Why teaching higher order thinking skills is often overlooked

blog HOTS

I think that most educators would agree with me when I say that “higher order thinking skills” are extremely important for students to develop. Despite this, I see many educators becoming stressed at the thought of having to teach them to their students.

Now, I don’t think that this because educators are unable to formulate questions and organise activities to promote higher order thinking. I think the issue is that educators don’t have sufficient time to prepare lessons that encourage the development of these skills!

Questions that promote students’ higher order thinking don’t just naturally roll off of my tongue during lessons (I’m sure there are educators out there who are super clever and can do this in their sleep… but this is not me. And yes, I envy those people!).

I can still remember the moment in which I realised that I was NOT a natural at promoting higher order thinking skills. I was teaching a grade two class and I was facilitating a class discussion. I was trying to think of a question I could ask my students that would require them to use higher order thinking skills. I looked over at the “higher order questions – teacher’s prompts” poster that was stuck next to my whiteboard. I then stared at the floor, constructing my clever question. Happy with my idea, I looked up at my students to ask it, aannnndddd…  my kids were rolling around on the floor…

So…. while many experts in the field, who are clearly naturals, expect educators to just spontaneously pop out higher order thinking questions, tasks and phrases during every subject, class discussion and possible teachable moment… this ain’t happening in my classroom! If I want to encourage my students to develop higher order thinking skills I need to be more prepared and plan in advance!

As a result, I’ve decided to add an extra prompt to my planning document that is solely for coming up with questions, activities and the like that promote higher order thinking skills in my students.

It seemed like a good idea at the time, but using my updated planning document with the additional prompt ended up being pure torture! Two hours into planning a lesson I was STILL trying to come up with innovative ideas to encourage higher order thinking.

I had o go home and cook dinner for my son. I had a friend coming over for a drink. Spending this amount of time planning for every week was simple not possible.

I realised that it takes so much longer to plan a lesson that includes questions that promote higher order thinking than a lesson that doesn’t. For example, it is much quicker and easier to look at a curriculum outcome such as: ‘Students need to be able to add small groups of coins’… and get your kids to add small groups of coins (duh) than to think of questions such as: “Use four coins to make $1” or “How many 5c coins make up 20c?”. This is because if you want to get your students thinking, you need to be creative, think outside the box and actually use higher order thinking skills yourself. Who has time for this?

As teachers, we need to find ways to share our higher order thinking prompts and insights – to save us all time! This is where I plug my resources (it is the story of where they came from though, I promise). My resources aim to save teachers time and still get kids thinking. Simple as that!

You can check them out here:
Australian Money Task Cards Higher Order Thinking
Maths Project – Plan a Party
Area and Perimeter Task Cards Higher Order Thinking

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6 things to keep in mind when teaching students about money

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I’m sure a lot of educators can relate to me when I say that it is difficult to teach children about the concept of money. On sitting down to think about WHY this is the case, I realised that there are quite a few things that just wouldn’t seem logical or immediately make sense to students. And I think it is important to keep these issues in mind to help overcome some of the challenges when teaching this tricky concept.

*Please note that the issues I cover below are described in terms of Australian money, however many of these issues would also be relevant to other currencies.

  • Coins and notes are an endangered species. So many items are paid for using ATM cards or through some sort of online transfer system so kids aren’t seeing coins and notes in their everyday lives. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of my students think they can buy something just by waving an object in the air!
  • Size doesn’t matter. A 50 cent coin is worth less than a $2 coin, but is larger in size. This is confusing for little ones as they tend to think “the bigger, the better!”
  • More coins doesn’t necessarily mean more money. I remember heading to a lolly store when I was a little one with so many coins I could hardly hold them. I was with my elder sister who ONLY had one coin. Hehehe I thought as I was dreaming of all of the lollies I would gobble down in front of her… only to find out that she had 2 whole dollars to spend and I only had 70 cents worth of 5 cent coins. Waaaaaaa! That was the day I learnt that gold matters!
  • A Lyre what? One of the key ways to distinguish coins from one another is by looking at the images imprinted on them. I remember trying to explain to my students that a 10 cent coin had a Lyre bird on it and they were very confused. They didn’t think a bird could talk, let alone lie.
  • Numbers on coins just don’t add up. Ever added coins with a 10, 2 and a 1 on them and gotten 13 cents instead of 3 dollars and 10 cents? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. We need to remind our students that the gold coins and notes are worth dollars and the silver coins are worth cents. Thank goodness the bronze coins are no longer around.
  • One and two cent coins keep rising from the dead. Even though 1 and 2 cent coins haven’t been around for ages there are still many items priced at, say, $4.99 or $12.99. How on earth do you expect my students to find notes and coins to pay for these items? It’s really five dollars I hear you say… well why doesn’t the tag just say five dollars? Surely this advertising trick is outdated by now!

I have made quite a few money-related teaching resources that try to get kids to think about and tackle many of these issues.

Please find the links to these resource below (NB. the Australian version of these task cards has been my best selling resource to date):

Australian Money task cards higher order thinking grades 3 and 4.

UK money task cards higher order thinking grades 3, 4 and 5.

US money task cards higher order thinking grades 3 and 4.

Credit to Hidesy’s Clipart for the graphic.

Five ways to encourage EVERYONE in your class to share their ideas

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We’ve all been there. You’re facilitating a class discussion with a group of 30 students and the same 3 students keep answering EVERY SINGLE question (and they aren’t necessarily the more intelligent ones). By about the fifth time, one of these students speaks you awkwardly ignore the fact that their arm is waving around vigorously in the air and say “Does anyone else have anything to say?” you then pause and ask “Anyone?” At this point it’s tempting to just pick a random student and make them share their idea or share whatever they’re thinking (whether it’s on topic or not). However, this can be humiliating for the student and may discourage them from ever putting their hand up!

The following ideas describe ways in which I have encouraged my students to share their ideas, without embarrassment:

  • The good ole ‘Think, Pair Share’. I’m sure you’ve had this thinking tool shoved down your throats at many professional development sessions. BUT I would argue that there is a reason why… It actually works! Believe it or not but some students need:
  1. a) Time to think before answering a question, and
  2. b) Someone to pass their ideas by before risking sharing an idea and having 29 pairs of eyes rolled at them (we all know how brutal school can be).
  • Post it ‘Know’te. No matter how hard we try, some students just aren’t going to speak in front of their peers. They may be really shy, lack confidence or have been scarred by past “share time” experiences that have gotten ugly. If students write their idea on a post-it-note that is stuck on a whiteboard alongside their peers post-it-notes then their idea is less likely to be “stuck” to them (hehe get it?) or tracked back to them.
  • She said, he said. I don’t know about you but for some reason I feel more comfortable relaying what someone else has said in front of a large group than sharing my own thoughts. It’s almost like if it’s wrong or sounds silly then it’s not my responsibility. To test out a strategy that reduces student accountability for ideas, pair-up or group your students and get them to share their ideas with just one or a few other students (this is a lot less confronting than speaking to a large group). Then ask one group member to share an idea that his or her “group” (shared responsibility) came up with.
  • ‘Write as you think’ This one is for those students who spend their class discussion time gazing out the window, dreaming about sliding down the slippery dip at play time or trying to work out why there is a dictionary in the reading corner. If EVERY student has to respond to the questions that you pose then they have no choice but to focus in class and gather ideas to share with their peers.
  • ‘Share Around’ Ask your students to sit in a circle and take turns sharing their ideas by going around the circle, one-by-one. Let students know that there is the option to say “pass”. See if more students are willing to share their ideas using this strategy. I can’t put my finger on it but for some reason this has been successful with my classes. I haven’t actually worked out why yet but there must be a reason. Either way, it’s a winner!

If you have any others please post them below (or if you’re a bit embarrassed maybe you could have a think, pair up with someone for a chat and then share your idea with me) 😉

10 things I hate about homework

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Yes, that’s right, students and parents aren’t the only ones who might have issues with homework! Teachers aren’t necessarily fans either.

Here’s why:

1. I can never seem to give my students the right amount of homework. I get complaints from parents that I’m giving them too much homework or not enough.

2. Sometimes the homework that is returned is of such a HIGH standard. So high that it’s hard to tell whether the student or their parent completed it.

3. Sometimes the homework that is returned is of such a LOW standard. So low that I wonder why they bothered.

4. Lots of poor and innocent dogs are unfairly framed as “homework eaters”.

5. The words “home” and “work” just don’t mix. At least this applies to me. The last thing I want to do when I get home is work, so why should we force kids to do so?

6. I sigh every time I need to find some more homework “sheets” to send home and cringe at how badly they reflect on my teaching ability.

7. Research states that homework doesn’t improve student learning (I’d find a reputable source but then writing this post wouldn’t be fun anymore and I would feel like I was doing homework).

8. I struggle to find the right way to respond to someone who doesn’t return their homework. Should I be angry? Should I be sad? Should I check if their parents care? Maybe the problem is that I don’t really care.

9. I think it’s safe to say that homework is responsible for many household fights where children are banned from playing video games and forced to stay in their rooms until their homework is completed.

10. Homework is just plain boring!

Credit to My Cute Graphics for the graphic.

Diary of an Introverted Kid

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Well. It happened AGAIN today. I was asked that dreaded question. My dad looked at me awkwardly and said “How was school today? Who did you play with?”

Just to be clear, the reason why this question bothers me isn’t because I feel lonely and like I need closer friends. It’s because my parents and teachers are always at me about the fact that I don’t play with other kids at lunch time. It’s gotten so ridiculous that my teacher has started partnering me up with lunch time ‘buddies’ and my parents have started organising play dates for me behind my back!

Has anyone actually stopped to ask me WHY I spend my lunch times reading or day dreaming instead of chatting about the latest episode of SpongeBob Squarepants or skipping around the yard. Maybe it’s because I actually like relaxing and reading a book.

I mean, I spend the rest of the day with other kids. Lots of other kids in fact. And it’s not like I struggle to talk to them. My teachers have even said that they don’t understand why I am so good at being social yet choose to spend time alone. News flash… I quite enjoy having some time to myself. It’s not to say that I don’t like hanging out with my classmates. I just don’t want to be with people ALL of the time.

Where has the idea come from that I’d be happier and better off if I had lots of friends and were constantly with other people? Why can’t I please myself? I just wish my parents and teachers would leave me alone.

Introvert, Grade 2

Credit to My Cute Graphics for the graphic.

Ready for School?

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“Should I send my child to school this year? He’ll be a bit young… or should I wait until next year?”

This is a question that I’ve been asked by many friends of mine. Although every case is different, my first response is usually “There is no rush for your child to start school. I’d wait until the following year”.

There are a few reasons why:

Things just don’t “click” until a child is developmentally ready. I believe that it doesn’t matter how many times someone practises using the letters of the alphabet. If a child is not ready to use them then they won’t make any sense. I am guilty of having tried to “push” my son before he was developmentally ready. I made the mistake of trying to teach him to crawl. I lay on the floor and showed him what to do (I’m actually serious). I said, “Come on, you can do it!” and I also tried to move his arms and legs in a crawling motion. Surprise, surprise, it didn’t work. It is important for me to accept that he will crawl when he was ready.

Aside from being ready to the learn the content of the curriculum, kids need to be able to sit still, concentrate, share, converse and follow a routine. I’ve seen kids at school pretending that their pencil is a train and “choo chooing” it around their table. It was very cute but better off at play group.

Children also need to be socially ready. Every parent’s worst nightmare is that their child struggles to make friends. I’ve seen the younger students getting lost in the crowd, not knowing how to ask people to play, saying things in class that don’t make sense and having others laugh at them or call them a baby because they do not understand basic social cues. Believe it or not but 5 year olds call each other babies! If you want your child to be confident, more of a leader and secure, then the older they are, the better.

There are exceptions of course. Children all mature at different rates and this isn’t always associated with their age. All I’m saying is that if you’re in doubt, keep them out of school for a bit longer.

Credit to Creative Clips for the graphic.

6 ways teachers can fake it when they are having a bad day

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Number 1

Teacher: “Now class, because you’ve been so well behaved (and I’m sick as a dog) you can have a whole hour of free time!”

Students: “Woah, she really appreciates us! Best teacher in the world!”

Number 2

Students: “Miss, you should join in with our game of cricket”.

Teacher: “I definitely would, it’s just that I hurt my back when I was playing tennis.” (more like, when I got out of bed…)

Number 3

Students: “Are you okay Miss? I think your top is on inside out.”

Teacher: “Haha I was waiting until someone realised. Tricked you!” (Oh dear)

Number 4

Bell rings…

5 minutes later the teacher arrives…

Students: “Where have you been, Miss? We’ve been waiting for you.”

Teacher: “Grr I’ve been in a meeting upstairs and it went overtime.” (I slept through my alarm!)

Number 5

Teacher: “I didn’t mark your assignments over the weekend because I’d rather mark them with each of you individually (I was moving house). This way I can give you better feedback.

Students: “How thoughtful, she wants to put the time in to really help us learn and improve.”

Number 6

Teacher: “Please don’t forget to bring your library bags tomorrow or forget to go to the doctor”.

Students: “The doctor! What do you mean?”

Teacher: “I said ‘drama’, you have a drama class on tomorrow, right? (gee, I really do need to go to the doctor!)”

Credit to Creative Clips for the graphic.