Monday, 7 May 2012

Higher Order Thinking in the Teaching Strategies

The Department of Education (2004) state,” Higher-order thinking requires students to manipulate information and ideas in ways that transform their meaning and implications.” The teacher’s main task is to create activities and environments that allow for students to engage in higher order thinking. The teacher can do this by implementing and linking specific teaching strategies such as, writing, direct instruction, discussion, problem solving, small group work and cooperative learning in unison and individually. By utilizing these strategies in a thoughtful manner, students are given the opportunity to participate and learn in enriched activities that exercise and develop their higher order thinking skills.

Encouraging students to learn through writing can actively engage them in a learning process in which Killen, (2009) suggests they are encouraged to think about, manipulate and use ideas that they are encountering. Writing is a way for students to critically evaluate, analyse and organise ideas that connect them to their prior learning to deeper their understanding in any key learning area.  However this can be a difficult task and can hinder students learning if they do not have to appropriate literacy skills required. In order for this strategy to work effectively for these students, the teacher needs to guide students into writing with ease. “This can be done with simple journal entries and finishing incomplete sentences,” (Killen, 2009). Teaching students to learn through writing encourages them to express their ideas and develop their confidence in their ability to write well. It is clear that learning through writing allows students to exercise higher order thinking skills as they are evaluating, analyzing and reflecting on their work. Learning through writing can be implemented in a direct instruction lesson to enhance the students’ knowledge and understanding.

Direct instruction is a teacher-centered strategy that requires organization and planning. It allows the teacher to deliver information to students in a highly structured way with a focus on academic achievement. Direct instruction is not just a ‘chalk and talk’ teaching approach. Killen (2009) indicates, it allows the teacher to teach, model and demonstrate learning in small steps and needs to allow for student practice in between these steps. Questioning and probing is vital in direct instruction. Killen, (2009) suggests, by asking students higher order questions develops the student’s critical thinking skills. This allows students to build on and pursue knowledge on their own. By using this teaching strategy, students are provided with information and interconnections. However, direct instruction does not cater for all learning needs and students are required to have skills in note taking and observing in order to understand information. To cater for all students the information can then be developed in a more student-centered learning experience such as group discussion.

The group discussion strategy often compliments direct instruction. Discussion based learning allows for students to listen to other viewpoints and ideas, express their thoughts, exchange ideas and reflect on their own views and ideas.  Group discussion can enable students to think critically in order to evaluate, synthesize and analyses the topic. By doing this students are using high order thinking skills to build on prior learning and over come misconceptions. However, discussions can also lead to further misconceptions if the students agree on the same error. The teacher needs to be present in the discussion in order to subtly lead students in the direction of the lessons learning objective. “Teachers questions during a discussion should be used to help learners gain knowledge,” (Killen, 2009). Teacher statements and questions should be included in the discussion in order to guide students to answer each other’s questions and agree with others student’s statements. Group discussion allows students to be reflective in their own learning and by exercising higher order thinking skills also develop student’s ability to problem solve.

Learning through problem solving, challenges students to use higher order thinking skills to learn new information. Through this strategy student are analysing, evaluating and creating how and what they are learning. “By providing meaningful solutions to problems leads to deeper understanding of the subject matter.” (Killen, 2009) The teacher in this teaching strategy plays an instructor. The instructor can develop resources that the students are to use however, how they use the information is up to the students. This can be a limitation to the teaching strategy as Kirschner, Sweller and Clark, 2006 suggest, that while the students are working independently they can use the information from the resources and higher order thinking skills to acquire misconceptions which they then return to their group to explain, which later has to be unlearnt. In order to lead students away from misconceptions, the teacher needs to organise, plan and “develop a suitable problem or series of problem that can be used to help learners achieve the desired outcomes,” (Killen, 2009).  Teaching through problem solving allows students to exercise higher order thinking and also increase student’s communication skills in small groups.

Small group work can be a very effective teaching strategy and creates an opportunity for higher order thinking to occur. Group work allows the students to improve on their communication and problem solving skills. By having the students work in smaller groups all students are given the chance to listen to and voice their feelings and opinions on any issue, (Killen, 2009) evaluate, analyse and reflect on their learning and on the topic they are given. It is important that the topic is interesting to the students and that they are in appropriate groups if order to create successful learning. If students are not focused, the lesson will not be productive and students will not use higher order thinking skills and therefore they will not gain a deep understanding of the topic. In small group work it is the teachers duty to guide the students to use their problem solving and higher order thinking skills to an appropriate learning outcome. Using small group work in the classroom also enhances cooperative learning by students.

Like small group work, cooperative learning is a successful strategy in which, groups with varied ability of students work together to deeper the understanding of the topic. According to King (2010), “cooperative learning can be effective in the development of thinking skills.” Students will analyse, evaluate and reflect on group and individual learning. Students are to work together until they all have a clear understanding. Each member of a team is responsible not only for learning what is taught but also for helping teammates learn, thus creating an atmosphere of achievement,” (Johnson and Johnson, 2001). However, this can also be a limitation and can hinder students learning. If not all students contribute to the activity; the students will not be able to use higher order thinking skills, as the individual component of the task was not complete and not all information was acquired.  This will cause gaps in the students understanding. If the students have been taught how, are motivated and focused on the task cooperative learning is an ideal strategy that requires students to use higher order thinking skills to obtain deep understanding. 

Higher order thinking is extremely important for students to use while completing activities that require deep understanding. By using writing, direct instruction, discussion, problem solving, small group work and cooperative learning strategies allow students to use these thinking skills in their learning. “In helping students become producers of knowledge, the teacher's main instructional task is to create activities or environments that allow them opportunities to engage in higher-order thinking.” (Department of Education, 2004).

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