Advances in Applied Sociology
2013. Vol.3, No.1, 20-25
Published Online March 2013 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
A Cognitive Emotional Methodology for Critical Thinking
Edward P. Hanna
Social Work, Kutztown University of Pennsyl vani a Ku tztow n, Kutztown, USA
Email: ehanna@kutztow
Received November 3rd, 2012; revised December 5th, 2012; accepte d December 20th, 2012
This essay provides a theoretical foundation for a cognitive emotional methodology for critical thinking
that is currently being utilized by the author in undergraduate and graduate social work advanced seminar
classes. Through a review of the literature, the paper suggests that most approaches to teaching critical
thinking do not integrate cognitive emotional criteria in the teaching method, and this is problematic for
social work education. Citing recent literature about teaching empathy and values, and merging that work
with clinical theory and practice, a theoretical foundation is established for a methodology that is in its
formative stages. The methodology and its constructs are described. Although the methodology is pre-
sented though the vehicle of social work education, it is asserted that the methodology has broader utility.
Keywords: Critical Thinking; Decision Making; Social Work; Social Work Education
Both the prevailing literature and the experience of teaching
social work seminars reflect that critical thinking involves, but
is greatly larger than, an intellectual process. Awareness of self,
and confrontation of beliefs and emotions, converge on the
learning moment. Students are brought face to face with human
need, and the processes of integrating ethical principles, values,
and skill sets that require introspective maturity, which enable
the accomplishment of professional purpose through profes-
sional action. While there are methodologies and hierarchies for
teaching critical thinking, the availability of models that inte-
grate a cognitive emotional approach are sparse. It cannot be
assumed that merely teaching critical thinking skills, in and of
itself, will generate emotional maturity. Actually, most metho-
dologies assume that the capacity for critical thinking already
exists and all that is missing is the “how to do it”. This paper
proposes a cognitive emotional methodology for critical think-
ing. This method is being utilized in advanced field B.S.W. and
M.S.W. seminar classes at Kutztown University of Pennsyl-
vania by the author. The students’ use and experience of the
model has shown that its methodology has heuristic value.
While research regarding the methodological constructs of the
model is now being conducted, this paper is intended to provide
a scholarly rationale for, and a description of, the model and its
implementation. Although it is presented through the lens of
social work education, it is suggested that the methodology pro-
vides a generic model for critical thinking and decision making
applicable to all academic an d pr o fessional disciplines.
A summary observation of the competencies of the Council
on Social Work Education’s Educational Policies and Accredi-
tation Standards suggests that a major challenge of social work
education is to assist students to achieve the capacity to engage,
assess and act in a professionally purposeful way that integrates
and reflects skill, ethical principles and standards (CSWE,
2008). Carey and McCardle (2011) suggest that field education,
as social work’s “signature pedagogy”, is where this challenge
is achieved as it provides “the opportunity to apply theory, to
experience the wide array of client groups and neighborhood
issues, to concretely identify presenting problems, to assess and
intervene effectively, and to grow into a professional self” (p.
357). Presenting a study of student’s emotional reactions in
field placements, Litvack, Bogo and Mishna (2010), further
state “In field education students are able to integrate theory
and practice, gain mastery of intervention skills, and learn to
deal with ethically challenging situations” (p. 228).
Field seminars can be viewed as the laboratory where the in-
tegration of practice and theory can occur. Generally, as reflec-
ted both by CSWE standards (Core Competency 2.1.3, 2008)
and educational tradition, the capacity for critical thinking is
utilized as the enabling method and vehicle for students to pro-
cess this integration. It can be observed that this learning is both
an intellectual and emotional process that is influenced also by
student’s age, life experience and developmental maturity.
However, many (but not all) descriptions and definitions of
critical thinking emphasize it as an intellectual process. In aca-
demics, this tone has been advanced more broadly by Benjamin
Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives (1956, 1964). De-
lineating six categories of learning, he established a hierarchy
that emphasizes a cognitive/objective approach that readily
lends itself to an intellectual academic purpose, and the hierar-
chy has been widely utilized across educational disciplines. Its
influence on critical thinking in academics, for example, is
reflected by Bissell and Lemons (2006) who present a method
for assessing critical thinking in a biology class. They observe
that Bloom’s first two categories of learning, “knowledge and
comprehension,” do not involve critical thinking skills. How-
ever, the remaining categories,” application, analysis, synthesis,
and evaluation, all require the higher-order thinking that char-
acterizes critical thought” (p. 68). They add that “these catego-
ries provide a smooth transition from educational theory to
practice by suggesting specific assessment designs that resear-
chers and instructors can use to evaluate student skills in any
given category” (p. 68).
Kurfiss (1989) views critical thinking as requiring procedural
knowledge and discipline-specific knowledge. Knight (1992)
posits critical thinking as involving necessary skills including
“development of cogent arguments, clear definitions, problem
solving strategies, information organization, and creativity” (as
cited in Mumm & Kersting, 1997: p. 3). In developing the Ca-
lifornia Critical Thinking Skills Test, 2000; Facione et al. (2002)
reference the American Philosophical Association’s definition
of critical thinking as “the process of purposeful, self-regula-
tory judgment” (p. 2). Again, Kurfiss (1989) sees critical think-
ing as “the process of figuring out what to believe or not about
a social situation, phenomenon, problem or controversy for
which no single definitive solution exists. The term implies a
diligent, open-minded search for understanding, rather than for
discovery of a necessary conclusion” (p. 42). Drawing upon
Gambrill & Gibbs (2009), Kirst-Ashman and Hull (2012) agree
that critical thinking is a reasoning process that requires the
“careful scrutiny of what is stated as true or what appears to be
true” and “focuses on the questioning of beliefs, statements, as-
sumptions, lines of reasoning, actions, and experiences” (p. 29).
But, Kirst-Ashman and Hull differ from Kurfiss in stating that,
for social work practice, a second dimension of action is requir-
ed that necessitates “the creative formulation of an opinion or
conclusion when presented with a question, problem or issue”
(p. 29).
Kirst-Ashman and Hull’s approach to critical thinking re-
flects an active conceptual model that lends itself to a practice
method which they refer to as a “Triple A” approach: “Ask que-
stions, assess the established facts and issues involved, and
assert a concluding opinion” (p. 29). Implicit in this definition
and method is the understanding that critical thinking, as the
link between theory and practice, is an active, not passive proc-
ess. While they may be modified and corrected through the
planned change process, conclusions are reached so to enable
decisions about assessment of need and implementation of ser-
vice. In the classroom, as they draw upon their field experi-
ences, students utilize critical thinking abilities questioning
how they know what they think they know or why they believe
what they believe that leads them to the conclusions and con-
sequent actions they have formulated. The intent and hope of
this process is to create the capacity for well thought and objec-
tively purposeful engageme nt with client systems.
Teaching critical thinking is related to, but not the same pro-
cess as, teaching students how to think critically, or more accu-
rately, how to integrate the capacity for critical thought and
action. Drawing on cognitive science, van Gelder (2005) em-
phasizes the importance of practice and the use of “argument
maps” in classroom discourse, but also recognizes the powerful
influence of beliefs over evidence or “belief preservation”. He
reflects that belief preservation “is the tendency to make evi-
dence subservient to belief, rather than the other way around”
(p. 46). And drawing from Douglas’s (2000) review of research
in the field of Social Psychology, van Gelder goes on to ob-
serve that “put another way, it (belief preservation) is the ten-
dency to use evidence to preserve our opinions rather than
guide them” (p. 46).
In social work field education, Cary & McCardle (2011)
have also observed that “practicing self-awareness, tolerating
ambiguity when faced with ethical dilemmas, and applying
knowledge gained from multiple sources are all key compo-
nents of critical thinking” (p. 358). Complicating the multidi-
mensional interactive relationship between self-awareness and
beliefs is the concomitant and recursive emotional experience
of existential learning. Litvak, Bogo and Mishna (2011) argue
that “it is the (social work) practicum where students experi-
ence and explore how professional aspects of self come toge-
ther (and) learning new concepts and values can challenge core
personal and familial worldviews and beliefs, leading to a sense
of confusion and even disorientation.” (p. 228). Ron Ritchhart
(2011), writing for Harvard Project Zero, elaborates more di-
The role emotions play in shaping thinking may account for a
large part of why we see failure of good thinking in our stu-
dents. When our consistent expectations for higher-order think-
ing still don’t translate into our students consistently using the
critical and creative-thinking skills we so conscientiously taught
them, it may be because their initial emotional reactions carry
the day. In reality, it is not enough to teach thinking skills, we
must also pay attention to the affective side of cognition (p. 1).
Two Models
It appears then that the actual “doing” of critical thinking
employs necessary attention to an integrated cognitive emotio-
nal process. In Social Work, at least, it involves an active expe-
riential process where values, beliefs and feelings are chal-
lenged when applied to the often times stark reality of human
living. While not formally connected to critical thinking per se,
there are two methodologies in recent literature that approach
an attempt for such an integration in social work education.
Teaching Values
First, Allen and Friedman (2010) developed a taxonomy for
teaching social work values through affective learning. They
state that affective learning consists of two components: “The
first involves the learner’s attitude, motivation, and feelings
about the learning environment, the material, and the instruc-
tor” (p. 2). In their view, this component focuses on a student’s
motivation to learn. The second and more important component,
and the one they utilize in their taxonomy, is the process of
learning: “Actual affective learning relates to feelings, attitudes,
and values that are identified, explored, and modified in some
way because of the learning experience” (p. 2).
The authors point out that a Bloom’s taxonomy of educatio-
nal objectives had been adapted to affective learning by Krath-
wohl (Krathwohl, Bloom, & Masia, 1964). One of the authors,
Friedman, co-presented a paper with Neuman (Neuman &
Friedman, 2008) in which Neuman presented a revised version
of Krathwohl’s taxonomy. This revision was made so to less
focus on a student’s motivation and attitude about learning and
to more attend to the actual learning process itself. Neuman’s
Taxonomy of Affective Learning, like the taxonomies of
Bloom and Krathwohl, is hierarchal. It consists of five levels,
including “Identification”, “Clarification”, “Exploration”, “Mo-
dification”, and “Characterization” (Allen & Friedman, 2010).
Students begin to identify their “beliefs, values and attitudes”
at the first level and then move towards clarifying their values
at the second level. Although the authors make no connection
of this learning process to “critical thinking”, they indicate that
the third level, “exploration”, is where students “explore the
implications and limitations of their viewpoints and compare
and contrast them with others” (p. 6). Modification, the fourth
level, is where “assimilation and accommodation” occur. This
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 21
involves students either altering their beliefs, values and atti-
tudes, or modifying an alternative position in a way which they
find acceptable. The fifth level, characterization, is where stu-
dents display their internalization of their learning as demon-
strat ed by be havioral co nsistency in their decided actions.
This hierarchal approach allows for evaluation, and the au-
thors provide a grading rubric that includes four domains: 1)
Quality of cognitive component; 2) Course of action, behaviors
identified; 3) Articulation of feelings, values, ethics and/or mo-
ral obligations; 4) Congruency with professional ethics and va-
lues. The grading is observational/subjective at three levels, ei-
ther minimally meeting, meeting, or exceeding expectations. It
is interesting to note that the domains themselves are not pre-
sented as hierarchal, nor are they weighted in any way to be
seen as developing out of the other. Nevertheless, the first three
domains of the hierarchy underscore the importance of recog-
nizing and attending to cognitive and emotional characteristics
of social work students and structuring a learning process where
they can be developed for purposeful behavior (skills) conso-
nant with social work values and ethics.
Although the authors offer examples of how this approach
can be used to teach values, the methodology more focuses on
how students came to believe what they believe and how
strongly they feel about it. While this may be a good opening
statement to begin the exploration, the methodology elaborated
below in this paper provides a more specific cognitive emotio-
nal approach that challenges students to first confront and ac-
cept their feelings at a very basic level prior to moving towards
an understanding of what and why they believe what they be-
Teaching Empathy
Gerdes et al. (2011) present a model for teaching empathy
that incorporates principles of neuroscience and developmental
psychology. While they are specifically concerned with pro-
viding a coherent conceptualization of empathy, the framework
they utilize can be viewed as a developmental model for critical
thinking. This framework consists of three components.
The first component is affective response which they present
as an involuntary physiological reaction. The second compo-
nent is cognitive processing, which is a voluntary mental proc-
ess used to discern one’s emotional response. The third com-
ponent is conscious decision making, which reflects a voluntary
process of making choices for deliberate action based on one’s
cognitive processing.
The authors present an approach to teaching that involves
“promoting healthy neurological pathways” (p. 117) to develop
one’s affective response. Cognitive processing is developed
through setting boundaries, practicing mindfulness, and using
role plays. Activities involving helping, advocacy, and organi-
zing social action are used to develop conscious decision mak-
ing. The teaching strategies include gestalt techniques, role play-
ing, imitative play, mirroring, and psychodrama, all of which
provide conceptual bridges for integrated movement from one
component to the next.
The authors view the three components as representing the
definition of the capacity for empathy, and thus they focus on
teaching methods that can result in a student’s capacity to be
empathic. Yet, from a broader perspective, it is possible to ob-
serve their three components as operationally adaptive to Neu-
man’s Affective Learning Hierarchy (Neuman & Friedman,
2008) described earlier. This would then present the affective,
cognitive, and conscious decision making components as de-
velopmental (and hierarchal) processes involving exploration of
feelings, beliefs, values, and consequent actions. These proc-
esses can be readily identified as they manifest at every level of
the affective learning taxonomy.
Again, neither the “teaching values” model, nor the “teaching
empathy” model, mention critical thinking. Nevertheless, their
methodologies directly reflect what can be seen to be important
components of critical thinking processes, and as presented in
this paper, provide support for a cognitive emotional methodo-
logy for teaching students how to think critically.
Clinical Indicators
Along with learning and teaching models, there is a consid-
erable amount of clinical theory and practice methods that can
be instructive when integrated as a normative understanding of
how we actually learn. In her essay, “Critical Thinking and
Emotional Intelligence”, Elder (1996) speaks of three mental
functions of the mind: The cognitive component, the emotional
component and the formation of volition (action). “These three
basic mental functions, albeit theoretically distinct, operate in a
dynamic relationship to each other, ever influencing one an-
other in mutual and reciprocal ways”… “They are concomitant”
(p. 1). She goes on to point out that the more important function
is cognition because, if we want to understand or alter a feeling
or behavior (volition), we first need to identify the thinking that
underlies that feeling or behavior.
These observations are almost isomorphic with Rational Emo-
tive Behavior Therapy, or “REBT” (Ellis, 2003; El lis & Dryden,
2007). Ellis is primarily concerned with helping clients under-
stand how their emotional disturbances are directly related to
their dysfunctional/irrational thoughts and beliefs. Although
this is a clinical construct designed to deal with “pathology”, the
mechanics of understanding and methods of intervention (tea-
ching) of REBT can discipline an approach to critical thinking.
Ellis states, “Much of what we call emotion is nothing more or
less than a certain kind-a biased, prejudiced, or strongly evalua-
tive kind-of thought. But emotions and behaviors significantly
influence and affect thinking, just as thinking influences emo-
tions and behaviors” (2003: p. 220). REBT parses mental func-
tions as they relate to how our beliefs shape our emotional and
behavioral reactions to our environment, and utilizes a ultiplic-
ity of methods to help clients identify and change irrational
constructs and consequential behaviors. It can be observed that
his approach can be useful, for one example, in addressing the
phenomenon of “belief preservation” cited earlier as an obstacle
to critical thinking.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, or “ACT”, (Hayes &
Strosahl, 2004; Hayes et al., 2004, 2007) provides a three step
approach to managing one’s thoughts and feelings so that one
may observe them with a sense of distance, choose a new val-
ued path, and then take committed action to accomplish new
goals responsibly. The first step in “ACT” is to “Accept” ones
reactions and be present, as opposed to being fused with one’s
thoughts and feelings. To “Choose” a valued path that allows
one to clarify and be consonant with their values, is the second
step. The third step is to “Take” action according to identified
values. The present-mindedness required relies on the commit-
ment to mindfulness and awareness of self, reflective of higher
level thinking. One recognizes and accepts one’s emotional,
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
cognitive and experiential reactivity so that she/he can move
away from being fused with them. While ACT is generally ap-
plied to clinical settings, it has also been adapted to non-the-
rapeutic organizational settings as a training method (Hayes et
al., 2007).
It is interesting to note how the operations of ACT appear to
converge with Kirst-Ashman’s “Triple A” approach to critical
thinking (cited earlier). Further, and while they have their dif-
ferences, both ACT and REBT can both be seen to be conso-
nant with the steps presented in Neuman’s Taxonomy of Affec-
tive Learning. The salient features of learning and change in-
volve recognition, awareness, and acceptance of feelings
thoughts and behaviors so that ne w behaviors can be purposeful.
These can also be viewed as the salient features of critical
Kadushin (1997) notes: “Saying that a person has acted like a
professional social worker is acknowledgement that professio-
nal behavior is consciously managed behavior” (p. 130). One
might determine that “consciously managed behavior” involves
critical thinking skills and the maturity of experience. Never-
theless, the path to successfully achieving higher level thinking
requires the capacity to be responsive, rather than reactive, to
one’s context. In his development of Family Systems Theory,
Murray Bowen (Bowen, 1978; Titelman, 1998) presents the
concept of “differentiation of self” which involves ones’ ability
to separate from (but still relate to) and not be fused with, the
emotional system of one’s family. Bowen would therefore see
one’s capacity for “consciously managed behavior” to require
differentiation from emotional fusion. Bowen’s work also em-
phasizes that emotional fusion is influenced by one’s multi-ge-
nerational emotional system, and that differentiation requires
recognition of that system at a conscious level. Thus, differen-
tiation involves moving away from the emotional-reactive posi-
tion towards the reflective-responsive position. This would also
appear to be a necessary dimension of critical thinking for pro-
fessional behavior.
The Methodology
The methodology presented below was constructed through
the process of teaching senior field seminar B.S.W. students
and M.S.W. foundation and advanced year field seminar stu-
dents. The challenge in these classes, as noted above, is to de-
velop the students’ capacity to demonstrate professionally ma-
naged decision making through the utilization of critical think-
ing. The emerging model is, in itself, hierarchal and systemi-
cally developmental. In other words, each step needs to be at-
tended to in order, and the efficacy of the process develops cu-
The method consists of four questionable cognitive positions:
1) What I feel?
2) What I believe?
3) What I know?
4) What I do?
In seminar, students descriptively present cases in which th ey
are involved in their field placements. These cases are discus-
sed amongst the students in the seminar and processed through
a planned change model of social work practice. This is where,
traditionally, critical thinking skills are (supposed to be) util-
ized. It is at this point that the author introduces the hierarchal
cognitive positions in the order presented above. It should be
noted that the construct of each position is designed to effect
exploration and cognitive elucidation of the students’ own self
position, and the definitions presented below are by no means
exhaustive. Students are challenged to identify their personal
narratives and the content of their own “self-talk”.
Structurally, the act of parsing cognitive functions, in and of
its own, instigates a conscious processing of the differences be-
tween the positions where they might otherwise be fused. In the
end, this creates the opportunity for “mindful” or “thoughtful”
behavior that is reflective rather than reactive. That is, “What I
do?” can be objectively purposeful and representative of a pro-
cess of intentional discernment of objective criteria less bur-
dened by reactive emotions and beliefs. This can be viewed as
one way of operationalizing “consciously managed behavior”
that has professional purpose.
“What I Feel?”
Existentially, a developmental hierarchy of cognitive func-
tions should not be mistaken as a negative or weighted judg-
ment of any one part. ”What I feel?” is representative of our
emotional selves and clearly a central feature of our humanity,
qualitatively and functionally. The key here is to recognize and
acknowledge our emotional self, so to nurture and care for it,
and so that we may be able to understand and express it in a
manner that is supportive and healthy for ourselves and others.
This is a process related to “promoting healthy neurological
pathways” cited earlier by Gerdes et al. (2011: p. 117).
Further, as noted earlier, the clinical view is that reactive
emotional behavior is seldom healthy or accurate and, as an
expression of unreasoned anxiety, can lead to many problems.
Nevertheless, emotional responses can be reasoned and reaso-
nable, such as empathy, acts of kindness, and love. Even emo-
tions that might be viewed as negative, such as sadness, anger,
grief and panic, have their place in everyday life experiences.
But, we try to understand and accept all of our feelings so that
we may tend to them and not be controlled by them. In fact,
denial of our emotions is an emotionally reactive activity, and
doing so actually intensifies emotional fusion along with its
unfortunate consequences.
“What I feel?” can be viewed as encompassing the Identifi-
cation, Clarification, and Exploration stages of Neuman”s Af-
fective Learning Taxonomy (Allen & Friedman, 2010) cited
earlier. It is also reflective of the “Ask questions” stage of
Kirst-Ashman’s “Triple A” approach to critical thinking (Kirst-
Ashman & Hull, 2010). Yet, because of the focus on emotional
content and process, “What I feel?” is more integrative of the
first stage of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) in
that it emphasizes one’s acceptance of one’s emotions.
“What I feel?” is experienced as a reactive/reflexive response
emotionally, physically, and psychologically.
The emotional expression can include being angry, sad de-
pressed, happy, elated, abandoned, worried, frustrated, irritated,
enraged, abused, afraid, vengeful, and more.
Physically, it is experienced as feeling tired or energized, ag-
ile or weighted and weak, sick, strong, and more.
Psychologically reactive thoughts take the form of immediate
judgmental assessments, including good, bad, terrible or won-
derful and any cognit iv e fla s he s t hat occur along this spectrum.
Students are encouraged to explore these dimensions of their
selves as they relate to a case presented. This is where the in-
ternal voice is expressed out loud and the language reflects the
position. For example: “I feel the client is unmotivated”, “The
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 23
father is frustrating”, or “I don’t feel I have the energy to help
this client”. It is important to note that these feelings might go
unattended without such an exercise. Even if a student recog-
nizes these reactions in themselves, they might more tend to try
to bury them out of embarrassment or the fear of the judgment
of political correctness. Whatever the reason, left unattended,
they potentially can influence “What I do?” and remain as a
burden in the student’s emotional repertoire.
“What I Believe?”
“What I believe?” is also an integral function of human cog-
nitive process. Beliefs constitute the existential fabric of our
normative social and cultural development and reflect our spi-
ritual and emotional need for answers and guidelines for deal-
ing with the unknown. This is where values are created, devel-
oped and reified. Values, and the beliefs they reflect and per-
petuate, are the developmental markers of family, social and
institutional existence. The complication of acting on one’s be-
liefs is that they are not universal. Typically, they are egocen-
tric and ethnocentric, and their variability can lead to conflict
with other beliefs and values, both in our own selves and in
Beliefs can be seen as primary process thinking that ap-
proach or mimic secondary process thinking in that personal
experience and what one has “learned”, through socialization of
norms and values, totems and taboos, are integrated as issues of
faith that guide one’s attitudes and structure one’s faith about
what is and is not “good” and “true”. Often, because this repre-
sents an operational level above, and is experienced to be a
higher level of integration of “what I feel?”, it is viewed as
“fact” and is acted on as such. However, beliefs represent only
somewhat “higher” levels of thinking than feelings. Generally,
beliefs are constructed as justifications for both feelings and
actions but, as such, are only marginally more thought through
pieces of reflectivity when acted on. A common error is, if I
modify or adjust “what I feel?” with “what I believe?”, I deter-
mine that I have fulfilled the effort to reach some “truth” which
validates actions or a specific behavior. From a post-modern
social constructionist perspective, “truth” is illusive and relative
at best: Beliefs are typically not facts, even if we “believe” they
are. In addition, “what I believe?” is mediated by and is struc-
tured to be congruent with “what I feel?”, which involves the
process of “belief preservation” described earlier. Unraveling
the systemic relationship between feelings and beliefs serves to
confront a major obstacle to critical thinking.
In seminar, students are challenged to move from “what I
feel?” to “what I believe?” and parse them as they relate to the
case presented. They are explicitly instructed that this is a criti-
cal thinking process and are directed to explore contradictions
and resistances, as well as opportunities that might (and often
do) lead to alternative choices for understanding the case. As
this evolves, students continue to articulate their “self-talk” out
loud, and it is generally reflective of this level in the hierarchy
by the language used. For example: “Do you believe Freud was
right?”, “I don’t believe the wife wants counseling”, and, “I feel
like you did the right thing because I believe your hypothesis”.
As students move through this position they are more clearly
able to see how their cognitive positions limit their span of
awareness and scope of possible alternative steps for purposeful
Inquiry at the “what I believe?” level operates within the Cla-
rification, Exploration, and Modification stages of Neuman’s
Affective Learning Taxonomy (Allen & Friedman, 2008), as
well as the affective and cognitive response recognition levels
presented by Gerdes et al. in their method of teaching empathy
(2010). Kurst-Ashman and Hull’s critical thinking model jumps
directly from “Ask questions” to “Assess the established facts”
(2010). This transition underscores a key procedural problem
with critical thinking models as they generally tend to rely on
rational approaches to the processing of information: It is as-
sumed that how students make decisions is purely a rational
process. A cognitive emotional methodology works to bridge a
necessary step between asking questions (and, what questions)
to assessing established facts by parsing feelings, beliefs and
how “facts” are established.
“What I Know?”
As hierarchal and developmental constructs, “what I feel?”
and “what I believe?” represent major systemically related pro-
cesses of formal learning. “What I know?” represents a devel-
opmentally higher cognitive position that attempts to move
from the reactive/subjective to the reflective/objective state of
awareness. However, “what I know?” should by no means be
construed as, or mistaken for, “truth”. Again, what is under-
stood to be a “fact” or “true” can be existentially ambiguous.
“What I know?” is indicated by the pursuit of knowledge and
academic/practical understanding of information that has sub-
stantial objective evidence to be factual. This pursuit reaches
outside of any spectrum of “what I feel?” and “what I believe”
and is an activity that challenges those behaviors and encour-
ages objective competency. Research, practice experience, scien-
tific investigation, and reality testing, are markers of this level
as it involves the search for information from objective sources
that is necessary and sufficient to elucidate and/or explain phe-
Generally, efforts and models that are used to teach critical
thinking skills focus on “what I know?” as emerging from a
rational/objective process, apparently assuming that students
will “get it” sooner or later. Again, it is asserted here that a de-
velopmental model is more conducive to the learning process
and further, that it can be used for evaluating/assessing that pro-
cess through curriculum development and course assignments.
“What I know?” encompasses both the “Assess the established
facts” and “Assert a concluding opinion” stages of Kirst-Ash-
man and Hull’s “Triple A” approach (2010). In addition, as a
systemic methodology, it also integrates the conscious decision
making stage (Gerdes et al., 2010) and the “Choose a path”
stage of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (Hayes & Stro-
sahl, 2004). Because it involves accommodation and internail-
zation, “what I know?” fits into the Modification and Characte-
rization stages of Neuman’s Affective Learning Taxonomy (Al-
len & Friedman, 2008). The student’s self-talk of this cogni-
tive position is reflective of objective and nonpersonal language:
“It can be observed that…”, “Evidence suggests that…”, or,
“The research reflects that…”, are three example verbalized by
students in seminars at this level.
“What I Do?”
“What I do?” refers to any behavior or activity that is the re-
sult of any combination of processes involving operationalizing
the first three steps of the cognitive emotional methodology
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 25
described above. In social work, “what I do?” is consciously
managed behavior. It reflects the Characterization stage of Neu-
man’s Affective Learning Taxonomy (Allen & Friedman, 2008)
as it demonstrates internalization of learning through behavioral
consistency in decision making. It also reflects the “Take ac-
tion” stage of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (Hayes &
Strosahl, 2004) where commitment to the decision making pro-
cess is actualized through following a course of relevant action.
It is at this level of operation that students formulate and act
on a plan of action that results in some form of intervening
helping activity. It is the salient action that connects critical
thinking to practice. Retrospectively, students experience this
as having been the result of a journey, which, in fact, if the me-
thodology is used correctly, it has been. Students will reflect on
how their feelings and beliefs have changed in coming to what
they think and do. Ultimately, “what I do?” becomes the result
of “what I know? ”, but “what I know?” is achieved only by pro-
cessing the “what I feel?” and “what I believe?” cognitive posi-
tions. This is the cognitive emotional process of critical think-
ing and the methodology presented appears to enable its opera-
This brief essay has intended to provide an elucidation of a
cognitive emotional methodology for critical thinking. The me-
thodology is in its formative stages, and refinement of the con-
structs and their application to teaching is currently being re-
searched. Although this methodology can be applied to other
settings, this presentation is unfolded in the context of profes-
sional social work education, where the methodology was first
conceptualized and implemented. The issue is germane to so-
cial work education because students are challenged to ap-
proach and intervene in complex human problems reflectively,
with mindful understanding of the meaning and consequences
of purposeful interaction of self and other in a holistic context.
The real welfare of real people is at stake, and the capacity for
effective critical thinking is a necessary professional require-
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