FOCUS GROUPS for SPRING 04
CRITICAL THINKING ASSIGNMENT
To make students’ critical thinking processes visible by evoking and observing
oral student responses to each step of the Critical Thinking Assignment.
To experiment with providing instructional support for the process assigned.
Students in two English 102 classes will complete the assignment embedded as a class
activity. These students have been selected because they provide a varied group of mid-
level CCC students. There are 27 students in each class. One class will work on the
“Lakes” form, the other on the “Accidents” form. As incentives, participants will receive
class credit for their work and also a free cafeteria meal.
Administration of Assignment (early March)
Before the day of the assignment, the classes will discuss the CT rubric and the purpose
of the project. Students will take the “Given” materials home to review.
On the day of the session, each teacher will spend 15 minutes discussing expectations:
read aloud the instructions for the assignment and elicit student questions
answer questions on process and vocabulary, but not on content or interpretations
read through 4 steps (A-D) asking students what they need to do in each case and
how they will do it, showing how each step is related to the rubric
answer process questions and give examples related to ongoing work for the class,
but no examples from the CT givens.
Students will then have half an hour to write the assignment.
At the end of the writing period, teachers will collect papers and lead a 15-minute
discussion of students’ responses, including such questions as:
1. What were your experiences with each or the four steps? How would you describe
the difficulty of each step? Did the four steps fit the way that you solved the
2. How would you describe your interest level throughout the project?
3. What did you learn from the project?
4. What other tasks does this remind you of?
5. What is your definition of critical thinking? Did this exercise draw on your critical
thinking skills? Why or why not?
The classes will meet in the Media Services studio and will be videotaped.
A college staff person will serve as naturalistic observer, taking notes on student
responses at each stage.
Follow up (Late April)
After the class has returned to several weeks of work on the normal syllabus, in the
presence of the naturalistic observer and an audiotape recorder, teachers will devote 10-
15 minutes of follow-up discussion, prompted by these questions:
1. Can you think of a specific example when you feel you needed to use critical
thinking in a class you have taken at CCC?
2. Recall the steps that we asked you to use in the critical thinking exercise:
A. identify key facts and details
B. show the relationships among these facts and details
C. propose a conclusion/hypothesis
D. list and explain the implications of your work.
Reflecting on your experiences, were you comfortable using this process to
complete the exercise? Was anything difficult or confusing? Did you have
enough time to complete each step? What could we do to improve the exercise?
3. Have you come to any new awarerness about critical thinking since you did this
exercise? Do you think critical thinking skills are important to your life and
future? Why or why not?
Interpretation of Results
Qualitative analysis will focus on identifying student attitudes toward critical thinking
and weighing student difficulty with aspects of the assignment. To this end, the
naturalistic reports will be culled for common themes and then checked against the
videotape for further development.
Quantitative analysis will focus on identifying the influence of teacher and peer support
in critical thinking. To this end, scores from 20 focus group samples will be compared
with scores from 20 samples generated by the regular CT assignment. The 40 samples
will be selected for parallels in academic history including placement test scores, number
of credits earned, and program affiliation.
Scoring of the 40 samples will be indistinguishable from scoring of the regular CT
Anticipated Ancillary Outcomes
Better understanding of students’ responses to challenging assignments
Clarification of the role of discussion before and after a task—including its possible
influence on results.
Experience with the student response to being experimental subjects (self-
consciousness under camera, satisfaction with incentives, etc.)
Familiarity with focus group techniques and with qualitative analysis
Exploration of the use of the video studio space and equipment for class-based work
Findings will be included in the final Critical Thinking Assessment reports in June, 2004.