Teachers, have you ever unwittingly set your students up to fail?
I know I did, as a graduate teacher starting out in the late 1970s. In my early years in the classroom I invited and encouraged my students to think – but I didn’t give them a framework or structure for thinking. What’s more, I didn’t make my questions explicit by making the task verbs clear. And I certainly didn’t give them appropriate thinking tools to tackle the task. In hindsight, I realise I set my students up for failure every day, even though my heart was in the right place.
So, how do we support our students to succeed when it comes thinking at a cognitive level? How can we support them to not only think at the foundation levels but also to become higher-order thinkers?
Well, firstly, to think clearly, we need structure. That’s why it’s vital as teachers and leaders that we give our students a framework for thinking. For the past 25 years as an education consultant, I have used this Thinking Skills Framework (see free downloads), which explains the six cognitive levels of (Benjamin) Bloom’s Taxonomy (remember > understand > apply > analyse > evaluate > design).
I believe the Thinking Skills Framework is the single most important framework you will ever teach your students. It is also the strongest teaching structure you can rely on to design engaging lessons and create your Thinking Classroom. It’s no trend – as you may know, American educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom developed this learning taxonomy in the 1950s.
I unpack this thinking framework explicitly in my book, Reflections on Classroom Thinking Strategies (10th edition), and I want to share it here in summary too. It may seem a bit overwhelming at first glance, but stay strong! I guarantee that once you understand it you will experience a light bulb moment. You’ll find it acts like a guiding light to structure your students’ thinking – no matter the subject, year level or competency. As you commit to using it consistently with your students you are on your way to creating your Thinking Classroom. It’s powerful stuff.
A quick guide to understanding the Thinking Skills Framework:
As you know, the six Bloom’s levels of thinking involve a hierarchy of skills from Remember to Design. When we teach students the importance of using both lower-order (foundation) thinking skills and higher-order thinking skills in tackling a topic or project, we are empowering them to think with the outcome in mind and to ask themselves, ‘Why am I learning this?’.
|Bloom’s Cognitive Taxonomy||Level of Thinking|
|1. Remember||Lower-order thinking (foundation thinking)|
|4. Analyse||Higher-order thinking|
Of course, teaching your students to think does not require they rigidly follow course from Remember to Design. Students can choose to start anywhere on the continuum but as you plan an overall lesson, unit or training scenario, starting at the Remember level is generally a sound idea.
Lower-order thinking (or foundation thinking) involves the three most obvious or basic levels of thinking. These thinking levels are vital because, like a house foundation, they provide a strong base from which students can build their thinking process.
- Remember: Ensure students remember various facts, data and details of the topic.
- Understand: Do your students understand the words, concepts, reasons for doing something and the cause-effect?
- Apply: Can your students use or apply this data in similar or different situations?
Armed with this knowledge and application, your students are ready for higher-order thinking.
- Analyse: (Greek definition of analysis is to break down) This is where any topic is separated or broken down into all or many of its component parts and each is examined and explored in detail and from different perspectives. This is the research or data collecting and collating part. Once analysis is complete, we can then move to the deciding part.
- Evaluate (Greek definition of kritikos is to judge, select, choose etc.) Students will evaluate the data assembled in the Analyse operation. A decision is made and can be justified from the evidence in the Analyse section. The process of analysing and evaluating is referred to as ‘critical thinking’ or ‘critical analysis’ and its importance should never be underestimated. When you empower your students in this type of thinking you set them up for success.
- Design. This is where we look at the weaknesses or deficits exposed in the analysis and attempt to find modifications, improvements and alternatives in order to create an even better situation.
In coming articles, we will discuss how to use these higher-order thinking skills to transfer the energy from your side of the ‘teacher desk’ to your students’ side of the classroom.
When you challenge your students to discuss, investigate, examine (Analyse), then to select, choose, rate, and prioritise (Evaluate), and finally when you challenge them to create alternatives, modify or improve (Design), that’s when you are enabling your students to think abstractly, creatively and divergently.
So, now it’s over to you. If you already use this Framework, how can you embrace it further in your teachings? And if you’re new to this Framework, how can you use it to support you to plan a lesson or activity? Your students will thank you for it as you set them up for success!
This article is taken from my book, Reflections on Classroom Thinking Strategies (10th edition). On this blog, we’ll be sharing some of our favourite thinking strategies to help your students become higher-order thinkers as you create your Thinking Classroom.