A case study from the adult nursing course at the University of Bedfordshire.
Happy new academic year! Yes – it’s a bit late – but #Take5 seems to have caught as many colds and been caught up in as many institutional shake ups as everybody else! So – belated – but welcome – this blog post is brought to us by Anna Judd-Yelland, University of Bedfordshire
In our role, working with the nursing lecturers, we noticed many students struggled with the jump from level 4 to level 5 and did not feel equipped to deal with the demands of level 5 study. Following focus groups with students, we found that critical thinking was the issue top of the list for each of the groups we spoke to.
Two academic skills workshops were developed; the first teaching synthesis and the second, critical analysis. Both workshops were embedded into a second year core unit on Leadership and delivered within six weeks of students starting Level 5 study. These workshops were complemented by the creation of a series of critical thinking study guides made available to all students through the VLE.
Jigsaw reading – a group reading approach to teaching synthesis
In the synthesis workshop students addressed the following issues:
- What does synthesis look like?
- How can I use synthesis in my assignments?
- How can I build synthesis into my reflective writing?
- How can I develop my ‘writer’s voice’?
- How can I use a step-by-step approach to creating themed notes?
- What are the common problems to avoid when synthesising my literature?
Through discussion, students identified what synthesis looked like and considered how they could use it in their own assignments. They learnt about the pitfalls to avoid when developing synthesis. Students worked in groups of four to jigsaw read some extracts from the unit literature and created their own set of themed notes (a similar exercise can be seen here:
Real writing makes a difference
Small groups picked one theme from their notes and did a piece of group writing where they brought together their sources to make a robust claim and start to develop their argument.
Roses or Quality Street? Using chocolates to teach critical analysis
In the critical analysis workshop students addressed the following issues:
- What are the seven steps to achieving critical thinking?
- What questions can I use to evaluate the literature I want to read?
- Which chocolates were more popular, Roses or Quality Street?
- How will critical thinking models help me to read and write more analytically?
- What is good about these extracts of student writing and how could they be improved?
Students worked in groups to identify seven essential steps to critical thinking (Harrison, 2018) and scrutinized two critical analysis models (Plymouth University, 2010 pages 2 and 4: https://www.plymouth.ac.uk/uploads/production/document/path/1/1710/Critical_Thinking.pdf).
They discussed how these models could support their ability to question what they read and explore alternative viewpoints when they write.
The students then designed a set of critical questions they wanted to use when exploring literature and worked in small groups to read and critique a journal article on chocolate consumption amongst nurses (Gajendragadkar et al. 2013). The chosen article was manageable within a workshop setting and a fun read. Selecting the right text was key to student engagement.
In the second half of the workshop, students took the role of lecturer and used L5 marking criteria to analyse some extracts of writing from former student assignments and identified where critical thinking steps had been included/could have been developed to meet the criteria.
Although these two transition sessions did not ‘fix’ the way that students were feeling about the huge step up to Level 5, they went a long way to supporting students demystify what critical thinking actually was. The seven steps to achieving critical thinking allowed students to see where they needed to be working for level 5 assignments and introducing practical tools gave them the means of reaching this destination.
Some of my favourite comments from the students showed they valued the use of course specific materials:
“I most enjoyed having examples relevant to nursing”
… and the importance of introducing practical tools:
“I think using the grid system would help me focus on my sources”.
Although I have spent the last twenty years in education, I did not start life as a teacher. Many moons ago I trained as a nurse in the days before nursing required a degree. These days most of my students are on healthcare related courses and come from widening participation backgrounds. Although passionate about their professional roles, they find the academic side can be challenging.
I would say my combination of professional and academic expertise has enabled me to develop successful transitional support for Adult Nursing students moving from level 4 to level 5 and from level 5 to level 6.
Gajendragadkar, P. R. et al., (2013) ‘The survival time of chocolates on hospital wards: covert observational study’ British Medical Journal 347:f7198 pp. 1 – 7 doi:10.1136/bmj.f7198
Harrison, I. (2018) ‘Critical Thinking Stairway’ The Open University 25 July 2016 Availanle at: https://learn1.open.ac.uk/mod/oublog/viewpost.php?post=178090# (Accessed: 17 April 2018)
Plymouth University (2010) Critical Thinking Available at: https://www.plymouth.ac.uk/uploads/production/document/path/1/1710/Critical_Thinking.pdf (Accessed: 17 April 2018)