Results of the Critical Thinking Research
Holt and her colleagues began their discussion with the results of the pre- and post-quizzes. On the pre-quiz, students scored 1.7 out of 9. On the post-quiz the score improved to 2.6. The researchers acknowledge the scores are very low and can be discouraging, but they are not interested only in the raw accuracy scores. They are interested in how much students improved (52%) and how they developed critical thinking skills.
The evaluation of individual classes and instructors also lead to a variety of scores. The researchers calculated a mean learning objective Bloom score of 2.5 on a scale of 1 to 6. The mean assessment Bloom score was 2.0, also on the 1 to 6 scale. With these scores, Holt and her colleagues calculated the alignment of individual classrooms. Ten of the classrooms in the study were aligned, and five were misaligned.
Finally, Holt and her colleagues calculated the student-centeredness of the course using the Reformed Teaching Observation Protocol (RTOP) scale. Mean scores ranged between 30.2 and 54.4, and the average mean was 38.2, which is a category II. There are five categories in the RTOP scale. Category V is fully learner-centered and Category I is fully teacher-centered. Category II, where most of the classrooms in the study fell, is described as “teacher-centered lecture shifting toward learner-centered classroom with student involvement.”
Conclusions on Teaching Critical Thinking in the Classroom
Holt and her colleagues reached four conclusions from their analysis of the data.
Conclusion 1: Skills improve after instruction. They found this was true across all the course sections, so the type of instruction does not determine improvement. Instruction itself is enough to result in improvement.
Conclusion 2: Assessments are not a clear answer for improving students’ critical thinking skills. Holt and her colleagues found that assessments in the classes did not have the positive impact that they hypothesized. They speculate that this could be because in large introductory science classes, the assessment methods are multiple choice tests. These tests are summative, rather than formative. They naturally lend themselves to lower-order cognitive skills, like recalling, and they do not require or allow for detailed feedback.
In their study, assessment didn’t show a large impact on improving students’ critical thinking skills. But Holt and her colleagues suggest that with improved assessments, there could be more of an impact.
Conclusion 3: Alignment may not matter. Remember that Holt and her colleagues were defining alignment as matching learning outcomes and assessments. The results of the study show that a stronger alignment may not have much impact on students’ critical thinking skills. This may be because the student is not aware of the learning outcomes.
Conclusion 4: Student-centered teaching is the most important strategy. Holt and her colleagues found that the most improvement in critical thinking skills could be attributed to instruction that focused on the student, modeled critical thinking, and used critical thinking activities to build skills. They report that student-centered teaching is crucial for developing critical thinking skills.
Recommendations for Instructors
Holt and her colleagues finish their discussion of their study with several recommendations for instructors. They recommend faculty focus first on in-class student-centered instruction. That is the strategy that showed the most gains in developing critical thinking skills. In order to improve student-centered instruction, Holt et al recommend that faculty development sessions focus on training in how to modify a classroom to be student-centered.
Although they acknowledge that assessment and alignment did not lead to the strongest improvement in student skills, they still encourage instructors to use those tools as a method for developing critical thinking skills.
With assessment, Holt and her colleagues encourage instructors to incorporate high Bloom’s taxonomy levels as well as low Bloom’s taxonomy levels. This will also require faculty development and training, especially when designing a test for a large course section.
In addition to the level of cognitive skills required by the questions on the assessment, Holt and her colleagues recommend that instructors provide more feedback to students. This allows students to think about their thinking and learning, and encourages them to move to higher-order cognitive skills.
Finally, Holt and her colleagues recommend that faculty have training and assistance to plan and write curricula. This will improve the alignment within individual courses as instructors plan their learning outcomes and arrange their in-class activities and assessments to complement each other.