Why teaching higher order thinking skills is often overlooked

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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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