Team-Based Learning: An Instructional Approach to Facilitate Critical Thinking in Teacher Preparation

Team-Based Learning: An Instructional Approach to Facilitate Critical Thinking in Teacher Preparation

Lauren R. Brannan (University of South Alabama, USA), Christopher W. Parrish (University of South Alabama, USA) and Hannah D. Szatkowski (University of South Alabama, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7823-9.ch005


Team-based learning (TBL) is an instructional approach in which students work collaboratively to solve significant problems. In contrast to other teaching methods, TBL provides a systematic approach in which students are provided consistent opportunities to engage in critical thinking. Although the research about the use of TBL in teacher education is scarce, research has reported a number of positive outcomes from other fields, including increased critical thinking skills and student outcomes. The purpose of this chapter is to describe TBL as an instructional format that can be implemented in teacher preparation programs to facilitate the development of critical thinking skills. It provides an overview of TBL, describes research outcomes related to critical thinking and student outcomes, provides examples of TBL from teacher preparation courses, and provides next steps for teacher educators interested in getting started with TBL.
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Teaching involves a great deal of advance planning based on an educator’s knowledge of the content, knowledge of how to teach, knowledge of the learners, and knowledge of the goals and values of education (Griffith & Lacina, 2017). Teaching also involves in-the-moment decision making, so that instruction is adaptive to the diverse needs of learners (Griffith & Lacina, 2017). As Clark (1988) put it, “teaching … is complex, uncertain, and peppered with dilemmas” (p. 9). To prepare preservice teachers for the decision-making demands of being an educator, they must be equipped with not only content knowledge and pedagogical knowledge, but also with the ability to think critically. As critical thinking allows teachers to effectively solve problems and make decisions (Snyder & Snyder, 2008), teacher educators must consider instructional formats that promote preservice teachers’ development of critical thinking skills.

Critical thinking is an “intellectually disciplined process” that requires the learner to conceptualize, apply, analyze, synthesize, and/or evaluate information from their own observations, reflections, reasoning, and beliefs (Scriven & Paul, 2007). The development of these skills can be cultivated through careful instructional design that includes the use of “questioning techniques that require students to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate information to solve problems and make decisions” (Snyder & Snyder, 2008, p. 91).

Opportunities for students to work collaboratively and solve authentic problems have also been reported to facilitate the development of critical thinking skills (Gokhale, 1995; Kumar & Natarajan, 2007; Loes & Pascarella, 2017). First, Gokhale (1995) found that students who participated in collaborative learning (including discussions, clarification of ideas, and evaluation of others’ ideas) performed better than students who studied individually on test questions that required critical thinking. Loes and Pascarella (2017) also found that collaborative learning led to significant gains in critical thinking within the context of college freshmen. Second, problem-based learning, an instructional approach that involves students working in groups to solve real-life or simulated problems, is linked to increases in students’ thinking skills (Kumar & Natarajan, 2007). Similarly, case studies have also been shown to have a greater impact on critical thinking skills when compared to traditional lecture (Kaddoura, 2011).

When considering instructional approaches used within higher-education, research has shown that traditional methods of teaching, such as lectures and rote learning, do not support students’ long-term knowledge or their ability to transfer that knowledge to new situations (Snyder & Snyder, 2008). These methods often position the students as passive listeners while the instructor assumes the more active role of doer (Maiorana, 1991). Flipped learning (Bergmann & Sams, 2012) is also a popular instructional approach requiring students to review preparation material outside of class in anticipation of applying the new knowledge and skills in class. Even so, flipped learning does not ensure all students are ready to apply the new concepts and skills or provide a structured for how students should engage with new material.

Although it is possible for instructors to include opportunities for critical thinking by way of questioning and group assignments, the consistency and frequency of those opportunities can be difficult to manage without a formalized instructional approach. Considering these limitations, it is important to seek other instructional approaches that allow students to practice the skills listed by Scriven and Paul (2007) and ultimately transfer their knowledge and skills to new situations.

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