Instructional Interventions Affecting Critical Thinking Skills and Dispositions: A Stage 1 Meta-Analysis

Dec. 28, 2008

Source: Review of Educational Research. Vol. 78, Iss. 4; pg. 1102-1134. Dec 2008.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

Critical thinking (CT), or the ability to engage in purposeful, self-regulatory judgment, is widely recognized as an important, even essential, skill. This article describes an ongoing meta-analysis that summarizes the available empirical evidence on the impact of instruction on the development and enhancement of critical thinking skills and dispositions.

Goals of This Systematic Review

The core research question is: What instructional interventions have an effect on the development and effective use of CT skills and dispositions, and to what extent, and under what circumstances?
The objectives are as follows: First, the authors will summarize the evidence on the impact of instruction on CT.
Second, they will examine how certain methodological aspects of individual studies (such as research design, type of CT measure, and the method of the effect size extraction) moderate the magnitude of this impact.
Third, the role of several substantive study features will be analyzed. In particular, the authors want to know how different types of instructional interventions affect CT skills, what impact pedagogical background (e.g., instructor training) has, and how calculated effect sizes vary with age and educational level and whether collaborative work was part of the treatment.

The authors found 117 studies based on 20,698 participants, which yielded 161 effects with an average effect size (g+) of 0.341 and a standard deviation of 0.610. The distribution was highly heterogeneous (Qт = 1,767.86, p < .001). The data suggest a generally positive effect of instruction on students' CT skills. There was, however, little variation due to research design, so the authors neither separated studies according to their methodological quality nor used any statistical adjustment for the corresponding effect sizes. Type of CT intervention and pedagogical grounding were substantially related to fluctuations in CT effects sizes. Together, these two instructional variables explained 32% of the variance in effect sizes, meaning that improved CT skills and dispositions are associated with how CT instruction is provided.
As important as the development of CT skills is considered to be, educators must take steps to make CT objectives explicit in courses and also to include them in both preservice and in-service training and faculty development.

Updated: Mar. 05, 2009