You Want HOTS: Develop Higher Order Thinking Skills
When I say to my students “You want HOTS, not just LOTS,” I encourage them to acquire higher order thinking skills which are grounded in lower order thinking skills.
Below are six levels of thinking skills from the lowest to the highest:
• LOTS (lower order thinking skills): remembering, understanding, and applying
• HOTS (higher order thinking skills): analyzing, evaluating, and creating
When students are unable to apply grammar rules they have learned to write grammatically correct sentences, let alone thoughtful passages to demonstrate their abilities to analyze or evaluate a given topic, this is because they acquired only the two lowest order thinking skills–remembering and understanding–which unfortunately are too often the focus of traditional education. Being able to recall something but not being able to apply that knowledge is not true knowing.
After years of working with high school students on college planning and applications, I have come to see that the so-called college essay–collectively known as “personal statement”–requires students to analyze their environments, reflect on their experiences, evaluate their accomplishments or lack thereof, envision their futures, and create personalized pathways to reach their academic objectives and life goals. In short, writing college essays requires HOTS. Many students find writing personal statements daunting because they have not acquired HOTS in order demonstrate these skills in their essays.
Looking at this from a college admissions officer’s point of view: his or her task is to select candidates who can distinguish themselves from a sea of applicants with similar grades and test scores. The college admissions office is not only interested in an applicant’s numbers but also in the applicant as a person who has thoughtful ideas and unique abilities which can only be revealed through the essays.
II. HOTS and LOTS in Bloom’s Taxonomy
HOTS and LOTS are cognitive or thinking skills that students develop throughout elementary and secondary schools, and continue into higher education. The classification of these thinking skills is based on the research of educational psychologist and international activist Benjamin Bloom (1913-1999). Benjamin Bloom saw education as a way to realize human potential. He spent more than thirty years teaching and researching at the University of Chicago, during which he led a team of cognitive psychologists in a study of educational goals and developed a method of classification for learning activities and objectives known as Bloom’s taxonomy.
Bloom’s taxonomy contains three learning domains: cognitive (knowledge or the thinking domain), affective (attitude or the feeling domain), and psychomotor (skills or the physical domain). This article will only touch on the cognitive domain for which Bloom and his students outlined a hierarchy of six thinking skills from the lowest to the highest: remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating (revised by Krathwohl and Anderson in 2001).
III. HOTS and LOTS in Today’s Classroom
Since the publication of the first volume of his research in 1956, Benjamin Bloom’s study of measurable learning objectives has been guiding generations of educators in the designs of curricula and evaluations of learning goals throughout the world. Below are definitions of these thinking skills, some of the verbs commonly used to connote them, and some examples of classroom activities used to develop these skills.
• Remembering: learning by repetition or rote memorization and recalling relevant knowledge from long-term memory
Verbs: defining, finding, identifying, listing, naming, and recognizing
– Ex. learning the alphabet, remembering a song, memorizing the multiplication table, telling left from right, recalling facts, and answering “who, what, where, when” questions
• Understanding: constructing meaning from oral, written, and graphic messages through classifying, explaining, illustrating, and interpreting facts
Verbs: categorizing, describing, exemplifying, paraphrasing, and summarizing
– Ex: identifying number pattern, recognizing prefixes and suffixes, discerning sequence of event, acknowledging facts, and comprehending literal meaning
• Applying: solving problems by applying acquired facts, rules, or techniques in a different way or a in new situation; carrying out a procedure through executing
Verbs: constructing, demonstrating, implementing, modifying, simulating, and solving
– Ex: applying grammar rules to write grammatically correct sentences to clearly communicate ideas, making a timeline of the Civil War, and demonstrating how clouds are formed
• Analyzing: breaking material into constituent parts, determining how the parts relate to one another and to an overall structure or purpose through differentiating, organizing, and attributing
Verbs: analyzing, comparing, deconstructing, examining, integrating, and structuring
– Ex: comparing and contrasting to determine how two things are similar and dissimilar, establishing cause and effect relationship, distinguishing different perspectives, and drawing conclusions by checking context clues
• Evaluating: presenting or defending opinions by making judgments based on criteria and standards, checking validity of ideas, or critiquing quality of work
Verbs: experimenting, hypothesizing, judging, moderating, predicting, and testing
– Ex: predicting what may happen next in a story or procedure, generating possibilities in scientific experiment, and making inferences to discover meaning through subtext
• Creating: putting elements together to form a coherent or functional whole; reorganizing elements into a new pattern or structure through generating, designing, or producing
Verbs: composing, devising, imagining, inventing, planning, and strategizing
– Ex: creating an alternate ending for a story, composing a song, crafting a story or writing an essay, making an iPhone application, designing a science project, writing a script and shooting a video for a US History class project, and planning an Elizabethan banquet for an English class’s Shakespeare unit
Many of these HOTS activities require more than one skill to perform, and many of the tasks combine logical, critical, reflective, and creative thinking skills. When a teacher asks her sixth-grade students to write a newspaper story of the attack on Pearl Harbor, she is giving a HOTS assignment, so is a physics teacher who assigns a group project to build a model roller coaster.
Children who like to tinker with technology can find a variety of opportunities and activities to improve their LOTS and develop their HOTS while having fun:
o Remembering: bookmarking, googling, highlighting, social networking
o Understanding: annotating, blog journaling, categorizing, Tweeting
o Applying: loading, playing, running and operating, sharing, uploading
o Analyzing: cracking, linking, mashing, reserve-engineering, tagging, validating
o Evaluating: alpha/beta testing, collaborating/networking, moderating, reviewing
o Creating: animating, directing/producing, filming, mixing/remixing, programming, streaming, blogging
IV. Develop Problem-Solving Skills Outside the Classroom
Outside the classroom, encourage children to start a blog with others to discuss an issue they care about, or form a club to solve a problem or meet a dire need in the community. These activities are good ways to improve children’s HOTS because such activities require children to first identify a problem, then analyze causes and effects associated with the problem, evaluate available resources, decide on an appropriate approach or an effective method, and finally strategize a plan and implement a solution.
Such activities not only can sharpen your children’s critical thinking skills but also improve their skills in communication, collaboration, and creative problem-solving. By working closely with others, children can learn divergent ideas and see different perspectives which may lead them to engage in lateral and associative thinking, not just vertical and linear reasoning, and thus allow them to consider possibilities they may not be able to think of on their own. These activities can help children develop HOTS to deal with complex real-world problems, from local to global, also to cultivate their EQ which is more important than IQ.
V. Conclusion: HOTS and Tomorrow’s Thinkers
LOTS are often acquired through passive learning and solitary practicing while HOTS require active learning and collaborative effort. HOTS are harder to develop but these skills enable students to become better at problem solving because they are able to transfer skills from one area to another area and from a familiar situation to new or different situations or under different sets of circumstances, making them multidisciplinary thinkers.
Today’s unprecedented challenges–climate change, species extinction, energy crisis, economic collapse, poverty, armed conflict, international terrorism, and nuclear weapons proliferation—are often inter-connected and complicated; consequently, they demand multidisciplinary and multidimensional solutions. More than ever in human history, today’s world needs to nurture tomorrow’s creative thinkers to stem the tide of elevating worldwide social, political, economic, and environmental problems that threaten humanity’s future.
By Annette Hu, ThinkTank Learning Admissions Consultant/Academic Counselor