Monday, November 17, 2008

Higher Order Thinking Skills

Teaching Tip Tuesday

Looking for ways to give your school that little something extra? Consider incorporating higher order thinking by developing or finding activities that make your children work beyond skill and drill. I have found knowing and applying the theories of Benjamin Bloom helpful in this regard.

Benjamin Bloom suggested that learning is hierarchical, meaning as children study a particular topic in school, they must master skills by moving from lower order processes to higher ones. He proposed a taxonomy that orders the levels of learning through which students must progress.

To demonstrate how I incorporate this theory in my teaching, I will give an example unit on the story "The Three Little Pigs" citing examples of activities to match each level of the taxonomy.

The lowest level of learning proposed by Bloom is the knowledge level. This is the "Just-the-Facts-Ma'am" level. Memorizing and recalling are the goals. At this stage, mom reads the story and then asks questions like, "Who were the characters?" and "What did the Big Bad Wolf do?"

Next, a child needs to progress to the comprehension stage. This is when he demonstrates that he understands what he has memorized. He can explain, give directions or answer questions. In this stage, the child should be able to retell a story, or restate learning in his own words. He might create his own "Three Little Pigs" book or simply summarize the story to mom.

Most education programs stop there, especially in elementary school. However, Bloom suggested that in order for children to digest what they are learning, they must move upward to higher stages of his proposed "taxonomy." He believed that lower level learning is in large part forgotten over time, but advancing to higher levels of learning helps the material to "stick with" a student.

Application follows comprehension. In this stage, learners find ways to use what they have learned. Solving word problems or preparing a demonstration are examples of application. Now, the student could create a dramatization of "The Three Little Pigs."

In the next stage, analysis, students pick apart what they have learned. How is one thing similar to or different from another? Debating, experimenting, and categorizing fit into this level. Students could debate the value of building with bricks verses the ease of building with sticks. They could attempt to build a model of a sturdy, wolf-proof house.

In synthesis, students combine skills they have learned and propose new ideas. Students arrange, construct and predict outcomes. Now the learners should propose real-life situations in which a house can be blown down. They should seek out solutions to the real world problems, propose ideas of their own and perform experiments.

Finally, students are to evaluate. In this stage, students assess and revise projects or other work. They form opinions and learn to articulate them. Students should determine what they learned from their experiment. Are certain building materials better than others? What building methods withstand high winds the best?

It is impossible to take every concept through every level of learning, but I have found that the more attention I give to higher order thinking, the more curious and zealous my boys become. The more I allow them to explore, the more they want to know. I find that they really do remember better when given the opportunities to apply, analyze, synthesize and evaluate.

For more information on Bloom's taxonomy, see this article. The levels are explained in a little more detail, and there is a list of learning cues for each level. I often use these to brainstorm activities for units.

Happy Teaching!

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