Friday, August 1, 2014

Ch. 7: Using Learning Targets to Foster Higher-Order Thinking

"Our schools are not teaching students to think. It is astonishing how many young people have difficulty in putting their brains definitely and systematically to work
-Thomas Edison

One of the most difficult things teachers face is the ongoing quest to teach and assess higher-level, critical thinking skills.  It challenges us in many ways: First, teachers’ content knowledge and understanding of the concepts must be at an extremely high level.  Second, the lesson design that includes thinking skills must include the use of a taxonomy level.  The most popular, Bloom’s, is often used by teachers as a way to measure their lessons, but embedding ‘thinking-skills’ and assessing them remains challenging on a day to day basis.

As, I read this chapter and thought of its implications I was reminded of the opening portion of the book when Moss and Brookhart discussed the idea of an “espoused theory of action” vs. an actual theory of action.  We often say we believe that higher-order thinking skills are important and we want to improve them for our students. However, the assignments we require of students many times do not align with those beliefs.  A stroll down a hallway in almost any school will reveal a “learning objective” posted on a bulletin board or whiteboard that uses statements such as, “Students will investigate, analyze, and interpret…” , but when you really examine the task or activity, students get by without doing any of those things.  Why?  Is it a lack of knowledge on the part of the teachers?  Is it a deficit within our curriculum that does not provide appropriate activities? Is it that our students are ready for these types of activities, so we change them?  Any of these answers may be partially true. 

How does the learning target process change that?  Well, maybe it doesn’t, however I believe it has the potential to help.  Misalignment is a huge issue with curriculum writing and lesson planning.  Teachers must establish the instructional objectives in such a way that students have to apply thinking skills within the assignments.  This involves flexibility and the use of formative assessment throughout a lesson. If the tasks that we give to students do not ask them to utilize their thinking skills, we are not challenging their thinking as we should.  Differentation (see Chapter 6) is the key to successful implementation. As the authors note,  “Not all students will learn exactly the same content details and processing skills, but at the end of the lesson , they should all be able to say “I can do those three things.  If not, they should be able to say, “I cannot do this yet, so here’s what I need to know.” (pg. 120)

Reflective Questions:

·      How do you measure thinking skills and/or creativity in  your classroom?

·      How often do you use rubrics, not for content knowledge, but to assess higher-order thinking?


  1. So I'm not entirely done with this chapter but here is what has struck me so far. Last year our POP was centered around the SE's that specified deeper thinking. When we examined data, those SE's were the ones that stuck out as lowest in mastery. However, when we began searching for evidence on student performance we couldn't find any because we had not intentionally created formative assessments to measure and our curriculum only offered a formative snapshot once. The bottom line is this-we won't make this mistake again because as p. 116 mentions there is value is knowing facts but teachers have to make sure the learning doesn't stop there. I am confident in the "other" data we collected throughout the year which shows evidence of growth and areas of opportunity. Our focus was weak. This year, we will really talk intentionally about funneling down to the real POP and again what EVIDENCE we will have when we begin to see progress. The focus cannot just be on .14 in Math or Fig.19 in Reading- it's deeper than that. Formative assessment and differentiation will make the difference. -Learning in progress at the prairie

  2. As I read this chapter, several critical points struck home. Teaching and assessing higher level critical thinking skills will continue to be a challenge within our curriculum design because differentiation must continue to play such a key role. Regarding measuring creativity in the classroom, page 129 has us thinking about creativity as, "defining problems or tasks in a new light and putting ideas together in new ways", and "true creativity is what moves society forward." It was also mentioned that kids with creativity ... Find source material for ideas in a wide variety of media, people, or events, Recognize the importance of a deep knowledge base and continually work to learn new things, are Open to new ideas, or actively seek them out, and Use trial and error when they are not sure of how to proceed, viewing failure as an opportunity to learn. This last one, especially, is a challenge for many, and we as educators can certainly help to facilitate all of these skills by making a conscious effort to turn these skills into learning targets. By doing this, we'll be continuously building in opportunities to foster the creativity of all students. This idea goes hand in hand with what Yong Zhao spoke about at the Visioning Conference a weeks ago when he discussed the Entrepreneurial Qualities of Global Competency, Risk- Taking, Alertness to Opportunity, Confidence, Uniqueness, and Passion, all of which support the differentiation aspect that plays such a key role that will help us begin having a little bit more of a "road map" in measuring and fostering creativity in the classroom.

  3. My question is... Do teachers know how to assess higher order thinking? We have to provide models and instruction. Just because I have a rubric does not mean that I understand how to use it effectively.

  4. In reading this chapter and reflecting upon differentiation, I wonder how we might incorporate differentiated products that demonstrate higher order thinking on displayed Standards Based Boards. Chapter 6 encouraged us to brainstorm multiple products, potential activities, and means of assessment that would allow students to demonstrate progress towards performance standards. This chapter really resonates with me especially when it comes to ensuring that all students have opportunities to think critically. The Gettysburg lesson presented in the text "shows that students at all readiness levels should aim for learning targets involving higher - order thinking skills" (p.122). Often times we don't present higher - order thinking questions/activities under the presumption that some students will struggle and therefore aren't ready to work through challenging tasks. The authors show us ways to tailor instruction to struggling readers while still having them engage in meaningful tasks that allow them to critically think and respond. I wonder how our standards based boards can mirror this type of differentiation while showing examples of students working on higher - order tasks.