Teaching Critical Thinking Skills to Psychology Students: A Novel Method and Case Example

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The development of critical thinking (CT) is a widely-assumed learning goal in undergraduate and graduate programs in psychology (Bensley, 1998; Halpern, 1998, 2003). Across a range of psychological disciplines, CT is typically approached from the perspective of analytic reasoning and the scientific method (Yanchar et al., 2008), with attention paid to the logical analysis of data, hypothesis support or refutation, and inference-making. Despite this emphasis on CT, there seems to be a gap between students’ descriptive understanding of research methodology (declarative knowledge) and their capacity to implement what they have learned in order to critically appraise a psychology literature (procedural knowledge). In this talk, the co-authors present a novel paper assignment formulated by the second author (J.T.) that is designed to support students’ ability to critically evaluate a research literature in psychology. This assignment serves as the final term-paper for a foundational course in the curriculum of a doctoral program (Psy.D.) in clinical psychology. Inspired by the “60 Minutes” television program, the paper asks students to (1) identify a consensus viewpoint or trend in the research literature relating to adult psychopathology, and (2) provide a cogent appraisal of available research evidence to ascertain if the consensus viewpoint is supported or refuted. The central component of the paper is the creation of 6 evaluative criteria with which studies are reviewed; these criteria are required to be descriptive (e.g., sample characteristics) and appraising (e.g., Is depression assessed both before and after treatment intervention?) in their orientation.

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  • Across a range of psychological disciplines, CT is typically approached from the perspective of analytic reasoning and the scientific method, with attention paid to hypothesis generation, experimental research design, analysis of data, hypothesis support or refutation, and inference-making.
  • As with most constructs, there is no single, broadly accepted definition of critical thinking.
  • CT can involve argument analysis, solving problems, and making decisions
  • Intelligence is not the same thing as CT ability
  • A unique characteristic of CT is the ability to challenge your own thinking and see things from another perspective.
  • CT involves challenging established systems, as nothing is perfect.
  • CT involves being aware of oneself, others, and their interactions (similar to the introject in psychoanalytic theory)
  • Lastly, CT involves willingness to assess claims and make objective judgments.
  • Usually, people won’t change their beliefs unless they are provided with a new belief that is more compelling.
  • Conclusions should not be made until enough literature and data have been evaluated because those conclusions can change.
  • Students must be willing to, not necessarily change, but at least challenge their existing beliefs and understand the reasons behind those beliefs.
  • Another barrier is the lack of previous instruction and materials for teaching CT
  • Several teaching methods have been described in the literature.
  • For instance, the use of CT exercises such as metacognition, media projects, and discussions
  • There are 8 activities that promote CT including asking questions, using clear definitions, examining evidence, avoiding emotional reasoning, and tolerating uncertainty
  • Another CT exercise involves observing and analyzing the reasoning style of another person.
  • Teaching Critical Thinking Skills to Psychology Students: A Novel Method and Case Example

    1. 1. The Western Psychological Association Annual Convention April 25, 2014 Teaching Critical Thinking Skills to Graduate Students in Clinical Psychology: A Novel Method and Case Example James Tobin, Ph.D. and Anya Oleynik
    2. 2. Part I: Introduction 2
    3. 3. I. Introduction • The development of critical thinking (CT) is a ubiquitous learning goal in undergraduate and graduate programs in psychology. 3
    4. 4. I. Introduction 4
    5. 5. I. Introduction • There exists a gap between students’ understanding of research methodology and their capacity to think critically across a wide range of dimensions (e.g., appraising a literature, evaluating theory, etc.). 5
    6. 6. I. Introduction • If students are unable to think critically (and not socialized to challenge preconceived notions and consensus perspectives), successive generations of psychologists may be ill-equipped to contribute to the development of new knowledge. 6
    7. 7. I. Introduction • The development of CT skills is especially important in graduate programs in clinical psychology. • The research-practitioner pedagogical model emphasizes the synthesis of research, theory and clinical intervention; professional psychologists must be “informed consumers” of the research literature. 7
    8. 8. I. Introduction • Standard training in clinical psychology emphasizes evidence-based practices, which may lead to a regimented, one-size-fits-all approach in clinical practice. • An attitude of intellectual skepticism may not be encouraged in this environment. 8
    9. 9. I. Introduction • In this talk, we present a novel teaching assignment formulated by the first author (J.T.) designed to help students critically evaluate a research literature in psychology and draw their own conclusions. • In response to the assignment, the paper written by the second author (A.O.) is exemplary and evidences sophisticated CT skills; this paper will be distributed and discussed. 9
    10. 10. Part II: Summary of the Predominant Views of Critical Thinking 10
    11. 11. Predominant Views of CT • Definitions of CT tend to be abstract and wide- ranging, rather than definitive and specific. 11
    12. 12. II. Predominant Views of CT • According to Halpern (1999), “critical thinking can be taught as argument analysis (see, for example, Kahane, 1997), problem solving (Mayer, 1992), decision making (Dawes, 1988), or cognitive process (Rabinowitz, 1993)” (p. 70). 12
    13. 13. II. Predominant Views of CT • Niu et al. (2013) suggest that “critical thinking has been described as an attitude, a logical process, purposeful reflection and a developmental process” (p. 115). • Although many people equate CT ability with high intelligence, evidence suggests that, although often correlated, the two are not synonymous (Niu et al., 2013). 13
    14. 14. II. Predominant Views of CT • CT “requires the application of assumptions, knowledge, competence, and the ability to challenge one’s own thinking. Critical thinking skills require self- correction, monitoring the reasonableness of thinking, and reflexivity” (Niu et al., 2013, p. 115). 14
    15. 15. II. Predominant Views of CT • Kirschner (2011) states that each type of CT “evinces a tacit expectation that there might be a gap between the way something is… and the way it should be” (p. 174), and the use of a critical thinker’s insights may diminish this gap. 15
    16. 16. II. Predominant Views of CT • Price (2004) defines CT as “the process by which subjects become more aware of their own positions, others’ positions, and the ways those positions are shaped by discourses” (p. vi). 16
    17. 17. II. Predominant Views of CT • Wade and Tavris (1987) define CT as “the ability and willingness to assess claims and make objective judgments on the basis of well-supported reasons" (p. 308-309). 17
    18. 18. Part III: The Teaching of CT 18
    19. 19. III. The Teaching of CT • According to Kirschner (2011), the topic of critical thinking “is a perennial focus of the APA’s Board of Educational Affairs” (p. 174). • The APA’s guidelines on CT suggest that psychology instructors train students to use the scientific approach whenever possible to find answers to questions, as well as encourage creativity and skeptical inquiry (Kirschner, 2011). 19
    20. 20. III. The Teaching of CT • Jakoubek (1995) states that, in order for students to become critical thinkers, “they must learn to distinguish between assertions, evidence, and theoretical explanations” (p. 57). 20
    21. 21. III. The Teaching of CT • Kirschner (2011) describes the teaching of CT as helping students discern what is wrong, incomplete, limited, distorted, etc. from “what is correct, excellent, or pleasing, along with fostering of the capacity to pinpoint and explain what makes it so” (p. 174). 21
    22. 22. III. The Teaching of CT • Similarly, Halpern (2001) emphasizes the need to help students learn how to evaluate the quality of information and analyze arguments for the soundness of conclusions. 22
    23. 23. Part IV: Barriers to Promoting CT 23
    24. 24. IV. Barriers to Promoting CT • Douglas (2000) defines CT as reflective thinking in “deciding what to believe and do” (p. 130), and views people’s stubbornness toward accepting new information as barriers to CT. • According to Douglas (2000), people “have difficulty not believing something unless they are given something else to believe” (p. 140). 24
    25. 25. IV. Barriers to Promoting CT • Douglas (2000) asserts, “the tendency to believe everything comprehended makes it important to teach students to expend the effort to reject propositions until ample evidence is gathered” (p. 140). 25
    26. 26. IV. Barriers to Promoting CT • According to Douglas (2000), unless educators take belief perseverance into consideration and students are willing to challenge their existing beliefs, it may be impossible for educators to teach students to think critically. 26
    27. 27. IV. Barriers to Promoting CT • McKee (2006) explains that it is difficult for instructors to teach CT when they have not had instruction in CT in their own education and when textbooks are organized in such a way to provide factual content rather than stimulate CT. 27
    28. 28. Part V: Sample Teaching Methods 28
    29. 29. V. Sample Teaching Methods • McKee (2006) describes several critical thinking exercises, including: –Metacognition (i.e., thinking about thinking) –Media projects (i.e., applying/relating knowledge to current events) –Group discussions and individual problem- solving 29
    30. 30. V. Sample Teaching Methods • Wade (1995) describes the following eight activities that students must do to become critical thinkers: “(a) ask questions and be willing to wonder, (b) define problems clearly, (c) examine evidence, (d) analyze assumptions and biases, (e) avoid emotional reasoning, (f) avoid oversimplification, (g) consider alternative interpretations, and (h) tolerate uncertainty” (p. 25). 30
    31. 31. V. Sample Teaching Methods • Galotti (1995) describes an exercise in which students observe/describe the reasoning style of another classmate on four tasks and determine the number of distinct types of reasoning they have observed, with the goal “to elicit from students a degree of critical thinking and creativity as they develop their own models and conclusions” (p. 66). 31
    32. 32. Part VI: Term Paper Assignment and Student Exemplar 32
    33. 33. VI. Term Paper Assignment and Student Exemplar • A term paper assignment was developed for a first-year foundational course in the curriculum of a Psy.D. Program in Clinical Psychology. 33
    34. 34. VI. Term Paper Assignment and Student Exemplar • Your task is to write a 10-page, typed, double-spaced paper that: (1) identifies a consensus viewpoint or trend in the research literature (on any topic relevant in adult psychopathology); and (2) offers a cogent commentary on, and appraisal of, the consensus viewpoint or trend. 34
    35. 35. VI. Term Paper Assignment and Student Exemplar • One way to think about this paper is to imagine that you are a writer for the “60 Minutes” TV show pitching new story ideas to your producer. 35
    36. 36. VI. Term Paper Assignment and Student Exemplar • Your job is to pitch an idea that is interesting, provocative and attention-catching. • The pitch must contain a common belief/assumption/consensus view that you then suggest will be evaluated scientifically .... with the conclusions being quite surprising (i.e., the belief will be refuted, qualified, or proven to be more true than was previously assumed). 36
    37. 37. VI. Term Paper Assignment and Student Exemplar • For example, online dating is very popular and the most successful way new relationships begin – relying on compatibility as the basis for good relationships. However, a closer scientific look at the nature of online dating, the relationships evolving from meeting online, how long these relationships are maintained, etc. etc. may surprise you ..... 37
    38. 38. VI. Term Paper Assignment and Student Exemplar • The central component of this exercise is the creation of 6 evaluative criteria with which you will review studies you have selected. • Three criteria must be descriptive (e.g., sample characteristics) and three must be appraising (e.g., Is depression assessed both before and after treatment intervention?) in their orientation. 38
    39. 39. VI. Term Paper Assignment and Student Exemplar Anya’s Paper 39
    40. 40. Part VII: Conclusion 40
    41. 41. VII. Conclusion • McKee (2006, p. 27) observes that “little evidence exists to indicate that students leave undergraduate-level psychology courses with scientific reasoning skills ... (Best, 1982; Greenhoot et al., 2004; Lillienfeld, 2005; McCutcheon, Furnham, & Davis, 1993; Shermer, 2002).” 41
    42. 42. VII. Conclusion • It is our hope that the paper assignment we showcased provides a useful structured exercise to support the development of CT skills among students. • Applicable for educators across a range of disciplines in psychology who consistently struggle with the challenge of enhancing students’ CT and writing skills. 42
    43. 43. References Douglas, N. L. (2000). Enemies of critical thinking: Lessons from social psychology research. Reading Psychology, 21, 129-144. Galotti, K. M. (1995). Reasoning about reasoning: a course project. Teaching of Psychology, 22, 66-68. Halpern, D. F. (1999). Teaching for critical thinking: Helping college students develop the skills and dispositions of a critical thinker. New directions for teaching and learning, 1999, 69-74. Halpern, D. F. (2001). Critical thinking, the cognitive psychology of. In N. J. Smelser & P. B. Baltes (Eds.), International encyclopedia of the social and behavioral sciences. Amsterdam: Pergamon. 43
    44. 44. References Jakoubek, J. (1995). Developing Critical-Thinking Skills in Psychology Content Courses. Teaching of Psychology, 22, 57- 59. Kirschner, S. R. (2011). Critical thinking and the end(s) of psychology. Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology, 31, 173-183. McKee, M. L. (2006). Overcoming obstacles in teaching college students how to think critically: The effects of an instructional intervention. (Order No. 3222188, The University of Kansas). ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 1-136. Niu, L., Behar-Horenstein, L. S., & Garvan, C. W. (2013). Do instructional interventions influence college students’ critical thinking skills? A meta-analysis. Educational Research Review, 9, 114-128. 44
    45. 45. References Price, M. (2004). Writing from normal: Critical thinking and disability in the classroom. ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 0-203. Wade, C. (1995). Using Writing to Develop and Assess Critical Thinking. Teaching of Psychology, 22, 24-28. Wade, C., & Tavris, C. (1987). Psychology (1st ed.). New York: Harper & Row. Yanchar, S. C., & Slife, B. D. (2004). Teaching critical thinking by examining assumptions. Teaching of Psychology, 31, 85-90. 45
    46. 46. James Tobin, Ph.D. Licensed Psychologist PSY 22074 220 Newport Center Drive, Suite 1 Newport Beach, CA 92660 Assistant Professor of Clinical Psychology The American School of Professional Psychology at Argosy University | Southern California Orange, CA 92868 Email: jt@jamestobinphd.com Website: www.jamestobinphd.com Phone: 949-338-4388
    47. 47. Anya Oleynik Clinical Psychology Psy.D. Student The American School of Professional Psychology at Argosy University | Southern California Orange, CA 92868 Email: anyaoleynik@stu.argosy.edu

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