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High Order Thinking

High Order Thinking An Article that explores the debate over knowledge vs creativity and recommends a 'middle way' for educators.

If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn't thinking. 
George S. Patton 

This is a Free Sample Resource
Categories: Article, Thinking Skills, Any Subject, All Ages

Tags: High Order Thinking Thinking Skills Self Knowledge Creative Thinking
High Order Thinking. Sounds grand doesn’t it? HOT Thinking is a little more user-friendly if repetitive. But what is it and why is it important in the classroom?

In a nutshell, there are two types of thinking: low and high order. We can debate the terms, the definitions and the range of each type but there exists a clear distinction. Low order thinking is concerned with facts and knowledge; high order thinking does something with that knowledge – analyses, evaluates, creates.

‘Low’ and ‘High’ imply a hierarchy and this is an understandable view. In 1956, when the terms were first mooted by Benjamin Bloom, they were presented as a taxonomy, high skills resting on a firm foundation of low. Since then we’ve worked out that the different skills have a more organic, symbiotic relationship with each other (NRC, 1987). You need low order to give high order something to do, yet high order creates new low order material. The two are forever held in tension, shifting emphasis with need and context. That’s the more challenging route of the educator, accepting that these skills are equal and co-dependant. Others often take the easier, more fundamental route, giving one set of skills preference over the other. Their intentions are sound, believing they are redressing a balance that has tipped too far one way: 

What specifically concerns me is an approach that denies children access to knowledge because time, and effort, is spent on cultivating abstract thinking skills rather than deepening the knowledge base which is the best foundation for reasoning. (low over high)
Michael Gove, 2009

Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution. It is, strictly speaking, a real factor in scientific research. (high over low)
Albert Einstein, 1919

In the classroom we do children a disservice if we follow either route exclusively. Our job is to discover how our learners think and to design for their preferences - not for each individual - but for the full range of thought processes present in class.

For example, children whose current thinking is more attuned to facts and knowledge will want to know, at the start of a lesson, what they are going to learn, possibly why, and maybe how it links to what they’ve done before. Others, more accustomed to analysis and creativity, will expect to dig deep into the subject matter and then make something new from their findings. Both can easily be offered by straightforward task differentiation. And no pupil should be denied either opportunity. The hope is that all children will develop a full repertoire of thinking skills.

A rationale for developing both types of thinking simultaneously rests on 3 points:

1. Successful day to day life requires a full range of thinking skills: we need to know when the bus arrives but also how to improvise if it breaks down whilst taking us to an interview.

2. Learning tasks that require both low and high order thinking stand more chance of engaging more minds at the same time.

3. Emphasising knowledge over analysis and creativity risks narrow-minded fundamental thought; valuing analysis and creativity over knowledge jeopardises cultural heritage, memory skills and reduces the pool of raw material from which new ideas can emerge.

Where are you on this spectrum? How do your lessons reflect different types of thinking? What range of thought-chances do you provide for your pupils? Try out the materials in this issue and elsewhere on the site to explore and enrich your use of low and high order thinking in class.

Related Resources:

Elevator Thinking


Hotter Thinking

Tip Thinking


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