Critical thinking and problem solving in a rural poverty situation: An action research project

Janel Susan Franks, Purdue University


While many of the issues surrounding poverty are universal, rural poverty presents a different variety of the situation. This research was completed in a small rural school with 380 students in grades seven through twelve. In seeking to address the unique needs of students in rural poverty, three questions were posed: •What characteristics does a child from rural poverty exhibit that a child from urban poverty does not? What similarities exist? •What transferable skills are needed for children from rural poverty to be successful in post-secondary education and careers? •What are the best avenues to teach the identified transferable skills? ^ A review of literature helped to address questions about the differences between students of rural and urban poverty. Further review of literature sought to understand the transferable skills that would be beneficial for all students, and especially students in a poverty situation. Quality teaching benefits all students, regardless of their socio-economic status. As a result, improving transferable skills overall was an additional goal of this research. ^ The third question, about avenues for teaching transferable skills, was investigated through an action research project conducted in the teacher-researcher's classroom. The action research focused on problem solving and critical thinking. It took place over a 9-week term, with three classes that met for 85 minutes each day: seventh grade family and consumer sciences (n=20), eighth grade family and consumer sciences (n=21), and high school housing and interior design (n=18). ^ The teacher-researcher designed a problem solving guide and assessment rubric that was implemented during the research. Students in all three classes completed the guide with real-world scenarios related to course topics. Data were coded to maintain student anonymity. The procedures were reviewed by the Purdue University Institutional Review Board and determined to be exempt as part of regular classroom instruction. ^ Students completed three cycles of the problem solving process. In the first cycle no direct instruction was given in problem solving or critical thinking; students were given a scenario and asked to complete the problem solving guide as best they could. Participation points were given. The second cycle began with direct instruction in problem solving and critical thinking. Students were then given a second scenario for which they completed the problem solving guide. After two to three weeks, they were given a third scenario and again completed the third cycle of the problem solving guide. Grades were entered for the second and third cycles. At the completion of the term, the guidance counselor was provided with the class roster. He replaced all student names with anonymous identification numbers. Students who received free/reduced lunch were coded as being in the poverty sub-group; others were the general sub-group. Another person removed names from the problem solving guides and rubrics and replaced them with each student's anonymous number. ^ Analysis of students’ scores on the problem-solving guide showed no statistical differences between the poverty and general sub-groups. All students’ scores improved after instruction, showing the worth of teaching problem solving and critical thinking skills to students and the value of the problem solving guide and rubric developed in this research. Future recommendations are to continue teaching critical thinking and problem solving to students as a separate lesson and then to apply those skills using curriculum related real-world scenarios. The problem solving guide and rubric, scenarios, descriptions of lessons, and quantitative scores are provided in the thesis.^




Wanda Fox, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Education, Home Economics|Education, Evaluation

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