Using Response Groups to Foster Critical Thinking

The key to assessing students’ ability to think critically is to carefully scaffold instruction. At TCI we have used Response Groups for over twenty years to set students up for success at critical thinking.

We begin by placing students into groups of three and giving them a multiple intelligence prompt—it could be historical information, compelling images, primary sources, musical selections, or a map—to  discuss. They might discuss the decision to drop the nuclear bomb in WWII, argue about women’s’ rights, or hypothesize how various communities around the world have adapted to vegetation zones. The more controversial or enigmatic the questions are that we pose to students, the better the discussion will ensue. Thoughtful questions are the fuel that really fires students’ critical thinking muscles.

After small-group discussions, presenters from each group share findings with the class to stimulate whole-class discussion. Here is where you have a chance to assess students’ thinking ability. You’ll know if they are using critical thinking skills, such as analyzing competing points of view, considering opposing viewpoints, or placing different opinions along a spectrum by how sophisticated their discussion is. If you’re not hearing the level of thinking you’d like, challenge them by giving them points for groups that “repeat another group’s position and then add their own” or “say something new and thought provoking that you hadn’t considered.” We called these “scored discussions” and I can attest from personal experience, they work amazingly well at raising the tenor of classroom discussion.

I’ve attached pages from our methodology book Bring Learning Alive! that provide more information and ideas for effectively assessing groupwork.  TCI_Groupwork_Assessment

How have you used Response Groups in your classroom? What ideas do you have for assessing your students’ critical thinking?