How can critical thinking best be developed in adolescents through a dialogic classroom approach?

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Maas, Francine
Issue Date
Educational Level
ISCED Level 2 Lower secondary education
Geographical Setting
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Background and purpose: The rationale for this investigation came from observing student interaction. Students showed reluctance to think and reason independently, to share ideas respectfully, and responses were often combative. This inquiry sought to challenge students to listen and engage respectfully and intelligently, as well as improving their critical thinking skills.

Aims: The inquiry focus was the development of critical thinking skills through dialogic talk around a range of topics, encouraging students to articulate their viewpoints using reasoning and credible evidence, and to listen, engage and respectfully challenge the ideas of their peers.

Study design or methodology: This project used a practitioner inquiry approach, involving five students (3 girls; 2 boys) aged 12-13. The institution was my place of work and sessions occurred during normal scheduled lessons. Dialogic Talk occurred weekly for six weeks, with all sessions video recorded. Data was transcribed and coded for analysis. Following the inquiry I created a Scheme of Work, Lesson Plan and Evaluation guide for teaching a 6- session module on Dialogic and Critical Thinking.

Findings: Inquiry data proved too limited to show conclusive quantifiable change in critical thinking skills. Individual students did, however, display “breakthrough” moments of understanding or offer quality reasoning. Students’ discussions retained much of their disputational character, and while students seemed to make some gains in quality of the dialogue over time, this tended to be incidental and random.

Conclusions, originality, value and implications: Students seemed to enjoy being challenged with real-world issues, and contribute their own perspectives. I felt they appreciated the opportunity to think independently and have opinions. While the project’s scope meant its impact was limited, the individual changes observed in students offered hope that the program could have lasting impact if applied consistently. The inquiry has inspired me to add a dialogic element to my teaching practice.
Keywords (free text)
dialogue , critical thinking , reasoning , Steiner schooling , higher order thinking
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