Thinking skills are often characterized on a continuum of levels. Lower levels of thinking are simpler (memorizing, identifying, etc.). than higher levels (synthesizing, judging, analyzing, etc.) Differentiating curriculum to increase the complexity of the thinking involved means the learning process will emphasize the use and development of higher level thinking skills. This includes creative and critical thinking, problem solving, concept development, conflict resolution, moral and ethical reasoning and analysis. Complex thinking processes often involve content that is abstract or complex. Students should apply the new thinking to new situations, use their new skills to develop new knowledge, products, or ideas, and then evaluate the qualities of their thinking.
All students need to develop a repertoire of higher level thinking skills; however highly able learners who naturally think in more complex ways can and should spend a relatively greater proportion of their school time using and developing these skills. The overlapping triangles in Figure 4.6.1 represent this difference in emphasis. Remembering, understanding and applying are the lower levels; analyzing, evaluating and creating are considered higher levels of thinking. The height of each triangle indicates the relative amount of time students should spend developing skills at each level of thinking; higher means more time and lower means less. The bases of both triangles cover all levels indicating all students need to learn and use all thinking skills. The height of the triangle for complex thinkers is greater over the higher levels of thinking to show that highly able learners who naturally think in more complex ways and are ready to develop even more sophisticated cognitive processes than others should spend more of their time doing this.
Programs for thinking skill development: Bloom’s Taxonomy (revised by Anderson & Kratwohl in 2001) is one of many systems proposed to support the development of complex thinking skills. It is given more attention in Appendix B.
- Parnes’ version of Creative Problem Solving (further developed by Treffinger)
- Paul & Elder’s Critical Thinking
Each of these approaches focuses on a different type of thinking, however there are overlaps among them as well. A teacher should choose the model that emphasizes the type of thinking best suited to the learning outcomes to be addressed. Committing to one model and using it consistently, within and across content areas, will have greater benefits for students than attempting to introduce more than one at the same time. Students should however, be introduced to a variety of models and heuristics during their years in school.
Graphic organizers are also an effective means of enabling students to understand and improve their thinking. More complex graphics can be offered to more complex thinkers. They take the form of webs, flow charts, matrices, hierarchies, Venn diagrams, cycles, etc. Many templates for using shapes to guide the development of different types of analyzing information and planning complex activities are available online.
A number of the “College of William and Mary Teaching Models” are graphic organizers to be used in the development of critical thinking skills. For example, the Hamburger Model for Persuasive Writing:
“The Hamburger Model uses the familiar metaphor of a sandwich to help students construct a paragraph or essay. Students begin by stating their point of view on the issue in question (the top bun). They then provide reasons, or evidence, to support their claim; they should try to incorporate at least three supportive reasons (the “patties”). Elaboration on the reasons provides additional detail (the “fixings”). A concluding sentence or paragraph wraps up the sandwich (the bottom bun).”
Competitive problem solving programs like Future Problem Solving, Destination ImagiNation, and Odyssey of the Mind are often run outside of school hours by parents.