Higher order thinking skills like analysis, evaluation and creativity incorperate lower order thinking skills like remembering, understanding and applying. We aim to teach and facilitate higher order thinking skills in our teaching but what do we examine when we set our students tests or examination?

If we look at our tests and examinations are they focused toward higher order or lower order thinking skills? Are the assessment tasks and questions open or closed?

We are required to assess our students to:
  • measure their progress,
  • aid their learning
  • track their learning,
  • identify weakness
  • measure our own performance as educators.
Parents need a measure of their childrens progress, politicians and administrators need to measure how their money is being spent. Assessment, often in the form of tests and examinations, is used for all of this. This is not wrong but Assessment should primarily be for learning (Well done AFL)

This raises some fundemental questions about our assessment systems

  • Do our assessment systems do our students justice?
  • Do the assessment systems reflect our students learning?
  • Do they reflect the higher order thinking skills that we should be teaching our students in the 21st Century?
  • Is a 3 hour test a fair reflection on a years or semesters work?
  • Does a test or examination adequately prepare our students for work? How many workplaces have examinations as a measure of performance?

Does a one, two or three hour examination, sat in isolation from information sources and reference give a student adequate time to develop analysis, evaluate and be creative? To reflect critically on a year or mores work? Is it realistic to expect a student to complete these in close book format, when in the “real world” they would have a plethera of resources at their finger tips?

We know that in the knowledge economy of the 21st Century, Higher order thinking skills are valued and are indeed essential. But, do our assessments reflect higher or lower order thinking?

Key verbs in Blooms and 3 story Intellect

If we look at Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy or perhaps its simplified cousin the Art Costa’s Three Story Intellect, many of the verbs we associate with examination and test questions reflect lower order thinking skills.
Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy
Art Costa’s three story intellect
Lower Order Thinking
Recognising, Listing, Describing, Identifying, Retrieving, naming, Locating, Finding, bullet pointing, highlighting, bookmarking, social networking, social bookmarking, favouriting/local bookmarking, searching & googling.
Gathering information
Count, Define, Match, Observe, Select, Describe, Identify, List, Observe, Name & Recite.
Interpreting, Summarising, inferring, paraphrasing, classifying, comparing, explaining, exemplifying, advanced searches, Boolean searches, blog journaling, twittering, catergorising, tagging, commenting, annotating & subscribing.
Processing information
Analyse, Categorise, Compare/Contrast, Explain, Infer, Make, Analogies, Sequence, Synthesize & Sort.
Implementing, carrying out, using, executing, running, loading, playing, operating, hacking, uploading, sharing & editing.
Comparing, organising, deconstructing, attributing, outlining, finding, structuring, integrating, mashing, linking, validating, reverse engineering & cracking.
Checking, hypothesising, critiquing, experimenting, judging, testing, detecting, monitoring, blog commenting/critiquing, reviewing, posting, moderating, collaborating, networking, refactoring & testing.
Applying Information.
Apply a principle, Evaluate, Forecast, Hypothesize, Imagine, Assess, Predict, Speculate, Judge, if/then, Idealize & Generalise.
Designing, constructing, planning, producing, inventing, devising, making, programming, filming, animating, blogging video blogging, mixing, re-mixing, wiki-ing, publishing, videocasting, podcasting, directing & broadcasting
Higher Order Thinking

Common key verbs in examinations

What are the key verbs we use in our examinations.
  • list (Remembering)
  • state (Remembering)
  • identify (Remembering)
  • name (Remembering)
  • describe (Remembering)
  • comment (Understanding)
  • discuss (Understanding)
  • explain (Understanding)
  • exemplify (Understanding)
  • compare (Analyse)
  • analyse (Analyse)
  • evaluate (Evaluate)
These are predominently lower order thinking skills. Examinations can be a poor tool to measure higher order thinking.

Fortunately, examinations are not the only form of assessment we use with our students, but do the other types of assessment actually reflect Higher Order Thinking. Do the assessment tasks reflect the higher order goals and objectives or are they more of the same.

Do we put suitable emphasis on:
  • developing a hypothesis (Evaluating)
  • experimenting (Evaluating)
  • planning (Creating)
  • designing (Creating)
  • judging and evaluating (Evaluating)
  • producing and making (Creating)
  • critiquing, reviewing and testing (Evaluating)
  • refining (Creating)
  • mixing and remixing (Creating)
These can not be tested adequately in an examination or test