Saturday, January 22, 2011

Higher Order Thinking

Recently, I was humbled and honored to discover that I had been cited by another blogger, Mr. Lou Judd, regarding my work with "Sports and Spirituality", a presentation I gave at 2010's Living Eucharist Initiative in the Diocese of St. Petersburg (SportsLeader). Not only did Mr. Judd include a link for the hour plus audio-visual presentation, he also highlighted the way in which I concluded the presentation. Synthesizing the Olympic motto with our Catholic faith, I challenged listeners (more specifically coaches) to think of Citius, Altius, Fortius-- Faster, Higher, Stronger--not in terms of athletic prowess but rather in terms of how quickly we respond to the needs of others, how elevated our thoughts are (is God a focus or a footnote?), and how we are strengthening ourselves and others to carry out the good work that God has in store for us.

A rather lofty set of goals for coaches and athletes and the world of sports.

A rather lofty set of goals for any of us.

As workers in faith-based, Catholic institutions, our work-- no matter what area-- must move beyond the temporal and touch on the eternal. We must have loftier, higher goals for our students (or athletes, or choir members, etc.) than merely winning games or acing tests. We must ensure that all we do points toward God.

But, success in these earthly endeavors is important. As Catholic educators, we must ensure that we offer a top-notch education to our students in addition to offering them instruction in the Catholic faith. The spiritual is more important, and it's what separates us from our public and private non-denominational colleagues, but we are obligated to uphold standards of academic excellence. Catholic educators must not only make students better, faith-filled people, we must also make them smarter.

Another rather lofty set of goals.

In a concrete way, our teaching must encompass a move from lower to higher order thinking skills. We must educate our students in such a way that they move from very basic skills (defining, identifying, listing) to ones that require a deeper level of understanding (compare/contrast, evaluate, infer, analyze, create).

In 1956, Benjamin Bloom, along with a team of educational psychologists, identified six levels of the cognitive domain (from lowest to highest): knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. His taxonomy was revised in the 90s, and updated names were given for the levels (again from lowest to highest): remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating (click here for more information on Bloom's Taxonomy).

Knowledge at the lower levels is not as firm or intimately known as knowledge applied to one of the higher levels. For example, we may be able to read the word "connotation", define it and even be able to paraphrase or summarize its meaning. But, a deeper understanding of this word is required in order for us to compare it to symbolism, defend the associations we've attached to certain words, or even create a story in which the connotations of words used throughout it help to advance its plot, characterization or theme.

In order to advance from one stage of knowledge to the next, one must pass sequentially through the stages. In other words, in order to analyze, evaluate or create, one must first be able to remember, understand and apply. Therefore, information presented must be broken into manageable chunks and skills must be appropriately scaffolded. Just as we learn to walk before we can run, we must learn simple addition and subtraction before being able to solve word problems using either forms of arithmetic. Similarly, we must look at the steps involved in either addition or subtraction and present them to students in such a way that is logical, sequential and manageable.

To abuse yet another cliche: We eat an elephant by taking one bite at a time.

If we take enough bites we will have eaten the entire thing.

To impart knowledge that is meaningful, useful and enduring we must show students the connection between the ear and the trunk, the tail and the body. We must be able to get students to see the connections between and among their pieces of knowledge if it is to persist years, months, days or even minutes after a test or quiz.

We must get students to make these connections for themselves.

We must get students to leave the caves of lower order thinking and allow them to see the actual objects that had cast the shadows in the recesses of their former captivity.

We must liberate them, in the true sense of a liberal arts education, so that students can use their higher order thinking for some Higher Order working.