Recently, the high school teachers at our school approached me and asked how to help their students think critically. They explained their frustration over the alarming trend seen in students desiring to only recall basic information rather than using the information on assignments and in discussions. I believe that we, as a teaching community, contribute to this and must be the ones to undo what we have subtly created. With the demands driven by curriculum and assessment, we tend to just cover material rather than dig in and create opportunities for students to analyze, evaluate and synthesize information. Teaching students to think in this way takes time--a lot of time--time that we may not have when expected to stay on a curriculum schedule. It's surely a great challenge, but I hope to give you a few ideas for building higher level thinking into your daily teaching and assessment routine.
First, let's defer to Benjamin Bloom...remember Bloom's taxonomy from Education 101? No matter how long ago you took education classes, his description of thinking is still accurate and useful to both teachers and students. Get students to think about their thinking. This is called "metacognition." By teaching your students the levels of Bloom's taxonomy and practicing them, you are helping students to be more aware of their thought processes. You might use this when having a discussion or when students are responding to a writing prompt. I suggest having a poster of Bloom's taxonomy in your classroom so you may refer students to it when using different levels of thinking. It can also be used when reviewing information at the beginning or end of class. For instance, plan several questions, one or two from a lower level and one or two from a higher level. Students can respond either verbally or in writing. This is a great time to use Think, Pair, Share. I recommend careful planning of the questions on your part. This is another way to be intentional about building in higher level thinking as well as to use your class time efficiently.
**A good reminder: students cannot skip levels of Bloom. If they do not comprehend the information you are teaching, they will not be able to apply, analyze or evaluate it.
Second, intentionally and regularly build higher level thinking into formal and informal assessments. Students will generally value what they are assessed on. Use an exit ticket several times a week that always requires a higher level response.
Third, be less helpful. "What kind of advice is this for a teacher?" you may ask. I think it's really great advice--especially for me. I tend to come running to the rescue of students who need support and immediately "fix" their conundrums. While teachers should support students, they can build critical thinking skills by providing minimum support. For example, ask the student questions to help clarify their thought process and get them to see what they are missing. Remind them of any frameworks you have taught such as problem solving methods or historical time periods. Perhaps give them the next step only instead of the entire process. Try to balance your assistance between not giving any answers and giving the whole answer.
For those of you who really want to dive in and further explore models and ideas for developing higher level thinking skills in your students, check this out. There are many explanations of this model online, but I thought this was a good description of its usefulness on a teacher's blog that I found.
I haven't tried this activity yet, but I plan to in the near future! This looks like a great activity to promote higher level thinking: