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Derek Allen, Sharon Bailin, Mark Battersby, and James B. Freeman

There are numerous definitions of critical thinking, but the core concept has been said to be careful, reasoned, goal-directed thinking. There are also many conceptualizations of critical thinking, which are generally more detailed than brief definitions, and there are different views about what the goal(s) of critical thinking instruction should be. Whether critical thinking is a good thing is a matter of debate. Approaches to teaching critical thinking vary, partly according to whether they focus on general principles of critical thinking or on subject-matter content or on a combination of both. A meta-analysis research report published in 2015 concluded that, subject to certain qualifications, a variety of critical thinking skills and dispositions can develop in students through instruction at all educational levels. Critical thinking instruction has been influenced by research in cognitive psychology that has suggested strategies for countering factors (e.g., biases) that the research has found to produce irrational beliefs. Methods of assessing critical thinking ability include teacher-designed tests and standardized tests. A research report published in 2014 on assessing critical thinking in higher education describes challenges involved in designing standardized critical thinking tests and proposes a framework for a “next-generation” assessment. The challenges include achieving a balance between the assessment's real-world relevance and its psychometric quality, and designing an assessment useful for instructional purposes and for comparisons of programs and institutions. The proposed framework is based partly on a review of existing frameworks of critical thinking in higher education. It has two analytical dimensions and two synthetic dimensions, and a dimension on understanding causation and explanation. Surveys show that employers value employees with strong critical thinking ability; this fact has significant implications for students, teachers, and administrators at all levels of education.


Both peer tutoring and cooperative learning are types of peer assisted learning; they involve people from similar social groupings who are not professional teachers helping each other to learn and learning themselves by teaching. Peer tutoring usually involves pairs of students, one in the role of tutor and the other as tutee, with the more able or experienced member helping the other to learn material which is new to the tutor but not to the tutee. By contrast, cooperative learning is usually done in small groups of perhaps four students, often of mixed ability. The group works toward a consensus on a problem. Because it is easier to dominate or hide in a group, roles are often assigned to each group member. Earlier perspectives tended to use the theories of Piaget and Vygotsky, perhaps with some consideration of Bandura and Dewey. Chi, King, and Graesser have been prominent in more recent work. However, a theoretical perspective is offered that integrates these elements with more practical issues. In general, both peer tutoring and cooperative learning “work”— in a wide range of curricular subjects and with a wide range of ages. Given the appropriate form of organization, cognitive gains ensue for both helpers and those who are helped. This is not the main research issue, which is exploring how and why these practices work, in order to improve effectiveness. There are several meta-analyses (a statistical procedure for combining data from multiple studies) which are relevant, and beyond this, key individual papers of specific importance are highlighted. Over the years, we have become wiser about some of the key issues. In peer tutoring, same-ability tutoring has appeared in recent years, sometimes reciprocal, and we need to know under what conditions it works. Cooperative learning has issues regarding the most effective roles for group members and how these integrate with student ability and personality. There has also been much recent work in online peer tutoring which raises different issues. The existing literature is well-developed since these are not new methods. Future research should include more tightly defined studies focusing on more minor variables of context and organization. Many teachers will say they use both peer tutoring and cooperative learning, but very often they overestimate how often anything like good practice takes place. Simply putting students together and hoping for the best will not do, although it might have mild effects. Teachers using these methods need to be clear about what organizational parameters are vital in their context with their type of peer assisted learning. These features then need to be maximized in practice and an eye must be kept on implementation fidelity throughout. Education administrators need to organize professional development for teachers which is thorough, including initial instruction and practice followed up by support and monitoring in the classroom.


Ruth Berkowitz, Aidyn Iachini, Hadass Moore, Gordon Capp, Ron Avi Astor, Ronald Pitner, and Rami Benbenishty

Educational practitioners and researchers have increasingly recognized the importance of the context in which learning occurs, particularly the influence of school climate on students’ academic, social, and emotional outcomes. School climate is based on the subjective experiences of school life for students, staff members, school leaders, parents, and the entire school community. A school’s climate reflects its norms, goals, values, interpersonal relationships, teaching and learning practices, and organizational structures. A large body of evidence connects a positive school climate to improvements in children’s learning and healthy development in school. A positive school climate is also an essential component within comprehensive school improvement processes. Nonetheless, the divergence and disagreement in defining and measuring school climate in the literature are evident. There is a major interest in school climate improvement and school climate policy. However, the policy context that supports school climate varies considerably across the United States and internationally. Clarification regarding the dimensions of school climate and continued research on how a positive school climate contributes to both school and student outcomes remain important.