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There are effective strategies for thinking critical thinking

A guest post by Peter A Facione, Measured Reasons LLC.

“How can we develop critical thinking in... ?”

This is a question I hear a lot from business leaders, military personnel, and educators.  The good news: We know how to improve critical thinking.  And, we can measure the gains.

To learn what works, Philip Abrami and colleagues reviewed 341 publications documenting experimental and quasi-experimental studies using standardized measures of critical thinking.  If you want to see the research yourself, check out “Strategies for Teaching Students to Think Critically: A Meta-Analysis,” Abrami, P. et. al, Review of Educational Research, June 2015, Vol. 85, No. 2, pp. 275–314.

What did Abrami’s team conclude?  He and his colleagues found that

“there are effective strategies for teaching critical thinking at all educational levels and across all disciplinary areas.  Notably, the opportunity for dialogue, exposure to authentic or situated problems and examples, and mentoring had positive effects on critical thinking skills.” 

This means that the organization itself, including the trainers, mid-level managers, and top-level leaders, need to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.  The organizational culture must encourage the kinds of “why” questions that require managers, employees, and leaders to explain their reasons and state their evidence, not spout rote answers.  

The magic here is in the doing. 

An organization does not need to spend millions and millions of dollars on glitzy technology. The organization needs, instead, to infuse some critical thinking into account in hiring, it needs to train its people to use some easily applied critical thinking development techniques in its educational programs and, just as important, it needs to infuse thoughtful critical thinking questions and practices into its deliberative processes. 

Yes, critical thinking is reflective.  Yes, it takes time for an individual or a group to think well about a problem or a decision.  Shooting from the hip is not critical thinking.  Going with our gut is not critical thinking.  Bluff and bluster are not critical thinking strategies.  For many years I worked with combat veteran senior enlisted Special Ops E9 personnel.  We quickly recognized the important difference between “excellent training to react instinctively in a fire fight” and “critical thinking for when there was time to problem-solve and plan.” Both are vital. Repeat, both.

Critical thinking cannot substitute for knowledge.  It cannot substitute for the expertise developed by years of thoughtful practice. To diagnose situations well and to figure out what course of action is best, experts at the top of their game use all three:  knowledge, thoughtful practice, and, critical thinking.   

To learn more download “Critical Thinking: What It Is and Why It Counts.”

The go to organization for tools to develop and to assess critical thinking is Insight Assessment .

Dr. Peter A. Facione, Ph.D. is a leading figure in the quest to demonstrate empirically that a consensus understanding of critical thinking could be attained and that the core cognitive skills and centrally important dispositional habits of mind of critical thinking could be learned, taught, and assessed.  Dr. Peter A  (Pete) Facione is a Senior Researcher at Insight Assessment and  a principal at Measured Reasons LLC , a Los Angeles based research and consulting firm supporting excellence in strategic thinking and leadership decision making.

Images from Insight Assessment Group Reports

Strong critical thinking predicts academic and professional success

Insight Assessment critical thinking test instruments are used globally to objectively identify the student applicants who have the strongest critical thinking skills and the desire to apply those skills.  Many clients use this reliable and nationally benchmarked assessment data as an essential component in their admissions process.

Here are some of the frequently asked questions about the value of incorporating the assessment of critical thinking in the admissions.

Why consider candidate critical thinking as part of the admissions process?

Whatever else is being considered, admitting people who are both willing and able to think is an important element in developing and sustaining a high-quality admission process.

If candidates do not demonstrate sufficient reasoning skills strength or the positive internal motivation and drive to make a success of themselves, then they are much less likely to succeed academically.  A high-quality admissions process which consistently yields a strong and successful cadre of new students is vitally important when programs are over-subscribed.

Admissions decisions are scrutinized when retention rates and graduation rates are being carefully tracked, when the consequences of admitting underprepared applicants can have a negative impact on other students, on the morale of the faculty and staff, or on the overall reputation of the program.  Critical thinking admissions data can be used to document the overall success of the program as well as specific applicants. Multitask with the right admissions tools

What metrics are the most important for admissions?

Different programs will find different metrics of value, but in general, on the skills dimensions the OVERALL reasoning skills score is an excellent marker of the applicant’s strength. To score well overall, the applicant must excel in the sustained, focused and integrated application of the core thinking skills, including analysis, interpretation, inference, evaluation, explanation, induction and deduction.

The OVERALL score is the best predictor of the capacity for success in educational or workplace settings which demand reasoned decision making and thoughtful problem solving.  Looking at specific skill metrics makes sense for programs that have specialized academic learning demands.  For example, STEM programs and programs that demand strengths in quantitative reasoning will probably focus on the Numeracy Score along with the OVERALL score.

The mindset metrics that are most interesting for transfer student and non-traditional or returning adult admissions purposes include the Motivation to Learn, the Drive to Succeed, and Resilience as assessed on the College Success Mindset.  For graduate professional schools using the CCTDI, metrics like Truth-Seeking, Foresight, and Maturity of Judgment are considered important. 

What score is the most useful – the numerical score, the qualitative evaluation, or the percentile?

Insight Assessment test instruments report at least two scores for every metric:  numerical and qualitative. Highly competitive programs may wish to establish a numerical cut score as a threshold for consideration for admissions.  Other programs may wish to identify a qualitative level, e.g. “strong” or “positive” which all admitted students should have achieved.  Clients are able to decide which score option is most relevant to their program goals.

Percentile scores are associated only with the OVERALL skills score.  Percentiles are benchmark comparisons. The client organization determines which comparison group percentiles to be associated with the OVERALL score.  For instance, a professional school of nursing may select the Health Sciences Reasoning Test as its admissions test.  The school can decide whether it wants to use graduate student percentiles, four-year undergraduate student percentiles, or two-year associate degree level student percentiles. That decision depends on the level of the program for which applicants are being evaluated.  Percentiles, Norms and Comparison Groups

See specific  assessments for the metrics they measure and the comparison percentiles that are available

Can a program use its admission data for other purposes?

Yes, absolutely.  Admissions data can be thought of as pretest data. As such, those data can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of curricular innovations or to describe the entering class or cohort of students to interested stakeholders.   Data is also frequently used in cross-sectional or longitudinal studies of program effectiveness or in accreditation self-study reports.  Why link assessment, admissions and accreditation

Since the data can be downloaded in an Excel spreadsheet, it is relatively easy to integrate information about the critical thinking skills and learning mindset attributes of large groups of students with other institutional data or uploaded into research quality software programs such as SPSS or Minitab.

What can be included in the custom demographic questions?

The Insight Assessment online testing system enables clients to add as many as ten of their own custom demographic questions .  The responses to those questions are included in the downloadable Excel spreadsheet available at any time to the program’s test administrator.

Some undergraduate student admissions clients ask about prior work experience, some inquire about the applicant’s age, or which languages the applicant speaks.  At the graduate level some clients include questions about the applicant’s undergraduate major, which sub-specialty the applicant may be interested in pursuing, or whether the applicant intends to enroll full time or part time. 

Our experienced staff can assist with the wording of demographic questions, but the questions themselves depend on the information that the client believes to be relevant for purposes of informing itself about its applicants individually or as a group.  Two formats are available – open text or pull-down menu.  The pull-down menu format is by far the most widely used because it enables easily quantifying the proportionate number who select each response. 

How are the individual and the group reports used in admissions?

The individual report details an applicant’s scores on each reasoning skill or each mindset attribute assessed. Thus, the individual report gives the best overall picture of that applicant’s different strengths or areas that may need further development. Because the individual report focuses on only one applicant, it can be a useful document for individualized conversations with the applicant or advisor meetings with the newly admitted student.

The group report includes tables and charts that give useful information about the entire admissions pool, or about sub-sets of that pool.  Because the data can be aggregated or disaggregated by any of the demographic factors, group reports can be generated in a matter of minutes by programs interested in comparing sub-groups of applicants.  Tables of descriptive statistics and colorful bar charts give an accurate and complete picture of how a group of applicants performed on each metric.   Group reports covering multiple applicant cohorts supply information that can reveal multi-year trends in the quality of the applicant pool.

Contact us today to discuss how critical thinking data can support your admissions program.

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