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Peer interaction and the learning of critical thinking skills in further education students

Howe, Christine and Anderson, A. and Soden, R. and Halliday, J. and Low, J. (2001) Peer interaction and the learning of critical thinking skills in further education students. Instructional Science, 29 (1). pp. 1-32. ISSN 0020-4277

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A teaching programme is reported in which critical thinking skills (in the sense of reasoned justification of arguments; see Kuhn, 1991, 1993) were taught. The principal aims of the study were to develop, implement and evaluate a programme for teaching evidence-based justification to vocational education students in Further Education colleges. Teaching was via modelling and peer-based critiquing exercises in the context of the students'' project work. Eighty-four Further Education college students underwent a 10-session teaching intervention which dovetailed with their Additional Assessment integrative project work. Students took part in peer-based exercises in which they learned to critique imaginary examples of project outlines and plans, followed by similar peer-based critiquing of each others' proposed projects. Analysis of the students' dialogues with each other indicated that they had learned the importance of justifying arguments, and content analysis of their written work indicated that they engaged in justification of their arguments to a significantly greater degree than control groups. Several key variables in the dialogues correlated positively with justification in the written work, suggesting that the dialogue had impacted on the written work. However, justification tended to be of a weak kind (using anecdotes or experience-based generalisations), and strong (i.e. formal research-based) evidence remained relatively infrequent and sometimes inappropriately used. A psychometric test of general critical thinking skills showed no evidence of transfer of learning.