The Connection Between “Lower” and “Higher” Level Thinking

In Scott McLeod and Dean Shareski’s book, “Different Schools for a Different World,” they discuss four shifts that “deeper learning” schools place their focus. They are the following:

1.  Higher-level thinking: The shift from an overwhelming emphasis on lower-level-thinking tasks, such as factual recall and procedural regurgitation, to tasks of greater cognitive complexity, such as creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, and effective communication and collaboration. In other words, this shift asks students to live more often on the upper levels of Benjamin S. Bloom’s (1956) taxonomy (or Norman L. Webb’s [2002] Depth of Knowledge model) than the lower ones. The shift away from lower-level thinking helps foster graduates’ citizenship skills, economic and college success, and life readiness.

2.  Student agency: The shift from classrooms that teachers overwhelmingly control to learning environments that enable greater student agency over what, how, when, where, who with, and why they learn. Student agency allows for greater personalization, individualization, and differentiation of the learning process. As a result, student disengagement diminishes because students have greater autonomy and ownership over more of their learning.

3.  Authentic work: The shift from isolated academic work to environments that provide students opportunities to engage with and contribute to local, national, and international interdisciplinary learning communities. This shift supports students’ motivation by helping them see direct connections between their learning and the world around them, and identify the content’s relevance to their future lives. It more directly connects students’ learning activities to the societal innovations that surround them, enabling schools’ instruction and curricula to be more contemporary.

4.  Technology infusion: The shift from local classrooms that are largely based on pens and pencils, notebook paper, ring binders, and printed textbooks to globally connected learning spaces that are deeply and richly technology driven. The new affordances of mobile computing devices and online environments allow the first three shifts mentioned here to move into high gear. Robust technology integration efforts also combat equity concerns, allow students to master current information landscapes, and increase relevance to rapid, technology-driven societal innovations.

For the purpose of this post, I want to focus on the first, “Higher Level Thinking”.

When the term “shift” is used, it needs to be clear that it is not away from “lower-level thinking.” This is connected to “Higher-Level Thinking,” not separate.  The best quote I have heard on this topic is from Yong Zhao:

Image result for reading and writing should be the floor not the ceiling yong zhao

I have been criticized often for saying that “If you can google the answer to the question on the test, the question probably sucks.” The delivery of that statement, in all honesty, is meant to challenge people, but it is not saying that we shouldn’t have and develop basic knowledge.  When I move further into the statement, it is saying that lower-level thinking is not enough.  If I know something but don’t understand it, and can deconstruct it, will the information be valuable long term?  It is also imperative to understand that we should not solely become dependent on “Google” for knowledge.  I guess that more information online is incorrect or misleading, than factually correct.  But without the ability to dig deeper and as the authors state, develop “Higher-Level Thinking,” taking information from any source directly at face-value can limit anyone, now and in the future.

McLeod and Shareski dig deeper into this and note that these higher-order skills are not only beneficial to our students but necessary.

Today, higher-order-thinking skills are necessary not just for college but for nearly all citizenship and career demands (Wagner, 2008). Or, as Lauren B. Resnick (1987) of the U.S. National Research Council puts it:

Although it is not new to include thinking, problem solving, and reasoning in someone’s school curriculum, it is new to include it in everyone’s curriculum. It is new to take seriously the aspiration of making thinking and problem solving a regular part of a school program for all of the population…. It is a new challenge to develop educational programs that assume that all individuals, not just an elite, can become competent thinkers. (p. 7)

One of the big problems schools are facing is that most agree on the importance of these skills, but we struggle in how the development of these skills should be assessed. We ask for students to think “critically and creatively” yet score them on how we can move our learners to all think the same.  This is one of the biggest challenges education faces right now. Assessment often drives the teaching, not the other way around.

There are lots of great ideas and thoughts in this short book, and I would suggest it to anyone interested in education.

Source: George Couros