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November 16, 2009

12th century or 21st century thinking?

12th century or 21st century thinking?
Lower and Higher Order Thinking: Where is the line?

We have a new case study to share from England and it is extensive. You can check out a range of research and reflections.. and look at video clips sent across the now “virtual” pond from St Robert (a secondary school in American terms).

Kevin Steele, a lead administrator, and his colleagues at St Robert of Newminster Catholic School and Sixth Form College drilled down to study “Thinking Maps and School Effectiveness"; in a UK Comprehensive School.” One of the outcomes of the research shows that students and teachers are now spending more time at the higher levels of thinking at St Robert School. Hmmm… What does that mean? Kevin and his team are tracking an essential question here in the 21st century… asking about Higher Order thinking...

Here are some clips to view. The first clip is of students showing and talking about the effectiveness of Thinking Maps for interpretation of poetry and essay writing;

the second clip is a new teacher being coached on pre and post lessons by Kevin—a seasoned teacher and administrator--using the very same tools. A secondary student, a new teacher, a seasoned administrator using the same tools. Hmmm… The young teacher is shown in the clip talking about how the maps helped her improve her own thinking and teaching effectiveness--- using a common language for thinking.

How can that be? Isn’t the teacher just naturally thinking at a “higher” level? The normative view (call it a paradigm) is that we all just “naturally” progress from lower order (concrete) to higher order (abstract) thinking in some grand stage theory staircase to “adult” thinking! As my teenage son might say: not. Let's not confuse Piaget with Bloom!

This all takes me back to when I was a young teacher 30 years ago (it could have been the 12th century)—the early 1980’s in Oakland, California teaching mostly African American youth living in a high poverty area—and I went to a workshop on Bloom’s Taxonomy. I was told to ask more questions at the upper end of Bloom’s taxonomy-- you know: analysis, synthesis, evaluative (FYI: see the revised Bloom, 2001--an Addison Wesley Longman book). These questions were to be asked of my students who were in schools that would be closed down today for lack of AYP. Talk about left behind. Sadly, most of the children I was teaching, in statistical terms and in life, were BOUND to failure by the system. Why?

All I know is that when I went back to the classroom after the workshop I asked more complex questions. I cajoled. I pleaded for responses. I didn’t know what to do. Later I went to a presentation by Art Costa on Habits of Mind (then called “intelligent behaviors”). I realized in that moment that I was just one in a string of teachers slowly remediating my students toward failure (imagine the slow simmering of frogs in water… they can’t save themselves and jump out… they are mesmerized by the
dullness of it all). I was re-mediating the content they hadn’t “learned” the first time. Or the second time… or for the previous eight years of their schooling. They had been “remediated” in reading groups during their first days of kindergarten. My students’ now had fully REMEDIATED MINDS!

visible_thinking.jpgOK, I’ll get to my point: What Art Costa offered was a vision of cognitive mediation (Google: Reuven Feuerstein). They were not being mediated through their fundamental cognitive processes. So then the question becomes: Where is the line between lower and higher order thinking? Consider: The fundamental cognitive skills—thinking skills—are at play at every level of Bloom’s taxonomy. Bloom’s taxonomy is NOT a stage theory of cognitive development: it is a LEVELED taxonomy of objectives all at play in kindergarten and preK!

So take a look at the two video clips, one of students, one of a new teacher being coached on the content AND her thinking. Look for the commonalities in thinking. The message was delivered long ago by Lauren Resnick and others: higher order thinking occurs at the earliest ages of schooling and through, dynamically, our latest years of life. And now we even know of the plasticity of our brains… networking patterns of thinking as we sleep.

We can’t wait
and THEN…

So how are you thinking about this?