Learning to improve: using writing to increase critical thinking performance in general education biology

CBE Life Sci Educ. 2007 Summer;6(2):140-54. doi: 10.1187/cbe.06-11-0203.


Increasingly, national stakeholders express concern that U.S. college graduates cannot adequately solve problems and think critically. As a set of cognitive abilities, critical thinking skills provide students with tangible academic, personal, and professional benefits that may ultimately address these concerns. As an instructional method, writing has long been perceived as a way to improve critical thinking. In the current study, the researchers compared critical thinking performance of students who experienced a laboratory writing treatment with those who experienced traditional quiz-based laboratory in a general education biology course. The effects of writing were determined within the context of multiple covariables. Results indicated that the writing group significantly improved critical thinking skills whereas the non-writing group did not. Specifically, analysis and inference skills increased significantly in the writing group but not the non-writing group. Writing students also showed greater gains in evaluation skills; however, these were not significant. In addition to writing, prior critical thinking skill and instructor significantly affected critical thinking performance, whereas other covariables such as gender, ethnicity, and age were not significant. With improved critical thinking skill, general education biology students will be better prepared to solve problems as engaged and productive citizens.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biology / education*
  • Biology / standards*
  • Demography
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Learning*
  • Male
  • Students
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Thinking*
  • Writing*