Teaching Higher-Order Thinking: A Difficult Job, But a Huge Payoff

Teaching Higher-Order Thinking: A Difficult Job, But a Huge Payoff

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Teaching Higher-Order Thinking

Teaching young children how to think at a higher level takes dedication and focus on the part of teachers. Some students can easily and naturally think this way. But others struggle to do so. The good news is that all students can learn this skill with practice.

How can educators best help their students along in this critical skill development? Read on.

Higher-Order Thinking…More Than a Buzz Word

There’s no denying that a lack of higher-order thinking skills can be seen in every subject area:

  • Reading: Students read well, but don’t comprehend what they read.
  • Writing: Student cannot communicate their ideas effectively. They do not understand what they want to say nor do they know how to outline their thoughts logically.
  • Math: Students can work basic operations, but they cannot reason mathematically. They struggle with word problems because they don’t comprehend the problem.
  • Social Studies: Students fail to connect events in history because of poor analysis and reasoning skills.

Children need to be taught how to think, not what to think. But teaching this mindset, especially in the early grades, is challenging. “I am trying, but my kids don’t get it.” This can be heard in almost any classroom, especially from teachers who are feeling the pressure (as we all are) to ask students to do more and more with the facts they are taught. These same teachers tend to feel frustrated because many times the strategies they are using to encourage higher-order thinking aren’t the right strategies.

5 Ways to Develop Thinkers

Teachers can do a lot to help their young students think at a higher level. Here are some tips to get better results with each day of teaching:

Understand what higher-order thinking is and isn’t.
This sounds like a no brainer, but it’s easy to lose sight of what higher-order thinking skills are and look like in day-to-day practice. Higher-order thinking is not memorizing facts. It’s not re-telling something back to someone the way it was told to you. It’s not rattling off multiplication tables or the presidents of the United State. It isn’t simply accepting the facts. It’s doing something with them—such as making inferences, connecting them to other facts, categorizing them, and applying them in new ways.

Be intentional.
Young children don’t automatically understand what higher-order thinking is. Teachers must show them. This calls for intentional, day-in-and-day-out efforts to teach children about higher-order thinking and strategies and help them understand their strengths and weaknesses in this area.

Provide opportunities to think.
Studies show that the more children are exposed to higher-order thinking, the greater the probability they’ll be able to apply those skills to their lives. With some thought, it’s possible to encourage higher-order thinking across the curriculum. It boils down to adopting the appropriate strategies, being persistent, monitoring progress, and staying open-minded and flexible.

Help children see themselves as thinkers by asking questions.
Socrates nailed it—asking questions is a great way to teach thinking skills. Young children are experts at asking questions—we all know that! Rather than automatically answering their endless number of questions, teachers can build on their natural curiosity with responses like these:

  • That’s a good question. I don’t know the answer.
  • How about we Google that to find the answer?
  • Good question—let’s brainstorm some possible answers.
  • That’s interesting. Why do you think that?
  • I am interested in hearing your thinking on that.
  • How would you solve that problem

Of course, children also learn by observing how their teachers solve problems. Be a good role model by addressing daily classroom problems, dilemmas, and uncertainties with curiosity, enthusiasm, and confidence.

Explore in more depth how to up the level of higher-order thinking in your classroom in the SDE webinar Are You a Higher-Order Thinking Teacher? (Gr. 1–3) by experienced classroom teacher Melissa Dickson.