Date of Award

5-2004

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

Education

Major Professor

Katherine H. Greenberg

Committee Members

Ralph G. Brockett, Kathleen L. Davis, Schuyler W. Huck

Abstract

Critical thinking has received much attention in the literature in recent years. Although there is no universally accepted operational definition of critical thinking, there is agreement that it can be improved through various means of instruction. The purpose of this study was to explore the effectiveness of a modified, condensed version of the Cognitive Enrichment Advantage (CEA) approach and the Scaffolding approach in enhancing critical thinking skills in first-year university freshman.

A modified pre-test/post-test comparison group design was employed in this study. Participants were students enrolled in a freshman seminar course for first-year freshman in a merit-based scholarship program for African American students. The first phase, the Pre-Intervention Phase, included the first of three critical thinking assessment administration sessions to obtain baseline data of all participants’ critical thinking ability. This phase also included a two-week period of direct instruction of critical thinking knowledge to all participants. After the pre-intervention phase, matched pairs were randomly assigned to the CEA group and the Scaffolding group, based on scores from the Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal (W-GCTA) obtained during the second assessment administration session.

The Intervention Phase included five weekly, 40-minute teaching sessions for both groups. During the intervention period, both groups completed practice worksheets, providing a step-by-step expert strategy for critical thinking. In the Scaffolding intervention, participants also received pre-determined verbal prompts and cues to support their critical thinking. In the modified CEA intervention, participants were encouraged to create their own personal strategies, based on the metastrategic knowledge (Building Blocks of Thinking & Tools of Learning) introduced during each session. Participants were also encouraged to provide both self-evaluation and evaluation on the contributions of their colleagues. Finally, in the modified CEA intervention, participants developed decontextualized principles for using the Building Blocks and Tools in other settings, encouraging transfer of learning. The Post-Intervention Phase included the final assessment administration session.

Results indicate no significant change in critical thinking performance in the CEA group, based on both assessment tools. Results, based on the critical thinking performance assessments, indicated no significant change in the Scaffolding group; however, results, based on the W-GCTA, indicated a significant decrease in critical thinking performance in the Scaffolding group. It was concluded that the modified CEA intervention supported the retention of the participants’ critical thinking skills and facilitated learning transfer, while the Scaffolding intervention did not positively influence the participants’ critical thinking skills. Recommendations for future research and issues related to conducting intervention research are offered.

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