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The Thinker

Developing Critical Thinking Skills

Learning how to think critically is like learning a new done as young as possible.  The blog by MacKenzie Masten (link below) describes 5 strategies for encouraging critical thinking amongst K-12 students. As professional veterinary educators, what might be still impacted?   The study we conducted at the University of Illinois College of Illinois suggested that while general critical thinking skills as measured by a standardized test were probably developed and unimpacted by training conducted in the first year of veterinary school.  This work was addressed in a previous blog post on this site. What this work did determine was that discipline-specific critical thinking could be improved through designed practice. 

Let's look at Masten's 5 recommendations for development of critical thinking and see how they might be interpreted for veterinary medicine, particularly in the context of case analysis exercises.

1. Accountable Talk: By structured discussion to demonstrated and practice evidence-based thinking. Students also learn from each other's ideas in a low pressure environment.

2. Essential Questions: By learning to ask consistent key questions about any case, best guided by early practice using  the problem-based medical record, students learn timeless and generalized approaches to new case problems.

3. Quick Write: By writing down one's thoughts during or after an exercise, the practice of reflection can be encouraged in a low pressure setting

4. Formative Assessment: Not to be equated with test preparation, the learner benefits by low pressure feedback on information they might need to be processing.  Of course, if actual exam questions are well-designed to evaluate similar skills, these formative questions might become a form of test preparation.

5. Reflection: As mentioned above, this "Lost Art" (quote from Masten) allows the learning process to slow down and consider what general content and particularly process lessons might have come from a learning exercise. As a learner gains more experience with this, the more capable they should become at assessing individual learning deficiencies leading to the excellent life-long learner we seek in any medical professional.

MacKenzie Masten's blog