"Higher Order Thinking Skills"

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A musing related to yesterday’s Jeopardy post:

Teachers are told to stimulate higher-order, critical thinking, to ask “high-level” questions. It’s in a rubric for teachers that I have here. Students are to be participating and demonstrating “true discussion.” I’ll say upfront that when this discussion happens, teaching’s the best profession in the world. Nothing is more fun than watching students make connections.

Here’s the fact that seems to get lost lately: Students can only do this when they have a body of knowledge to draw upon.

We are not allowing enough time for learning facts. We are even discouraging learning facts, as we teach retrieval skills. Various educational texts now emphasize the need to shift from traditional memorization to fact retrieval. Teaching Spanish this year brought home to me the flaw in that retrieval approach. Retrieval has its uses, but you can’t learn anything without storing it in memory somewhere. Some of our students have reached the point, though, where they don’t expect to have to retain new knowledge. When you send them home with twenty-some words to learn over the weekend, they view that as some incredibly unreasonable burden.

They then say things like, “Maybe I’ll just get Rosetta Stone over the summer,” pretty sure that the magic Rosetta stone thing will make learning Spanish easy. They are looking for the fast fix, the easy out. Only you can’t learn a language without memorizing thousands of words and a great number of concepts as well. But that’s work and many are relatively unfamiliar with academic effort.

Unfortunately, nowadays you can write a paper filled with facts that you never learned and never will learn, all taken from the internet and quoted or rephrased, It’s easy. I wish I could add that many students have become masters at rephrasing internet information, but I can’t. Most don’t have the necessary vocabulary.