Promote Higher Level Thinking in Students

Updated: Sep 3, 2019

As educators we want to promote high level thinking to our students. This pushes them to think critically, problem solve, and be an "outside the box" thinker. In order for our students to be successful in their chosen college or career, they need to be able to dig-deeper and use higher order thinking questions to learn. Arthur Costa came up with a 3 tiered theory that promotes high level thinking and questioning in students that is easy to follow and execute for any educator.

1. Lower Level Thinking (Gathering Information):

Although this is lower level thinking, it is a needed level. Lower level thinking is the basics that every one needs when trying to learn something new. This is how the student gathers information. A lower level thinking question has only one answer to the question, the answer is in the given text, or it can be recalled in the manner it was heard. You will know a lower level thinking question when it starts with: define, describe, identify, list, name, observe, recite, explain locate or paraphrase, just to name a few. Below, are some more ideas of what an lower level thinking questions.

How does this apply to school counseling?

When developing lesson plans for classrooms or small groups, your students are going to need the basics when learning a new skill! Start simple, ask basic questions and prompt them to collaborate and ask level one questions that pertain to the unit or skill you're teaching. For example, I am in the processes of making a growth mindset unit, I took a picture of one of my task cards from my first lesson. that promote lower-level thinking so that they have a basic understanding of the material.

2. Tier II: High Level Thinking

Tier II questions focuses on how the student processes or interprets the information. Questions pertaining to Tier II have more than one possible answer with evidence from the given text, the student can manipulate or use the information from the text to find the answer to the question, it involves finding information that supports theories, generalizations, or decision-making. An example of work that would go into processing would be short answer or essay questions. Tier II questions start with: analyze, compare, group, contrast, sequence, illustrate, sort, diagram, and summarize.

How does this apply to school counseling?

Well, this is the tier that shows that the students understand the lower-level thinking, and now can manipulate and use the information to give more abstract answers. One way I use this for lessons is by having the students demonstrate their knowledge through role-playing. The students are expected to know the basics of the skill that I am teaching and demonstrate the skill to their partner or the class. After the role-play, part of the debriefing would be the students justifying their actions in the role-play linking it to the materials from the lessons. Another technique, can be something as simple as giving them a scenario or story that pertains to the skill that you are teaching. The students sit in a circle and you give them a question, they pull out pieces of information from the text that support what they are learning in their lessons. It may take some prompting and multiple questions that start with some of the words above, but the goal is to get the students to start processing the information given to them.

Tier III: High Level Thinking

Tier III focuses on thinking abstractly, applying, and evaluating questions. Questions that fall into tier III look like the following: the answers goes beyond the text but they are able to apply the information they are learning to support their answer. The answers depend on personal experiences, values, interpretations, etc. This is when the students can give their opinions about issues and question the validity of others ideas, respectfully of course. We have all seen the heated, out of hand political debates on social media, to avoid our students joining this same silliness in class, it is key to teach that judgements are to be made from information, not their values. This will help reduce any conflict that may pop up at this level of thinking. You will know it is a tier III question when it starts with the following: apply, evaluate, compose, construct, and the list below.

How does this apply to school counseling?

As educators, our main goal is for our students to be productive members of our society. We need our students to think abstractly, applying material to their life, and respectfully challenge others. In the AVID summer institute, I learned a technique called "philosophical chairs." This is a great, way to give the students some movement while promoting high level thinking! You read a controversial question pertaining to your lessons to the students. For example, "Friends should never lie to each other," could be your controversial question. You then designate one side of the room to be the "I agree with the statement" and the other side of the room is the "I disagree with the statement." The students then pick a side of the room that supports their opinion. Grab a talking piece, only the person that has the talking piece is able to speak. Have the students go back and forth debating why they think their opinion and their evidence to support it. When every student answers, have them paraphrase what the person before them said, so that they are forced to actively listen to their peers, rather than just state their opinions. Their answer must pertain to answers of the person that they are responding to. The students are allowed to switch sides at anytime if a point changes their mind. Before beginning remind the students that nobody is to be attacked, you can only use information given and personal experiences to challenge others. This is just one idea that I thought was fun, but there are so many others that fall into this level! The creativity that can potentially go into lesson plans in this tier is endless!