Encouraging higher-order thinking in students

Went to a fantastic professional development seminar today. It was given by Glen Pearsall, a teacher at a public high school and an expert in classroom dynamics.  In amongst the many things he taught us, was the importance of encouraging higher order thinking and drawing this out in students.

Much to my own annoyance, frequently in class I find myself asking basic questions so that I can elicit some response from students. If I can get students to answer a basic question, doesn’t that mean they are on the right track and understand what I am teaching them? Maybe. Questions that elicit front-of-mind responses or only require simple recall or recognition are not going to embed the learning for students.  The type of thinking that is required to answer these questions, will not take learning to a higher level.

Instead, students need to be working at a higher level of Bloom’s taxonomy: analysing, ranking, deducing, convincing, assessing, generating, etc. Sure, the basic level of response is useful initially, but not for creating deeper learning. And this is something I struggle to encourage in my more difficult classes.

Glen gave us a couple of examples of activities that can be applied across subjects to enable higher-order learning. One, which I will be implementing with my politics class tomorrow as a tie-in with Harmony Day, makes use of the website wordle.com. Prior to giving students a reading task, put the assigned reading into Wordle and click “Go”. Out pops a word cloud, sizing words according to their frequency in the article. You can play around with it a bit (taking out some words, changing font, colour, shape).

Have students think about the word cloud, individually and in pairs, discussing what they predict the article is about. Aside from Humanities or English, this task could be done with Science or Maths, looking at new concepts or procedures.

The purpose is to have students think about key words, and provide evidence for their predictions – guaranteed to engage students and get the limbic system firing!

Here is the word cloud I will be using, based on Chris Bowen’s recent speech on multiculturalism: Harmony Day word cloud