Effective group work boosts critical thinking

A new article in the International Journal of Educational Research explores the use of a number of effective group work strategies, informed by the UK-based SPRinG project, and whether these strategies can facilitate students’ learning of critical thinking. The author concludes that they can.

The intervention was trialled with more than 200 children age 11-12 in General Studies lessons in two Hong Kong schools, both with little experience of conducting group work in classrooms. In each school, three classes were randomly chosen from five classes. One (class A) acted as a control group, using a mainly “whole-class teaching approach” (WCTA, N = 69), and classes B and C constituted the experimental group, with one adopting “group work with no specific strategies” (GWNS, N = 68), and the other “group work with effective strategies” (GWES, N = 68).

The strategies developed in the SPRinG project (particularly those for primary school) were employed in the GWES subgroups. This included students attending workshops in which they were taught how to ask questions, take turns, propose ideas, and give explanations; teachers being consistently reminded to provide their classes with regular briefing and debriefing; teachers being encouraged to provide hints and direction but not steer or dominate discussions; and, physically, the tables in the GWES condition were movable, allowing students to form groups relatively quickly and quietly. Group work activities included peer critiquing, collaborative graffiti, and group discussions. Ten interventional sessions took place over approximately five months.

Data collection comprised pre- and post-test scores obtained from the California Critical Thinking Disposition Inventory and the Test of Critical Thinking Skills for Primary and Secondary School Students, the graffiti sheets submitted by the group work children in the intervention, and in-depth interviews with the four experimental teachers. The author concluded that the intervention was effective, and the strategies developed in the SPRinG project made a substantial difference both to students’ group work and their critical thinking abilities.

Source: Promoting Critical Thinking Through Effective Group Work: A Teaching Intervention for Hong Kong Primary School Students (2014), International Journal of Educational Research, 66.

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