Not too long ago, our district devoted an entire day to thinking about how to fold higher order thinking skills or HOTS into our practice. It was a great day led by two excellent facilitators from ESSDACK. I was in the high school group led by Marci Shearon. In the course of the day, Marci challenged us to think about our practice and consider carefully how we could really use HOTS with students. HOTS need not be impossibly difficult, but they do need to be about depth and complexity. In fact, when the Common Core Standards talk about HOTS, they normally use the term "Depth of Knowledge." As we discussed the concept, one of the most useful tools Marci gave us was
I really like this tool because it corrects a problem I have always had with Bloom's Taxonomy. When we worked with students, it seemed as if many of us half-understood the taxonomy and THOUGHT we were challenging students to think deeply by simply asking them to create a product. Truth is, slopping together a collage that isn't even a very good collage (with or without technology), is not higher order thinking. If students have to defend their work or use the collage to analyze some concept or other, that is another story, but I rarely saw the collage used in that way. To further complicate matters, excellent instruction can occur anywhere on this matrix. Conversely, poor instruction can occur anywhere on this matrix. However, I think everybody can agree that excellent instruction paired with HOTS is a pretty unbeatable combination.
So, after we spent the day discussing HOTS earlier in the year, our high school faculty had a couple of hours available to devote to professional development. One of my pet peeves is studying something and then dropping it without ever following up. What we did, then, was ask each of the teachers to bring a question, a lesson, or an activity that they had used recently with students using HOTS. We had the matrix in front of us, and I drew teacher names out of a bag and they talked, then we looked at where the activity or question fell on the matrix. It was very nonjudgmental, and I have to say, I am proud to work with the people in my building because they shared some awesome things.
Our art teacher has students analyze paintings, writing about how they react to an artwork and then defending their reaction by analyzing how the artist uses the principles of artistic design.
Our biology teacher has students develop presentations over the use of Delphastus to control whitefly populations in our greenhouse.
One of our english teachers is using STAR WARS to teach about the elements of story telling--taking something students understand and using it to move them into deeper concepts that they would ordinarily have trouble comprehending. Ultimately, they will be writing their own movie reviews and publishing them.
One of our math teachers had students think about proportion by leading them to think about what it might be like to be a foot tall and then asking them if they would notice if the universe shrank to half its size overnight. They had to write an answer, support it, and then discuss.
We talked about Socratic circles, attributive tags, weather prediction, effective questioning, Spanish HOTS, and many other Higher Order Thinking Skills teachers in our school are helping students to develop. Everyone was included, and I hope everybody learned as much as I did.
NOTE: On the Monday after this was written, my principal told me that our curriculum director had received one parental complaint about the frustration her child was experiencing in classes at the high school. Challenging students to think results in a certain amount of student frustration. If your school is serious about HOTS and depth of knowledge, you will experience a little blowback. Expect it.