Saturday, October 8, 2011

Instructional Strategies for Higher Order Thinking

Earlier this year, I wrote a post on Instructional Strategies for Gifted Students. To date, it has been the most read post on this blog. An interesting comment on that post came from a teacher, “How do teachers find the time to coordinate the differentiation required to meet all students' needs? Any suggestions?”  This is a very important question as well as a very ‘telling’ question with regard to the state of teaching today. And, as a matter of fact, I do have some suggestions.

Differentiating for every student in a class of 30 or more students is no easy task. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that this rarely occurs in the majority of classrooms regardless of mandates. But is there a better way to meet the needs of every child without having to write 30 different lesson plans?

Parents of gifted students need to be cognizant of these types of issues in education because invariably it will affect your child if you choose to keep them in public education … and most of you will. So, what can a parent do to ensure that their own child’s needs are being met and that they are being challenged to meet their full potential?

Enter Higher Order Thinking as an instructional strategy. And what exactly is Higher Order Thinking? I like to ‘think’ of it as thinking beyond the test … thinking beyond rote memorization or simply retelling previously learned material. One needs to understand what they are learning and then connect their thoughts in meaningful ways to solve problems. Sounds good to me! One caveat though … there are many educators who strongly believe that Higher Order Thinking has no place in the classroom; that it is not a function of education.

This all begs the question … who teaches your child? Is it just the regular education teacher? The gifted education teacher? What about you? You have a responsibility to teach your child as well. Therefore, you need to know about Higher Order Thinking and how it can be taught both in your child’s classroom and at home.

Alice Thomas, M.Ed., and Glenda Thorne, Ph.D., in their article, “Higher Order Thinking” here, state that Higher Order Thinking skills can be learned and that skill levels can be increased. And the best strategy for both teachers and parents is modeling! This may require some knowledge acquisition on your part. Thinking about thinking, metacognition, is an intricate part of Higher Order Thinking. Understanding how you think can improve how you think. Therefore, one way to model Higher Order Thinking is to explain to your children why you think the way you do. Make sense?

In her piece for Edutopia, “Ten Takeaway Tips for Teaching Critical Thinking” here, Mariko Nobori provides teachers with some excellent strategies for teaching students to think at a higher level which include embedding questions in their lessons, prompting students with provocative questions, providing tools such as “sentence starters and connectors”, modeling expectations, encouraging constructive controversy, choosing topics that interest students, employing Socratic discussions, using different methods of assessment, allowing students to evaluate each other, and letting students lead the discussion. Parents can use these techniques as well in their everyday interactions with their gifted child. 

Why is this so important? In 2008, Tony Wagner wrote the book, The Global Achievement Gap, in which he details the dangers inherent in failing to educate our children to become critical thinkers with the ability to solve ever-increasingly difficult global problems. In the 21st century, employers put a premium on workers who have these skills and can effectively use them. Parents, too, need to put a premium on these skills for their children to become effective problem solvers. Innovation and creativity are both enhanced by Higher Order Thinking as an integral part of the process.

Higher Order Thinking as a teaching strategy encompasses a student’s world both in and out of the classroom. It can be used by both teachers and parents. Its effective use can overcome the brain’s natural inclination to limit incoming information and can encourage our children to become open to creative thought processes and new ideas.


  1. Good post. But who are these educators you quote " who strongly believe that Higher Order Thinking has no place in the classroom; that it is not a function of education." I really would like to write to them and point out the obvious.

    HOT skills are the natural extension of the LOT skills, indeed, HOTs are what make LOTs meaningful. Educators who do not place HOTs within the classroom need to know they are an endangered species because knowledge can be acquired anywhere. Knowledge is important - but what one does with it is even more important.

    It's not a pleasant thought to think gifted children have yet another hurdle to get over.

  2. Thanks for the comment Peter. Who are these educators? They are those who teach to the test because they are given no choice to do otherwise. Federal funding is based on AYP - Annual Yearly Progress - in the U.S. Here are a few references to this unpleasant situation ... and and (4th paragraph)

  3. Duh! Yes of course. Thanks for the links. I recall a post somewhere from a man who worked for a testing company (in the US) lamenting what companies like his were doing to education - unfortunately the mortgage payments seemed more important.
    You were probably being generous is calling them 'educators'.
    Thanks again.