University of Edinburgh
Empower '97: International Conference on Deaf Education

Workshop 4: Higher Levels of Thinking and Young Children: Are they compatible?

Margaret Ward

Learning to Learn, Toronto

There are many taxonomies or progressions of thinking skills. This particular taxonomy is based on the work of Benjamin Bloom who proposes six levels of thinking each dependent on the previous levels. When I considered teaching higher levels of thinking skills initially to ten-year olds, I found this particular taxonomy quite useful. The problem was how to help students to understand just what was involved in doing such intricate tasks as analysis or evaluation. In the end, I found that the simplest method was to teach each level of thinking as a separate entity while at the same time showing their progressive dependence. I offer the following methodology as one way to help young students to understand more clearly the notion of higher level thinking.

The Introduction of Thinking Skills to Students

1 Teach the levels of thinking:

  • Knowledge
  • Comprehension
  • Application
  • Analysis
  • Synthesis
  • Evaluation

The method I used to get across the progression of thinking was the WASHING MACHINE ANALOGY

I talked about the importance of recognising a washing machine (knowledge), understanding what it does (comprehension), using it (application), taking it apart in order to understand it more fully (analysis), putting it together again perhaps in a new and improved way (synthesis) and, finally, judging whether it is in good working order or not (evaluation). In this, the students hopefully can see the dependence of each level of thinking on the levels that precede it. So, when the students are faced with an activity which requires thinking at the analysis level, they will recognise the necessity of doing the groundwork at the Knowledge, Comprehension and Application levels.

The following are some verbs and products which can be quite helpful in setting out tasks and activities at different levels of thinking.

Bloom's Taxonomy - Verbs (Process) and Products

KNOWLEDGE - Process: record, list, repeat, define, memorise, label, name, relate, tell. Product: tapes, written report, charts, letters, recitation.

COMPREHENSION - Process: restate, review, describe, explain, expand, report, identify, discuss, express, locate. Product: scrapbook, puzzle, maps, quiz, advertisement, mural, visual display.

APPLICATION - Process: relate, solve, demonstrate, practise, classify, illustrate, organise, employ, interview, translate, interpret, schedule. Product: diary, puzzle, photograph, sculpture, mobile, crafts, charts, mural.

ANALYSIS - Process : deduce, debate, question, distinguish, solve, compare, classify, criticise, discover, simplify, dissect. Product: graph, diagram, charts, questionnaire, survey, census, case study.

SYNTHESIS - Process: compare, design, plan, arrange, formulate, organise, assemble, construct, prepare, combine, compose, modify, imagine, pretend, create. Product: study, play, cartoon, pantomime, poem, TV/radio show, invention, model, puppet show, poster, advertisement.

EVALUATION - Process: select, judge, predict, choose, estimate, evaluate, value, measure, project, recommend, suppose, rate, conclude, assess, decide, infer. Product: Court trial, panel discussion, debate, news item, recommendation, letter to the editor.

Use any tools as long as students understand that there is a progression to thinking. They should know that knowledge and comprehension must be acquired before any kind of evaluation can take place although, in fact we keep trying to evaluate stuff without the prerequisite knowledge and comprehension. Usually, we end up having to re-evaluate as new facts come to light. Now, this is simply a fact of life at times as stuff becomes obsolete and new discoveries come to light - but there are frequently enough facts available to make life easier the first time round. Think of electricity - if we have enough understanding of how it works (and that must mean that I have the relevant facts) then we will avoid dangerous situations.

2 Take a text to which every student has access

Formulate questions at the knowledge level as a class activity. There are lists of verbs available which can be helpful in guiding the formulation; however, these lists are only guidelines.

At this point, the students should be exploring the essence of the knowledge level of thinking - the data are easily accessible, the question has one right answer, there is general agreement at this level, any differences are due to misreading the data.

As each question is formulated, allow the students to express any doubts about the question and let the students themselves justify the question.

You may opt to answer the questions in a group or in writing. Both are advantageous. Sometimes the written option provides an opportunity for students at all levels to get everything right and so gain a little confidence.

Check the answers as a class - making sure that as the answer is given the student refers to the text so as to indicate the source.

This knowledge exercise usually takes one period of language or one day.

Take a day for each level. Begin by reviewing the levels that went before so that the students get the idea that there is a building of thinking. Again, the lists of verbs can be helpful, but they are not infallible; eg List six improvements that could be made to the education system. List is suggested as a knowledge verb, but in this context it requires thinking at the synthesis level which, of course, assumes knowledge, comprehension and analysis of the education system before improvements can be listed.

Look at the product you expect as a response to each activity. Although the activity seems quite simple, if it requires synthesis, the amount of work involved may be quite substantial. Actually, this is frequently where the problem arises. It is not that students are not ASKED to engage in higher level thinking skills, it is simply that often they do not appreciate the amount of work that goes into the products of the higher levels. A further word about products. You may want to specify the product or you may simply set the question or the task and allow the students to decide on a final product. The second option opens up some interesting possibilities, since the listing of the products above would imply that some products are more suited to specific levels of thinking. Given choice, students will search in the products as a whole and frequently come up with truly creative work.

When students recognise an analysis activity, they should also recognise that it necessarily involves gathering ALL data (knowledge) and understanding it before any analysis can be done.

Supplementary materials with examples of a few questions at each level of thinking. Texts: Oxford Reading Tree series

Midge in Hospital by Roderick Hunt and pictures by Joe Wright, Stage 4, Book 2.

The New House by Roderick Hunt and pictures by Alex Brychta, Stage 4, Book 2

The Dolphin Pool by Roderick Hunt and pictures by Alex Brychta, Stage 3

Pirate Adventure by Roderick Hunt and pictures by Alex Brychta, Stage 5, Book 2

Land of the Dinosaurs by Roderick Hunt and pictures by Alex Brychta, Stage 6 Owls

The Dump by Roderick Hunt and pictures by David Parkins, Stage 6 Robins

Lost in the Jungle by Roderick Hunt and pictures by Alex Brychta, Stage 7 Owls

The Emergency by Mike Poulton and pictures by Alex Brychta, Stage 8 Robins

The Spoilt Holiday by Mike Poulton and pictures by Alice Englander and Nicky Palin, Stage 8 Jackdaws

A Proper Bike by Roderick Hunt and pictures by Alex Brychta, Stage 9 Robins

William and the Mouse by Mike Poulton and pictures by Alex Brychta, Maggie Silver, Alice Englander and Rowan Clifford, Stage 11 Jackdaws

Snow Poems by John Foster, Stage 11 Jackdaws - Poetry

Nothing by Mick Inkpen, Hodder Children's Books 1995

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