famous “baloney detection kit,” a collection of lessons and tips on how to deal with bogus arguments and logical fallacies.

critical thinking in japan

Clear Thinking: Turning Ordinary Moments Into Extraordinary Results , by Shane Parrish

The creator of the Farnham Street website and host of the “Knowledge Project” podcast explains how to contend with biases and unconscious reactions so you can make better everyday decisions. It contains insights from many of the brilliant thinkers Shane has studied.

Good Thinking: Why Flawed Logic Puts Us All at Risk and How Critical Thinking Can Save the World , by David Robert Grimes

A brilliant, comprehensive 2021 book on critical thinking that, to my mind, hasn’t received nearly enough attention . The scientist Grimes dissects bad thinking, shows why it persists, and offers the tools to defeat it.

Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don't Know , by Adam Grant

Intellectual humility—being willing to admit that you might be wrong—is what this book is primarily about. But Adam, the renowned Wharton psychology professor and bestselling author, takes the reader on a mind-opening journey with colorful stories and characters.

Think Like a Detective: A Kid's Guide to Critical Thinking , by David Pakman

The popular YouTuber and podcast host Pakman—normally known for talking politics —has written a terrific primer on critical thinking for children. The illustrated book presents critical thinking as a “superpower” that enables kids to unlock mysteries and dig for truth. (I also recommend Pakman’s second kids’ book called Think Like a Scientist .)

Rationality: What It Is, Why It Seems Scarce, Why It Matters , by Steven Pinker

The Harvard psychology professor Pinker tackles conspiracy theories head-on but also explores concepts involving risk/reward, probability and randomness, and correlation/causation. And if that strikes you as daunting, be assured that Pinker makes it lively and accessible.

How Minds Change: The Surprising Science of Belief, Opinion and Persuasion , by David McRaney

David is a science writer who hosts the popular podcast “You Are Not So Smart” (and his ideas are featured in A More Beautiful Question ). His well-written book looks at ways you can actually get through to people who see the world very differently than you (hint: bludgeoning them with facts definitely won’t work).

A Healthy Democracy's Best Hope: Building the Critical Thinking Habit , by M Neil Browne and Chelsea Kulhanek

Neil Browne, author of the seminal Asking the Right Questions: A Guide to Critical Thinking, has been a pioneer in presenting critical thinking as a question-based approach to making sense of the world around us. His newest book, co-authored with Chelsea Kulhanek, breaks down critical thinking into “11 explosive questions”—including the “priors question” (which challenges us to question assumptions), the “evidence question” (focusing on how to evaluate and weigh evidence), and the “humility question” (which reminds us that a critical thinker must be humble enough to consider the possibility of being wrong).

Warren Berger

Warren Berger is a longtime journalist and author of A More Beautiful Question .

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  1. Critical Thinking Course Japan-Critical Thinking Training Workshop

    critical thinking in japan

  2. (PDF) ‘Is Critical Thinking happening in your Classroom?’ Assessing

    critical thinking in japan

  3. Критично мислене Определение, умения и Примери

    critical thinking in japan

  4. Frequency and percentage of critical thinking components in Japanese

    critical thinking in japan

  5. (PDF) Assessing Critical Thinking in the Writing of Japanese University

    critical thinking in japan

  6. (PDF) Critical Thinking in Japanese L2 Writing: Rethinking Tired Constructs

    critical thinking in japan


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  1. Exploring the emic understanding of 'critical thinking' in Japanese

    Abstract. In the most recent Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS2018) conducted by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the percentage of Japanese teachers who taught critical thinking (CT) and professed self-efficacy in CT teaching was by far the lowest among participating economies (OECD, 2019).

  2. Do Japanese students lack critical thinking? Addressing the

    Math and the sciences are the two subject areas that often require critical thinking skills. Thus, understanding how well Japanese students perform in math and the sciences could give us clues about their critical thinking skills and address the misconception. Global student assessment surveys suggest that Japanese students regularly achieve ...

  3. Why do Japanese teachers seem unready to teach critical thinking in

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  4. An Exploration of Japanese Students' Concept and ...

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  5. Obstacles and Opportunities for Critical Thinking in Japan

    Paradoxically, Japan presents both a difficult and promising setting for the advancement of critical thinking skills. One deep-rooted obstacle stems from anti-rational ideological traditions and prejudices. Another comes from the rigidly hierarchical, conformist nature of Japanese society, which does not encourage divergent opinions or their expression.

  6. Exploring the emic understanding of 'critical thinking' in Japanese

    In an increasingly changing world, critical thinking is one of the key skills that ensure organizations' competitive advantage. Thus, in higher education institutions, there is an accelerating ...

  7. PDF Why do Japanese teachers seem unready to teach critical thinking in

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  8. (PDF) Critical Thinking in Japanese Secondary Education: Student and

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  9. (PDF) Transformative Learning and Critical Thinking in Japanese Higher

    Critical thinking (CT) receives increasing attention in discourses around the reform and internationalisation of higher education in Japan. While the implications of teaching CT in this cultural context have been debated since the 1990s, it has become a key concept with the internationalisation of degree programs through English medium instruction (EMI).

  10. Student perceptions of critical thinking in EMI programs at Japanese

    Critical thinking, Japanese universities, Japanese students. This section covers three areas of literature pertinent to this investigation: (1) The development of definitions of critical thinking and the conceptualization of CT as a process in Scriven and Paul's (1996) definition. This holistic conception was utilized as a framework for the ...

  11. Critiquing critical thinking: Asia's contribution towards ...

    Critiquing critical thinking •235 A perspective from Japan The discourse on thinking (if not critical thinking) in the context of Japanese education may enable us to examine the question from a different angle. Although critical thinking per se has not been a key concept in Japanese education, how to

  12. PDF Teaching of Critical Thinking Skills by Science Teachers in Japanese

    The second category concerns the assessment of critical thinking, which includes the work of Dowd et al. (2018), who used the Biology Thesis Assessment Protocol to assess scientific reasoning in university students and the California Critical Thinking Skills Test to measure critical thinking, and then analyzed the relationship between the two.

  13. A Review of critical thinking education

    Abstract. Recently, the necessity of critical thinking (CT) education has been noted in various areas, and the number of studies related to CT education in Japan has been steadily increasing. Therefore, this article highlights pertinent issues in these studies by reviewing recent theoretical and practical studies regarding CT educations ...

  14. The language deficit: a comparison of the critical thinking skills of

    In the midst of a rapidly changing world, critical thinking has become one of the key attributes demanded of students in higher education. It has long been contended that for East Asian students studying at Western universities, the ability to think critically has proved particularly challenging, given the differing character of their educational and cultural backgrounds (Ballard & Clanchy ...

  15. Assessing Critical Thinking in the Writing of Japanese University

    This study proposes a model for assessing critical thinking in the writing of L2 learners to determine whether content familiarity plays a role in critical thinking. Findings of a study of 45 Japanese undergraduate students indicate that the quality of critical thought depended on the topic content, with a familiar topic generating better ...

  16. Exploring the emic understanding of 'critical thinking' in Japanese

    Abstract In the most recent Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS2018) conducted by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the percentage of Japanese teachers who taught critical thinking (CT) and professed self-efficacy in CT teaching was by far the lowest among participating economies (OECD, 2019).

  17. The dilemma of critical thinking: Conformism and non-conformism in

    Critical Thinking and Japanese Society In a much-cited article in 1997, Atkinson claimed that critical thinking can be best understood as a kind of 'social practice', which is learned 'through the pores' (1997: 73) by individuals growing up in a particular cultural environment. He argued that people brought up in non-Western cultures ...

  18. Assessing Critical Thinking in the Writing of Japanese University

    Findings of a study of 45 Japanese undergraduate students indicate that the quality of critical thought depended on the topic content, with a familiar topic generating better critical thinking.

  19. Critical Thinking in Translation/クリティカルシンキング

    Critical thinking is an interesting word when it appears in translation. It is commonly referred to as one of the key skills needed to prepare children for the 21st century, which seemed like such a long way away, but now happens to be nearly eighteen percent over. ... the Japanese school system with moves to bring a more critical perspective ...

  20. "Historic" Change in Japan's High School Curriculum: Introducing Modern

    History and Critical Thinking Modern and contemporary history as it stands is a single two-credit course (two 50-minute classes per week), but it has lofty ambitions.

  21. Japanese Critical Thinking—DYSKE.COM

    Japanese Critical Thinking. In his article entitled, "Critical Thinking in Japanese L2 Writing: Rethinking Tired Constructs," Paul Stapleton discusses what he perceives as a new movement in Japan toward a more Western way of critical thinking. Although the speculative conclusions he draws from his research may hold some truths, what drew my ...

  22. A Philosophy of Excellence / NIC International College in Japan

    Unfortunately, the present system of education in Japan does not focus on individual expression, critical thinking, or creativity. In Japan, the responsibility for one's education lies with the teacher, not with the student. This tends to make what one learns an external, passive activity, which encourages students to study only to do well on ...

  23. Resources in Japanese

    Foundation for Critical Thinking. PO Box 31080 • Santa Barbara, CA 93130 . Toll Free 800.833.3645 • Fax 707.878.9111. [email protected]

  24. A Crash Course in Critical Thinking

    Here is a series of questions you can ask yourself to try to ensure that you are thinking critically. Conspiracy theories. Inability to distinguish facts from falsehoods. Widespread confusion ...