Higher-order thinking is the exception rather than the norm for most classrooms

McREL has collected data from more than 27,000 classroom observations that offer a dismaying glimpse into the level of instruction that appears to be occurring in the nation’s classrooms. In well over half of these observations, student learning reflected the two lowest levels of Bloom’s taxonomy: remembering (25 percent) and understanding (32 percent). Meanwhile, students were developing the higher-order thinking skills of analysis (9 percent), evaluation (3 percent), and creation (4 percent) in less than one-sixth of the classrooms observed.

Certainly, not all learning can focus on higher-order thinking; teachers must develop students’ ability to recall and understand basic concepts before they can move on to more critical thinking. Nonetheless, the fact that so much of what goes on in classrooms appears to be focused on low-level thinking suggests that high expectations and challenging instruction may be the exception, rather than the norm, for most students.

Bryan Goodwin via http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/111038/chapters/Guaranteeing-Challenging,-Engaging,-and-Intentional-Instruction.aspx

[See also the data at Are 21st century skills a solution to a problem that may not exist?]

4 Responses to “Higher-order thinking is the exception rather than the norm for most classrooms”

  1. Wow! This is the first article I have read on your blog and I am a fan already. This is some awesome data. I am a big fan of self directed learning and this is some interesting evidence showing that you may not be learning what you need to be successful in the classroom.

    Analysis, evaluation, and creation are skills that are well suited to be learned outside of a structured learning environment, as you either learn them, or fail quickly.

  2. Although distressing, I don’t think these figures are too surprising. I conduct a workshop with teachers where we write student learning objectives to correspond to every level of Bloom’s. Needless to say, it’s much, much easier to operationalize behaviors that correspond to the lower levels. The upper levels are much more challenging. What does it really MEAN to evaluate and create? How do we know that a student is doing it? And then how do we place observable, measurable “evaluating” and “creating” behaviors in the context of different subjects? Further, given that the behaviors are likely to be complex and have multiple components, we have the challenge of measuring them.

    The fascinating part for me, when I conduct these workshops, is that most teachers come into the workshop believing that the higher levels of Bloom’s CANNOT be observed and measured. That’s always interesting to me because if that’s true, how will we ever be able to say that we’ve successfully taught kids to achieve those levels of critical thinking? It’s as if they are resigned to teaching the lower levels and just hope the higher levels develop on their own. Happily, by the time the workshop is complete, the teachers have changed their minds.

    I think that those of us who are teacher educators often assume that we can just give teachers the Bloom’s pyramid and that they will “make it so.” But in my experience, teachers need to be taught how to utilize the verbs that go with those different, higher levels. Given the challenge of figuring out what student need to DO in order to demonstrate those levels, using those higher levels of Bloom’s can actually be pretty fun.

    Thanks, Scott!

  3. Thanks. Appreciate the link and the data. We need to see more about higher level thinking.

  4. Get all the wonderful glory of so much remembering and understanding and appreciate the observations that led to quantifying these cases. I am left with the question of what percent of the remembering and understanding was in the service of a worthwhile and complex “why”.

    Thinking about my own job, responsible for helping improve reading, writing, and communicating with the district; I know a great deal of what I do throughout a day requires a truckload of remembering and understanding. I also know that most, if not all, of it was carried out in the service of some pretty complex and authentic “whys.”

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