Complex thinking that goes beyond basic recall of facts, such as evaluation and invention, enabling students to retain information and to apply problem-solving solutions to real-world problems.
Higher order thinking skills are valued because they are believed to better prepare students for the challenges of adult work and daily life and advanced academic work. Higher order thinking may also help raise standardized test scores. A curriculum emphasizing higher order thinking skills has been found to substantially increase math and reading comprehension scores of economically disadvantaged students (Pogrow, 2005).
The idea that thinking can be divided into higher and lower levels was elaborated by Benjamin Bloom’s 1956 Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, usually called Bloom’s taxonomy. Bloom identified six levels of cognition, with knowledge being lowest and analysis, synthesis, and evaluation being highest:
For example, naming all the presidents of the United States is a feat of knowledge. Explaining how the Electoral College works is a comprehension task. Determining the winner of an election based on the raw votes is an application task. Considering the effects of redistricting is an act of analysis. Devising an alternative to the Electoral College is a work of synthesis. Assessing the efficacy of the Electoral College in conveying the will of the people is a work of evaluation.
The type of thinking a task requires depends on the student’s prior knowledge. For instance, determining which animals are mammals may indicate understanding of the features mammals share (application) or simply knowledge that cats, rats, and bats are all mammals. Similarly, the third side of a right triangle whose first two sides are three inches and four inches can be calculated using the Pythagorean theorem (application) or memorized (knowledge).
Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) also refers to a program designed to teach higher order thinking skills through the use of computers and the Socratic Method. HOTS is specifically designed for at-risk students in grades four to seven based on the premise that at-risk students need help regulating their thinking.
Examples of Activities that Promote Higher Order Thinking can be found at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte’s Faculty Center for Teaching and e-Learning.