Dissertations and Theses @ UNI


Open Access Dissertation


Social sciences--Study and teaching (Secondary)--Iowa; Graphic organizers--Iowa;


The purpose of this dissertation, which was conducted in a rural school district that is equidistant from three major urban areas in central Iowa, and employed an action research methodology, was to examine the relationship between graphic organizer use and critical thinking. A multitude of studies have provided evidence that graphic organizers aid in the recall and understanding of basic facts in the lower grade levels; however, little research exists that supports a connection between graphic organizer use and the ability of students to recall information used on open-ended critical thinking assessments or the ability to create what Bickel and Lombardi (2016) call “causal connections” with content material. This study examined a research-based method that can deliver consistent results in growing students’ understanding of social studies content, while allowing students to interrogate content and demonstrate knowledge of critical thinking skills through an open-ended written response.

This dissertation was based on an action research methodology in which the researcher conducted the dissertation within his secondary social studies classroom. The students who participated in this study were members of two different courses, divided into two sections of each course according to their class schedule determined by the high school counselor. Students were engaged in instruction using research based instructional methods, in coordination with the three, twenty minute blocks per week of direct MEL instruction. Students were measured on growth in critical thinking skills on open-ended critical thinking writing prompts. The growth of students measured using a rubric, allowed for isolation of specific critical thinking skills that were specifically targeted with MEL usage and instruction.

These results suggest that MELs are an effective tool for promoting critical thinking and potentially other higher levels of learning. The positive impact of MELs, may be found in multiple subject areas including social studies. Implications for incorporating the use of MELs into classroom instruction are discussed, as well as broader theoretical implications for critical thinking that involves cognitive models and evidence.

Year of Submission


Degree Name

Doctor of Education


Department of Educational Psychology, Foundations, and Leadership Studies

First Advisor

Benjamin Forsyth, Chair

Date Original


Object Description

1 PDF file (viii, 83 pages)

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.



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