Conceptualising and operationalising the construct of critical thinking in speaking


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This joint PhD project is based at the Shanghai Jiao Tong University with a minimum 12-month stay at the University of Melbourne.

The main objectives of this project are to:

  • Establish to what extent is the critical thinking ability assessed in English-speaking assessments currently in use?
  • Determine how the construct of critical thinking is best represented in speaking assessment tasks.
  • Establish the criteria for evaluating critical thinking performances and how rating scales can be developed and validated.

The details

This study aims to conceptualise critical thinking ability and operationalise the construct in L2 speaking assessments. Following the literature review, the researchers will survey current practices of speaking assessments to identify the contextual features that would best elicit critical thinking performances.

Tasks and rating scales will be designed and validated to gain a better understanding of the critical thinking ability and its operationalisation in speaking assessments. It is hoped that the study will broaden the construct of speaking assessments by incorporating the critical thinking ability and throw light on the evaluation of test takers’ critical thinking performances. This study sets out to examine how the construct of critical thinking can be operationalised in language assessments targeted at learners of English as a second or foreign language.

Drawing on Paul and Elder’s (2001) three-dimension model, the construct of critical thinking is defined as a conscious application of a framed way of thinking which aims to improve the quality of thinking and achieve intellectual standards of excellence.

The conceptualisation has incorporated the three key dimensions of critical thinking: cognitive skills, dispositions, and standards for evaluating the quality of critical thinking. This working definition will guide the design of assessment tasks and the development of rating scales of the critical thinking ability.

The project will be complemented by the project 'Expanding the construct of second language assessments' and the collaboration will ensure the successful completion of both projects.

The graduate researcher on this project is: Shengkai Yin

Supervision team

Shanghai Jiao Tong University supervisor:
Professor Yan Jin

University of Melbourne supervisor:
Associate Professor Ute Knoch

First published on 15 June 2022.

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