Academic journal article Journal of College Reading and Learning

Using Critical Thinking Rubrics to Increase Academic Performance

Academic journal article Journal of College Reading and Learning

Using Critical Thinking Rubrics to Increase Academic Performance

Article excerpt


When it comes to encouraging critical thinking in college students, important questions need to be addressed: Are students striving to become reasonable and reflective thinkers? Are some students focusing only on memorization without a deeper understanding of the content? Are some students giving up after feeling a certain level of frustration when learning complex material?

The current study examined how the use of critical thinking rubrics in academic support sessions can increase students' critical thinking skills. Specifically, we examined whether the repeated use of a rubric in weekly tutoring sessions can improve students' critical thinking behaviors and overall academic performances. To measure critical thinking, we developed a rubric that focuses on four characteristics of the Paul-Elder Critical Thinking Model (Paul & Elder, 2006): questioning, gathering information, intellectual autonomy, and intellectual perseverance (see Appendix B). Tutors who had trained in a program certified by the International Tutor Training Program Certification (ITTPC) of the College Reading and Learning Association (CRLA; Sheets, 2013) learned to use the rubric with students who consistently participated in small-group tutoring sessions. The rubrics were used to measure the students' baseline levels of the four characteristics for purposes of gauging these students' improvement over time. Over a period of two years, 97 students participated in the project, as well as 16 master tutors who oversaw more than 400 tutoring sessions. On the basis of current research, it was hypothesized that greater critical thinking, as measured by higher rubric scores, would lead to improved academic performance, as measured by course grades.


Critical thinking, which is the ability and willingness to test the validity of proposals, has long been held as a desirable product of education (Bangert-Drowns & Bankert, 1990). Researchers and educators are beginning to take a closer look at how well students are learning these skills in college. According to Paul and Elder (2006), before one can assess thinking, one must understand thinking and learn how to dissect thinking. This process requires patience, intellectual humility, and discipline. This can be a challenging task for some students who might already experience difficulty managing the many demands and distractions of the modem collegiate experience (Richtel, 2010). In addition, rising tuition costs have increased student borrowing, which in turn means that students are increasingly looking for tangible returns on their investment. As Arum and Roska (2011) noted, 'There are reasons to expect students to focus on receiving services that will allow them as effortlessly as possible to attain valuable education credentials that can be exchanged for success in the job market" (p. 17). Most students do not expect abstract notions of critical thinking to provide palpable returns that can help them navigate a difficult job market. A major obstacle that students face is that some do not know where to begin or what essential questions to ask in order to increase the depth of their thinking and reasoning (Nosich, 2009).

The Challenge of Thinking Critically

Forming questions and thinking deeply takes time, and we have encountered some students who do not have the patience (Nosich, 2009). If the material is challenging and time consuming, then, in all likelihood, it might not be as appealing to them (Arum & Roksa, 2011). Some students do not realize that struggling to understand and retain a complex concept is a normal part of the learning process. As Wolcott (2010) noted, new skills do not become stable until time has passed and students have persevered through the confusion of uncertainty. The time it takes to persevere and process difficult information can be challenging for many students in today's continuous state of digital multitasking. …

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