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The Pedagogical Impacts on Students’ Development of Critical Thinking Dispositions: Experience from Hong Kong Secondary Schools

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The pedagogical impacts on students’ development of critical thinking dispositions: Experience from Hong Kong secondary schools



The pedagogical impacts on students’ development of critical thinking dispositions: Experience from Hong Kong secondary


Dennis Fung

Faculty of Education, The University of Hong Kong, Room 323, Runme Shaw Building, Pokfulam Road, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong



Critical thinking dispositions Development of critical thinking Hong Kong secondary schools Pedagogical impact

Teacher participation



A quasi-experimental research study is reported in this paper. Its aim was to evaluate the effects of different types of pedagogy on the cultivation of students’ critical thinking dispositions. One hundred and forty Secondary 4 students (i.e. tenth-grade students at 15–17 years of age) from two Hong Kong schools joined a teaching intervention in which they learnt strategies of argu- mentation through an established critical thinking framework (i.e. Kuhn’s model [The Skills of Argument, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991]). Analysis revealed collaborative group work to exert positive impacts on students’ development of critical thinking when used in con- junction with explicit instruction in reasoning and evidence-based justifications during the in- tervention. The research results also showed the students who received teacher guidance to have engaged more interactively in joint learning tasks, thereby illustrating the important role of the teacher in facilitating group discussions.

1. Introduction

The pedagogical approach of collaborative group work has become increasingly popular in Hong Kong, particularly since the secondary education reforms launched in 2009 (Howe, 2012, 2014; Howe, 2012, 2014). One of the highlights of those reforms was the introduction of Liberal Studies as a new mandatory interdisciplinary subject whose aim is to liberate students from dogmatic, autocratic thinking and facilitate their development into reflective, critical thinkers (Curriculum Development Council [CDC] and Hong Kong Examination and Assessment Authority [HKEAA], 2007). As a new core subject, along with Chinese, English and Mathematics, Liberal Studies was designed to broaden students’ knowledge horizons through the study of contemporary issues across disciplinary areas, such as ‘Self and Personal Development’, ‘Society and Culture’ and ‘Science, Technology and Environment’ (refer to Appendix I in Supplementary materials for details). From a pedagogical perspective, the introduction constituted a move towards a new paradigm that requires teachers to provide students with self-directed learning experiences and to employ student-centred instructional strategies in the classroom. Therefore, the subject was anticipated to lead to a shift from conventional teaching ap- proaches, i.e. rote memorising and spoon-feeding, to interactive and constructivist learning environments (Gal, 2011).

Characterised by the above subject’s nature, Liberal Studies students are expected to learn how to analyse issues from a variety of perspectives, as well as to evaluate different viewpoints based on facts and evidence. They are encouraged to raise questions, be open- minded to others’ opinions and formulate their own stance on different issues. The enquiry-based learning style emphasised in the subject thus triggered efforts by teachers to incorporate more collaborative group work into their lessons. By engaging students in identifying problems and exploring solutions in support of a joint goal or mission, group work promotes autonomy and mutual

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Received 17 November 2016; Received in revised form 13 September 2017; Accepted 11 October 2017



responsibility for student learning (Blatchford, Kutnick, Baines, & Tolmie, 2013; Galton & Pell, 2010). This instructional method also offers an advantageous setting for students to apply the argumentative skills essential to the learning style required in the Liberal Studies context (Fung, 2014b). It is precisely in this local educational context that this study was carried out with the aim of investigating the efficacy of collaborative group work in nurturing students’ critical thinking dispositions in Liberal Studies lessons.

1. Literature review

1. The concepts of group work and critical thinking

In the classroom literature (e.g. Blatchford, Kutnick, Baines, & Galton, 2003; Oh & Reeves, 2015), collaborative group work is regarded as both a learning community and a pedagogical approach in which students work together in groups in pursuit of a shared goal (Garside, 1996; Nezami, Asgari, & Dinarvand, 2013). As a learning community, students sitting together in groups engage one another in joint planning, negotiating and evaluating to accomplish common tasks. As a pedagogical approach, group work places emphasis on the constructivist paradigm, which envisions students acquiring new information from their peers and encourages the recall of knowledge and retention of subject matter, thereby contributing to academic performance and more effective learning attitudes (Schreiber & Valle, 2013; Shenderovich, Thurston, & Miller, 2015). In view of the advantages of collaborative group work, some researchers believe that it facilitates the development of critical thinking, a concept that has been elaborated upon in various ways but still lacks a generally agreed-upon definition


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