Groupwork and the learning of critical thinking in the Hong Kong secondary LS curriculum


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Cambridge Journal of Education
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Group work and the learning of critical thinking in the Hong Kong secondary liberal studies curriculum
Dennis Fung & Christine Howe
a b a b

Faculty of Education, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK Published online: 29 Apr 2014.

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To cite this article: Dennis Fung & Christine Howe (2014) Group work and the learning of critical thinking in the Hong Kong secondary liberal studies curriculum, Cambridge Journal of Education, 44:2, 245-270, DOI: 10.1080/0305764X.2014.897685 To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0305764X.2014.897685

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Cambridge Journal of Education, 2014 Vol. 44, No. 2, 245–270, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0305764X.2014.897685

Group work and the learning of critical thinking in the Hong Kong secondary liberal studies curriculum
Dennis Funga* and Christine Howeb
a

Faculty of Education, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong; bFaculty of Education, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK (Received 24 May 2013; ?nal version received 5 February 2014) This article reports the ?ndings of a one-year longitudinal study that investigated the impact of group work on the development of students’ critical thinking in Hong Kong secondary schools. It explores whether the participation of teachers in a group-based teaching intervention adapted from an earlier study conducted in the United Kingdom (UK) facilitated students’ use of critical arguments in Liberal Studies lessons. In addition to examining students’ critical thinking skills through test performance and the use of reasoned justi?cations in written classwork, the article also discusses the applicability to the Hong Kong context of the programme on which the intervention was based. In general, the results of the study indicate that group work is more effective than whole-class instruction in developing students’ critical-thinking skills and that students make better progress in ‘teacher-supported’ than ‘student self-directed’ group work. Keywords: critical-thinking Kuhn model skills; group work; teacher participation;

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Introduction The education system in Hong Kong, situated on China’s south coast and numbered amongst Asia’s Tiger Economies, has been recognised as exceedingly examinationoriented (Biggs, 1996). In secondary school classrooms, most students are used to studying in a relatively independent and isolated atmosphere rather than through cooperation (Aylward, 2013; Brown & Wang, 2011; Morris, 1985), and generally regard their learning environment to be particularly competitive and teachercontrolled (Chan & Watkins, 1994). On the one hand, a great majority of students in Hong Kong show little willingness to play an active role in classroom discussions that involve expressions of opinions, attempts to in?uence other people, or con?icts with personal views on social and controversial issues (Kennedy, 2002). On the other hand, the memorisation learning approach enjoys superior status in Chinese education, with rote learning approximating the stereotypical view of the traditional Chinese learner (Gan, 2009; Kember & Watkins, 2010). However, the situation in Hong Kong has changed to some extent in the past few years. With the rapid development of mainland China (Lo, 2013) and unprecedented changes worldwide, such as globalisation, awareness of the need for sustainable development and the spread of information technology to all avenues of life, a
*Corresponding author. Email: clfung@hku.hk
? 2014 University of Cambridge, Faculty of Education

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pressing need to reform the Hong Kong education system was recognised in order to give students a competitive edge in the coming economic transformation and meet the many challenges that lay ahead (Fung & Yip, 2010; Lo & Macaro, 2012). Other Asia-Paci?c countries also acknowledged the need for reform. For instance, Singapore launched the ‘Teach Less Learn More’ initiative to foster students’ problemsolving and thinking skills (Ng, 2008), and the Philippines implemented curriculum reform to introduce a new learning area called ‘Makabayan’, whose aim was to cultivate cross-contextual knowledge (Almonte-Acosta, 2011). Informed by such initiatives, the Education Bureau in Hong Kong initiated a major restructuring of senior secondary education as part of an ongoing effort to minimise rote learning and maximise students’ learning motivation in the classroom. Under the new academic structure (Education and Manpower Bureau, 2005), a new interdisciplinary subject, Liberal Studies, comprising several core modules in the humanities, was introduced to senior secondary students (aged 16–18 and at the 10th- to 12th-grade levels) in 2009. More speci?cally, the curriculum content of Liberal Studies was designed to facilitate student’s development of the qualities of independent, re?ective and critical thinkers rather than passive recipients of a collection of facts, concepts and skills (Deng, 2009). The Liberal Studies curriculum comprises six modules: Personal Development and Interpersonal Relationships, Hong Kong Today, Modern China, Globalisation, Public Health, and Energy, Technology and the Environment. In addition to these mandatory modules, students are required to conduct a research project referred to as an ‘Independent Enquiry Study’ over a two-year period. The aim is to provide an opportunity for them to become self-directed learners (Appendix 1 shows the subject’s curriculum structure). To achieve the objectives of developing students’ problem-solving and communication skills, the curriculum and assessment guide to Liberal Studies released by the Curriculum Development Council (CDC) and Hong Kong Examination and Assessment Authority (HKEAA) strongly recommended the incorporation of group work into classroom practice (CDC/HKEAA, 2007), stating:
Teachers are advised to take a developmental approach and employ various learning and teaching strategies to help students acquire a relatively comprehensive understanding of the issues, master related facts, analyse the core of the questions, give balanced considerations to different views and make reasoned judgments (p. 3) … A variety of learning and teaching activities, such as questions by teachers, group discussion, information collection by students … [and] debates, etc. can be suitably deployed to meet different objectives of individual lessons and the needs of different students. (p. 77)

In essence, the guide was perceived as a visible manifestation of the government’s commitment to giving group-work pedagogy a vital role in secondary education in Hong Kong. It also re?ected their enthusiasm for solving some of the problems related to implementing group work in Hong Kong schools, such as teacher stress when using an unfamiliar technique (Carless, 2002) and organisational issues around large class sizes (Pong & Pallas, 2001), by providing additional resources for Liberal Studies lessons (see Appendix 1 for further details). In a broader sense, Liberal Studies is widely considered a ‘Trojan horse’ (Fung & Howe, 2012; Morris & Scott, 2005), which aims to trigger a new wave of transformation of the Hong Kong school curriculum from its teacher-directed basis to a studentoriented framework. It is also identi?ed as an enquiry-based approach to traditional subjects in teaching argumentation and independent thinking to students.

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Teaching models and programme for critical thinking The concept of critical thinking The concept of critical thinking entails a wide range of de?nitions in both philosophical and psychological domains (e.g. Facione, 1998; Fisher, 2011; Paul, 1985). From the philosophical perspective, Ennis (1981) de?ned critical thinking as ‘reasonable, re?ective thinking that is focused on deciding what to believe or do’ (p. 143). Similarly, McPeck (1981) argued that critical thinking involves ‘the propensity and skill to engage in an activity with re?ective scepticism’ (p. 8). Building upon the foregoing de?nitions, Ennis (1987) identi?ed critical thinking as a generic term covering a wide range of skills and derived a taxonomy that classi?es these skills into 118 subcategories, including the cognitive powers of analysis, inference, explanation and self-monitoring meta-cognition. Ennis later collaborated with Norris, and together they further re?ned the conceptualisation of critical thinking by organising the 118 subcategories into 12 aspects across ?ve domains (e.g. the domains of basic support and advanced clari?cation), which provided useful guidance for readers in de?ning what is meant by a reasoned argument (Norris & Ennis, 1989). Although Fisher (1998) criticised Ennis’ taxonomy for failing to illuminate the inter-relationships amongst the different skills, it is still widely adopted to identify the distinctive nature of skills involved in the process of critical thinking (Billig, 2002). From the psychological perspective, Levy (1997) de?ned critical thinking as ‘an active and systematic cognitive strategy to examine, evaluate, and understand events … and make decisions on the basis of sound reasoning and valid evidence’ (p. 236). In a similar vein, Bensley and Haynes (1995) described critical thinking as the ‘evaluation of evidence relevant to a claim so that a reasonable conclusion about the truth of the claim can be made’ (p. 42). However, a simpler and more precise de?nition was provided by Kuhn (1991), who conceptualised critical thinking as a speci?c instance of the sense of reasoned justi?cation of argument. In particular, Kuhn (1991) echoed Ennis’ (1987) and McPeck’s (1981) supposition that dispositions and skills occur within the global concept of critical thinking. In accordance with Kuhn’s perspective, critical thinking employs not only logic but also broad intellectual criteria. Accordingly, there is a growing belief that such thinking is associated with the learner ’s own ability to re?ect on his or her learning progress (Brown & Campione, 2002). In exploring perceptions of critical thinking in the Hong Kong context, it is necessary to contemplate the Chinese learning culture. For example, it is widely believed that Confucian values play an important part in Chinese students’ development of critical thinking. Nisbett (2003) argued that Confucianism, as the chief moral system in Chinese culture, is an elaboration of the obligations that once prevailed between emperor and subject. Carrying out one’s prescribed role in the hierarchical system was the essence of daily life in Imperial China, and any form of confrontation, including debate, was discouraged, a state of affairs whose effects are argued to extend to the current day. This argument is echoed by Flowerdew (1998), who suggested that the key Confucian belief, self-effacement, which stipulates that individuals achieve a certain level of humility and balance in accordance with their rank, inhibits students from eliciting constructive opinions from their peers. However, Confucian beliefs are not always considered detrimental to students’ learning of critical thinking. For example, Kim (2003) investigated Confucius’ Analects and found that they both advocate and emphasise the importance of argumentation,

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although they neither specify the logical rules of reasoning nor theorise about the structure of arguments. Kuhn’s (1991) argumentative model The elementary framework for critical-thinking instruction was ?rst established by Yeh (1948), whose ‘pyramid heuristic’ model was employed to teach argumentative writing to middle-school students. Within this framework, two trials of ‘reasoning’ and one attempt at ‘objection’ are generally emphasised. Lacking a complex structure, it was commonly recognised as a basic schema in the teaching of argumentative thinking. In considering this fundamental framework, Toulmin (1958) identi?ed several non-overlapping functions of the components of argumentation, including claims, grounds, warrants, backings, modi?ers and rebuttals. He stressed that, going beyond a simple focus on ‘reasoning’ and ‘objection’, these elements are essential for enhancing critical-thinking abilities. Accordingly, by integrating these components into Yeh’s (1948) original framework, Toulmin formed a new skeleton that has since been successfully employed in numerous studies of critical-thinking instruction (e.g. Bereiter & Scardamalia, 1982; Chambliss & Murphy, 2002). Drawing on the aforementioned developmental research, Kuhn (1991) identi?ed a number of weaknesses in Toulmin’s (1958) model, which, most notably, include failure to recognise the occurrence of alternative opinions. She then proposed a set of attributes that allow greater ?exibility in responding to critical-thinking problems. As a consequence, Kuhn expanded Toulmin’s model to incorporate the missing elements she had identi?ed and to focus on the use of argumentative discourse in context-rich situations. Kuhn (1991) regarded critical thinking as involving the ability to: (1) differentiate evidence from opinions (or, as she calls them, ‘theory’); (2) support opinions with non-spurious evidence; (3) propose opinions alternative to one’s own and know what evidence would support them; (4) provide evidence that simultaneously supports one’s own opinions and rebuts the alternatives; and (5) take an epistemological stance that involves weighing the pros and cons of what is known. However, Kuhn and Dean (2004) reported evidence illustrating that none of these critical-thinking abilities is widespread amongst the adult Caucasian population. They sampled individuals aged 20–70+ from a wide range of occupational and socio-economic backgrounds and found that the problem is serious, especially amongst the adults who were limited to vocational education. Nevertheless, it is generally recognised that the components of argumentative reasoning put forward by Kuhn do help to elucidate and assess the very broad concept of critical thinking by appealing to speci?c criteria, such as identi?cation of relevant evidence, evaluation of limitations in that evidence, discrimination between compelling evidence for and against a particular view, and planning of an argument (Moseley et al., 2004). In other words, Kuhn’s (1991) model guides students not only in constructing sound arguments but also in achieving deeper understanding of the nature, implications, value and justi?cation of what is known (Soden & Maclellan, 2004). Anderson et al. (2001) programme More recently, and building upon Kuhn’s model, a teaching programme developed by Anderson, Howe, Soden, Halliday, and Low (2001) has in?uenced research into critical-thinking instruction (e.g. Howarth, Hoben, Cox, Morris, Varley, & Lee,

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2005). The aim of the Anderson et al. programme was to teach vocational education students how to make evidence-based justi?cation (as conceptualised by Kuhn) through modelling and peer-based critiquing exercises. Their work was located in the context of integrative project work in the curriculum for the general Scottish Vocational Quali?cations. Using a common set of teaching materials, 84 students from three Further Education (FE) colleges in Scotland underwent a 10-session teaching intervention in which they engaged in a variety of activities to practise both evidence-based justi?cation and the generation of critiques. The content of the programme proposed by Anderson et al. (2001) emphasises the teaching of the ?ve argumentative skills proposed by Kuhn (1991), particularly in relation to meaning clari?cation and evidence provision, and these skills are also embedded in instruction on how to produce a project outline. The peer-based critiquing exercises were designed to help students develop insight into the nature of critical thinking, i.e. the critiquing of one another ’s work was to give them practice in applying targeted skills to complex tasks. The programme’s effectiveness was assessed through analyses of the students’ dialogues, written work and performance in pre- and post-tests of critical thinking. The dialogues indicated that the students had learnt the importance of justifying arguments, although weak justi?cations were far more prevalent than strong (a weak justi?cation is where arguments are demonstrated with anecdotes, whereas a strong justi?cation backs up arguments with evidence). Content analysis of written work con?rmed the boosts to argument justi?cation. However, the programme had no apparent effects on scores obtained on a standardised critical reasoning test. The pedagogical advantages of group work As previously noted, the development of critical-thinking skills in secondary school students is a crucial and desirable educational goal in Hong Kong, and it has become particularly important since the introduction of Liberal Studies several years ago. Thus, there is good reason to explore whether the programme developed by Anderson et al. (2001), which was conceptualised with Kuhn’s (1991) model in mind, would prove effective in the Hong Kong context. However, because Anderson et al. (2001) made no comparison of pedagogical approaches, it is uncertain whether it was the group-work component of their programme that improved the students’ critical-thinking skills or whether that improvement was simply the result of the programme’s content. Moreover, if their programme were to be successfully adapted in Hong Kong schools, it remains unclear whether their group-work setting (which primarily involved a self-directed approach) or some other form of group work combined with explicit instruction in critical thinking would work best. Although the literature has reported robust ?ndings on the positive effects of group work on both student achievement and attitudinal change in the past few decades (i.e. Baines, Blatchford, & Kutnick, 2003; Galton, Hargreaves, & Pell, 2009; Johnson & Johnson, 1979, 1985, 1999; O’Donnell & King, 1999; Webb & Farivar, 1994), several meta-analyses (e.g. Lou et al., 1996; McLeod, 1992) have revealed that these effects are not limited to academia but extend to the social arena. However, research on the teacher’s role in group work is arguably still in its infancy. On the one hand, many group learning theorists (e.g. Fischer, Reyer, Bos, & Hollrich, 2002; Shuell, 1996) view teachers as wielding unhelpful power and control, dominating

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instructional interactions in a way that is inhibitory to student discussions. On the other, there is a considerable amount of evidence suggesting that teachers should intervene in group discussions, albeit playing a relatively hands-off role to guide rather than control, to encourage students to justify their ideas to their fellow group members (Howe et al., 2007; Kutnick & Berdondini, 2009). It is also recommended that teachers make group work more productive by acting as consultants who facilitate students’ collaborative skills and provide necessary task assistance (Cohen, 1991, 1994; Meloth & Deering, 1999; Webb & Farivar, 1994). The present study Although a number of frameworks, such as those of Toulmin (1958) and Yeh (1948), arguably would have been suitable for use as the teaching model in this study, Kuhn’s (1991) model was employed for several reasons. First, it was deemed more appropriate to the subject nature of the Liberal Studies curriculum, which covers various social and contemporary issues (for details, refer to the sample questions shown in Appendix 2). Of particular importance, the real-life issues considered require students to challenge stereotypes in problem-solving scenarios. Hence, they can reasonably be expected to develop the ability to consider ‘alternative hypotheses’, a critical component that is relatively underplayed in Toulmin’s and Yeh’s frameworks, but emphasised in Kuhn’s. Second, it is essential that practitioners understand precisely what the model means when they engage in critical-thinking tuition. In comparison with other frameworks, Kuhn (1991) presents a relatively comprehensive and evidence-based model that many teachers ?nd easy to understand and accept, and the model is in fact widely adopted in secondary school classroom investigations (Osborne, Erduran, Simon, & Monk, 2001; Reznitskaya, Kuo, Clark, Miller, & Jadallah, 2009). Acknowledging the appeal of Kuhn’s approach to critical thinking, one of the objectives of the present study was to determine whether the programme proposed by Anderson et al. (2001), which was conceptualised following the approach, can be adapted to Hong Kong schools. Although the Anderson et al. study was conducted in the UK, whereas the present study took place in Hong Kong, the two research settings share the requirement for students to conduct an independent research project as an integral part of the curriculum. In principle, the curricula in both settings are also considered vehicles for the exercise of critical thinking. They thus provide students with a self-directed learning experience in which they are encouraged to take the initiative in posing questions, evaluating the enquiry process and taking responsibility for their learning. Moreover, the participating students in the Anderson et al. (2001) programme were studying for Scottish Vocational Quali?cations, and were thus at a similar age to the Hong Kong students in the current research, who were studying Liberal Studies at the Diploma of Secondary Education level (SCQF, 2001). Given these similarities, the Anderson et al. programme was adopted for use as the teaching intervention in the study that is reported below. Whilst the general conclusion in the foregoing literature is that group work has constructive effects on both student achievement and motivation, some degree of uncertainty persists about the role of the teacher in small-group activities. As noted in the previous section, questions have been raised regarding whether the group-work component of the programme developed by Anderson et al. (2001) was

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decisive in nurturing students’ critical-thinking skills rather than the programme content itself. If it was group work, then what type of group work (i.e. self-directed group work or teacher-supported group work) is most effective? Informed by these issues, the reported study addressed two major questions in the context of Liberal Studies in Hong Kong: (1) Is group work more effective than whole-class instruction when the Anderson et al. (2001) programme is adapted to teach students critical-thinking skills in Liberal Studies? (2) Is more critical thinking evidenced in teacher-supported group work than self-directed group work in this context?
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Methods The teaching intervention This study took place in two Hong Kong secondary schools in a series of 10 Liberal Studies lessons as part of a teaching intervention. The lessons were scheduled in the ?rst month of the research exercise, which lasted approximately one academic year. Although the two schools were randomly selected, with one situated in a suburban area of Hong Kong (i.e. the New Territories) and the other in an urban district (i.e. Kowloon), they shared many similarities in terms of academic standards, classroom organisation and drop-out rates. The design of the intervention was based on the ?ve critical-thinking skills identi?ed by Kuhn (1991). These skills were addressed in the context of designing research projects, writing reports and answering sample questions as part of the Liberal Studies assessment formats. The intervention incorporated discussions of problem solving, the concept of reasoned justi?cations, and examples of counterarguments and rebuttals into the Liberal Studies curriculum. Attention was also paid to the preparation of the students’ project outlines, such as constructing a project plan, specifying research methods and identifying necessary resources. Pre- and post-tests of the Test of Critical Thinking Skills for Primary and Secondary School Students (TCTS-PS) (Yeh, Yeh, & Hsieh, 2000) and California Critical Thinking Disposition Inventory (CCTDI) (Facione & Facione, 1992) were conducted at the beginning and end of the research exercise. The intervention schedule, which was adapted from Anderson et al. (2001), including the introduction of Kuhn’s model and the relevant problem-solving activities, is presented in Appendix 3 (for further information, see Fung 2012). Participants and research design In each school, two Liberal Studies teachers and two whole classes of Secondary 4 students aged 16–18 participated in the study. Demographic data revealed that most of the students were classi?ed as Band 2, indicating a medium level of academic ability in the Hong Kong secondary school context. Boys (N = 74) constituted a small majority (approximately 53%) of the total of 140 participating students. To investigate the effects of different types of pedagogy on students’ learning of critical thinking, an experimental research design was adopted in which two classes (with 35 students each) of a similar academic standard were selected in each school (see Table 1). One

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Table 1. Experimental setting (sample size in each participating school = 70). ‘Controlled’ experiment (Robson, 2002) School (N = 70) Setting Classi?cation Pedagogy Group size Number of groups Class A (N = 35) Control group Type 1 Conventional class (N = 35) N/A N/A Class B (N = 35) Experimental group Type 2 Type 3 ‘Self-directed’ group ‘Teacher-supported’ work (N = 20) group work (N = 15) Around 7–8 students 3 2

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class (selected at random and termed ‘Class A’) acted as a control group, to which the whole-class teaching approach (Type 1) was applied, whilst the other class (‘Class B’) constituted the experimental group, in which group work was practised. The experimental group was further divided into ‘self-directed group work’ (Type 2) and ‘teacher-supported group work’ (Type 3) subgroups. The teacher ’s participation in guiding the students’ discussion and facilitating smooth dialogic interaction constituted the difference between the Type 2 and Type 3 settings. More speci?cally, during the lessons, the Class B teachers joined in the discussions of two groups (Type 3), whereas the three remaining groups (Type 2) engaged in self-directed group work without the teacher ’s presence. These two types of students were also offered the opportunity to conduct joint activities, whereas their Type 1 counterparts engaged in no collaborative practices, but rather performed the tasks assigned in the teaching intervention independently. Training workshops A series of training workshops was arranged for each participating school and conducted before the teaching intervention. The aim of the workshops was to introduce students to group learning and facilitate their use of collaborative skills. All of the workshops were led by the principal researcher, and involved both teachers and students. Each workshop lasted approximately one hour, and the training materials were jointly prepared by the researcher and participating teachers. In the ?rst workshop, participating students were given a chance to suggest different methods of group formation for both the workshops and the lessons in the teaching intervention. After receiving instruction about the pros and cons of the various methods they had proposed (i.e. random allocation, teacher ’s assignment, researcher ’s arrangement and students’ grouping based on friendships), they voted for random allocation in recognition of the dif?culties involved in forming true friendship-based groups. For example, given the limited size of each group, students would inevitably be forced to ignore some of their friends. After the students had settled into their assigned groups, the researcher introduced a team-building activity, the aim of which was to allow students to practise trust-building, turn-taking and evidence-based justi?cation. In the second workshop, the researcher and teachers went over material covering various approaches to raising and responding to questions. After the teachers had demonstrated the roles of questioner and respondent by modelling how to ask questions, take turns and give explanations, the students engaged in role plays with their

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fellow group members to model the various steps and techniques involved. The objectives of this practice were to give students experience of peer collaboration and, at the same time, to train the teachers in how to give timely assistance to students during group conversations. Afterwards, the teachers and students discussed the problems they had encountered, and together they ?gured out solutions, which led to the revision and consolidation of question-and-answer techniques before the end of the second session. In the third and ?nal workshop, students were reminded of the importance of regulation while working in groups. They were briefed on the concept of ground rules (Mercer, 2009) and asked to formulate their own sets of rules, which would govern their group activities during the teaching intervention. Finally, the researcher outlined the skills needed to discuss and defend arguments and engage in argumentative reasoning. Students were also briefed on how to accept criticism from peers in a positive and constructive way. The teaching procedure In the teaching intervention, each lesson lasted for around one hour and comprised the following ?ve phases. Phase I: Critical thinking modelling activity Each participating teacher both incorporated Kuhn’s (1991) model into criticalthinking modules and taught it explicitly by providing lesson materials that explained the respective key concepts. Students received approximately 200 minutes of explicit instruction in critical thinking over the 10 lessons. In particular, the teachers taught Kuhn’s model by presenting slides to the whole class, which showed the meaning of critical thinking and exempli?ed this with daily-life examples. For instance, they introduced the concept of a ‘problem’ in Lesson 1 by stating:
It’s a situation in which we want to achieve something but there isn’t a simple or straight-forward way of doing so, possibly because something else is getting in the way (extracted from Anderson et al., 2001).

They then gave several examples to illustrate the concept, such as the following:
I want to sneak off early from work to see Andy Lau in concert but my boss has made an appointment to see me in the late afternoon. Or, I need to get to college for a 9.00 am class but the train drivers are on strike, and the roads will be very busy.

After the students had developed competence in perceiving the idea of a ‘problem’, they were introduced to the concepts of ‘reasoned argument’ and ‘evidence’ with the following statements:
(a) Of course, the main cause of school failure is poor teaching. I don’t need evidence to be sure of this. I can use my instinct. (b) I am certain that the main cause of school failure is poor teaching. I have two kids myself. I have seen year after year what they have gone through, and if the teacher can really teach, the kids make great strides forward [achieve better academic results].

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(c) To show you that poor teaching causes school failure, I would look at the grades the students get in school. These would show that they are getting poor teaching.

In the lesson, the teachers ?rst wrote these statements on the blackboard, and the students were asked to vote for which best represented the use of evidence. This task offered students a chance to practise one of Kuhn’s (1991) principles: supporting arguments with non-spurious evidence. Phase II: Application of critical-thinking model Learning sheets were provided to the students with the aim of strengthening their understanding of the concept of critical thinking and Kuhn’s model. For example, in Lesson 1, learning sheets related to the ‘use of evidence’ were distributed to students to consolidate their knowledge in Phase I and facilitate their application of Kuhn’s model. The students had to work together (the experimental group) or alone (the control group) to propose solutions and reasoned arguments to certain ‘problems’, such as:
I will walk to college if the train drivers are on strike and the roads are very busy because…

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Phase III: Debate and discussion Drawing on sample examination questions (see Appendix 2) or independent research topics in the Liberal Studies curriculum, each member of the Type 2 and Type 3 groups was assigned to either a ‘for ’ or ‘against’ side and asked to debate their respective views for 10 minutes. The teacher joined each of the two Type 3 groups in turn, and provided students with guidance to facilitate their dialogic interactions, for example, by giving hints or thinking directions when the debate reached a deadlock or stalemate. During the group debate, the teacher encouraged students to share their ideas, but did not steer the debate or dominate the dialogue. Subsequently and working individually, students were asked to write down their reasons for addressing and responding to the issues and challenges raised by the opposing side in the way that they had and to provide feedback to the other members of their group. They then switched sides, with those initially ‘for ’ now ‘against’, and proceeded to another round of discussion and debate. These activities gave all students experience of the process of being for and against a particular issue, which reinforced communication and mutual interaction and, in turn, encouraged them to question their standpoint, thereby promoting their critical-thinking skills. In the context of Lesson 1, the experimental group students were assigned to an ‘agree’ or ‘disagree’ side to debate their respective views on the statement Low socio-economic status is the main cause of domestic violence in Hong Kong (see Question 2 in Appendix 2). For the Type 2 students, the group leaders initiated the argumentative discussion by asking questions (e.g. What is the most common cause of domestic violence in Hong Kong?) and requesting explanations or elaboration (e.g. Do you have any references?) before leading the group in making critiques and defending their standpoints. The students followed the ground rules they had established by taking turns to speak. They switched sides after the ?rst round of discus-

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sion, and ?nally reached a collective decision based on the majority opinion. At the same time, the Type 3 students also conducted a group discussion in accordance with the ground rules. However, when the discussion reached stalemate, the teacher intervened to motivate the students to elaborate upon their opinions or to seek reasoned justi?cations for their arguments (for more details on the nature of the guidance provided, refer to Fung and Howe, 2012, pp. 104–7). The control students were also randomly assigned to an ‘agree’ or ‘disagree’ side but had to work at their own desks to propose arguments or counter-arguments. Phase IV: Presentation In this phase, the students in the experimental groups (i.e. Type 2 and Type 3) were requested to evaluate their opinions, reach consensus and then report their arguments to their classmates in the other groups. The control students were asked by the teacher to present their views in front of the whole class and to respond to challenges posed by their classmates. The aim of this phase was to encourage students to summarise their previously discussed arguments and motivate them to reconsider the issues involved from a more diversi?ed and all-rounded perspective. Phase V: Consolidation and conclusion The students had to evaluate their understanding of the lesson content under the teachers’ guidance and then submit the completed sample questions that had been discussed in the aforementioned phases. Data collection and analysis In this study, two main sources of data were collected to address critical-thinking skills: (1) pre- and post-test scores obtained from the TCTS-PS and (2) written work in the form of plans and outlines for the students’ independent research projects in Liberal Studies. More speci?cally, the TCTS-PS, which is based on Kuhn’s (1991) model, includes 24 items in ?ve sub-tests measuring different aspects of critical thinking. The test, which was originally in Chinese, was developed through research conducted in Taiwan (i.e. Yeh et al., 2000). It assesses students’ ability to differentiate theory from assumptions, propose alternative theories, evaluate evidence, draw inferences and construct reasoned justi?cations. For instance, the following multiple-choice question tests students’ ability to draw inferences:
Any person who can win the game must be skilful; most people who are skilful have good rackets.

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(A) People who lose the game don’t have good rackets. (B) Most people who win the game have good rackets. (C) People who get good rackets must be skilful. The TCTS-PS is administered in its entirety to investigate students’ acquisition of critical-thinking skills resulting from critical-thinking instruction (Yang & Chung, 2009). Furthermore, this psychometric test of general critical-thinking skills was able

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to provide suf?cient evidence of the transfer of learning in the current study, as its critical thinking-related content comes from a different context (i.e. Taiwan) from that in which the current participants learnt about such thinking (i.e. the Liberal Studies context in Hong Kong). Hence, any signi?cant gains in test scores (between the pre- and post-test) can be seen as constituting an occurrence of domain-general transfer (Anderson et al., 2001). In Taiwan, the TCTS-PS was administered to 227 middle school and elementary school students, and proved reasonably reliable and valid in assessing their criticalthinking skills (Yeh et al., 2000). It attained a high internal consistency coef?cient (Cronbach’s α = 0.80) and signi?cant criterion-related validity. In the current study, the participating students completed the test on two occasions (in the ?rst and ?nal lessons, spending about 25 minutes each time). The principal researcher marked the tests subsequently. Besides the TCTS-PS, written class work was also collected. Draft outlines, plans and worksheets were continuously collected during the teaching programme, and the ?nal versions of the students’ research projects in Liberal Studies were gathered about two months after the programme’s completion. These materials provided evidence of the critical-thinking skills that the students had learnt and demonstrated in the teaching programme. In total, more than 400 pieces of written work were collected, coded and subsequently compared across Types 1, 2 and 3. In order to consider the ‘quality’ of arguments in critical thinking, written work was coded for each of three kinds of justi?cation based on the work of Anderson et al. (2001): ‘no’ justi?cation means that the student simply asserts a statement or an opinion without any justi?cation; ‘weak’ justi?cation indicates that the student justi?es an assertion using anecdotal or informal evidence such as a broad generalisation or relies on experience; and ‘strong’ justi?cation means that the student justi?es his or her claims by reference to formal research and statistical evidence, even if obtained ‘second-hand’ via textbooks, the internet or newspaper reports. The coding of justi?cations was conservative in that only clear instances of justi?cation were counted: justi?cation of a claim had to occur either within the same sentence as the claim or in an immediately adjacent sentence. To achieve a better understanding of how the students’ written work was coded, an example was extracted for further demonstration.
Content I don’t think a low socioeconomic status is the main cause of domestic violence in Hong Kong. Although there is a picture in the question showing a white collar worker [as the father] in the family, we should not draw conclusions solely based on it, as the picture provides no evidence directly related to domestic violence. In fact, there is an alternative theory that some fathers who are blue collar workers hit their sons or daughters. Some of my classmates have even witnessed this in the street. I argue that Chinese culture is one of the main causes of domestic violence. This is because parents in Chinese society always have superior authority. They think that their sons or daughters are their ‘possessions’ rather than human beings. In addition, parental education background [also has an impact on] domestic violence. Parents are more likely to use strict or even violent methods to teach their sons or daughters if they have a low level of education. The news reported in the South China Morning Post yesterday [points towards this cause]. Line 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 Type(s) of justi?cation No

Weak Weak Weak

Strong

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In the current study, the written work was coded primarily by the principal researcher. However, 30% of this work was independently coded by a second rater: inter-rater agreement was found to be satisfactory (к = 0.83, p < 0.01). Results Analysis of TCTS-PS1 In order to investigate the effects of the two independent variables (1) ‘Teaching Pedagogy’ (‘Type 1 to Type 3’, between-participants factor) and (2) ‘Test’ (‘Pre-test and Post-test’, within-participants factor) on the scores of TCTS-PS, a 3 (‘Type 1, Type 2 and Type 3’) × 2 (‘Pre-test and Post-test’) mixed-model two-way ANOVA for the analysis was adopted. The ANOVA revealed signi?cant main effects of test, F(1, 274) = 4.62, p < 0.01. Overall, the TCTS-PS scores were signi?cantly higher at the post-test than at the pretest. Post-hoc t-tests between the pre- and post-tests for each pedagogy group revealed no signi?cant difference for the Type 1 group but substantial differences for the Type 2 (p < 0.01) and Type 3 (p < 0.005) groups. The main effect of teaching pedagogy was non-signi?cant, F(2, 274) = 1.53, ns. However, there was a signi?cant interaction effect between test and teaching pedagogy, F(2, 274) = 4.23, p < 0.01. Consequently, one-way ANOVAs were conducted to investigate these interactions. As shown in Figure 1, there were no signi?cant differences between scores on the TCTS-PS at pre-test for any of the pedagogical groups, indicating rough equivalence over critical-thinking ability levels before the research was conducted. However, at post-test, one-way ANOVA which was followed up with Bonferroni t-tests showed that all pair-wise differences were signi?cant. Speci?cally, at post-test, the students who studied in Type 3 displayed better critical-thinking skills assessed by TCTS-PS than did the students in Type 2, while the students in Type 1 produced the lowest scores after the teaching intervention. Accordingly, in response to the ?rst research question, analysis of the TCTS-PS showed there to be more evidence of critical-thinking skills amongst the collaborative group-work students (Types 2 and 3) than amongst those (Type 1) who had received whole-class instruction. With regard to the second research question, the results revealed the group-work students who had received teacher guidance (Type 3) to have made greater progress than those in the self-directed groups (Type 2) (for details, refer to Fung & Howe, 2012). Analysis of the students’ written work Three sources of students’ written work were available for analysis: (1) the class worksheets continuously collected during the teaching programme; (2) the draft project outlines; (3) the ?nal project outlines. In order to study the signi?cance of changes in the mean frequencies of justi?cation in the students’ written work, the effects on each source of the two independent variables (1) ‘Teaching Pedagogy’ (‘Type 1 to Type 3’) and (2) ‘Justi?cation Type’ (‘No to Strong Justi?cation’) were investigated. Accordingly, a 3 (‘Type 1, Type 2 and Type 3’, between-participants factor) × 3 (‘No Justi?cation, Weak Justi?cation and Strong Justi?cation’, withinparticipants factor) two-way mixed-model ANOVA for the analysis was performed.

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Figure 1. Means of Type 1 to Type 3 groups on TCTS-PS (pre-test and post-test).

With the class worksheets, the ANOVA revealed signi?cant main effects of justi?cation type, F(2, 411) = 4.87, p < 0.01. Bonferroni post hoc tests revealed that all pair-wise comparisons amongst no justi?cation, weak justi?cation and strong justi?cation were signi?cant (p < 0.05). With all pedagogical groups, the frequencies of no justi?cation were signi?cantly higher than those of weak justi?cation while strong justi?cation recorded the lowest frequency (see Figure 2). On the other hand, the main effects of teaching pedagogy were not signi?cant, F(2, 411) = 1.22, ns. Moreover, there was no signi?cant interaction effect between the justi?cation type and teaching pedagogy, F(4, 411) = 0.42, ns. In summary, ‘no’ justi?cation was predominant in the worksheets regardless of teaching pedagogy. Although all groups of students produced a similar number of justi?cations, ‘strong justi?cation’ remained at a relatively low level. It was only ‘weak’ justi?cation that reached a reasonable frequency. Regarding the draft outlines, the ANOVA revealed signi?cant main effects of justi?cation type, F(2, 411) = 3.12, p < 0.05. Similar to the students’ worksheets, Bonferroni post hoc tests revealed that all pair-wise comparisons amongst no justi?cation, weak justi?cation and strong justi?cation were statistically signi?cant (p < 0.05). With all pedagogical groups, the frequencies of no justi?cation were signi?cantly higher than those of weak justi?cation while strong justi?cation recorded the lowest frequency. The main effects of teaching pedagogy were not signi?cant, F(2, 411) = 1.10, ns. However, there was a signi?cant interaction effect between the justi?cation type and teaching pedagogy, F(4, 411) = 2.93, p < 0.05. Consequently, one-way ANOVAs were conducted to investigate these interactions. There were no signi?cant

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Figure 2. Frequencies of justi?cation types in students’ class worksheets.

differences between the frequencies of no justi?cation and strong justi?cation across the pedagogical groups. However, regarding weak justi?cation, follow-up Bonferroni t-tests showed that all pair-wise differences were statistically signi?cant, p < 0.05. On average, students in the Type 3 group displayed better critical-thinking skills in the form of providing ‘weak’ justi?cations than did students in the Type 2 group, while students in the Type 1 group produced the lowest frequency. As shown in Figure 3, there were no signi?cant differences over ‘no justi?cation’ and ‘strong justi?cation’ across the three pedagogical groups. With the ?nal project outlines, the ANOVA revealed signi?cant main effects of justi?cation type, F(2, 411) = 3.49, p < 0.05. Bonferroni post hoc tests revealed that all pair-wise comparisons amongst no justi?cation, weak justi?cation and strong justi?cation were signi?cant (p < 0.05). In contrast to the students’ worksheets and the drafts of project outlines, with the Type 2 and Type 3 pedagogical groups, the frequencies of weak justi?cation were signi?cantly higher than those of no justi?cation although strong justi?cation continued to appear with very low frequency. The main effects of teaching pedagogy were not signi?cant, F(2, 411) = 1.92, ns. However, there was a signi?cant interaction effect between the justi?cation type and teaching pedagogy, F(4,411) = 3.12, p < 0.05. Consequently, one-way ANOVAs

Figure 3. Frequencies of justi?cation types in students’ drafts of the project outlines.

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Figure 4. Frequencies of justi?cation types in students’ ?nal project outlines.

were conducted to investigate these interactions. As shown in Figure 4, there were signi?cant differences between the pedagogical groups over all types of justi?cation. Follow-up Bonferroni t-tests showed that all pair-wise differences were statistically signi?cant. In particular, while the Type 2 and Type 3 students used ‘weak’ and ‘strong’ justi?cations with signi?cantly higher frequency than the Type 1 students, the latter students produced more instances of the category ‘no justi?cation’. In relative terms, the differences were striking: the Type 3 students not only produced about three times as many ‘weak’ and ‘strong’ justi?cations as the Type 1 students, but also produced just half of the number of ‘no’ justi?cations. With both ‘strong’ and ‘weak’ justi?cations, the results show that the Type 3 students always outperformed the Type 2 students. Therefore, even though no differences were found with the students’ class worksheets, the ?ndings with the drafts and the ?nal project outlines showed that there was more evidence of critical thinking after collaborative group work (Types 2 and 3) than after conventional teaching (Type 1). Furthermore, the analysis also revealed that the group-work students with teacher guidance (Type 3) performed better than the students in the self-directed groups (Type 2). Discussion Concerning the ?rst research question, i.e. whether group work is more effective than whole-class instruction in developing students’ critical thinking, the results of the present study, on the one hand, echo those of previous research (i.e. Baines et al., 2003; Galton et al., 2009; Johnson & Johnson, 1979, 1985, 1999; O’Donnell & King, 1999) revealing that group work has constructive effects on students’ academic achievement and, on the other hand, generalise those ?ndings to the context of students’ development of critical-thinking skills. In this regard, the data reveal fairly consistent patterns of Type 2 and Type 3 superiority over Type 1 across the TCTS-PS scores and students’ written class work in the form of project outlines (also see Fung & Howe, 2012). It is reasonable to believe that the group-work components of the teaching intervention, such as collaborative reasoning tasks and group debates, were the main explanatory factor in such differences. In a practical sense, the ?ndings of this research further illustrate that the group-work component of the Anderson et al. (2001) programme is more effective than whole-class instruction in

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cultivating Kuhn’s (1991) key argumentative abilities in students. The current research therefore extends the positive implications of this teaching programme to the context of Liberal Studies in Hong Kong secondary schools. Regarding the second research question, i.e. whether more critical thinking is evidenced in teacher-supported group work than in self-directed group work, the study’s ?ndings (speci?cally Type 3’s superiority over Type 2) demonstrate the vital role of the teacher in facilitating students’ critical-thinking skills in group activities, and thus further con?rm the results of Cohen (1991, 1994), Kutnick and Berdondini (2009), Meloth and Deering (1999), Webb and Farivar (1994) and Webb et al. (2009). Notably, the students in the teacher-supported groups always achieved higher TCTS-PS scores than their counterparts in the self-directed work groups. In combination with the qualitative results elicited from the same research project (i.e. Fung, 2012), these results suggest that teacher involvement in group work is effective in helping students to develop social and communication skills. Supportive teacher intervention during group discussions seems helpful both in motivating students to elaborate on their opinions and in helping them to avoid debates that take the form of ‘bluf?ng’ by requiring them to justify their claims or arguments based on critical-thinking models (e.g. Kuhn’s model). The research thus adds a further dimension to Anderson et al. (2001), upon whose work the teaching intervention was built. In general, the present study successfully explored students’ potential at the upper limit of what Vygotsky (1978) termed the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). The students demonstrated progress that arguably could never have been achieved without relatively skilled partners during group activities. Speci?cally, the setting of the Type 3 group work in this research addressed the theoretical aspect of the ZPD by providing a context in which to identify students’ maximum capacity in the acquisition of critical-thinking abilities. In practice, the positive results of the Type 3 group work can be interpreted as illustrating Vygotsky’s supposition that expert guidance (teacher assistance in the current research context) is decisive in enhancing students’ level of performance. In other words, the evidence suggests that within the context of group work and the mastery of critical-thinking skills, students should be given opportunities to learn with teacher support. As Cohen (1991) proposed, comparatively skilled partners can help the group by modelling comprehension strategies and providing interjections in such a way that all members succeed in constructing meaning from a text or collaborative dialogue. However, it should be remembered that the worksheets, which were continuously collected in the teaching intervention, resulted in no signi?cant progress in students’ critical-thinking skills and that the improvements in evidence-giving abilities were seen in students’ ?nal project outlines rather than draft outlines. Firstly, it is believed that these ?ndings primarily stem from the possibly ‘lagged’ effect of the transfer of critical-thinking skills from the ‘verbal’ to the ‘written’ domain (Yu, She, & Lee, 2010). Besides, secondly, in the authentic classroom situation involved in this study, the students worked in groups to create drafts of their outlines, and they observed demonstrations (sample outlines) highlighting how to write with reasoned justi?cations. When the students initially worked on drafts that remained incomplete, they did not restrict their attention to this task, but were primed to consider the evidence-based justi?cations for their ?nal project outlines through the ongoing group discussion. Therefore, after a period of time, the students’ experience of working on their drafts was used productively to enhance their ?nal outlines. Finally, there is

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evidence in the literature concerning the delayed effects of peer collaboration and the interval required prior to the retrieval of productive strategies, which also may have contributed to the unanticipated results (i.e. Hayes-Roth & Hayes-Roth, 1979; Howe, McWilliam, & Cross, 2005; Patalano & Seifert, 1997). Conclusions and future research directions In conclusion, this article has introduced a longitudinal study that evaluated the in?uence of group work on students’ development of critical thinking in two secondary schools in Hong Kong. Based on the results of the psychometric test (i.e. TCTS-PS) and students’ written class work, it is argued that collaborative group work is more effective than whole-class instruction in cultivating students’ criticalthinking abilities. Whilst the teaching intervention adapted from Anderson et al. (2001) in the present study was found to be applicable to the Hong Kong context, more positive results in the teacher-supported than student self-directed group work are reported herein to highlight the importance of teacher participation in group activities. In a broader sense, although the context of Liberal Studies in Hong Kong may differ slightly from that of the ‘Teach Less Learn More’ initiative in Singapore and ‘Makabayan’ in the Philippines, it seems congruent with the trends towards a pedagogical shift from rote to active learning in those countries. As noted already, these trends should not be seen as isolated incidents but rather as intertwined with and building upon one another in a common socio-economic agenda (i.e. the pressing need to enhance the qualities needed to transform today’s students into the globally competitive workforce required in the twenty-?rst century). Certainly, the favourable results of collaborative group work seen in this research have implications for the pedagogical transformation of all of these countries. Further studies based on the current research but focusing on several other areas of investigation would be worthwhile. First, the signi?cant gains in the TCTS-PS psychometric test favour the transfer of learning (or generalisation) in a domain-general way. Whilst it is believed that generalisation should not necessarily be expected and can be considered an epiphenomenon (Detterman, 1993; Reed, 1993), the positive TCTS-PS results obtained in this study are worth drawing to the attention of other researchers. Second, whilst the results of the Type 2 and Type 3 students shed light on the contributions of the group work and teacher-led elements of the intervention proposed by Anderson et al. (2001), assessing the relative contribution of its third element, that is, the intervention content, is a signi?cant task left for future research. Finally, the issue of the delayed effects of peer collaboration has been raised in the current project, although it was not the main focus. In addition to the explanations we have provided based on the previous literature (e.g. Hayes-Roth & Hayes-Roth, 1979; Howe et al., 2005), several other related factors such as the cumulative effect of the repeated practice of critical-thinking skills would be another interesting avenue for future research scrutiny. Note
1. The results in this section were reported in Fung and Howe (2012).

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Appendix 1. Liberal Studies curriculum in Hong Kong secondary schools

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Appendix 2. Liberal Studies sample questions
Question 1: National identity of Hong Kong people

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Source: Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education Examination, Liberal Studies Paper 1, Question–Answer Book (sample paper), Hong Kong Examination and Assessment Authority (HKEAA), Hong Kong (2010).

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Question 2: Socio-economic status in Hong Kong

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Source: Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education Examination, Liberal Studies Paper 2, Question–Answer Book (sample paper), Hong Kong Examination and Assessment Authority (HKEAA), Hong Kong (2010).

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Appendix 3. Content of the teaching intervention

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