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Higher Order Thinking - From Mediocrity to Success

The way that a child learns to use Higher Order Thinking Skills determines the difference between whether they live a life of mediocrity, or one of success.

The difference between leaders and followers...

Have you ever thought about the progress we have made over the past few centuries? We’ve discovered medical breakthroughs. We’ve engineered machines which can do things we can’t do. We’ve created laws to advance our society. We’ve designed computers to make our lives much more efficient. We’ve created many technological advances haven’t we? Actually no, we didn’t create them at all. Significant contributions to technological change have actually been made by less than 1% of the population. The rest of us simply follow the lead of those who create the change. So what is the difference between people who follow the change (followers) those who implement them (middle men) and those who create them (leaders and experts)?

The most common response to this is that the difference depends on what a person knows.  Knowledge without wisdom however is unhelpful. It is how a person applies their knowledge that determines their success. The application of knowledge comes down to a simple yet often overlooked concept called thinking. It’s not just what we think about either, but how we think about it.

Explorative Learning - Asking the right questions.

Here’s something to think about: Just as people avoid exercise because it is exhausts the body, the same is true for how thinking exhausts the mind. We prefer machines to work for us just as we prefer someone to explain something to avoid the effort of figuring it out. But just as physical exercise makes the body stronger; a strong mind must also undergo the right kind of regular ‘thinking’ workouts. A Personal Trainer may guide our progress by adjusting the routine, but would do nothing if they lift the weights for us. Likewise, a good teacher would not expect solid understanding to be gained by explanation alone. When the learner has explored the concept at progressively deeper and deeper levels, the explanation which follows will construct a more solid meaning than what it would without ‘thinking it through’ first. This means that the best explanations are those which join most appropriately with the questions they preceded. It also means that the best teachers are those who know how to facilitate learning by asking the right questions.

What are the right questions?

Good question. The answer is Higher Order Thinking Skills questions, though in order to understand the answer, we must first ask further questions to explore this concept deeper.

What types of questions are there?

The depth (or thoroughness) of our understanding is determined by the depth our thought processes undergo whilst learning about it. At the shallow end we find the more simplistic thinking processes such as recollection, comprehension and some form of application. Being able to explore questions designed at these levels are necessary to gain a basic and fundamental understanding when learning about new concepts. Building basic ability to create outstanding achievement however requires delving progressively deeper into exploration by engaging the ‘Higher Order Thinking’ processes such as analysis, evaluation and creativity (sometimes referred to as ‘critical thinking’).

Blooms Taxonomy - A Model for Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS)

The cognitive domain of Blooms Taxonomy (see diagram to the left) is the best known model used in Educational Psychology for categorising the depth and layers of thought involved in the learning process. As the depth of understanding increases, so does the abilities the learner is able to demonstrate.


Knowledge:Remembering facts, terms, names, locations, dates, sequences and basic concepts.

Comprehension:Demonstrating an understanding of the information remembered by comparing and organising it into something meaningful.

Application:Using that understanding combined with techniques to solve a problem or complete a task.

Analysis:Breaking information down into parts for examination to establish causes and connections.

Evaluation:Using the results of analyses to make conclusions about something’s value to base decisions on.

Creation:Connecting the meaning of evaluations to synthesize new concepts or new ideas which require continuous analysis and evaluation (thus continuing the cycle).


Mediocrity to Excellence - From the Classroom to the Real World

Memory, comprehension and application are fundamental thinking skills we all require to understand and complete simple tasks, pass assessments and hold down a basic job. In a workplace setting especially, Critical or ‘Higher Order’ Thinking skills (analysis, evaluation and creation) are most heavily used in roles given to people charged with the responsibility of making important decisions. Managers for example may have to analyse prospective applicants and then evaluate who to hire and fire. After analysing all factors involved and evaluating the likely impact on future changes, it is the responsibility of those highest in command (leaders) to use creative processes for innovative purposes. Examples might include developing new policies, establishing new job descriptions, producing new training resources, designing new marketing strategies and or even inventing new products. Because of the way that Higher Order Thinking Skills separate mediocrity from excellence in the professional world, Assessors use similar models to set benchmarks for success at school as well. The more important assessment tasks (especially at HSC level) are often designed to not only evaluate the breadth of a student’s knowledge, but the depth of their understanding. In fact, assessment questions which carry the heaviest weighted marks are usually those based around analysis, evaluation and creation.

Higher Order Thinking Skills Activities in the Home

Because we often want to ensure our children arrive at the ‘right conclusion’ it is tempting to explain everything rather than allowing them to explore their own thoughts about the topic. The simplest ways in which parents can assist in developing a child’s Higher Order Thinking skills can be as simple as encouraging our children to think about ‘why’, ‘how’ and ‘therefore this means that…..’

As their understanding is built around a constructivist framework, the best teachers will progressively deepen your child’s understanding by utilising Higher Order Thinking questions to explore the learning processes one layer at a time. This process gradually constructs knowledge into understanding, and understanding into expertise. In the short term, your child’s assessment marks will soar. In the long term, so too will their future success.

Gives you something to think about, doesn’t it?

Although language and culture will have an impact on how your child’s higher order thinking skills are developed, the higher order thinking activities should be adapted depending on the learning environment. Higher Order Thinking Questions should be used in any learning environment, whether it’s teaching, training, lecturing, explaining or tutoring. Sydney, London, Washington, Beijing or Delhi – the only difference is that the higher order thinking activities should be adapted depending on the culture. Intelligence howeverArticle Submission, is a good thing anywhere!

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Stuart Adams is a Teacher, Careers Advisor, Dietitian and Managing Director of Top of the Class Home Tuition Sydney.

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